||Margaret Carlson was named in 1994 the first woman columnist in TIME's history. She writes primarily about policy and politics and is a regular panelist on CNN's Capital Gang.
With A Friend Like This...
By Margaret Carlson
(TIME, February 9) -- Friends don't tape friends, so could we all quit calling Linda Tripp anything but the spy-provocateur she is? Nothing in this mess is more inexplicable than how anyone could record, day after day, the most intimate details, real or imagined, of another person's life. Tripp claims to have so insinuated herself into Lewinsky's life that the two had a sleepover at Monica's apartment. That was the night Tripp claims the President phoned at 2 a.m. Lewinsky's lawyer says Tripp "was never privy" to such a call.
Last Friday, Tripp issued a statement to offset her image as the villain of the piece. But it's too late for that. It's now clear that Tripp made the tapes not because she wanted to forestall a challenge to her veracity if she had to out Monica Lewinsky the way she did Kathleen Willey. She didn't put them in a vault to be used defensively. She voluntarily played them for Ken Starr in a pre-emptive strike against the White House she hated, at the expense of the person she had befriended. She readily became an informant and was wired to get evidence admissible in court. She subsequently invited her "friend" to a lunch so FBI agents could grab Lewinsky and take her upstairs for questioning.
Tripp did this even though she was not in any jeopardy, not even of losing her job. She comes across as a busybody with a large chip on her shoulder who'd had her first attempt at a White House book rejected. Egged on by book agent Lucianne Goldberg, Tripp reached for the On button. No one likes a snitch, especially one with so much to gain. So on Friday, Tripp explained, "I struggled long and hard... I was facing substantial risk of losing everything I have aspired to..." She went on to rail against "McCarthyistic" tactics, as if she were the one who had been taped and handed over to the FBI. Still, she couldn't resist adding juicy details -- that some of the alleged calls were "volatile and contentious" -- just in case anyone doubted she had more dirt to unload. She certainly can play the bitter secretary in the sure-to-come Lifetime movie.
In his last conversation with colleagues, White House counsel Vince Foster said he couldn't understand how so much of what he did or said found its way into the press. Secretary Linda Tripp sat just outside his office -- delivered him his last meal, in fact. Perhaps, like Lewinsky, Foster was too close to the wrong person.
--With reporting by John Cloud/Washington