Tony Snow Creators Syndicate
7/31/98 RELEASE: FRIDAY, JULY 31, 1998, AND THEREAFTER
WASHINGTON -- Linda Tripp bid farewell last Wednesday to the grand jury impaneled by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr. She delivered a few remarks to the jurors and then made her way outside to a waiting horde of reporters.
She felt calm, confident, poised.
But as she descended the courthouse steps, her son, Ryan, leaned over and said, "Don't worry, you're going to be fine."
Then Phillip Coughter, an old friend and now a spokesman, whispered, "Don't worry just because this is on international television."
A few steps later, attorney Joe Murtha pulled her aside: "Just forget that millions of people are watching this."
And lead attorney Anthony Zaccagnini offered a final bit of advice: "If you start shaking, just hold your hands so the press can't see."
By the time Tripp reached the microphone and began to address reporters, she was trembling life a leaf.
Most Americans can identify with this kind of fear. We find only one thing more frightening than speaking to strangers, and that's death. So when Tripp trembled, she offered a glimpse of something we have seen seldom in L'Affaire Lewinsky: authentic human emotion.
A bit of serendipity helped her through her six-minute oration. Just beyond the reporters stood a patriotic scultpure bearing quotations from the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the 14th Amendment. Tripp's eyes lighted on the first engraved phrase: "We hold these truths to be self-evident. ..."
"I was mesmerized by it," she recalls. "I almost threw my notes away." And at the end, she did. She closed by speaking from the heart:
"I believe in our country. As I said, I'm no different than any of you. I believe you have the right to tell the truth under oath, and I believe you have the right to do so without fear of retribution or worse. ... It is a right all of us should be fighting for."
Tripp's performance was a far cry from the slick and practiced statements delivered by the likes of Vernon Jordan. It bore no resemblance to the rehearsed assaults on her, Kenneth Starr or anybody else who has dared question the probity of a patently corrupt president.
Yet it also featured a fair share of zingers, including the following passage: "I became aware between 1993 and 1997 of actions by high government officials that may have been against the law.
"For that period of nearly five years, the things I witnessed concerning several different subjects made me increasingly fearful that this information was dangerous -- very dangerous -- to possess."
She identified the two enduring features of the Clinton scandals: brazen lawlessness and witness intimidation. With Tripp, the administration's oft-used "nuts and sluts" assault failed. She pushed back her fear and talked -- and in months to come, others may do the same.
Even though she has taken vicious hits from such political giants as Jay Leno and John Goodman, Tripp says she's nobody's victim. She merely stood up for her rights. "We all share the same rights," she says with conviction. "It's our country, not Bill Clinton's country."
And now, she feels free to recount some of the things she has seen. She says she was shaken by White House dishonesty during investigations of Vince Foster's death, Filegate, Travelgate and reports of drug abuse among administration employees. "It's chilling," she says, "to watch high government officials lie under oath."
She says a political operative recently approached her attorney, Anthony Zaccagnini, and relayed stunning news. The man said the White House legal team had asked him to root through Tripp's trash and perform a back audit on all her tax returns. "Tell her to watch what she puts in the garbage," he warned, noting that he had turned down the commission from Team Clinton. Tripp doesn't consider that unusual. It turns out Monica Lewinsky gave her much more than talking points. The intern also relayed threats from the president during the Kathleen Willey controversy.
Tripp had alerted her White House superiors that Michael Isikoff of Newsweek was about to print Willey's claim that the president assailed her sexually. The administration wanted Tripp to observe the old rule of omierta. So the messages came: "(Talking to Isikoff) is a dangerous thing to do."
"Team players don't do this. You need to be a team player."
"You have two children to think about."
"This is not a good career move."
She says presidential fixer Bruce Lindsey told her she would be "destroyed" if she went public with anything she had seen.
For a while, the threats worked. "Fear is a magnificent motivator," she says. "There is none quite like it. But you do get to a point where you say either, 'I'm going to continue this way and do what I need to keep my health and my job', or, 'I'm mad, and I'm not gonna take it anymore.
Tripp made her choice. "There are no standards in that White House," she says, "and I'm not going to be a part of it. I'm going to expose it."
To find out more about Tony Snow and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 1998 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
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