Bad Tripp?

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WASHINGTON: Confidant, whistleblower, amateur sleuth; Linda Tripp, the veteran staffer at the center of the newest White House scandal, is all of these and Kenneth Starr's greatest ally. What else?

For one thing, not very popular with current and former White House Clintonites. Two former associate counsels who worked with Tripp in Chief Counsel Bernard Nussbaum's office describe her as a troublesome employee who constantly bickered with other assistants. But Tripp is not remembered as a partisan 'Bushie'; in fact under Bush she was the source of rumors of the Republican president's own marital indiscretions.

The White House has always been staffed by several dozen veterans who, independent of party politics, have long experience with the day-to-day operations of the presidency. The best stay on forever; the worst are moved out. Linda Tripp, apparently, was the latter, which could explain her transfer to the Pentagon in 1994, long before the current controversy.

But after Tripp's August accusations in Newsweek of a Clinton sexual encounter with another White House aide, Bob Bennett had called her a liar. Revenge -- and restoring her credibility -- must certainly have been in her mind when the forty-something Tripp met a naive 24-year-old who claimed to be having an affair with the President. Long after her White House tenure was done, Linda Tripp came to Kenneth Starr with a way to make the charges stick.