Friday, Jan. 09, 2009

Linda Tripp

Then: Tripp befriended Monica Lewinsky at the Pentagon's public affairs office, where they both worked. Despite their age difference, she was one of a handful of people in whom Lewinsky confided about her affair with Clinton. At the advice of a friend, Tripp began surreptitiously taping phone conversations with Lewinsky in which they discussed Monica's Oval Office dalliances. The tapes became a centerpiece of Clinton's impeachment trials after Tripp supplied independent counsel Kenneth Starr with more than 20 hours of conversation between the two. Tripp also persuaded Monica not to launder the infamous blue dress on which Clinton had left some damning DNA evidence. For her assistance in the investigation, she received immunity from prosecution.

The Lewinsky scandal wasn't the only one in which Tripp became embroiled during her Washington tenure. She encountered Kathleen Willey fleeing an encounter with Clinton in which Willey alleged that the President fondled her, and she was one of the last people to see former White House counsel Vince Foster before he committed suicide. But the Lewinsky imbroglio was the event that vaulted her into the public consciousness, and at great personal cost. She was roundly ridiculed for her appearance, for betraying Lewinsky and for offering her friend such dubious advice. Lewinsky's reaction to the revelation that her friend had betrayed her confidence didn't help. "I hate Linda Tripp," she told a grand jury in 1998.

Now: Tripp, through a friend, declined an interview request for this article. "I know I'll be a footnote to history, and I've learned to live with that," Tripp told CNN in 2005. In 2003, she settled with the Department of Defense for $595,000 in a civil suit in which Tripp charged the Pentagon had violated her privacy by releasing personal information to the media. She has since taken pains to escape the harsh glare of public opinion. Tripp underwent plastic surgery, moved to Middleburg, Va. and married Dieter Rausch, a childhood boyfriend who had been Tripp's first kiss at age 14. He helped her through a bout with breast cancer, and together they opened a holiday gift store in Middleburg called the Christmas Sleigh, which sells holiday items ranging from baked goods and calendars to Sugar Plum fairy figurines. She appears to have higher esteem for President-elect Barack Obama than for his Democratic predecessor. Tracked down at her store by the website in the days following the election, she wrote in an email: "I believe President-elect Obama possesses an instantly recognizable purity of soul that, coupled with his brilliance, and, of course, his eloquence, brought quite unimaginable and long-awaited magic to the country, transforming red and blue states, quite literally, into 'The Color Purple.'"