NEW YORK — As a White House staffer who worked directly adjacent to Hillary Clinton’s second floor West Wing office, Linda Tripp was afforded a front row seat to some of the most infamous scandals to rock the Bill Clinton White House.
Tripp possesses insider information on the scandals known as Travelgate, Filegate and Whitewater, and she personally witnessed the handling of documents from Vince Foster’s office the morning after the Deputy White House Counsel was found dead in an apparent suicide. Foster was heavily involved in defending the Clintons in the Travelgate, Filegate and Whitewater cases. Tripp was the last person known to have spoken to Foster before his death.
In an exclusive interview, Tripp reopened each of those scandals – Travelgate, Filegate, Whitewater and the issues surrounding Vince Foster’s death – and she used her unique vantage point to explain how the notorious cases foreshadowed many of the current Clinton controversies, from the Clinton Foundation to Hillary Clinton’s private email server troubles.
Tripp spoke in an hour-long interview set to air in full on this reporter’s Sunday night talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio,” broadcast on New York’s AM 970 The Answer and NewsTalk 990 AM in Philadelphia.
Tripp is well-known for her role in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, documenting evidence of the young intern’s relationship with Bill Clinton and submitting the documentation to independent counsel Kenneth Starr, leading to the public disclosure of the affair.
However, many people may be surprised to learn of Tripp’s larger role in the West Wing, and her firsthand experiences behind the curtain of the Clinton scandal machine.
Tripp was brought to the Clinton administration from the George H.W. Bush White House, where she served as executive assistant to the deputy chief of staff to the president, a role that enabled her to become familiar with the inner workings of the West Wing.
During the Clinton administration, she first served as support staff to the Immediate Office of the President, where she sat just outside Bill Clinton’s Oval Office. After three months, Foster asked Tripp to work for the White House Counsel’s office as executive assistant to White House Counsel Bernie Nussbaum, who played a lead role in defending the Clintons in their infamous scandals.
No respect for classified, sensitive documents
As a crossover staffer from the Bush White House, Tripp explained that she observed significant differences in the manner in which classified material was handled by both the Clinton and Bush administrations. She personally witnessed behavior that may have foreshadowed Clinton’s future email issues in which the presidential candidate sent sensitive data over her personal server and later deleted about 30,000 emails.
During the Bush administration, Tripp said that “everything I had to come to know as protocol for the handling of classified information was followed very strictly… In the Bush White House, classification was critical, followed and adhered to with great, great detail.”
In contrast, Tripp says, she observed a “cavalier, loosey-goosey, this isn’t important, don’t be a prude [attitude]” toward the handling of sensitive information.
“Because I would often bring up the fact that this had to happen. That this was not a luxury. This was a necessity. And classified material is just part and parcel of working in the West Wing of the White House on a daily basis,” she explained. “So there was sort of a disregard for any of the rules. They certainly didn’t apply to them. And that was startling.”
One of several examples Tripp cited during our interview was the manner in which the Clinton White House handled the processing of comprehensive security and background checks for incoming aides and advisors.
“When the Clintons came in, I think one thing that was very startling right from the beginning was in order to even work in the West Wing you have to have an extremely comprehensive background security review. And it is generally a 90-day process. It costs thousands upon thousands of dollars per person. And at the end of that time you receive your security clearance at whatever level you are secured. Mine was top secret and above.
“Also just as an example, …when I got to the Bush White House I couldn’t even enter the West Wing even though I was hired to support the West Wing until my 90-day security review had been completed.
“Now in the Clinton White House it was a year before I would say 95% of the senior advisors to President Clinton and their support staff in the West Wing even filled out the paperwork.”
Filegate: Hillary and her ‘sense of paranoia’
The White House FBI files controversy, also known as “Filegate,” revolved around the West Wing wrongly accessing FBI security-clearance documents on hundreds of current and former government employees, including Republican figures such as former top Republican presidential advisors.
During our interview, Tripp discussed what she observed with regard to Filegate and the scandal’s pivotal actor, Craig Livingstone, director of the White House’s Office of Personnel Security. Livingstone ultimately resigned from his position amid rumours he was not qualified for the position; that Hillary Clinton personally requested and read the files; and that Livingstone was put in charge of personal security at Clinton’s behest.
Tripp viewed Hillary Clinton’s alleged involvement in accessing the secretive files as “a great example of how she perceives life in general. There’s a huge sense of them-versus-us. A huge sense of paranoia. A huge hatred of Republicans. And it’s mind-boggling.”
Tripp knew Livingstone fairly well from her position inside the West Wing. She questioned Livingstone’s qualifications, explaining he was “known as someone during the ‘92 campaign who had dressed up as a chicken and heckled the first President Bush at his campaign stops.”
“And he was also known as an intricate part of their opposition research,” Tripp continued. “So essentially coming up with negative information about the first President Bush during that campaign.”
“The reason that I had anything to do with him was that the chief of White House security in a loose way reported to the counsel to the president (Bernie Nussbaum), who was my boss. But Craig Livingstone was a former bar bouncer. That was his claim to fame. So the notion that this former bar bouncer was the chief of White House security was beyond chilling to anyone who knew how that office functioned in the previous administration.
“It just defied comprehension. And worse, his claim was that he was hired by Hillary. And Bernie (Nussbaum) knew nothing about that. Bernie had no idea how he was hired. He just knew that that was his job.”
…And these were all files of perceived Clinton enemies. They were all Republicans. And what was so chilling about that was Craig Livingstone himself having essentially ownership of these raw data FBI Files.”
Tripp says Filegate, especially the mistreatment of sensitive information, was a sampling of a larger pattern that continues to this day.
“I don’t think sensitive material – or classified information, for that matter – was something they considered at all. And I know that is a strong statement to make,” Tripp said. “But I believe that what was more important to Mrs. Clinton was control. Control of the information flow. The ability to smear those who would speak against them. And the ability to control the message. So classification wasn’t a big deal and I think you can see that and what has happened just this past year. With what happened at the state Department. It is really just a continuation of a pattern.”
Vince Foster Death Episode: Hillary oversaw document sifting
The death of Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster on July 20, 1993 shocked the nation.
His untimely death came as Bill and Hillary Clinton were being investigated for the White House travel office controversy, also known as Travelgate, the first major public controversy for the Clinton administration.
Foster was found dead in Virginia’s Fort Marcy Park with an autopsy concluding the cause of death was a “perforating gunshot wound mouth-head.”
Five official or governmental investigations concluded that he committed suicide. The nature of Foster’s work, as well as the six days it took before Foster’s suicide note was found, led to speculation and conspiracies about his death.
“He was the one who was to oversee everything from Whitewater to Travelgate, to Filegate, to everything that had anything to do with any of these scandals,” recalled Tripp. “Regardless of whether these scandals had occurred before they got to the White House or after.”
Tripp recalled receiving a phone call from Bill Clinton’s secretary at around midnight the night that Foster died, and “it was just a complete tragedy.”
“My first question to the president’s secretary when she called and said, ‘Vince is dead. He killed himself’ — my first question was, how did you know he killed himself? This was midnight. I was in bed. It was just so surreal.”
Things became “unusual and noteworthy from that point on,” she said.
Tripp says she was shocked to show up for work the next day to find Foster’s office not only unsecured, but with a White House staffer inside, handling documents.
She said the office should have been secured because “at that point, there was no definitive conclusion as to how he had died. At that point one would have assumed it was still an investigation.”
Regarding the sifting of documents, Tripp stated: “When I arrived, Bernie’s other assistant was literally in Vince’s office going through papers… And I just couldn’t understand how she couldn’t understand that this had to be a secured scene.”
I asked whether she saw the assistant remove any documents.
“I didn’t,” she replied. “I asked the question and she said she was straightening his office and then later I think it was said that she may have been looking for a suicide note. I don’t know. I don’t attribute any nefarious intent to her. I just felt at the time and strongly felt and believed that this was inappropriate and that we had a duty and an obligation to preserve whatever evidence might be there.”
“But you know, again, it’s just another sort of example of a systemic problem that existed in the Clinton White House. The rules don’t apply. Ever,” she added.
Tripp says she was the one who called Secret Service to finally secure Foster’s workspace:
“I just couldn’t understand how she (Bernie Nussbaum’s assistant) couldn’t understand that this had to be a secured scene. For many reasons but certainly because this was a suspicious death at that point. Of a senior adviser to the President of the United States. So in the midst of all the closed-door sessions and the back and forth, finally I called the Secret Service and said, could you send someone up to cordon off the office and to post a guard.”
The real “scandal” of Foster’s death was the removal of documents from the Counsel’s offices following the suicide, Tripp continued, adding that it was Hillary Clinton who was personally leading those efforts:
“Hillary oversaw everything that followed in the aftermath of Vince Foster’s death. Hardly mourning, she sprang into action like a field commander. The very night he died, her aides were packing up and moving boxes of files to the residence. Some never surfaced for years, including the Rose Law Firm Billing records which were under subpoena. They mysteriously surfaced years later in the Residence of the White House, at a time where it made little difference. What should have made a difference is that these law firm billing records showed definitively how extensive her involvement was in the Whitewater mess, something she had denied under oath.”
Foster’s death was a watershed moment for the Clinton West Wing, Tripp explained. “From then on in everything changed,” she said.
“I mean literally from one minute to the next. Bernie’s office had been an open-door policy. After that, his door was always closed. And the most trusted soldiers in the counsel’s office would huddle in there for days on end. And one of those was Cheryl Mills, who long ago swore a blood oath to the Clintons. And to this day, I am sure people may have heard her name as being involved in the email scandal.”
Tripp singled out Mills as being “extremely instrumental in the days that followed” Foster’s passing.
She mused at how Mills is continually involved in allegedly helping to scrub Clinton scandals, from the Clinton Foundation to Emailgate.
“The interesting thing about Cheryl Mills — and again this is getting down in the weeds where most people are just probably not aware of it — but you will recall the Justice Department allowed Cheryl Mills, who was a witness, if not a subject to the email investigation, to invoke attorney-client privilege in order to thwart the attempt to gain information about Clinton’s emails.
“And she was literally a participant in that procedure. She oversaw the destruction by bleaching of the emails. She was a critical player and still is. But it’s interesting because when she was at the State Department, she was Hillary’s chief of staff but she was not acting in the capacity of a lawyer.
“And with her involvement personally with Clinton’s private email setup, it’s amazing that she was an actor in the facts that are literally under criminal investigation by the FBI. And yet she was allowed to sit in on Hillary’s FBI investigation as a lawyer. She should never have been allowed to be a participant as a lawyer. A few years after they both left the state department. But she was allowed to do that.”
Mills was also offered limited immunity in the email probe.
Whitewater: Obstruction of Justice
Tripp addressed the investigations into Whitewater, controversial real estate investments by the Clintons and two associates who together formed a failed company, the Whitewater Development Corporation, which was utilized to make the at-times shady investments.
Immediately following Foster’s death, White House senior officials reportedly removed files from Foster’s office, including those pertaining to the Whitewater real estate investments.
During our interview, Tripp stated that “there was a White House task force with very loyal folks who worked on a daily basis to ensure that no one, no controlling legal authority at all, had unfettered access to documents or information having to do with Whitewater.”
Tripp views the Whitewater controversy as “all of a piece.”
“From what I can see from my vantage point, Whitewater appeared to be a sleazy land deal with questionable players. And Hillary at the Rose Law Firm being personally involved and professionally involved representing some of the sleazy characters. She didn’t want any of that to get out. You know, one of the driving forces, sort of a dual quest for unparalleled power, unquestioned power and the accumulation of vast wealth.
“And Whitewater was just a get-rich-quick scheme that was questionable at best that shows sort of the incestuous garbage that was going on in Arkansas, of which they were a part. And she wanted no one to have access to this information.”
Tripp opined that the “real” Whitewater scandal, “aside from highlighting an element of sleaze, was the enormous steps that Hillary took to ensure that essentially obstruction of justice went on.”
“So this was an enormously expensive exercise to the taxpayer. And completely unnecessary had she just provided the documents to begin with,” Tripp added.
After the public disclosure of the Lewinsky affair, the news media largely attempted to paint Tripp as a disloyal friend motivated by money; a greedy opportunist who betrayed an impressionable young woman purportedly in a bid to sell a book. The media spin machine went into overdrive, unfairly condemning her as the villain in an attempt to frame Clinton’s behavior as adulterous rather than predatory and abusive.
This narrative falls apart on many levels, especially now, with the benefit of hindsight.
“The money I might have made on a book would never have overtaken what I gave up. My career. My pension. I was making a very decent salary. There was just no way that a book could have made up for what I would lose,” Tripp said.
“But the media, in an attempt I suppose to support the Clintons’ perspective, painted me that way,” she added. “So there is very little the average layperson can do to fight that media saturation.”
And Tripp never published a book, as she noted during our interview.
“It’s actually kind of humorous in a way, if it weren’t so pathetically sad, that many of the members of the media who painted me as an avarice-driven, money-grubbing, horrible villain, themselves wrote best-selling books with their version of events. So I find that somewhat ironic.”
Also, looking back, Tripp seems to be doing quite well without ever having profited financially from the Lewinsky affair. She and her husband own a successful small business, and reportedly live on a $3 million farm in rural Virginia.
Her difficult decision to expose the Lewinsky affair was motivated in part out of concern for Lewinsky’s well-being, she said. The intern was acting erratically toward the end of the affair and Bill Clinton had much to lose with a public disclosure in light of the Paula Jones lawsuit, Tripp said in a previous interview with me. And Tripp points out that before she went to Starr, Lewinsky had informed Bill Clinton that Tripp knew about their relationship, putting both Lewinsky and Tripp in the crosshairs of the Clinton machine.
“I say today, and I will continue to say, that I believe Monica Lewinsky is alive today because of choices I made and action I took,” she said. “That may sound melodramatic to your listeners. I can only say that from my perspective, I believe that she and I at the time were in danger, because nothing stands in the way of these people achieving their political ends.”
But perhaps most critically, Tripp points out that Clinton’s treatment of Lewinsky was the straw that broke the camel’s back, the misdeed that finally prompted Tripp to speak publicly after bearing witness to scandal after scandal, offenses mostly hidden from the public. Tripp said there were numerous instances in which she wanted to go public on other issues before the Lewinsky debacle, but in the end, she was too afraid.
“The West Wing of the Clinton White House was scandal central, without a doubt,” she said. “But more importantly, it was a peak behind the corrupt curtain that few have ever seen and I don’t think will see. And so I wanted to shout from the rooftops back then and expose what I witnessed.
“But in the end, I was honestly too much of a coward to do anything at all and that was primarily because by that point I was a single parent,” Tripp continued. “And I had had a 20-plus year government career. I would have lost my retirement. My income. And I knew that it would not be a good outcome to say much. But it ended up being the president’s horrific abuse of an emotionally fragile young girl not much older than my own children that finally tipped me over the edge. And that was years later.”
Tripp says she is “not the only one who witnessed all of this in the Clinton White House. But most remain silent. You know, those who dare to speak out are completely decimated. Their credibility is shredded. Their motivations are assailed.”
Tripp said another issue Clinton whistleblowers had at the time was credibility, explaining the public perception of the Clinton White House was very different from that which she had experienced:
“You know, it is very difficult for anyone who has seen behind the curtain to share that with the general population because I think generally they are so completely effective – and by them, I mean the Clintons – in their polished approach to politics to destroy anyone who would speak out against them.
“…I always wondered why am I being exposed to all of this and the general public is seeing none of this? In fact, it was so black and white, topsy turvy, “Alice in Wonderland”-like because virtually everything the public heard was in direct opposition to what was true.”
From old to new scandals…the Clinton legacy
Tripp stressed how the Clinton scandals of the 1990’s foreshadowed many of the Clinton’s future controversies.
“The Clintons embody a culture of corruption,” she said. “And corruption can be insidious. A look at the President, the Attorney General and the FBI Director over this past year is illuminating. Their eager protection of all things Hillary could not be construed as anything other than political favoritism. On steroids. From the tortured interpretation of ‘intent’ by the FBI Director, to the irregularities at Justice, including the Attorney General’s secret meeting with Bill Clinton on the tarmac, to President Obama’s enthusiastic defense of Hillary during a supposed active and ongoing FBI investigation, it all becomes clear. In fact, President Obama and Hillary jetted off to a campaign event aboard Air Force One just as Director Comey was announcing his long-awaited findings. This unnerving split screen optic would simply never have been allowed to occur had there been any doubt of the outcome.
“The politicization of a federal criminal investigation should be alarming,” she concluded. “That they may well have used the power of their offices to control and manipulate the outcome of a presidential election seems a distinct possibility. In America. The intent seemed to be to ensure Hillary’s ultimate triumph over an opponent those in power found unsuitable. That used to be the exclusive right of the American people. And that is the Clinton legacy.”