As the Cameras Roll, Tripp Finally Makes Her Talking Points
She has been ridiculed for her physical appearance, assailed as a treacherous friend, relentlessly shellacked as a political operative out to get President Clinton and lampooned without mercy on television.
But finally, and at last, what has gone around, came around for Linda Tripp. On Wednesday afternoon, on the steps of the federal courthouse here and with the close of the grand jury testimony she had longed these six months to deliver, she broke her silence.
“I’m you,” she told America.
She stood unbowed before the cameras and the microphones and the reporters’ notebooks. Her face trembled but she did not break down. Her voice cracked but she completed her statement, more memorized than read, from the paper crackling in her hand.
She never betrayed Monica S. Lewinsky, she said; she only encouraged her to tell the truth. She did not fiendishly conspire to bring down the Clinton presidency, but she did insist that it was right to speak out against wrongdoing in high places. She was not behind the so-called “talking points,” but whoever was, she said, should own up to a charge of obstruction of justice.
Most important, she said, she is not the villain.
“I have been vilified for taking the path of truth,” Tripp said. “I’ve been maligned by people who have chosen not to tell the truth and who know that they are not telling the truth.”
She was introduced by Philip Coughter, the media liaison for her legal team.
“She has never enjoyed being in the limelight,” Coughter said, as if in apology for the endless monotony borne by the camera crews following her silent march from her suburban home to the family car in the morning and then back home again at night.
“She has, however, agreed to make a few brief remarks,” Coughter said.
And so, Tripp stepped up to the gaggle of mikes, dignified in her dark suit and with the string of white pearls barely distinguishable against her white blouse.
“Good afternoon,” she began. “I’m not a public speaker. I’m going to have to refer to my notes. Please bear with me.”
She spoke of one’s civic duty to testify truthfully under oath. “I hope, I sincerely hope, that all remaining witnesses will do the same,” she said, clearly aiming the remark at the two most important remaining witnesses, Lewinsky and Clinton.
“I am encouraged that it appears from press reports that Monica has decided to cooperate with the independent counsel. The facts will show that, time after time, I urged her to tell the truth, right up until the end.”
But Monica and the president aside, who is Linda?
“There has been a great deal of speculation about just who I am and how I got here,” Tripp said. “Well, the answer is simple. I’m you. I’m just like you.”
She said she was an average American; a military wife for 20 years, a government employee for 18. “I never, ever, asked to be placed in this position,” Tripp said.
Without naming her, she accused Lewinsky of urging her to commit a felony and lie about the president and other women. She complained about how the president’s lawyer, Robert S. Bennett, had publicly called her a liar “in front of the whole country.” She recalled the nonstop disparagement that her son and daughter heard about their mother--who until now was “not going to defend herself.”
But she said that from 1993 to last year, first as a White House employee and later as a Pentagon bureaucrat, she became aware of “actions by high government officials that may have been against the law.”
With “fear no longer my master,” her arms filled with 20 hours of surreptitiously recorded tapes, she went in January to independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr’s office. “This investigation has never been, quote, just about sex,” she said. “It has been about telling the truth. The truth matters.”
Truth to her was standing before the public and saying: “I bear no malice toward anyone in this case.” And that included “many in the entertainment industry [who] have chosen to ridicule me . . . going so far as to even make fun of my appearance in a manner so mean and so cruel that I pray none of you is ever subjected to it.”
The last word, then, was hers. “I believe in our country,” she said. “As I said, I’m no different than any of you.”
She left without taking questions, and all that was left was her one final, long sigh into the microphones.