What Made Linda Do It?

By Thomas, Evan; Brant, Martha et al. | Newsweek, March 23, 1998 | Go to article overview

What Made Linda Do It?


Thomas, Evan, Brant, Martha, Wingert, Pat, Newsweek


EXCLUSIVE: Linda Tripp is the mystery woman at the center of the Lewinsky scandal, an Obscure bureaucrat who taped Monica--and turned her in. Why did she do it? An inside look at what drove her to the Feds.

It was late on the afternoon of Wednesday, Jan. 14, and Monica Lewinsky seemed to be more desperate than ever to reach her friend Linda Tripp. At loose ends before she began her new job in New York, Lewinsky was calling Tripp repeatedly from pay phones, for fear of being overheard--or wiretapped. Pulled out of a meeting at the Pentagon, Tripp finally got Lewinsky's call. According to a source familiar with Tripp's account, Tripp believed that Lewinsky had been crying. Lewinsky told Tripp that she had some "new ideas" about how Linda could testify in the Paula Jones case. Both women had been subpoenaed by Jones's lawyers, and what they planned to testify to had been the source of tortured discussion between them for weeks. Much of that talk had revolved around a woman named

Months before, Tripp had told a Newsweek reporter that she had seen Willey just after Willey, a White House volunteer, had been alone with Bill Clinton in the Oval Office. Willey had told Tripp that the president had made a pass at her. NOW Jones's lawyers wanted Tripp to testify about the incident in order to buttress their argument that Clinton had a "pattern and practice" of sexual harassment. That Wednesday evening m January, as Lewinsky drove Tripp home to Columbia, Md. (Lewinsky had insisted on making the hourlong drive), the former White House intern seemed hysterical. Lewinsky appeared to know exactly what the president planned to say about Willey: that their encounter had been friendly, but not sexual. According to the source familiar with Tripp's account, the president would be "extremely upset" if Tripp were to contradict him about Willey, Lewinsky told Tripp. Lewinsky said that the president expected Tripp to be a team player. "He feels you screwed him in the Newsweek article," Lewinsky allegedly said. Tripp should know, Lewinsky warned, that both Linda and her children were "in danger" if she didn't testify the right way about the Willey episode. Lewinsky handed Tripp a three-page document. It was entitled "points to make in an affidavit," and it appeared to encourage Tripp to perjure herself. The document, which Tripp later turned over to Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, is still the single most tantalizing piece of evidence that anyone engaged in obstruction of justice in the Paula Jones case.

Tripp remains a dangerous witness to Clinton. Last week Jones's lawyers released statements by several women--including Willey--who allegedly had sexual encounters with the president. But of all the colorful and troubled characters in the White House sex scandal, Tripp is the hardest to explain. Her motivations are central to the still-unfolding mystery. They can be understood only by examining Tripp's character, her peculiar mix of moralism and duplicity, boldness and fear.

Last Thursday night, after spending nearly two months holed up in an FBI safe house, Linda Tripp was ready to step out. Her hair had been styled by a Georgetown salon, and she wore a long, white fur coat and lace-up black boots with spike heels. Taking a thronelike chair facing out into the dining room of Prime Rib, a fancy Washington restaurant, she ordered a Bloody Mary and the lump crab meat. She seemed happy to be out on the town, and a little disappointed that nobody appeared to have recognized her.

In a smoky voice, she complained that she had not been allowed to pick her own photograph for this article. In a good-natured way, she kvetched about her looks (her shoulders are too broad, her hair made her look like an Ivana Trump wannabe). She wistfully remembered that when she first came to the White House, back in those halcyon days of the Bush administration, she had been a size 6.

Linda Tripp is saddened and scared by the furor she helped create; she also seemed excited by it. …

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