Advertisement
Share

Records Show Tripp Was Paid Well

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Linda Tripp, who instigated the Monica S. Lewinsky investigation, got hefty pay raises and outstanding performance evaluations in her job at the Pentagon even though her government supervisors considered her a problem employee, recently released records show.

The worker who said that she saw too much at the White House, then taped her phone conversations with Lewinsky and gave them to President Clinton’s investigators, received the latest wage increase in August, boosting her annual salary to $90,767.

But in June, Tripp’s former boss told a federal grand jury that “it has been difficult, if not impossible, to get her to do any work” since she began a special assignment working at home for the Pentagon. She was assigned to do her work there after independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr gave her immunity in January in exchange for testifying about her surreptitious taping of Lewinsky.

Tripp’s job history provides a glimpse into the curious world of a federal worker enmeshed in one of the Clinton White House controversies. In exchange for leaving the White House without a fuss, the banished worker sometimes can get a good job elsewhere with regular raises--and without having to do much work or being held accountable.

Advertisement

Tripp left the White House in 1994 after falling out of favor in the Vincent Foster suicide controversy. Lewinsky, a former White House intern, was transferred to the Pentagon in 1996 after becoming sexually involved with Clinton. Lewinsky also received a big pay raise but has acknowledged that she had little interest in her new job and spent her time plotting her return to the White House.

A spokesman for Tripp did not return calls seeking comment about her work. In the past she has contended that she was a “valued and lauded staff member” who has now been set up by the Pentagon for failure because of her role in the Lewinsky investigation.

Transfers as a Way to Avoid Firing

Tripp went to the Pentagon as a political, rather than civil service, employee at a pay scale higher than 97% of all civilian government workers.

Historically, administrations have used political jobs to reward big contributors and loyal campaign staff members.

“Presidents use them in different ways,” said Marlin Fitzwater who served as spokesman for the Reagan and Bush White Houses. “Usually, they’re given jobs that are in effect rewards for political service.” But some can be used for an “up and out thing,” he said. “If you don’t want to fire somebody, you transfer them.”

Tripp’s odyssey from the White House to the Pentagon began in August 1994, according to testimony and records released recently from independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr’s investigation of the Lewinsky scandal.

Clifford Bernath, then a deputy assistant secretary of Defense for public affairs, testified that he received a phone call from the Pentagon’s White House liaison office with the news: “I have a priority placement. She’s going to go to public affairs. Create a job for her.”

The salary was set at $69,427--a boost of $21,000 from her administrative job at the White House.

“Somebody made a decision to give her what would be an extraordinary raise and to put her into this position,” Bernath testified. Her job: setting up television appearances for the secretary of Defense. At the White House, Tripp had been a holdover from the Bush administration, where she worked in the secretarial pool. Clinton kept her on and she ended up as special assistant to counsel to the president.

In July 1993, she was one of the last people to see White House lawyer Foster before he committed suicide. She later gave critical testimony about White House aides’ handling of his files. In November 1993, she said that she saw a White House worker, Kathleen E. Willey, emerge disheveled from the Oval Office with her lipstick smeared.

Before long Tripp realized that she was in disfavor. She complained to presidential aide Bruce Lindsey. Then she was offered the Pentagon job, at a salary even higher than she had thought possible.

But Tripp wanted more. In her testimony before Starr’s grand jury, she said that she had accumulated 900 hours of compensatory time and was angry to discover that she could not take it with her.

She wasted no time telling her new bosses that she was special, according to Bernath. “It must have been her first day or her second day, she said: ‘You know, I’m, I’m involved in . . . Vince Foster and I’m involved in a lot of things and I know a lot of things and this is why I need privacy and this is why I should be treated differently,’ ” Bernath testified.

Within two months, Tripp’s behavior prompted Bernath to write a three-page memo about her. “She has been a disruptive force since her arrival and nothing we do seems to assuage her,” he wrote. He complained that she fought daily with co-workers, sending a barrage of nasty e-mail messages to anyone who disagreed with her. He said that she found silly reasons to leave work early, including that her cat was sick.

He complained to the Pentagon’s White House liaison office and was told that “basically, this was my problem and we had to deal with it.” She received four pay increases in 1995 and 1996.

Worked at Home After Role Became Public

After the first year, Tripp got a new assignment, helping coordinate a yearly conference of 60 opinion leaders who come to Washington for a weeklong inside view of the Pentagon. In January, when Tripp’s role in the Lewinsky scandal became public, she was assigned to work at home. The Pentagon asked her to put together a manual on how to run the conference, one of the Pentagon’s oldest programs.

But almost immediately, there was trouble. She asked the Pentagon to ship some documents to her home but then complained that the material was useless. She blasted her bosses in an e-mail message, saying that she felt “a veiled hostility toward me as a cooperating witness.” She threatened legal action.

These days, she remains on special status, subject to 30-day reviews. It is unclear what, if anything, Tripp has done to complete the conference guide. The Pentagon declined to comment on the project.


Advertisement