In the first episode of American Crime Story: Impeachment, Linda Tripp has been transferred from the White House to the Pentagon. On her first day, she turns around and snipes at a new coworker, “Please don’t listen to my calls. It’s tremendously inappropriate.” For anyone with tangential access to a television in the late 90s, they know how tremendously ironic that statement is, too. In fact, the career trajectory of Tripp is the powder keg into one of the most prolific political scandals of the 20th century. Arguably, had it not been for Tripp’s job transfer, the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky saga may have never fully come to light. But to understand the story of Clinton, Lewinsky, and American Crime Story: Impeachment, you first have to understand Linda Tripp.
Tripp got her start in high-level government politics in 1987, working first at the Pentagon before transferring in 1990 to work as an aide at the Bush White House. In the role of civil servant, she found a steady place in the White House and rose through the ranks to become a well-known administrative assistant in the West Wing. But that position was slightly jeopardized beginning in 1993, when Bush left office and Clinton moved into the presidency. Even with a change in president and political party leadership, Tripp was kept on, as administrative assistants were low-level enough that replacement wasn’t top of mind.
Under the Clinton administration, she was moved to special assistant to the counsel of the President, working alongside White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum and deputy counsel Vincent Foster. That is largely where the story picks up in Impeachment, specifically in regard to Tripp’s relationship with Foster. The day that he died by suicide, she was the last one to see him alive. Following his suicide, Tripp had a meeting with Lucianne Goldberg, a prolific book agent who spoke to Tripp about writing about her time in the White House. At the time, she turned the offer down, keeping all information about her time (including Foster’s suicide) to herself. Soon after, in August of 1994, Tripp was moved to a job at the Pentagon. Initially deemed a “promotion” with a substantial salary raise, Tripp made it clear that she preferred to work in the White House.
A couple years went by before the next big chapter in Tripp’s life. After initially turning down a book, Tripp dabbled in a few different ideas with Goldberg, including a more straightforward telling of her life and what she had seen. Though the series suggests that Goldberg was not interested, Tripp and her shopped the idea around, particularly as it pertained to a 1993 allegation from White House volunteer Kathleen Willey, alleging that she was sexually harassed by Bill Clinton. Of course, the trajectory of Tripp’s life changed when White House intern Monica Lewinsky was transferred to the Pentagon, working alongside Tripp.
In 1996, Tripp recalls meeting Lewinsky in her tell-all memoir. Tripp suggests that Lewinsky alluded to her ongoing relationship with Bill Clinton early on in their friendship, eventually opening up about the larger affair that she and the president had. She also added that her time at the Department of Defense was temporary, and she’d return to the White House after the election. At the same time, Tripp was facing her own PR nightmare, after speaking out against Willey’s allegations to a Newsweek reporter. The White House in turn said that Tripp should not be believed. As the interactions between Lewinsky and Clinton grew more and more alarming, Goldberg suggested that it would behoove Tripp to record the conversations she had with Lewinsky, thus helping to clear her name.
The tapes, which could have gotten Tripp charged with wiretapping, ended up being her own greatest asset. In a separate case involving Paula Jones (which begins to unravel in the first episode of Impeachment), Lewinsky was called in and denied a relationship with then President Clinton. But in 1998, in exchange for her own immunity, Tripp turned over her recorded conversations with Lewinsky. Lewinsky had allegedly attempted to get Tripp to perjure herself, but Tripp turned over the tapes instead. The friendship between Lewinsky and Tripp soon after dissolved for good.
Eventually, with the use of the tapes, intimate details of Clinton and Lewinsky’s relationship were revealed, leading investigators to discover that Clinton had not just engaged in an inappropriate relationship, but had perjured himself by lying about the nature of their relationship. Clinton was brought up on two articles of impeachment, both of which were eventually dismissed after the Senate failed to reach the two-thirds majority to remove Clinton from office.
After Clinton left office, Tripp subsequently lost her job at the Pentagon, which Tripp deemed to be a vindictive move despite others suggesting that turnover at the end of a administration was a natural cycle. Eventually, Tripp went on to live a private life in Virginia before dying of pancreatic cancer in 2020.
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