TWO decades after secret recordings of her conversations with Monica Lewinsky revealed the White House’s most scandalous affair, the role of former aide Linda Tripp is being reexamined.
Tripp, who passed away last year, previously said that she knows what “a real high-tech lynching feels like” after her reputation was dragged through the newly emerging 24-hour news cycle following the scandal.
She retreated under the radar after unearthing the evidence that led to Bill Clinton being impeached in 1998.
Her decision to record her phone conversations with then 23-year-old Lewinsky confiding in her about her affair with the married president was widely debated as she maintained she had no regrets about how she acted.
Tripp was also responsible for ensuring that the most damning evidence against Clinton — Lewinsky’s infamous semen-stained blue dress — was maintained after she encouraged her young co-worker to keep it in a safe place in case collateral was needed in the future.
Lewinsky would later hand over the dress to independent investigator Kenneth Starr in exchange for immunity as she testified in front of a grand jury that she had at least nine sexual encounters with Clinton, despite his claims that there was no affair.
Lewinsky, a former White House intern, met civil servant Tripp in April 1996, after being moved to the Pentagon’s Public Affairs Office when rumors of her relationship with Clinton worried his reelection campaign team.
Tripp formerly worked in the White House as well under the George H W Bush administration but was transferred to the Pentagon in 1987 after only a short time under Clinton's presidency.
The move was disappointing for Tripp, for whom the White House had always been the end goal.
"The White House was the dream," Tripp said in a 2001 interview with ABC News.
"I would have cleaned toilets with my tongue to work at the White House."
Despite the 24-year age gap, the two women struck up a friendship, and eventually, Lewinsky started sharing intimate details about her affair with Clinton.
The younger woman grew to consider Tripp a confidante and told her about the affair she was having with the married president, then aged 49.
"I was fascinated. I couldn’t believe it — could he be that reckless? Could he be that arrogantly reckless to philander with a child? I was reeling from the horror of it all,” Tripp told ABC in 2001.
Tripp secretly recorded their telephone conversations before handing them over to investigators at the advice of politically conservative book agent Lucianne Goldberg.
'I WAS SO ANGRY'
She had been speaking to Golderberg about the chance of writing a book about her time in the White House but the agent became more intrigued by the news that Clinton was involved with an intern.
"'He has a girlfriend,' [Tripp said.] And I said, 'He, who?' She said, 'The president has a girlfriend,'" Goldberg told ABC News recently.
"The public really did need to know how reckless this president is.”
And so Tripp made her first recording on October 3, 1997, three months before the details of the calls would eventually be leaked on the Drudge Report and the affair would be made public.
“I was so angry at him [Clinton]. I wanted this relationship exposed in the biggest way because it was so cruel. It was beyond cruel what he was doing to her,” Tripp said.
Transcripts of the calls reveal a vulnerable Lewinsky, apparently besotted with Clinton and desperate for any contact with him.
"It scares me to think about how much I care about him and how comfortable I am with him,” she told Tripp in one conversation.
"I just feel complete when I'm with him.
'HER LIFE WAS MEANINGLESS'
“Why can’t he just be nice and make my life wonderful?” she later asked Tripp.
“I was upset. I’m just not like me. … I can’t take it anymore.”
“No one cared about her. The suicide threats. Her life was meaningless.,” Tripp said of Lewinsky, who has since emerged as a leading anti-bullying advocate.
“So, yeah. Something kicked in. Was it maternal? I don’t want to define it that way. I will only say that I began to resent the president once I knew about this enormously.”
In 1997, Lewinsky had already denied the rumors of an affair in an affidavit called for by lawyers of Paula Jones, who was accusing Clinton of sexual harassment.
Yet after Tripp had handed over her call recordings to Starr — the special independent counsel appointed to investigate the Clintons and their business associates' Whitewater real estate venture in Arkansas — Lewinsky was targeted once more.
Tripp was fitted with a wire by the FBI before she met with Lewinsky for lunch at Pentagon City Mall in Virginia.
Lewinksy was later taken into a hotel room by the FBI and questioned for hours but refused to turn on the president.
Monica made her choices. She has had to live with those consequences as I have had to live with mine.
However, through Tripp, Starr also later learned about the semen-stained dress.
"Put it in a baggie, put it in a Zip-Loc bag, and you pop it in with your treasures, for what I care. I mean whatever. Put ‘em on your little antiques,” Tripp had told Lewinsky in one call about the dress.
Lewinsky handed over the dress for immunity as she and Clinton testified in front of a grand jury in August 1998.
As Lewinsky came clean about the affair, so finally did Clinton.
"Indeed, I did have a relationship with Ms. Lewinsky that was not appropriate," Clinton said in his address to the nation.
"In fact, I was wrong."
He was impeached in December of that year but cleared by the Senate.
As Lewinsky attempted to bring her life back together after becoming a household name because of the affair, and Clinton scrambled to rebuild his political clout, Tripp retired to Virginia and away from public life.
However, despite years away from the public eye, she still didn't regret her decision to record Lewinsky's calls, telling a whistleblower event in DC in 2018 that the only regret she has is “not having the guts to do it sooner.”
“It was always about right and wrong, never left and right,” she said.
“It was about exposing perjury and the obstruction of justice,” Tripp continued.
“It was never about politics.”
“Monica made her choices. She has had to live with those consequences as I have had to live with mine," Tripp also previously said in 2001.
"But, no. I would do it again, certainly.”
Tripp died on April 8, 2020, aged 70 after losing her battle with pancreatic cancer.
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