One of the more curious features of Bill Clinton’s years-long affair with Monica Lewinsky is the photographic trail the paramours left behind: posing in the Oval Office, hugging on the campaign trail, shooting the shit in the West Wing. In the years since, however, no such photos have emerged of Lewinsky and Hillary Clinton—which is more than a little strange, given the outsized role the former First Lady played in her husband’s administration.
But it turns out that one of their encounters was indeed captured by a White House photographer, though Clinton herself was unfortunately obscured by her husband. The public, as far as we can determine, has never seen it. Above you’ll find what by all accounts appears to be the only photograph, taken by the White House or otherwise, to emerge of Lewinsky and the current Democratic frontrunner meeting in person.
The photo was taken by the staff photographer Ralph Alswang on December 17, 1996—in the midst of Clinton and Lewinsky’s affair—at a Christmas reception held in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House. In the foreground you’ll notice Bill Clinton shaking hands with Willie Blacklow, a former Pentagon staffer who accompanied Lewinsky to the reception.* In the background you can see Lewinsky, who by then had been transferred to the Pentagon’s public affairs office, shaking hands with a blonde-haired person standing to the left of the President. That person is Hillary Clinton.
In a letter of notification sent to the Obama Administration on May 8, B. John Lancaster of the National Archive’s Presidential Materials Division wrote that the William J. Clinton Presidential Library intended to release “photographs from December 17, 1996...of President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton greeting Monica Lewinsky at a Christmas reception in the Diplomatic Reception Room.” A librarian at the Clinton Library in Little Rock, Arkansas, confirmed the First Lady’s presence in an email to Gawker: “The President is present in the first responsive image, and the First Lady is positioned to his left, obscured in the shot by the position of the President.”
The fact that Hillary Clinton met Lewinsky at this particular event was first reported in 1998 by Newsweek reporters Michael Isikoff and Evan Thomas. Blacklow, the former Pentagon staffer, “recalled that Hillary Clinton also recognized Lewinsky and shook her hand,” Isikoff and Thomas wrote. Lewinsky also recorded her attendance at the event in an elaborate chart, created at the behest of the prosecutor Kenneth Starr, of her contacts with the President. Until now, however, Lewinsky’s contact with the First Lady did not benefit from a legible photographic record.
Their meeting was snapped seconds after a slightly different but much more famous photo, in which Bill Clinton and Lewinsky can be seen beaming at each other, that appeared in Starr’s voluminous investigation about the Clinton White House, albeit undated and in black-and-white. Here’s a full-color version recently obtained by Gawker:
Photo courtesy of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library & Museum
(In the background, looking directly into the camera, is future White House press secretary Jay Carney, who was covering the Clinton administration as a reporter for Time magazine. The woman in the tiger-stripe jacket is his late grandmother, Sally Newell. Carney tells Gawker that Newell, a staunch Republican, “thought it was hilarious” when a friend spotted the photo in Andrew Morton’s 1999 book, Monica’s Story, which drew from extensive interviews with Lewinsky.)
The images you’re looking at turned up thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by a recent Columbia graduate (and current Politico reporter) named Conor Skelding to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in May 2014, “for photographs related to Monica Lewinsky from November 1995 through March 1997.” A year later, the library quietly uploaded grainy, low-resolution contact sheets of the responsive photos. Gawker later acquired the high-resolution versions that appear in this post. A brief survey of reporters intimately familiar with the Lewinsky episode, including Carney, turned up no recollections of the photo of Hillary and Monica together having been published.
As these reproductions make clear, the contrast between Lewinsky’s countenance in the first and second photographs is drastic. And the recently re-elected Clinton was evidently happy to see his former subordinate, too. “The next night the President called to compliment her on her appearance,” Andrew Morton noted in Monica’s Story. “He also told her that he had Christmas presents for her—a hand-made hat pin from New Mexico and a beautifully bound edition of Leaves of Grass by the poet Walt Whitman.”
Unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely that a different photographer captured Hillary Clinton’s reaction from another angle. “If any other White House photographers would have taken photographs from a different angle or time at the event those images would also have been responsive to this FOIA case,” a Clinton Library staffer told Gawker. “Such a case does not exist with this event so there are no other images.”
* Correction: This post originally identified the man shaking Bill Clinton’s hand in the first picture as former Treasury Secretary Alan Greenspan. In fact, the man is a former Department of Defense employee named Willie Blacklow. We apologize for the error.