MONICA LEWINSKY'S THERAPIST is on the phone from Los Angeles explaining how her patient wound up having an affair with Bill Clinton. Starting work as an intern at the White House, says Irene Kassorla, a Hollywood psychologist who has counseled Lewinsky, is "like your first day of kindergarten. Can you imagine being this little kid in kindergarten and there's this nice daddy there? Your mommy has left you, she's gone home and told you to be brave. There are 250 of you in the class, and all of a sudden the biggest daddy in the place takes you by the hand and shows you how to color, and shows you how to play with the clay, and shows you how to get on the tricycle, and when you fall he picks you up. I mean, it's pretty nice."
In fact, says Kassorla, who is a longtime sex therapist, Clinton the paternal kindergarten teacher was almost irresistible: "What intern in what country wouldn't if the top guy said, 'You're adorable, you're wonderful'? It's so seductive, it's so delicious to have a Big Daddy look at you. And then the thing develops. At first you think maybe he just wants to talk to you or something. It develops." Kassorla says that she, a married woman in her mid-60s, can empathize with Lewinsky's attraction to the president. "I think he's cute," says Kassorla enthusiastically. "But if he and I did it, we'd have to have penetration. I'd insist."
Kassorla will not disclose whether she gave similar advice to Monica Lewinsky. Nor will she say when the two last spoke. (An acquaintance of Lewinsky's says that her counseling sessions with Kassorla began in high school and continued, over the phone, until as recently as several months ago. ) But talk to Monica Lewinsky's shrink for a while and what has happened to Lewinsky begins to make a lot more sense.
Irene Kassorla first came to national attention in 1980, when she published a sex manual entitled Nice Girls Do. Based partly on Kassorla's own experiences with her boyfriend (who was then the west coast editor of Penthouse magazine), Nice Girls Do promised to take readers "beyond orgasm, beyond sexual gratification, and into sexual delight whenever you wish." It was not a book for beginners. In order to reach the "untamable Maxi Orgasm" (comparable in intensity to a grand mal seizure), Dr. Kassorla prescribed gymnastic couplings like the Bass Fiddle Position, as well as a grueling regimen of genital exercises. "Sex is a skill that has to be learned, practiced and honed to precision," she wrote, and many book buyers seemed to agree. Nice Girls Do spent weeks on the bestseller lists, eventually selling more than 3 million copies.
By the mid-'80s, Kassorla had become something of a celebrity in Los Angeles. Billing herself as the "Shrink to the Stars," she hosted a radio call-in show, made regular appearances on Donahue, and struck up a friendship with Oprah Winfrey. In 1985, Kassorla helped develop her own television special, 99 Ways to Attract a Man. "I'm the world's best-known psychologist," she told a reporter at the time. In 1988, Kassorla took time from her busy schedule of media appearances to marry Norman Friedmann, a wealthy computer executive. These days Kassorla lives, as she puts it, "like a queen," in "a huge estate, right near [Hugh] Hefner. It's a palace, nestled between Beverly Hills and Bel Air."
Kassorla could have retired from her practice years ago, but she continues to work as a therapist, mostly, she says, because she's so good at it. "I'm the most amazing shrink," she explains. "I'm the strongest, most effective shrink you ever saw. I know it. I have a gift. People kiss my hand sometimes when I go on the street. They say, 'Oh, you've saved my life.'" The secret to successful lifesaving, Kassorla says, is her rapport with clients. "I have Kleenex in every room of my house because my patients come in here and they really spill their everything to me."
At some point, one of those who spilled her everything to Kassorla was a now-famous pudgy girl from Brentwood. Kassorla is both proud of her connection to Lewinsky and fearful that it will disrupt her life. "This is my nightmare, that Ken Starr will find some loophole or something and come get me talking," Kassorla says, sounding worried. "I have a cushy life. I live in a bloody mansion here. I got a husband who thinks I'm 14. And if you think I want to be under Starr's glance or pressure, or be in Washington when my patients need me. . . . My life would be over. I'd be in the Enquirer as the crazy shrink who crazied the crazy."
Don't expect to see Kassorla in a grand-jury room soon. A recent Supreme Court decision shields therapists from testifying about their clients under most circumstances. Nor is Monica Lewinsky likely to give Kassorla permission to talk to the independent counsel. "Of course not," snorts William Ginsburg, Lewinsky's lawyer. "And I don't think that even Mr. Starr would have the chutzpah to subpoena a physician or psychologist." Ginsburg is probably right, and that may turn out to be a shame for his client. "If I talked," says Irene Kassorla, "it would help Monica."
No doubt it would. Kassorla obviously has affection for Lewinsky, who she believes is being forced to "pick up the tab" for the White House sex scandal. So far, Kassorla says, her patient has been mischaracterized by almost everyone. "Her parents," says Kassorla, "what they say I would never trust. They'll say something idyllic: 'She was a wonderful baby, I was a wonderful father. We used to play in the sand, blah, blah, blah.' Who knows what they'll say? And you know something? They won't even mean it. And it won't be true." Lewinsky's mother, Kassorla adds, "is a banana."
As for the suggestion that Lewinsky merely imagined her sexual relationship with Clinton, Kassorla all but scoffs. "She would have to be very sick to fantasize to that degree," says the therapist. "And if she's very sick, how do you get a job as an intern, how do you keep your job as an intern, how do you get to the Pentagon? It doesn't hold. Could she function in the White House as a person who was schizophrenic?"
In fact, says Kassorla, Lewinsky's relationship with the president was not as unnatural as it may now seem. "You're an intern in the most important home in the world, and you are fortunate enough to be near the Big Daddy there," she says. "It's a very well-established habit that you listen to the boss, that you believe the boss, that you trust the boss." If the president asks for sex, Kassorla argues, what employee could refuse? "Just because you get older doesn't mean that you can turn off the habit you have of believing the authority or the wise boss or the wise daddy." Ken Starr, Kassorla seems certain, must have figured this out already. The independent counsel, she says, "is on the right trail."
At this point, Kassorla remains ambivalent about her connection to Monica Lewinsky. While generally enthusiastic about going on television ("I love it, I love it"), Kassorla has said little publicly about Lewinsky since the story broke in January. During her few talk-show appearances since, the normally self-revealing therapist has never mentioned that she knows Lewinsky. "My lawyer told me to say, 'I can neither confirm nor deny any association with any patient,'" Kassorla explains. And even if she could reveal more about what Lewinsky told her, Kassorla isn't sure she would want to. "I am not interested in impeaching the president," she says. "I can just see it in the history books: 'This five-foot-two doll from Los Angeles, very nicely trained, brilliant woman, took down Bill Clinton.' I think he's okay."
Then again, there's always the possibility things might still change. "I have stories in my little head," confides Kassorla, "that would make your ears fall off."
Tucker Carlson is a staff writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.