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17 February 1999

Our current howler: Linda’s stories

Synopsis: Linda Tripp changed her story on Larry King Live. Surprise--her host didn’t notice.

Commentary by Linda Tripp
Larry King Live, CNN, 2/15/99

Grand jury testimony by Linda Tripp
Supplemental Materials, The Starr Report, 9/28/98

Finally! Poor abused Linda Tripp was on Larry King Live, with the chance to tell one of her stories. Kathleen Willey was discussed early on:

KING: Do you know Kathleen Willey?

TRIPP: Of course. [They were White House co-workers.]

KING: And--

TRIPP: She’s an honest person. She’s telling the truth.

KING: You have no question in your mind.

TRIPP: Absolutely not. No.

KING: We’ll be right back with more of Linda Tripp. Don’t go away.

Stick around, folks. More stories ahead.

We’ve frequently remarked, in recent weeks, on CelebCorps’ lazy dereliction of duty--on CelebCorps’ refusal to read the grand jury testimony that was part of that drear Starr Report (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/13/99). And maybe that’s why Linda Tripp’s cordial host didn’t question the things she’d just said.

Because, in detailed sworn testimony before the grand jury, given repeatedly in the summer of 1998, Tripp had described Kathleen Willey’s relationship with President Clinton in the White House in 1993. And Tripp’s grand jury testimony differed almost completely from the things Kathleen Willey has said.

As we’ve told you before, again and again--and as anyone can see in the grand jury transcripts--Tripp testified that Willey came to the White House believing she had an ongoing romantic flirtation with Clinton. According to Tripp, Willey was openly interested in creating a romantic relationship. Tripp said that Willey would send flirtatious notes to Clinton; would arrange to attend events at which he would appear (dressed in a manner she knew he found attractive); and openly speculated about a house in Annapolis where she and Clinton might meet without Secret Service supervision. Tripp said that Willey arranged the November Oval Office meeting in large part (perhaps primarily) to see if the relationship could be furthered. She said Willey “smiled from ear to ear the entire time” in describing the ensuing encounter, immediately after it occurred. And she said that, after Willey’s estranged husband committed suicide the same day, Willey repeatedly expressed the hope that her husband’s death might clear the way for a relationship with Clinton.

This is the story Tripp told under oath in her first grand jury appearance (June 30). In subsequent appearances, she repeated the account, and she described the surprise she felt when Willey first accused Clinton of what amounts to a sexual assault. She expressed this surprise again and again; here is one example (July 16 testimony). Tripp is describing a 1997 conversation with Bruce Lindsey about Willey’s surprising new charge:

TRIPP: I said [to Lindsey], “At the time it happened, it was not--she did not perceive it as sexual harassment. That is not what she told me that day.” That she came upstairs to find me immediately afterwards and relayed to me what had happened and asked me to go outside with her. And I said, “Contrary to what she has said, she didn’t bump into me, she came upstairs to find me [as the two had prearranged].” I explained that I had talked to her at length after Michael Isikoff had called me [in 1997, about Willey’s harassment claim] and that I just couldn’t believe that she was now calling it sexual harassment, that it had been very forceful and strong and she’s a small person, but that at the time she did not feel that way.

Tripp was in an awkward position, contradicting the account of one of Starr’s prime accusers, and she asserts on several occasions that, after speaking with Willey, she thinks that Willey now believes what she’s saying about the original events. But Tripp’s testimony about the original events grievously contradicts Willey’s Sixty Minutes account. The Kathleen Willey of Linda Tripp’s grand jury testimony doesn’t appear in Willey’s account.

We must stress again the repetitive nature of Linda Tripp’s grand jury testimony. She states over and over that Kathleen Willey was pursuing Clinton at the time of the original event; wanted the relationship with Clinton to continue; and was pleased and encouraged by the Oval Office encounter at the time it occurred. It’s hard to see how an objective observer can say Kathleen Willey is “an honest person...telling the truth,” if one accepts as honest and true Tripp’s detailed statements, under oath, to the grand jury.

Does it matter if Willey is telling the truth? Only if we think the truth matters. But life in this celebrity press corps means never really working too hard. This celebrity press corps just doesn’t do transcripts; and remember, the press corps still loves those accusers. With today’s sorry press corps, you can tell different stories, as long as Bill’s guilty as charged.

Kathleen’s stories: In her 7/14/98 grand jury testimony, Tripp described her first phone call with Willey after Willey began alleging harassment (in 1997):

TRIPP: Well, the first day that [Isikoff] had come to my office, I got home, I looked up Kathleen’s number, she still had the same number, and I called her at her home in Richmond. And I said, “Kathleen, what are you doing?” And she was completely--she completely believed--in my opinion, I’m not a doctor--my opinion was that she believed everything she was telling me that night in March ’97. She said, “You must be mis-remembering, Linda.” She said, “I don’t know why you would say that. Of course it was sexual harassment. I don’t know why you’re now saying that I wanted it.” I said, “Kathleen, because we talked about it for months before it happened, because you chose your outfits, because you positioned yourself, because you flirted, because you looked for every reason to get in. Why are you now saying that this came as a huge surprise and he assaulted you?” And she said, “Because he did and I don’t know why you’re saying this.” The whole conversation...[N]ever once in that whole conversation did she concede that she had been a willing participant in the Oval Office. It was she had been a victim.

Again we quote Tripp from Larry King Live: “She’s an honest person. She’s telling the truth.”

Tripp carefully stresses throughout her testimony that Willey seems to believe the things she now says. She also makes clear, again and again, that Kathleen Willey is misstating what actually occurred.

Visit our incomparable archives: For links to our past Tripp-on-Willey reporting, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/9/99, or THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/8/99.

Thursday: Back to those nagging transcripts! Chris Hitchens’ story on Sid in The Nation spills over with groaning misstatements.

Friday: If you suggest that the president goes around killing people, CelebCorps won’t ask you for proof.