In Episode 5 of Impeachment: American Crime Story, the legal net of special prosecutor Ken Starr’s investigation is beginning to close around Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp, as what was once a personal shared secret starts to become public property and the two women find themselves buffeted by powerful interests who are trying to discredit them or amplify them. They are both increasingly reduced to mere pawns in the legal game with very little agency, both facing the very real prospect of criminal prosecution. We look at what’s fact and what’s fiction.
Monica Went on a Date With Jake Tapper?
Lewinsky goes to a buzzy D.C. bar shortly before her departure for New York, where a fresh-faced Jake Tapper, having spotted her across the room, strikes up a conversation. They hit it off and the drinks extend into dinner. However, because she’s leaving, they decide not to take it further.
This apparently is completely true, although their meeting was not quite as random as depicted in the episode. According to an article he wrote for the Washington City Paper in 1998, the future CNN Washington correspondent was not at the bar looking for a pickup but was attending a going-away party for his friends Joe and Danielle. When he needed an extra quarter to secure the pool table, he approached a group of women. Monica not only gave him the quarter he needed but three more for good measure. “Ignoring the usual coy mating rituals, Monica felt free to actually be nice,” Tapper recalled.
Tapper’s friend Joe warned him off, saying Lewinsky was bad news, that “she had left the White House because she had kept wandering into the Oval Office and inappropriately striking up conversations with the commander in chief.” But Danielle gave Tapper Lewinsky’s number. He used it, and the pair went on one date before Starr’s investigators moved in and she had bigger things to think about. But on that date, Tapper speculates, she still thought she would evade the gathering storm. “She didn’t strike me as a classic climber—just a woman looking for a decent, challenging job and a happy life to go with it,” Tapper said. “She struck me as cheerful, open, a bit too much a resident of Planet Hap-Hap-Happy in my acerbic view.”
Starr’s team of lawyers reluctantly conclude that after four years, nothing has emerged from their investigation of the collapse of the Whitewater development (an Arkansas real estate scheme the Clintons had invested in that went south) that could provide enough evidence to justify a charge of impeachment. It looks like the investigation is over. Trying to rally his team, Starr refutes charges that it was a politically motivated fishing expedition, pointing out that he secured 12 convictions of Clinton associates, although none has flipped and incriminated the president as yet.
This is largely true. In fact, 15 people were ultimately convicted as a result of the Whitewater investigation (not all related to Whitewater itself), but none of them provided any evidence that the Clintons had engaged in financial misconduct.
Shortly before Clinton was elected governor, he and Hillary Clinton made an investment with their friends Jim and Susan McDougal to purchase 230 acres of land in the Ozarks for development. However, purchasers for the potential vacation homes failed to materialize, and the venture, aka Whitewater, failed, costing the Clintons a reported $46,000.
Two years after Clinton lost his reelection bid in 1980, Jim McDougal bought a small savings and loan association, Madison Guaranty. After a federal fraud investigation of another failed real estate venture that involved Madison, McDougal resigned from the S & L, which subsequently collapsed. In the course of this investigation, a Republican-appointed Little Rock judge named David Hale alleged Clinton had pressured him into making a loan for Whitewater. Documents emerged that seemed to suggest Madison had paid off Clinton’s campaign debts.
When documents relating to Madison were subpoenaed, the Clintons reported the records as missing. However, when the documents were eventually found, the records cleared the Clintons of any wrongdoing. Even so, Starr refused to let it go, alleging that as governor Clinton had pressured Hale to make an illegal $300,000 federally backed loan to Susan McDougal, which Hale claimed had been used in part to shore up Whitewater. But the wind was taken out of the prosecutor’s sails after Hale was convicted of numerous felonies.
Those convicted of fraud included Jim Guy Tucker, Clinton’s successor as Arkansas governor; Webster Hubbell, a law partner of Hillary’s; and the McDougals. Jim McDougal received a three-and-a-half year sentence and died in a federal prison in 1998. In August 1996, Susan McDougal was sentenced to two years in prison in connection with obtaining an illegal loan for the Whitewater venture; in September of that year, she was jailed for 18 months for contempt of court and obstruction when she refused to testify in front of Starr’s grand jury, contending that the prosecutors only wanted damaging testimony against Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Linda Gets Immunity
Linda Tripp starts to panic after her lawyer advises her that in Maryland (where she’s a resident), secretly taping calls without the other party’s consent is a felony. If the tapes are introduced as evidence in the Jones trial, Tripp could go to jail. He advises her to tell Clinton’s lawyer about the tapes so the Clinton camp will have an incentive to settle and the illegality need never come to light.
Lucianne Goldberg, however, has other plans. If Clinton doesn’t testify in front of the Starr grand jury, the conservatives’ plan to get him committing perjury on the record is scuppered. Goldberg advises Tripp to give the tapes to Starr, who can then grant her immunity from prosecution. Having led Paula Jones’ lawyers to believe she would be turning the tapes of Monica Lewinsky’s confidences over to them, Tripp suddenly gives the tapes to the Starr team instead.
This also is broadly true. Two weeks after the Jones team served subpoenas on Tripp, Lewinsky, and Clinton, Tripp turned over the tapes to Starr. According to the Washington Post, this deal was indeed brokered by Goldberg, who told Tripp that “if she ever had to testify in the Jones case and describe what she knew about the affair between Clinton and Lewinsky … Clinton and Lewinsky would deny it and she would be caught in a ‘perjury trap,’ ” Tripp later said. Goldberg threw the Jones lawyers a bone in the form of enough information to ask embarrassing questions of Clinton, whose evasive answers Starr was able to use as evidence of perjury—a poor substitute for hard evidence, but something.
Goldberg was an acquaintance of a lawyer in the Chicago office of Starr’s law firm, who said in an interview that he had done no legal work on the Jones case, but he was friends with several lawyers who had, including George T. Conway III. Conway, now better known as Kellyanne Conway’s husband, had been working behind the scenes to help the Jones case, writing a 1994 op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times arguing against presidential immunity from a civil suit.
Goldberg also got Tripp a new lawyer, James Moody, who was in favor of turning the tapes over to Starr. After Starr subpoenaed the Tripp tapes, he got permission to expand his investigative remit from Whitewater to Clinton’s relationship with Lewinsky.
Lewinsky pays Bill Clinton a final visit in the Oval Office. He gives her some bon voyage presents for her new life in New York: a stuffed black dog and a bag from a Martha’s Vineyard shop called the Black Dog, a carving of a bear, a rug, a decorative brooch, and chocolates.
This actually happened, but the gifts also included some joke sunglasses, which for some reason did not make it into the final script.