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Obama Team Mulls Role for Miss Lewinsky in New Administration

12/23/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

President-Elect Barack Obama's transition team is reported to be deeply divided over whether to offer a post to Monica Lewinsky, the former White House Intern whose intimate relationship with President Bill Clinton led to his impeachment.

Until now, Lewinsky was one of the few high-profile figures from the Clinton Presidency who had not been recruited for the incoming Obama team. Mr. Clinton's brother Roger is another, though on Friday there were rumors he would be named ambassador to Spain.

One group, which includes David Axelrod, Mr. Obama's campaign manager who has been named his senior advisor, favors the move to balance the influence of the Clinton-era policy people by adding someone with a different perspective.

A second faction led by Mr. Obama's Chief-of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, is bitterly opposed believing that a Lewinsky appointment would needlessly antagonize the Clintons and their supporters. Before being elected to Congress, Mr. Emanuel served as a senior advisor to President Clinton.

Former South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle, who is expected to be nominated as Secretary of Health and Human Services, responded to a reporter who asked about the Lewinsky rumors by pretending to receive a cell phone call. When the reporter took the phone from him and closed it while making a "we both know what you're doing" facial expression, Daschle said that appointing Lewinsky would be "like rubbing salt in the wounds of Senator Clinton at a time when we're supposed to be in a healing process." He added that Miss Lewinsky's presence in the White House would be "a huge distraction."

But New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who broke with the Clintons over his endorsement of Mr. Obama, said that Lewinsky was "a fresh face" with "a lot to offer." Richardson lost the post of Secretary of State to Senator Clinton and is now Mr. Obama's choice for the far less prestigious job of Secretary of Commerce. "The Obama adminstration should be focused on recruiting the best people to help us address the challenges of the future and not get bogged down in past history," he said.

The Clintons themselves have not commented on the possibility of a Lewinsky appointment though people close to her have said that Sen. Clinton was shocked and appalled by the idea. "It's a non-starter for her," said Philippe Raines, a longtime aide to Sen. Clinton. "She doesn't want to run into Monica in the West Wing ladies' room," he added.

However, Justin Cooper, who edited Mr. Clinton's autobiography, My Life, and has remained close to the former president, said that Mr. Clinton was cautiously supportive of the prospect. "He's always had great admiration for Monica's abilities," Cooper said. "I think he's just concerned that she might get in over her head if she were given a job as a political move."

Since the scandal, in addition to her status as a pop culture icon of sorts, Lewinsky has had a brief career as a handbag designer and then attended the London School of Economics where she received a master's degree in Social Psychology. Her thesis was titled "In Search of the Impartial Juror: An Exploration of the Third Person Effect and Pre-Trial Publicity."

No decision has been reached as to exactly what sort of job Lewinsky might be offered. "With her background, I could imagine her doing something on either the jurisprudence side at the Department of Justice or on the handbag side, at either the Department of Commerce or the Department of Agriculture," said Deborah Kaye, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies the Executive Branch.

Monica Lewinsky was not available for comment. Through her attorney, William Ginsburg, she released a statement, which read, in part, "I am honored and humbled by the opportunity to serve my country again at this crucial juncture in our history."