When Bill Ginsburg was changing the diapers of his good friend’s baby girl Monica 23 years ago, he never dreamed that they might someday hold the fate of the world in their hands.
But that appears to be the case, hyperbole aside, as the 55-year-old attorney Ginsburg this week negotiated for full immunity for that same baby girl — Monica Lewinsky, now 24 — in return for her testimony to special prosecutor Kenneth Starr about her true relationship with President Bill Clinton.
Some experts believe that Lewinsky could bring down the president depending on what she reveals about what she and Clinton did behind closed doors.
Despite the enormous gravity of the matter, Ginsburg seemed tired but full of good humor during an interview with The Jewish Week on Tuesday.
The Philadelphia native was working in the Washington offices of his partners, criminal attorneys Nathanial Speights and Iverson Mitchell, waiting to hear about a proposed immunity deal with Starr.
He joked about how some Arab newspapers have accused him of being part of a Zionist plot to provide cover for President Clinton to bomb Iraq.
“They say Monica Lewinsky is clearly an Ashkenazic Jew, and all of that adds up to this being a well-orchestrated Zionist plot,” he laughed.
But then on a serious note, Ginsburg rejected the notion that he holds the key to the nation’s future.
“This is not in my hands or in the hands of Monica Lewinsky. It’s in the hands of the president and Mr. Starr’s hands,” he said. “All I have to [worry about] is the fate of a little maidel,” the Yiddish term for little girl.
Ginsburg called Lewinsky “a good kid.”
“She’s like all 24-year-old girls today. She’s not innocent in terms of being a virgin, but she’s a nice, good girl.”
The attorney, an old family friend of Lewinsky’s father, Dr. Bernard Lewinsky, a Beverly Hills oncologist, did not shy away from his views on Clinton, Israel and the media frenzy of which he is a central figure.
“You don’t know how sorry I am, and Monica is, to be in the middle of a scenario where this president may lose his moral authority to govern,” Ginsburg said. “He is a friend to Israel, to the Jews, to African Americans. He is the right man for the job. If only he didn’t make small mistakes.”
Ginsburg has said he and Lewinsky, who both have been to Israel “many times,” carry no desire to cause his downfall, in part because of Clinton’s support for Israel.
“Clinton is very positive toward Israel and Jews, and Monica and I are Jews,” he said. “But we cannot decide what will happen following her testimony. She will tell the truth. When we reach an agreement on the immunity deal, she will give her version. I repeat: She will tell the truth.”
Ginsburg declined to say what Lewinsky, a former White House intern and employee, was prepared to testify to. In sworn statements, Lewinsky has denied having a sexual relationship with the president, but appears to have confirmed a sexual affair on tapes recorded secretly — and possibly illegally — by her friend Linda Tripp, who turned them over to the FBI.
Ginsburg defended the barrage of media coverage of the scandal.
“This is a major issue for our country and the free world. This situation erodes [Clinton’s] credibility,” he said. “It takes his ability to mediate the problems such as Iraq and the Palestinian and Israeli problems, and it distracts from his credibility and his authority.”
Ginsburg described Lewinsky as “afraid and exhausted. She sits in her apartment asking herself, ‘Why me? I did what I did and now I just want to tell my story.’ She’s trapped in a massive power struggle. She’s a smart woman, but she’s afraid that the presidency will destroy her. She’s in a tough situation.”
Saying he is a “proud, dues-paying member” of Ohr Hatorah, a progressive Conservative congregation in North Hollywood, Ginsburg described himself as a spiritual Jew who goes to services. He and his wife, the former Laurie Yudell of New York City, have two sons and a daughter. He celebrated his bar mitzvah at the University Synagogue in Brentwood, the tony L.A. neighborhood where O.J. Simpson lived.
Ginsburg said he has known Bernard Lewinsky for 25 years and both were synagogue members of Sinai Temple when Lewinsky was married to Marcia Lewis, a book author and freelance journalist.
“He’s a reasonably devout man, Conservative bordering on Orthodox,” Ginsburg said.
Monica Lewinsky’s paternal grandfather left Germany in the 1930s and immigrated to England. Her parents joined Sinai Temple in 1976, and Lewinsky and her younger brother, Michael, attended its religious school. Lewinsky celebrated her bat mitzvah at Sinai Temple. Ginsburg said he did not know whether she was affiliated with a Washington synagogue.
Lewinsky grew up in an affluent family that lived in a $1.6 million home. She attended Beverly Hills High School, fictionally portrayed on the TV sitcom “Beverly Hills 90210.”
Ginsburg said he says the traditional Shema prayer every morning, and in the last week has said it especially for Monica Lewinsky’s sake.
“Every morning I wake up,” he said, “and I say Shema for this girl.”
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency contributed to this report.