Where Linda Tripp Is Coming From

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S1: Well, look, John Goodman is hilarious, and I’ve been a fan of his for years, was I thrilled that they picked a guy to be me?

S2: Now, that kind of hurt, but I pride myself on being pretty strong. Where I’m weakest is where my kids are vulnerable. And the notion that they were seeing their mother on Saturday Night Live being portrayed that way was not the greatest feeling.

S3: Hello, Slate Plus listeners. This is Episode 5 plus of slow burn season 2, I am We are Neyfakh and I’m here with my colleague Slate producer Mary Wilson. Hey, Liane. Hey, Mary. In these bonus episodes, we talk about some of the details and subplots that I could not fit into the mainframe episodes of Slow Burn.

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S4: We’ll also talk about Leon’s process in rereporting the story of the Clinton impeachment, how he made the decisions he made, why he made those storytelling decisions.

S3: Later in this episode, you will hear more from my extended interview with Linda Tripp. It’s a truly, truly extended interview. We’ve pared it down a little bit. But as we’ll talk about in a second, it was a marathon session was extended.

S4: It was a trip with that. But first, let’s talk about Slow Burn Episode 5 Tell-All. In this episode, we hear from Linda Tripp. We hear her impressions of Monica Lewinsky and her version of the affair between Lewinsky and the president. Namely, that it wasn’t an affair at all, according to Tripp, but an emotional abuse and abuse of power. We get the story of Tripp’s disillusionment with the Clintons, her decision to write a tell all book about working in the White House and her subsequent decision to coax the unwitting Lewinsky to talk about that affair with the president. As Tripp, of course, secretly recorded her Leon.

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S5: Are you ready for some questions? I am. Okay. You start this episode with a vignette of your own decision to tape Linda Tripp. It’s dark. It’s stormy. Slate newsroom on Friday night. And enough as a Friday night. That time it was. Yeah, OK.

S4: And so from there, you’ve got Linda Tripp on the phone.

S5: And then after that, you’re able to interview her more at length. Yeah. How do you convince her to talk to you? What did she want? What was her reason for wanting to do another interview?

S6: Yeah. Well, so, you know, it’s it’s worth saying that Tripp hasn’t given a lot of interviews. She’s given a couple. She appears in this Fox News documentary called Scandalous, more like a docu series that came out earlier this year. She has a couple of quotes in there. But, you know, for the most part, she sort of has remained, I think, a cipher. She’s so kind of larger than life in people’s minds because they remember how iconically villainous she seemed and how just cartoonishly evil like her.

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S7: Her heard you decision to betray her friend was that it’s just really sort of hard to think of her as a real person. And so when I called her, generally speaking, I just tried to be myself and kind of communicate to her that I was I was really interested in what she had to say and B, that I really was coming to the story with blank slate as one could. You know, I told her how old I was when all this happened. I told her what I remembered. I think I admitted to her that, like I thought of her as a as a as a cartoon villain, you know. And she she wasn’t surprised to hear that. She knows how people see Erdmann in her dress. Jackson Yeah, yeah, yeah. I tried to kind of convince her that I would be fair to her and that I would sort of really try to give her a chance to tell her version of the story. But that obviously that wasn’t that wasn’t all it took. Right. So so after we hung up that night, it was a couple of weeks before, you know, she decided that she would let me come see her. And even that was a two part process. I didn’t get into these details in the episode, but we settled on this plan where I would go to D.C. I live in I live in New York, and she she lived in rural Virginia. So I went down to D.C. on a Sunday night, went to go see her at her house on a Monday off the record. And we just sort of chatted for like four hours, four hours coming out. Yeah, yeah. We like, you know, we had lunch like hung out by her by her pool and stuff. So the idea was that she would sort of size me up and decide if she trusted me. And at the end of that, that meeting, she she said, OK, you can come on back, you know, on Wednesday in two days with your producer and your and your microphone.

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S5: So what was that like hanging out with her at her place? I mean, do you like her?

S8: Did I like her? The answer is yes. And partly maybe that’s just like it’s hard not to like someone after you spend so much time with them. You know, she’s really you know, her life is sort of defined by this to a certain extent. You know, she I think she has a new life that is not that does not have a lot of Clinton and Lewinsky in it. But I get that I mention in the show, you know, she’s got those books on her shelf that the you know, the the these these Post-it notes, that each one corresponds to a factual error.

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S7: So it’s definitely something that’s in the back of her mind. I think she thinks back to how she was portrayed in the media with a lot of sadness and an embarrassment. One thing I’ll say, I’m not sure if it is there’s a delicate way to put this, but she’s like completely unrecognizable physically. A lot of our listeners, we have seen photos of her from that time. You know, she was really overweight. She sort of had a certain like kind of funny haircut. And it was very easy to kind of turn her into a into a cartoon character.

S5: I mean, for someone who grew up in D.C.. Yeah. Like in the D.C. area, she looks very much like someone who goes to work in D.C. like skirt suit and tennis shoes on the metro. Doesn’t look glamorous, but she looks like like a working woman at 90.

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S8: I would say she now looks glamorous. Yeah. Yeah, which is funny because she lives like a you know, on a horse farm. And really, it’s you know, you don’t really think that someone lives on a horse farm easily. Famer’s battuta, you know, she she really looks like a different like a different person. And I think that’s I think that was a conscious effort on her part because she does look back on that time specifically on her and her portrayal in the media with a lot of pain. So, you know, so you asked if I liked her. And part of the answer is like it’s hard not to like someone who is telling you how much pain they are feeling about something. Morley’s it’s hard not to feel sorry for them, even if even if I still like consider what she did, you know, an act of utter malevolence or deception or whatever. Like part of the story is trying to figure out the difference between what people do and who they are. And I think that probably applies to her as much as it applies to anyone else in the saga.

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S4: Okay. So was there anything great that you had to leave out this episode?

S6: Yeah, there was one thing that I had written into a late version of the script that we ended up taking out. And it’s been it’s something that Linda Tripp told me about when we were I think we were done with the interview or maybe we were just taking a break, but we were in a backyard and there’s like a little swimming pool back there. And her horse has a rack there, too, like a bunch of the horses. And these are like these are like real. I don’t know about horses, but these were fancy isn’t real. These are fancy cars. A fancy, real fancy horses. I think they like take care of horses for jockeys, like people who race horses, people who like show horses. Anyway, a couple of them were back there and we like fed them treats or whatever. And then she told me this incredible story about how one of the horses accidently. Walked into the swimming pool in the middle of winter and the pool had a cover on it, but it fell. It fell in the cover fell in under the weight of the horse. And so the horse was was in the water in the middle of the winter and the horse was just standing there and the horse was pregnant. That’s the other thing. The horse is pregnant. Like weeks away from delivery. And so this pregnant horses in the water. And Linda Tripp’s daughter, adult daughter, who I think is the main person who takes care of the horses, got into the water with the horse and just stood there like freezing for like an hour, holding up the horse’s head so that it wouldn’t drown. And they just waited for the fire department to arrive so they could, like, hoist the horse out. And then the horse survived and so did it. So that it’s. Baby, full, full yet. So. So I don’t know what it is about that story, just the image of a desperate, scared horse standing in cold water while someone hold his head up so it doesn’t drown, just fills me with something. And so I wanted to use that story maybe at the end of the episode, but it felt like too freighted with symbolism. I didn’t really understand. Like, I was like, what am I? Who’s like, who’s who in this? You know, is she the horses whose body? You know, it’s just it felt like I was going to be implying that someone was the horse and someone was the gutter and maybe someone was the day before. I don’t know. I just I realized I didn’t know what I was saying by including that story. So I’m glad to tell it here without sort of any context, because I don’t I don’t know sort of why it resonated so much with me. But I feel like I think it would be it would be a good story, even if it wasn’t for the trip. Even if it wasn’t the trip. Horse farm.

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S4: Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Yeah. Borges would like that. I do have one question about the small detail from the mainframe episode IV. Was it weird that Lewinsky was calling Tripp three or four times a day? Or is it just weird to me now because I text people, don’t call people?

S8: Well, it’s a good question. I do think it was unusual. I think there was like probably an obsessive quality to their relationship as well. They were mutually obsessed or something. Yeah. And, you know, I think Linda at one point said to me like, oh, you know, I never called her. She always called me, which I don’t think is true because there’s definitely phone calls that she taped where Linda calls Monica. Those kind of little details make me nervous. Like, I’m like, well, why am I taking her word for all this? You know, like, why? Why is she really like a reliable narrator? And answer is, no, she’s not. Because not just because she’s like, motivated to portray yourself a certain way, but because it’s been 20 years and she doesn’t remember.

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S6: And it’s a really traumatic thing in her memory that perhaps has settled in a in a way that’s not entirely consistent with what really happened. I mean, it was all straightforward forward like what to take at face value and what’s to sort of push back against and try to. Proved wrong, I guess.

S4: OK, so that’s our recap of Sullivan’s mainframe. Episode 5, Leon, we’re going to play this extended interview of yours with Linda Tripp. This is day two of you hanging out with Linda Tripp at her home in rural Virginia. Is there anything else we should know to set this up?

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S6: No. I guess for one thing, I would say when one last thing I’d say is, I mean, as people who listen to episode five already know, I had this whole, like, private drama about whether I was going to use the secret recording I made of Linda Tripp on my first night of talking to her.

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S3: And I decided not to. And I suspect maybe some listeners are curious what’s on that tape. I will reveal exclusively here that there’s not that much on it. That’s not in the thing that you’re about to hear. Like she didn’t say anything to me on that first night that turned out to be off limits only when we revisited all my questions. The next time we we spoke. I’m not holding out on anyone with the secret tape, which is still sitting in my harddrive, but will not be will not be made public.

S6: So the way we started out was Tripp told me that before the whole Lewinsky Clinton saga began, she wasn’t invested in politics. She worked on politicians, obviously, but she considered herself a political.

S9: I was prior to working in the Bush White House was except I was ignorantly apolitical.

S10: Well, in that I didn’t pay attention. I kind of figured they were all the same. And that it didn’t matter. And my vote. Who cared? Because let the grownups take care of it. It just never occurred to me that it was important to pay attention to the issues. Never.

S11: You mentioned that your friend, your family growing up and how they were pretty liberal. Right up there, they voted Democrat.

S10: Yes, they were. But we weren’t raised in a political atmosphere any time. We were raised in a extremely patriotic household. And that wasn’t atypical for families in the 50s. It was a lot of flag waving, a lot of respect for the military. My parents were professionals, but also active in the community. It was instilled in us at an early age that those who were given much should give it in return. But in any case, it was that kind of background. It was a church every Sunday without fail confession, every Saturday without fail. It was a strict upbringing. Values were instilled at an early age with very few shades of grey. And I think that sort of background helped form the person I became. As I move forward in life, I married a service member and a lieutenant in the army and chose to work for the federal civil service. My lifelong dream since the Kennedys actually had been to work in the White House in any capacity at all, but it was not politically driven in any way because I couldn’t even differentiate between the parties. So when I arrived and when I was hired in the Bush White House, my sense of accomplishment wasn’t that I was now working for a Republican president. It was that I was allowed the honor of working in the people’s House. And that was something that caused me to pinch myself every day without fail. It was almost amazing to me that I had achieved that goal in any capacity. During the Bush White House, I was essentially forced to become familiar with issues of the day. Everything is earthshaking in the White House. Everything has import of significance to people all over the world.

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S12: And so, yes, by default, I started paying attention to the to the issues. What was your job in the White House beginning? In the beginning, I was hired as a floater. A floater is administrative assistants to the senior staff of the president, including the president. And keep in mind, when I was hired at the White House and swore an oath of office there, it was two civil support, the institution of the presidency, specifically not the sitting president.

S11: Do you remember watching or hearing ads from the Clinton campaign during the 92 election that were like negative on? Bush on your boss, basically.

S12: Yeah. And I guess what I objected to during that time was that when I knew to be true was that president and Mrs. Bush were decent, kind human beings. He was a dignified statesman, but was an ineffective politician. He didn’t have the gift of gab or the gift of charisma. It was his decency that drew me to President Bush and Mrs. Bush, actually.

S10: They were hard not to respect.

S11: Was there a chance that you would lose your job or leave the White House with the changeover within the Clinton campaign?

S12: When when Clinton won, I think everyone serves at the pleasure of the president. So even though I was in civil service, I may have been asked to leave. In which case I would have had an option that political appointees would not have had to return to a position in the career civil service. I understood the process. It had been drilled into me from day one at the White House that presidents are here for a very short time. You do your best to support that president. However, your loyalty is always to the next. As a representative of the institution, not the incumbent. There was no disloyalty. This was my job and I’ve always been one to want to do my job to the best of my ability. And I like a structured environment. I liked the rules. I liked the fact that my job was to be loyal to the institution. So I fully expected to not remain in the Oval. But in fact, I did for three months. At the end of the three months was when Vince Foster asked if I would consider taking a permanent position with Bernie Nussbaum, who was his boss and the counsel to the president in the White House counsel’s office. Yes. And that’s the position I took. However, only under the caveat that I could retain my civil service. A political status in the White House.

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S11: Yes. That move happened three months in the administration.

S10: Right. It was, I would say, close to the end of April of 93.

S11: I think I asked you whether you’d form an opinion or form an impression of Clinton or the Clintons as a couple during the campaign. Did your sense of them change over those three months?

S12: You know, it’s funny. It was so fascinating to me that a president of my generation was going to be in office. I mean, it was almost like the kids were ruling the school. Like, how could this be possible that someone close in age to me, in fact, he was my husband’s age.

S13: But to say that I was dismayed in the beginning is an understatement. I just didn’t even know how to take it in or what caused my despair.

S14: Was the Clintons behind closed doors? Compared to what was being put out publicly? One gal who worked for directly for President Clinton when I voiced my concerns about a few things to her and I had a great deal of respect for her. She was great. This was not Betty Currie, by the way. I said, look, we can’t do things this way. You know, we have to sort of try to do things the right way. And her comment to me and she had been with the Clintons for quite some time was here, not in the Bush White House anymore.

S13: And Linda and I said understatement of the century.

S14: It was the disdain and contempt for the military, all the while working on the don’t ask, don’t tell. Right. As though this was going to be a gift to the military. The reality was that they were contemptuous of the military and that was painful. That hurt my heart. Having been married to a soldier for 20 years and living that life, they didn’t want a uniformed presence in the White House.

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S11: Did you interpret that as a as a manifestation of their could be background?

S10: Yeah, actually, in the beginning I did. I thought, you know, we are just coming at this from an enormous divide. But I expected so much more from the commander in chief. Look, as a teenager, I miss the whole hippie movement, even though I was. Smack dab in the middle of the timeframe. Yeah, but I was a nerd and I was very much a straight arrow. I had never tried pot. And I’m going to take care of that one day. But I had a I had a completely different mindset than those who were coming in, who had clearly spent a lot of time enjoying the hippie years back in the sixties. But that isn’t it wasn’t the the attire. It wasn’t they. The way they comported themselves so much as what they were doing behind the scenes.

S11: Can I ask you, Linda, to just give me give me like one more example. What bothered you? So I think I want to make sure it’s vivid for our listeners, like what you were seeing and what you’re talking about when you say that they were doing something unheard of for, you know, for occupants of the White House.

S15: Well, let me.

S10: I can give you small examples and I will give you more significant examples than the Bush White House. You couldn’t set foot in the West Wing until your background check had been adjudicated and you had your permanent security clearance, which allowed you the privilege of wearing the blue West Wing badge. Fast forward to the Clinton years, and essentially no one did their security clearances for the first year. To me, that was a big deal. You know, when I look back, I realize that nothing could have prepared me for those three months. Nothing, because in one fell swoop, everything I thought to be true.

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S16: Came crashing down upon me, for instance. The correspondence unit of the White House supports the president by churning out all the executive orders just as an example or responding to mail. The correspondence unit was made up of. I’m not sure how many. Let’s just use 20 people as an example, all of whom had been there for many, many years. Every president since they began retain them because they were part of the institutional fabric of keeping the White House running, that kind of thing. One of the women had actually worked during the Kennedy administration. So even at that point, that was 30 years. These were dedicated civil servants who took great pride in what they did and they were frighteningly efficient. It sounds easy. What they were doing, it wasn’t because everything had to be absolutely letter perfect. When I started in the Oval Office, I became very quickly aware that they were going to do away with the people who occupied those positions in the correspondence unit. And I honestly couldn’t believe it because a from a practical perspective, to get up to speed with new people would be almost impossible without creating a literally millions of documents backlog. But on a personal level, these women were so proud to be a small part in the cog of the operation of the White House that I couldn’t really believe that they could be fired without some sort of thanks or some sort of acknowledgement of what they had done all these years. But yet I was seeing what was happening behind the scenes and the plan was to fire them summarily out the door, take your stuff out of your desk, leave and don’t come back. That’s precisely what happened. All of them. Bill Clinton had one of his campaign issues had been reducing the size of government, I believe, by 25 percent. So when this became public, it was attributed to the cutting that he had promised within the federal government. Except that the next day the desks were filled with political appointees of the Clintons. You know, it wasn’t to cut the government by 25 percent. It was that Hillary wanted all her people in all positions that quickly then and almost simultaneously behind the scenes led to the Travelgate. So, I mean, these are small examples of the machinations that were going on that were completely not only misrepresented to the American people, but it was hiding. And an element of the rules don’t apply. We do what we want and we lying cover up about it to get away with it.

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S17: How central is the sexual behavior to your general like distaste for this administration?

S15: On a scale of one to 10, comparing it to all the other, it was relatively small because you become jaded over time. You realize that this is just what he does. Did I object to it? Of course I did. Was it foreign to me? Yeah, it was. But it pales in comparison. Now, mind you, I’m talking about consensual between two real adults who are making real adult decisions. To me, that was kind of like their business. I found it unattractive and odd, but compared to everything else, it was relatively minor.

S18: So I ask, you know, how much time.

S11: But I wanna make sure I ask you about what it was like after the story broke for you.

S19: Do we have to go there so bad? It’s just too bad watching my family have to endure all of the hate and the venom and the constant scrutiny by the media. Just private life ceased to exist. That was. That was very difficult and they were sort of tarred with the same brush.

S1: They were my children. So they were the spawn of Satan. I pride myself on being pretty strong. Where I’m weakest is where my kids are vulnerable.

S11: And the notion that they were seeing their mother on Saturday Night Live being portrayed that way was not the greatest feeling you remember ever feeling like self-doubt to the point where you watch these depictions of yourself and, you know, somebody will call you a villain and all this kind of thing. And actually, like, did you did any part of you ever accountable? You see yourself that.

S19: I was so consumed with guilt for those three months of whatever you want to call it, the three months, October, November and December, that it resonated with me because I felt pretty much villainous ish. I certainly looked the part. And let’s just say that I understood why it was very easy for the Clintons and those in the media who chose to portray me as a villain to do so. Bear in mind that during that time there was not a single entity that didn’t support him. The feminists, the entertainment industry, the media complex and the White House all said this was between a man and his wife. It’s none of her business. She’s the evil one. He’s the victim of this evil one. And that was the end of it when it became an affair, when it became a consenting affair between two adults.

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S10: Then I became a prude, a prig betrayer.

S17: People didn’t see it as an act of abuse.

S19: No, they saw it as how it was presented by the media, the entertainment industry and by the Clintons. And so you don’t fight that. How does someone remember the White House has unlimited resources when it comes to PR?

S20: I mean, at the drop of a hat, they can hold a press conference.

S1: They have folks who will go out on air 24/7.

S20: And now we are in a 24/7 news cycle and speak on their behalf. I had no one. I wasn’t about to go out and do it.

S17: You did speak once publicly at least right on the courthouse steps. Yes. And you said and I’m quite interested.

S1: I am you. Yes. You as the worst statement I’ve ever made.

S19: I tried to make people understand that I was just a civil servant doing my job in a set of circumstances that compelled me to come forward, that I felt it was my duty to come forward, that I was no different than any one else. I didn’t have an agenda other than the exposure of this behavior. It had nothing to do with politics. Had he been Republican, there would have been no difference here for you at all.

S11: For you?

S17: Well, yeah, but I mean, meaning your your your antipathy towards him had nothing to do with his policies, but rather what he was doing his behavior.

S15: Why can’t people separate behavior from political leanings when you color the lens through only a political prism? That’s what you’re left with. So the people who supported me hated him. And I believe that hasn’t changed to this day.

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S17: You want people to believe that you didn’t do this out of a desire for financial gain or notoriety that you wanted, that you did this out of a sincere.

S15: But I want to pose it as a negative. What I didn’t do. I’d like them to see what I did do.

S21: And what I did do was make a conscious choice to say this is unacceptable, completely unacceptable for anyone, let alone the leader of the free world in the Oval Office with what amounted to someone a little less than a full fully capable of consenting adult. I have always said, and the reason I keep a very low profile is that I don’t want to make a career out of defending myself. If you don’t understand that, there’s nothing I can do about it. But you’ll notice I have not written a book. I have not gone on the speaking circuit. All these things were available. I have instead retreated into private life with family, which is the only thing that counts anyway. And my dearest friends.

S11: Do you still think about it every day?

S20: No. Oh, God, no. It’s it doesn’t define my life. It was a negative chapter. But when you’re confronted with news that brings it back, the metoo movement has awakened a lot of dormant feelings.

S21: And remember, I have five grandchildren, rather five granddaughters, I have seven grandchildren. And what I felt then so strongly. I didn’t think I could feel more strongly about anything having a daughter close in age to Monica. However, 20 years later, I feel even more so as I watch these five little girls growing up. And the fact that we didn’t take a stand against that behavior 20 years, 20 years ago frightens me for the future. I’m heartened by the metoo movement. I just hope it can catch up with itself by the time my little granddaughters are in the workplace as young women. Had there been real accountability and censure for what he did? And I don’t mean impeachment necessarily. I think we’d be in a different place today. I think me too would have been history and we would have been so much further along with ensuring that none of this happened in the workplace, making it the exception rather than the rule.

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S22: As I’ve said before, very little has changed in that time. But I think we are finally on the right track.

S6: All right. That was my interview with Linda Tripp. Thank you to everyone who listened to this. Thank you fiercely. Plus, membership really does help make slow burn possible. And if you’re enjoying these bonus episodes, please spread the word. Tell your friends and family to sign up. Tell them that these are extras that are worth their time. And we would really appreciate that.

S5: And these episodes are produced by Jeff Friedrich. Thanks, Jeff, and thanks to everyone for listening. See you next week.