By David Finkel
Sunday, December 13, 1998
September 13, 1993 PROLOGUE
"I'll tell you what happened," Walter Kaye would tell the grand jury. He was talking about the events leading up to September 13, 1993, when he was 70 years old, and recently retired, and rich, and living in New York, and feeling somewhat adrift. "I was going through a very, very difficult emotional period," he said. "I had suffered a heart attack, and they sold the business, and I was pushed out right away. A very emotional thing, you know. You start a business from scratch, and I don't want to brag, but we did have a very nice business. And I was in bad shape.
"And one day," he continued, ". . . I'm having breakfast at a hotel in New York, and this young woman comes up to me and says to me, 'Aren't you Walter Kaye?' I said, 'I'm Walter Kaye.'
"She said to me, 'You know, I'd like to talk to you.' I said, 'If you're looking for money, I've given it away for the whole year. I'm involved with a lot of charities.'
"She said, 'No, I want to talk to you about becoming active in politics.' I said, 'I want to tell you, if there's anything I'm not interested in it's politics. Just leave me alone.'
"So she says, 'Can't you be polite and listen?' "
So he was polite, he said, and he listened, and soon after that he found himself talking to another woman who came up from Washington to see him.
"I don't even really remember her name," he said, "Kathy something, and she starts to give me the reasons why I should become active in politics, or make a contribution, excuse me, to the Democratic National Committee.
". . . I said, 'Listen, I'm an excitement nut. I like excitement. You offer me some exciting times, I will give you a contribution.' And what do you think happens? She said, 'If you like excitement, Mrs. Clinton is speaking at the Mayflower Hotel . . . Why don't you come as our guest?'
"So I go down to the Mayflower Hotel," he said, ". . . and as soon as I get there, I know, boy, they're really working on me. They put me in the first row for the lecture . . . And then at about 10:30 I go out to get a cup of coffee, and one of the people from the Democratic Party, a young lady, says, 'Mr. Kaye, we'd like to invite you to meet Mrs. Clinton' . . . And I said, 'No, I really don't -- ' She said, 'Don't be silly. You're here. Why don't you meet me back here at 11:30? We'll take you back to meet Mrs. Clinton.'
"So I go. And again, I'm telling you . . . I never saw this before. You know, the dogs sniffing out the place, the Secret Service all over the place . . . We went to a private suite at the Mayflower, and sure enough, she came in, and I'm very, very excited, you know, and we chatted for a minute, and I was really overwhelmed. I'm telling you the truth. And then when I walked into the luncheon, what do you think they do? They seat me at her table.
"I'm telling you," he said. "They should be in the insurance business . . .
"But I'll tell you what was really the clincher.
"On Saturday morning, I get a call from the White House . . . If you recall, this is a time they signed the peace treaty between Arafat, Rabin and the president . . . And they said, 'Mr. Kaye, we would like you to attend' . . . and I just can't believe it. I'm telling you, I get goosebumps as I tell you, although I've had such aggravation with this.
"I go down, and you walk on the grounds of the White House. The flags are flying. The Marine Corps band is playing. Helicopters all over.
"I happen to be a very, very patriotic guy. I feel the greatest thing to happen to me was I live in this country.
"I just love it."
"Okay," one of Starr's assistants said to Kaye after listening to all of this. "And did you eventually develop a personal relationship with the members of the First Family?"
"I sure did."
"And you said you've given a large amount of money to the Democratic National Committee . . . Approximately how much have you given?"
"Well, I never knew, but according to the papers I gave about $ 300,000."
"Okay. Now you're familiar with the internship program at the White House?"
"Not 100 percent, but I know they have a lot of these young interns working there."
"Okay. And have you recommended people for jobs as interns in the White House during the Clinton administration?"
"And about how many people have you recommended, if you know?"
"Off the top of my head, just two."
"And who are they?"
"Monica Lewinsky and my grandson."
April 5, 1996 THE WAY THEY MET
We know what happened next.
We know Monica Lewinsky became an intern. We know she and Bill Clinton had a relationship that was sad, pathetic, laughable, sickening, depressing, lousy and ultimately political, and will never, never end, even though there's nothing more to know.
But of course there is more to know, and it can be found in the 7,793 pages of documents and testimony released publicly by the Office of the Independent Counsel, most of which turn out not to directly involve sex. The sex, for some, may be all that the story between Clinton and Lewinsky will forever be about, but what emerges in the rest of the pages is a kind of textured version of how lives go, a version that makes a story already familiar to us even more so, sometimes achingly.
It emerges in small ways: in realizing, for instance, that after Lewinsky became intimate with Clinton and he would phone her in the middle of the night, she would tell this most powerful man of the bewitching things she was wearing, even though the truth sometimes was that she was lying in bed in her sweat pants.
And, smaller still: in the knowledge that the walls of her bedroom were decorated with tiny mirrors and paintings of roses.
But it also emerges in larger ways that have to do with the two partitioned worlds of a presidency. There was Clinton's public world, the one that involved politics and policy; and there was a subterranean one that at first existed in private between Lewinsky and Clinton, but that, on April 5, 1996, began edging toward the surface, not only to subsume the public world, but to become it.
April 5 was the day Lewinsky was told to leave the White House.
By then, she had been there for nine months. Her mother was old friends with Walter Kaye; that was the connection that got Monica Lewinsky to the White House in July 1995. By mid-November she had made the jump from intern to paid staffer, and by the end of the year she had flirted with Clinton by showing him a bit of her underwear, and had brought him the infamous pizza, and had begun calling him "Handsome" rather than Mr. President, and had been tagged by co-workers with a couple of nicknames of her own.
One was "clutch."
"It's a slightly derisive term for somebody who, whenever he or she sees the president -- or any of the principals, let's put it that way, not even the president, any of the principals -- would want to be around, or would hover, or be close," is how Evelyn Lieberman, one of Clinton's deputy chiefs of staff, would explain the term to the grand jury.
"Stalker" was another.
"Get rid of her," was Lieberman's order when it became apparent how often Lewinsky was finding reasons to pass by the Oval Office, and on April 5 one of Lieberman's assistants, Tim Keating, did exactly that.
Lewinsky's job had been in the correspondence section of the White House's Office of Legislative Affairs, a two-person section that handled letters between the president and members of Congress. If there was a "Happy Birthday" letter to be written from the president to a legislator, chances were that Lewinsky wrote it. If there was a letter from a legislator that required a substantive response from the president, it was up to Lewinsky or her supervisor, Jocelyn Jolley, to get details of the response from Treasury or Labor or wherever, print it out on the azure-colored paper exclusive to the president and submit it to him for his signature.
Jolley, too, was fired that day, and got the news first. It wasn't a complete surprise, she would say later: A few days before her termination, a Secret Service agent had told her to "watch my back," that the rumor was that Lewinsky and the president had been caught in a compromising position. What Keating told Jolley on April 5, however, was that her section was a mess; that letters were late; that letters had been sent with the wrong salutation -- everyone was being addressed by their last name when policy was to address Republicans by their last name and Democrats by their first name. Another job had been arranged for her in another part of the government. She should clear out by the end of the day.
Then it was Lewinsky's turn.
When he was asked before the grand jury what her reaction was, Keating answered: "Tears." And went on from there:
"She asked if she could stay, and I said no. And she asked if she could stay as a volunteer, and I said no. She asked if she could stay as an intern, and I said no . . ."
Soon after, Lewinsky wrote him a note. "It was a rambling note . . . She offered to come back as a volunteer again . . .
"The one thing, the only, the one thing I remember about the note is a line that she had wrote, that 'this job was my everything.' "
The note changed nothing; a new job had already been arranged for her at the Pentagon. "I promise you if I win in November, I'll bring you back like that," Clinton reportedly said to her, snapping his fingers, when she visited him two days later at the White House, but little good that did. Off she went to the Pentagon, where, soon after arriving, she was walking along a corridor, trying to get accustomed to such a vast and unfamiliar place, wondering how she would ever get back to the White House, heartbroken, when she passed by a cubicle and noticed some oversize photographs of the president.
What she didn't know at that point:
That the woman whose cubicle it was had the pictures not because she liked Clinton but because she needed them for a presentation she was putting together as part of her job.
That the history of the woman included, in her prior job, a performance memo by her superior that said she: "doesn't like her office space," "doesn't like her duties," "won't perform her assignments," "isn't nice to co-workers," "lends a disruptive manner to the office" and "doesn't want to be here."
That before coming to the Pentagon, the woman had worked in the White House, where, one day, in 1993, another White House worker, Kathleen Willey, told her that the president had just made a pass at her.
That early in the Clinton administration, the woman had been told that some people close to Clinton found her "threatening," which led to any number of anxious moments for her, such as the day she went to McDonald's, and the president asked her to pick up something for him, and she had someone else deliver the food to him so as not to offend anyone. Which, in a way, was just as well because the president wanted a grilled chicken sandwich, she would later tell the grand jury, and McDonald's wasn't making grilled chicken sandwiches at that point, "and I didn't know that . . . and when it came time to order his, I said, 'And please make sure that this is grilled' . . . and he said, 'We don't do that here,' and I said, 'Oh, please do that here, please' . . . I just couldn't face going back and saying, 'Sorry,' so I begged him again, and here's a big line in back of me, and the guy just looked at me and goes, 'Lady, I don't care if this is for the president of the United States, we don't grill chicken sandwiches.' And I said, 'I understand.'
"So I got a fried one."
This, of course, was Linda Tripp.
Lewinsky didn't know that either, not then. She just knew that she had found someone with pictures of the president by her desk, a kindred spirit.
July 14, 1997 THE MOTIVE
One more thing Lewinsky didn't know about Linda Tripp at that point: that the dominant force in Tripp's life -- more than love, more than loyalty, more than honesty -- was fear. She knew Tripp not as fearful but as a motherly, sympathetic soul, and she began telling her everything.
"Thank God for you!" she wrote to her in an e-mail on February 4, 1997.
"I hate his guts," she wrote on February 21.
"Maybe if I come bug you later you'll make me feel better about looking so GROSS today. The highlight of my appearance today being the volcano zit I have on my cheek," she wrote March 5.
She talked about the sex, too. A few others in Lewinsky's orbit knew bits and pieces, but Tripp was the one she talked to just about every day, about every incident, including July 4, the day that she showed up at the White House in a black sun dress she'd gotten in Rome. The visit began horribly, she would tell Tripp, and also the grand jury. Clinton was angry with her over a letter she had written him the day before that began, "Dear Sir," but then she cried, and then he hugged her, and then he told her how beautiful she was, and "he was the most affectionate with me he'd ever been . . . He was running his hands through my hair and touching my face, and my bra strap kept falling down my shoulder, so he kept pushing my bra strap up," and then he said he wished he had more time to spend with her, and she said maybe he would in three years when he got out office, "and he said, 'Well, I don't know, I might be alone in three years,' " and somewhere in there they came closer than they ever had to having sexual intercourse. "And I left that day sort of emotionally stunned, because I felt -- I was shocked.
"I just knew he was in love with me."
One other thing happened that day as well. Just before leaving, she mentioned to the president that a friend of hers at the Pentagon had been approached by a reporter asking about an encounter between Clinton and someone named Kathleen Willey. She didn't go into details. She didn't mention Linda Tripp's name. She didn't say that the reporter, Michael Isikoff of Newsweek magazine, had shown up unannounced at Tripp's desk several months before and said, "We need to go somewhere private," so Tripp took him into an alley and smoked a cigarette while he said that he was working on a story about possible sexual harassment involving Willey and the president and that Tripp had been identified as a "contemporary corroborative witness." Lewinsky didn't use the term sexual harassment at all. She just mentioned this to Clinton and then she left, and she was gone for 10 days on an overseas trip for work, and then on July 14, at 7:30 p.m., she was at home, in bed, jet-lagged, sleeping among her tiny mirrors and paintings of roses, when the phone rang and it was Clinton's personal secretary, Betty Currie, asking her to come over to the White House.
This meeting with Clinton was entirely different. "Very distant," she would describe it, "and very cold." They met in the office of Nancy Hernreich, another of Clinton's assistants. They had been in there once before, for sex. This time, she sat on a sofa and Clinton sat on a chair, and he asked her if the woman at the Pentagon whom she had mentioned was named Linda Tripp, "and I hesitated and then answered yes." So they talked about Linda Tripp. About her loyalty. About the photographs of Clinton that Tripp had in her office space.
About whether she was trustworthy.
Yes, Lewinsky said.
About whether Tripp knew about their relationship.
No, Lewinsky lied.
She stayed at the White House until nearly midnight, and later, when she told Tripp about the meeting, that's when their friendship began to veer into new territory, defined less by intimate confidences and more by the force that had shaped so much of Tripp's life all along.
As Tripp would tell the grand jury, Lewinsky's mere mention of her on July 4 "was completely frightening to me."
And the July 14 meeting "terrified me."
And a subsequent conversation she had with Bruce Lindsey, Clinton's deputy White House counsel, about what she might have seen regarding Kathleen Willey, "scared me to death."
"And at that time," Tripp would say, trying to explain what she was about to do to Monica Lewinsky, "I knew I had to arm myself with records because no one would believe it."
Or as she would say one day to Lewinsky, neatly summing up the philosophy of someone who was divorced, and scarred, and argumentative, and constantly angry, and frequently threatening to sue people, and worried about money, and intimate with no one:
"Fear is the biggest motivator. Self-preservation is everything."
Which helps to explain why, at Tripp's home, there was a steno pad no one knew about, filled with notations about her friend's relationship with a man to whom she was once afraid to deliver a piece of chicken.
October 3, 1997 THE TAPES
The first tape. The first word. Linda Tripp, answering her phone.
"Hi," said Lewinsky.
"Hi. Can you hold on just a sec?"
Tripp had purchased the tape recorder earlier that day. She went into her local Radio Shack knowing little about what she wanted except that it needed to be voice-activated. This was the instruction of Lucianne Goldberg, a literary agent Tripp had met the year before when she was thinking of writing a book. The book was going to be a comparative look at the Clinton and Bush administrations through the eyes of someone who had served in both and found the Clinton version flawed. Send an outline, Goldberg had said, and Tripp did, and Goldberg liked it enough to put Tripp in touch with an established ghostwriter, who did her own outline, which Tripp felt was way, way over the top.
"I called Lucianne Goldberg and I said, 'I am absolutely horrified. I can't put my name with this,' " Tripp told the grand jury, recounting what happened next. ". . . And the last words Lucianne Goldberg said to me [were], 'Who do you think you are, the Queen of England?' And she slammed the phone down."
That was the end of the book -- and might have been the end of their relationship, except that when the article about Kathleen Willey was published in Newsweek, there was Linda Tripp saying she had indeed seen Willey after the alleged encounter in the Oval Office, and there was Clinton's personal lawyer Robert Bennett saying that Tripp "is not to be believed," and Tripp's fears, already at the "scared to death" level, zoomed even higher. How frightened was she now? Frightened enough to phone Lucianne Goldberg and talk about her fears for her reputation and personal safety. And Goldberg, as Tripp had hoped when placing the call, was full of advice:
Be afraid. Protect yourself. Worry about perjury traps. Worry about everything. Create a record. " 'They will label you a lunatic, a right-wing nut, and destroy you,' " Tripp told the grand jury that Goldberg had said to her. " 'You have to tape.' "
"I just said I didn't think I could do that, that it was not something I wanted to do. It was -- you know, it never occurred to me to tape Monica's phone calls. And as hard as it may be to believe, I liked and cared about Monica."
But she found herself in Radio Shack anyway, asking for something voice-activated, choosing the middle-priced of three models, getting extra tapes, getting batteries, and taking all of it home to her study, where she perched the recorder on the arm of a sofa and waited for Lewinsky to call.
That first conversation came just before dinner.
"It's like I can't even help being depressed today," Lewinsky said, unaware that her call had activated the recorder. "It's like I think I'm just -- I just lost it. I really do. I'm not kidding you."
"Well, I don't want you to lose it," Tripp said.
"No, I don't mean lose it like I'm going crazy; I mean like I am crazy or I am clinically, literally, depressed."
"You think so?"
"Yes, I think so."
"I think I need medication."
"Do you want to go to a doctor?"
"I don't know. Maybe. I'm going to talk to my mom tonight."
"Well . . ."
"Something is wrong with me . . ."
There was a second call recorded October 3 as well, in which Lewinsky said at one point, "We didn't have sex, Linda."
"Well, what do you call it?"
"We fooled around."
"Oh, I don't know. I think if you go to, if you get to orgasm, that's having sex."
"No it's not."
"Yes it is."
"No it's not."
And another call on October 5:
"I've just decided that I think he's on drugs," Lewinsky said.
"That's not so far-fetched, you know," Tripp said.
"I know," Lewinsky said.
"I mean, nice people are on drugs. You know how he sometimes zones out," Tripp said.
"Yeah," Lewinsky said.
"It crossed my mind," Tripp said. ". . . All right, go to bed . . ."
"Okay," Lewinsky said. "I will see you tomorrow, my dear."
"Yes. And I'll probably call you eightish."
October 6, 1997 THE DECEPTION
This time it was Lucianne Goldberg activating the recorder.
"Things are hitting the fan over there with her," Tripp said.
"You know what she said on tape last night to me?"
" 'I think he's on drugs.' "
"Wow. On tape -- you got it on tape?"
"Good for you."
This was in the morning, just after Tripp had been on the phone with Lewinsky, who was terribly upset with fresh realizations that Clinton was never going to bring her back to a White House job, and that his secretary, Betty Currie, had been less than truthful with her in her attempts to get through to Clinton, and that she despised her job, and that she needed to get out of Washington, and that the whole miserable thing was falling apart. "I am going to call Betty, and I am going to tell her to go [expletive] herself," she'd said. "And you know what? I don't care. I don't care anymore. Because you know what? . . . This thing is over. It's over. It was over a long time ago." That's what she'd said, and Tripp, listening, tape rolling, sighed, and now Tripp was saying to Goldberg, "I worry about her. She cries all the time. So, she left work this morning and went home, and she's thinking of calling Betty and tell them all to [deleted] off. And just leaving."
"Well," Goldberg said, "she is going to crack up if she doesn't."
"I know," Tripp said. "I know. So anyway, what I have on tape is very little. I mean, I'll get more."
"Because this isn't over, in terms of what she'll want to rehash over and over again."
"But there are dates. She says some dates on there, and, you know, when he called her from the road, and -- "
"Well, that's enough," Goldberg said. "You know all you need is a snippet to -- "
"Oh, I got snippets," Tripp said.
"Yeah," Goldberg said.
"I'll just bring them," Tripp said. "All right. So are we good for tonight?"
"I'm going to call him this afternoon," Goldberg said. "I mentioned, you know, like 6, 6:30 to him . . ."
The "him" was Isikoff of Newsweek. Tripp and Goldberg talked for a while more, and when Tripp left for work she took two of the tapes she'd recorded with her, and then, that evening, at 6, or 6:30, she offered to play them during a meeting in Washington that had been set up to discuss Lewinsky, a meeting Lewinsky knew nothing about.
"All right," Tripp was asked during her grand jury testimony. "You said before that you met on October 6th with Lucy Goldberg and Mike Isikoff . . . Why don't you tell the grand jury a little about that meeting. First, let me ask you, whose idea was it to have this meeting?"
"I think Lucy's," Tripp said.
"And how did it come up?"
"It came up again in context. I had told Lucy I had been talking on background with Mike Isikoff for some time, that he was aware but didn't know the name of the individual involved with the president, and that it was my hope that he would do investigative reporting to ensure that he had independent corroboration of this fact so that I could be not named in his reporting."
To increase his interest, Tripp and Goldberg offered Isikoff the chance to hear the tapes, although he declined because "he said that as a journalist it would put him in a bad position to do that." Still, she was sure he left the meeting more certain than ever that there was a story to pursue about the true nature of Bill Clinton.
It was late. She went home.
This time it was Lewinsky activating the recorder.
"I just walked in the door," Tripp said.
"How is that possible?"
"Because I met Beth."
"I met Beth, in Bethesda. Remember, I told you?"
Later in the conversation:
"Did you have a good time?"
October 23, 1997 THE TWO WORLDS
Not everything was on tape. One recorder, perched on one sofa, monitoring one phone line, could never keep up with a subterranean world that had by now steadily expanded to include an increasingly improbable cast of characters, each at varying points along the continuum between suspicion and knowledge.
There was Tripp, of course, and Goldberg. And Isikoff, who, when he would call Tripp, began using the code name "Harvey." But there were also friends whom Lewinsky would e-mail with details of her feelings, such as, "I want to hug him so bad right now I could cry."
And Secret Service agents who bet each other that within 10 minutes of Lewinsky's arrival at the White House, their radios would carry an update that the president was on his way to the Oval Office.
And Irene Kassorla, Lewinsky's Los Angeles-based therapist, who would counsel her by phone, and caution her to refer to Clinton for security reasons as "Elizabeth" or "her," and say that the relationship with Clinton was a boost to Lewinsky's low self-esteem.
And Marcia Lewis, Lewinsky's mother, of whom Tripp said to the grand jury: "Monica was hoping and hoping for an inaugural invitation to an inaugural ball, right up until the last minute, but to ensure that she could go and be seen, she also bought a ticket to -- I think it was the New York ball . . . She had a dress in mind that she very much wanted to wear, but couldn't find it. So her mother was very involved with the selection of a dress. Her mother decided to collect money from the dry cleaners, as Monica relayed it to me, to accuse the dry cleaner of losing the formal gown, which made them pay for the replacement of the gown. Her mother then found this beautiful red ball gown at one of the shops, I'm not sure where, and Monica went to try it on, and it was magnificent. She looked like Snow White . . ."
All told, there were, by Lewinsky's count, a dozen people who knew of the relationship before the day came when everyone did, and their link was a young woman who seemed to define her very life by any moment of contact, any message, any call. For the inaugural ball, she put on her Snow White dress and stood in place for four hours so Clinton would see her when he walked by. "And the sad thing for Monica was that she did that and he saw her and really ignored her," Tripp told the grand jury. She would stay home, night after night, in case he would call, and if he invited her to visit, Tripp said, "she would count on that, completely hang on it, wait for it, make her hair appointment, shuffle whatever happened to be in her schedule, it didn't matter what was in the way, and make herself available." She would go whenever, on any notice, on weekends, at night, on summer days so hot that, as Secret Service agents would later recount, by the time she was admitted into the White House her wonderful hair was a mass of frizz and her wonderful dress was covered front and back with sweat. A little extra perfume, though, and in she went. Anything for a visit. Anything for any kind of contact, the effect of which, both profound and immediate, becomes clearest of all from a series of phone calls that Tripp recorded on October 23:
MS. LEWINSKY: Linda, I can't take it anymore.
MS. TRIPP: I know. I know.
MS. LEWINSKY: (Crying.) I just can't. I just can't. (Crying.)
MS. TRIPP: Oh, my God.
MS. LEWINSKY: (Crying.) It's just too -- it's too much for one person. (Crying.)
MS. TRIPP: Oh, it is too much for one person. Yes, it is . . . (Sighing.) . . . Oh, my God. This has just got to come to an end.
MS. LEWINSKY: (Crying.)
MS. TRIPP: This has just got to come to an end.
MS. LEWINSKY: (Crying.)
MS. TRIPP: (Sighing.)
MS. LEWINSKY: (Crying.)
MS. TRIPP: (Sigh.)
And then, later that night, the beginning of a second call:
MS. LEWINSKY: Let's start it this way. I'm happy.
MS. TRIPP: Oh, Monica. You don't have to tell me. I can always tell by your voice.
He'd called. He'd called, Lewinsky said, and "he was, like, 'Hey, what's up?' " and they talked for a while about Lewinsky's idea to move to New York, and "I told the story of Richardson" to him, and "he said he wanted -- he didn't want John to know he was talking to Vernon," and "he wants the U.N. to be my insurance policy," and on and on the conversation went until she hung up and called Tripp. Who listened and knew immediately that the Richardson reference was to Bill Richardson, then U.N. ambassador, who was considering Lewinsky for a job after she was brought to his attention by one of Clinton's assistants.
And John was John Podesta, then White House deputy chief of staff, who was the one who brought Lewinsky to Richardson's attention. Twice, in fact: first when they ran into each other one day in the White House and he said there was a friend of Betty Currie's who was looking for a job in New York; and again when they were both on Air Force One, flying along with the president, the first lady and various Cabinet officers on a trip to Latin America, and he asked if Richardson had gotten her resume.
And Vernon was Vernon Jordan, the president's closest friend, the consummate Washington insider, a multimillionaire, a board member of 11 major companies, who was about to help Lewinsky in her job search as well.
Two worlds, then. Every day, they were getting closer. But on October 23, they weren't there yet:
MS. LEWINSKY: You'll get mad at me. You know what I said at the end?
MS. TRIPP: What?
MS. LEWINSKY: The worst I could say.
MS. TRIPP: You didn't say, "What are you wearing?"
MS. LEWINSKY: No. I was even worse than that . . . You'll die. You will die. You're gonna smack me.
MS. TRIPP: Probably, Monica.
MS. LEWINSKY: What do you think I said?
MS. TRIPP: God only knows.
MS. LEWINSKY: What's the worst thing I could say?
MS. TRIPP: "Do you love me?"
MS. LEWINSKY: No.
MS. TRIPP: "I love you."
MS. LEWINSKY: Yep.
MS. TRIPP: You didn't.
MS LEWINSKY: I did. We're getting off, and I'm like, all right, "I love you, butthead." I called him butthead.
MS. TRIPP: You didn't.
MS. LEWINSKY: I did.
MS. TRIPP: And what'd he say?
MS. LEWINSKY: Just nothing. He just kind of hung up. Or I hung up. I was like, oh, my God, what the hell just came out of my mouth?
MS. TRIPP: Butthead.
MS. LEWINSKY: Butthead.
MS. TRIPP: (Sigh.) . . . Hmm.
MS. LEWINSKY: I know. He probably hung up and was like, "butthead"?
MS. TRIPP: (Laughter.)
November 13, 1997 THE PRESIDENT
"The President arrived at the Oval Office at 8:05 a.m. and had an 8:15 a.m. Foreign Policy Meeting this morning in the Cabinet Room," reads the official White House diary of Clinton's day.
"At 9:15 a.m. the President made a foreign policy call.
"At 9:45 a.m. the President signed the Labor/Health/HHS bill in the Oval Office.
"The President golfed with Congressional leaders today from 12 noon to 4 p.m. at the Army/Navy Golf Course in Arlington (18 holes).
"The President greeted 50 guests in the State Dining Room at 5:22 p.m. at a Reception for Democrats who supported the FastTrack Bill.
"He proceeded to the Oval at 6:34 p.m.
"He took a Foreign Call at 6:47 p.m.
"He returned to the residence at 7 p.m., joined by Sandy and Mack, for a Private Dinner with Mexico President Zedillo. The President greeted President Zedillo at the South Portico and escorted him to the second floor for the dinner.
"The President joined Zedillo in the diplomatic room for his departure, at 8:45 p.m.
"The President departed the White House at 9:10 p.m. for a Private Birthday party for King Hussein and Queen Noor.
"The President returned to the residence at 1:25 a.m."
That, for the archives, is what the president did, but there was also this: a quick visit with Lewinsky between 6:34 and 7, between FastTrack and Zedillo, in the private study off the Oval Office, perhaps the most private area in the White House, a place where the likes of Zedillo and Hussein and Noor have never been and where Lewinsky had waited for Clinton for 30 minutes. Alone.
She looked at his photos. "The norm," she reported to Tripp, just after the visit, phoning with details. "Pictures of him . . . pictures of Chelsea."
She looked at his books, too, and was pleased to see that among the 300 or so volumes about Jefferson and Lincoln and FDR and JFK were two she had given him: Vox, a novel about phone sex, and Oy Vey! The Things They Say! A Book of Jewish Wit.
She also tried to open the locked drawers of his desk.
"Jesus. Alarms probably went off," Tripp said. "You are a nut."
November 20, 1997 THE DRESS
And it got weirder still.
On November 20, Lewinsky decided to make her own tape recording. Which she was now playing over the phone for Tripp.
Who, of course, was secretly making her own recording.
A recording, then, of a recording.
"Hi, Handsome," Lewinsky's began. It was for Clinton. There were two versions, and she wasn't sure which to send. "I couldn't bear the idea of sitting down to write you another note, so I thought I'd tape it," the first version said, and went on to suggest a couple of ways they could see each other the following night.
"I didn't see anything wrong with the first one," Tripp told her when she was done playing it.
"Hi, Handsome," the second version also began and went on in much the same way, although the differences included Lewinsky tossing in a few asides. "So, okay," she said at one point in this version, "I had to stop again, because I have to go pee pee . . ." There was also a different ending: "So you will see me later, right? Right, Handsome? Be a good boy . . ."
"This one's better," Tripp said of the second one, and that settled that -- except, like so many of their conversations, one decision was merely the starting point for a million more. Because that's what their conversations were, more than anything else, endless chitchats about details, minutiae, the mundane.
It wasn't just which tape, but how to label the tape:
"Something humorous," Tripp said, "like something that says, please listen to me now, um, or please listen to me as soon as you can, um, some good ideas in here. Or, not ideas, but you know what I'm saying?"
How to send the tape:
"Your only option is to courier it," Tripp said.
"No, no, no, I know," Lewinsky said.
How to transport the tape:
"Now listen, don't lose the friggin' tape on the way to work or something."
"Just make sure that you, if you put it in your purse, you put it way at the bottom of your purse so it doesn't fall out or anything."
"I know. I know."
How to wrap the tape:
"And does it have a little case?"
"Yes. So you can actually wrap that up."
"Like a little tiny present."
"I will. That's what I'm going to do. That's a good idea."
On and on such conversations would go, endless plotting, all of it seemingly insignificant, especially when measured against the daily crises of a presidency, but every so often in the minutiae would come something that would emerge, in hindsight at least, as the significant decision of Clinton's day.
"Okay," Tripp said. "So one other thing I want to say to you that you can do what you want with -- but I want you to think about this, and really think about it, instead of always just dissing what I have to say -- "
"I don't always dis what you say."
"Well -- "
"But sometimes you're such a -- "
"The navy blue dress," Tripp said.
It was a conversation that had begun the night before, just briefly, right after Tripp found herself wondering whether Clinton ever thought about how close in age Lewinsky was to Chelsea, and then asked Lewinsky if she had been on the treadmill that evening, and then asked if she was eating right, and then asked what she was going to wear for Thanksgiving, to which Lewinsky said, "The navy dress I wore to the radio address that still has the [semen] on it." "Well, how, you're, what, you're gonna get it cleaned?" Tripp had stammered to that, and Lewinsky said, "Yeah," and Tripp said, "Oh, God," and then she mentioned another outfit Lewinsky could wear, and Lewinsky said, "I don't want to wear that," and Tripp said, "It would look really pretty, Monica," and Lewinsky said, "I need to wear something dark because it's much more slenderizing," and Tripp let the matter drop.
But now she was back at it, full force:
"Listen" she said. "My cousin is a genetic whatchamacallit, and during O.J. Simpson, I questioned all the DNA, and do you know what he told me?"
"I will never forget this. And he's like a PhD and blah, blah, blah. And he said that on a rape victim now -- they couldn't do this, you know, even five years ago -- on a rape victim now, if she has preserved a pinprick size of crusted semen, 10 years from that time, if she takes a wet Q-tip and blobs it on there and has a pinprick size on a Q-tip, they can match the DNA with absolutely -- with certainty."
"So why can't I scratch that crap off and put it in a plastic bag?" Lewinsky said.
"You can't scratch it off. You would have to use a Q-tip . . ."
"Well, I'll think about it."
"I'll think about it. I just -- "
"Believe me, I know how you feel now," Tripp said. "I just don't want to take away your options down the road, should you need them . . . I just, I don't trust the people around him, and I just want you to have that for you. Put it in a baggie, put it in a Ziploc bag, and you pack it in with your treasures, for what I care. I mean, whatever. Put it in one of your little antiques."
"What for, though? What do you think -- "
"I don't know, Monica. It's just this nagging, awful feeling I have in the back of my head," Tripp said, and then she added, "I don't trust anybody."
So there is that, too, in hindsight, things said by Tripp that she must have been aware of, cheap ironies, or warnings perhaps, or foreshadowings, or bitter asides that only she could understand. Like earlier in the conversation, when they were discussing which tape to send Clinton, and she said to Lewinsky, "I love the idea of the tape." And then said, "You know me with tapes. I'm thinking, the voice is always more believable." And now here she was, tape rolling, rolling, rolling, talking about mistrust.
"I know. I know," Lewinsky said, and then she and Tripp did what they always did in conversations, skimmed ahead to the next topic, sex leading seamlessly to treadmills, treadmills leading to eating habits, eating habits leading to dresses and pinpricks and swabs.
In this case, it was a jacket that Tripp thought Lewinsky should wear.
"Regardless of what you do with the dress, it would be awesome on you," Tripp said. "And skinny. It's a skinny jacket."
"What size is it?" Lewinsky asked.
"Oh, God. That's the only thing," Tripp said. "It might be a little big . . ."
And on they went, only one of them aware of the importance of the conversation they'd just had.
December 5, 1997 THE FIRST LADY
Meanwhile, there were other conversations, too.
Tripp to Goldberg. Frequently.
Which one day led Goldberg to call David Pyke, one of the Paula Jones lawyers, to tell him about Tripp.
Which led Pyke, in turn, to call Tripp, who volunteered to him that if she were subpoenaed, she'd be willing to testify under oath.
She said, "I feel strongly that the behavior has to stop, or should at least be exposed."
She said, "It is very sad, and the girl will deny it to her dying breath."
She said, "In any event, just so you're aware, if I am asked the right questions, I will not lie."
From there, she and Pyke compared calendars to settle on a day for her to testify -- "I'm totally free, I know, the 19th," she said. "I may take the 18th because I think it works better with the schedule," he said. And then, after that conversation, came December 5, when Pyke's law firm sent a fax of potential witnesses to Clinton's lawyer in the Jones case, and on the list was the name Monica Lewinsky.
So much for heading toward the surface. The private world of Clinton and Lewinsky was now pushing into the public domain. Not that Lewinsky knew it that day; she was busy getting ready to go to the White House, where she would end up in another conversation, this one with Hillary Clinton.
The visit, this time, wasn't for sex with the president; that was long over by now. Instead it was for a White House holiday party, a chance for her to spend a leisurely evening in a place she had been essentially sneaking into and out of since her dismissal. Or, put another way, a chance to mingle among the people who had called her a stalker, and a clutch, and whose last view of her came the day she walked out of her boss's office unable to stop crying. She wasn't exactly invited. Rather she was going as someone's guest, and though her name was on the official acceptance list, not everyone knew she was coming.
One who did know was Jamie Schwartz, who was working in the White House social office at the time and was stationed at the East Gate along with Secret Service officers to make sure the 400 or so people on the list got in.
"Did you see her name on the list?" Schwartz told the grand jury that one of the Secret Service agents asked her as Lewinsky approached the gate.
"Yes," she said.
"Did you put her on there?"
"No, she's the guest of somebody."
"We'll just see what happens," he said, and in Lewinsky came.
Later, inside, Schwartz continued, another agent approached her.
"Have you see her?"
"I assume you're talking about Monica," she answered. "I just walked in. I mean, you literally walked up behind me as I came in. I've not seen her."
Then came another agent, this one a member of the Presidential Protective Division.
"Have you seen her?"
"I just got here," Schwartz said. "I saw her at the gate. I haven't seen her since I got in."
"Well, we'd better find her before Mrs. Clinton sees her," she said the agent told her, and then, she said, "he sort of zoomed off. You know, he wasn't running by any means, they don't run, but, I mean, he went off determined to do something."
What he did, if anything, isn't clear. Neither is it clear if Mrs. Clinton knew anything about Lewinsky at that point, in any form, or if Lewinsky had any intention of talking to her. But there is a relationship in Lewinsky's past that suggests she wouldn't shy away from an encounter. It was another affair, this one with a man named Andy Bleiler, during which Lewinsky became friends with his unsuspecting wife. It wasn't a casual affair, either, but went on for years, first in California, then in Oregon, lasting until the time she moved to Washington and met Clinton. As Lewinsky explained one time to Tripp:
"I don't know if you know this or not or ever realized it, but, you know, I got over [Bleiler] with the Creep."
"I know," Tripp said.
"I mean I went straight from -- you don't know because the time right before this had happened, right before this started with the Creep, I had gone to Portland in the end of October."
"Okay? And I had not seen Andy since July, and I had gone there pretty much to see my friends and to see him."
"And we -- he was like -- I got there and had dinner at their house, and then he and I, like, went to get gas or something together, and he was, like, 'Well, I don't know if I want to get together tomorrow.' And I, like, 'What are you [expletive] talking about?' So it was this whole crazy thing, and then we did end up getting together, but it wasn't that great. And then, I was there for like a week, and so then I went to see him again and we were supposed to fool around, and he like pulled all this [expletive] on me, he didn't want to do this anymore, he couldn't do it . . . and I was like hysterically crying."
"So I was -- hated his guts, you know? . . . And like a week and a half later was when this whole thing started."
"A week and half later is when what started?"
"The stuff with the Creep."
"Oh, you're kidding."
"No," Lewinsky said, and now, here she was, two years later, at the White House, the stuff over, moving steadily in a receiving line toward the president and the first lady.
Unlike at the inaugural ball, he didn't ignore her. In fact she was sure he noticed her even before she got to him, she would later tell investigators from the Office of the Independent Counsel, because she saw him look her way and begin fixing his hair.
She shook his hand.
Made small talk.
Turned to Hillary.
I'm a friend of Walter Kaye's, she said.
December 19, 1997 THE FRIEND
"First of all, let me say that the president of the United States, William Clinton, has been my friend for a very long time."
And now Vernon Jordan was in the middle of it.
"We are personal friends," he would tell the grand jury. "We are fellow lawyers. We are fellow Southerners. We care about race. We care deeply about the South where we are both from. And I think we have a historic mutuality of interest in public policy issues, politics. We play golf."
They also travel together.
"I went with him to President Nixon's funeral. I came home with him once on Air Force One from New York. I accompanied him to Barbara Jordan's funeral in Texas on Air Force One. I flew back with him from Martha's Vineyard this August."
They also vacation together.
"I saw him most days at Martha's Vineyard. We played golf almost every day. And if I didn't play golf, I would see him at some party. Mrs. Jordan and I gave a party for them at the Vineyard this summer. Great party, as a matter of fact."
They also talk on the phone frequently, no matter where Jordan might be, as on the day that Clinton tracked down Jordan at a private golf club in Northern Virginia.
"It is a common occurrence that when the president of the United States wants to find me, they do that. I remember Lyndon Johnson getting me off of a plane in Atlanta, saying he wanted to talk to me . . . I was playing in the Bryant Gumbel tournament in Tampa, Florida . . . and I was on the 11th hole with Joe Garagiola and somebody else, and this very nervous man comes and says, 'Mr. Jordan, the president of the United States wants to talk to you now.' And I got on the cart with him and went back to the golf club and I spoke with the president . . . And so, in my experience, it is not an unusual occurrence. That happened with Ronald Reagan, it happened with Gerald Ford, it happened with Jimmy Carter."
So when Betty Currie called him in early November and mentioned to him that she had a friend who was moving to New York and was looking for a job, he would tell the grand jury, of course he was willing to make some calls. To Revlon, for instance, where he was friends with the chairman, Ronald Perelman.
"I first met him when he was doing a takeover of Revlon, actually, and he was pointed out to me by Michel Bergerac at a U.S. Open tennis tournament, who was then the chairman of Revlon, and he said, 'That little fellow over there is trying to take my company.' And it turns out that that happened."
He also called American Express, of which he is a board member, and Young & Rubicam, whose chairman and CEO was a friend. Not that he began making calls just for the sake of making calls.
"I did not call Bankers Trust. I did not call Dow Jones. I did not call Xerox. I did not call Union Carbide. I did not call Sara Lee. I did not call J.C. Penney. All of those companies I sit as director . . . As a matter of fact, she had some notion about PR companies that she was interested in, but I was not interested in that list. I was only interested in places that I would refer her to, as opposed to places that she thought she wanted to work. As I remember, the places that she thought she wanted to work I either didn't know people or I did not have a relationship, and I said, in effect, 'I will decide who I'm going to call, you can't decide that. I will decide that.' "
How grateful was Lewinsky? "I feel compelled to mention how overcome I was by your genuineness," she wrote in a thank-you letter. "Some people wear their heart on their sleeve; you appear to wear your soul."
"I was happy to be helpful," he would tell the grand jurors.
"I have a crush on Vernon, I think," is how she put it to Tripp.
"He's very crushable," Tripp said back.
"I'm going to tell the Creep. That would make him jealous," Lewinsky said.
"Ooooh," Tripp replied.
And then came December 19. If December 5 was when this all began moving into the public domain, December 19 is when it became irrevocable.
"She called me up," Jordan would say of that day, "very upset, crying on the telephone, saying that she had been served with a subpoena in the Paula Jones case. And I was somewhat taken aback by that. She was very upset. And I said to her, 'Why don't you come to my office?' And she came to my office."
She was disheveled. She kept crying. She had the subpoena. She showed it to him. He saw that it mentioned gifts, and he saw what it all could mean.
"I asked her about this relationship."
And her answer was that they were friends, she and the president, but that it was frustrating sometimes because she would hear from him so rarely.
"And I said to her, I said, 'He is the leader of the free world. He has Iraq. He has IMF. He has Southeast Asia. He has the Middle East. He's a very busy guy.' "
And at some point she said something that took him aback even more.
"Ms. Lewinsky asked me if I thought that the president would leave the first lady at the end of his term. And that, as I remember it, was a very both frightening, and from my point of view, unrealistic question about the president, so I just said that's a really crazy notion on your part that that would happen, and that I was confident that they would be together till death do them part, and I do believe that as a matter of fact, and said that to her. And it was that statement that certainly set alarm bells off in my mind as to this kind of fixation, this kind of possessive, bobby-soxer attitude that I felt she had towards the president."
They talked that day for perhaps 45 minutes. She stopped crying. He said he would help her find a lawyer, and then he sent her on her way, and on the way out she asked him if he would hug the president for her.
"I don't hug men," he said, and then she left with her subpoena, and then he and his wife went out to dinner, and then, on the way home, he stopped by the White House to see the man he calls "my friend the president of the United States," who had left a reception and was upstairs in the residence, alone.
"I told him that Monica Lewinsky had been subpoenaed, came to me with a subpoena. I told him that I was concerned by her fascination, her being taken with him. I told him how emotional she was about having gotten the subpoena. I told him what she said to me about whether or not he was going to leave the first lady at the end of the term. And at the end of that, I asked him if he had had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky."
No, said the president, and then Jordan left, knowing that they would see each other again in a matter of days.
"The president every year since he has been president has come to our home for Christmas Eve dinner," he would tell the grand jurors.
"So we are friends."
December 22, 1997 THE CONVERSATION
And Monica Lewinsky's friend Linda Tripp was busy, too, trying to reach behind a massive piece of furniture that was pushed up against a wall of her living room.
That's where the tape recorder now was. For two months it had rested on the arm of the sofa in the family room, but in early December, Tripp told the grand jury, she learned that taping someone without consent was illegal in Maryland and "I threw it over an eight-foot secretary I have." Consequently, she had missed taping a call three days before, the day of the subpoena, in which Lewinsky, in a singsong voice, kept saying mysterious things like "I got a special delivery today," and "I received roses," and "I got roses like your roses," until Tripp, who'd also been subpoenaed, as per her invitation to David Pyke, at last figured out what Lewinsky meant.
But now Lewinsky was on the phone again, talking about the subpoenas and the possibility of lying under oath -- "completely berserk," is how Tripp would describe her to the grand jury -- and in the midst of the conversation, "I excused myself, said I had to use the bathroom and made the decision to go physically move two parts of this very heavy secretary, get the tape recorder back out and hook it up.
"And I did that," she continued, "because the conversation was so threatening, so frightening, so overwhelming that I knew that I was just in big trouble one way or another. And the notion that this was illegal now was the lesser of two evils [compared] to what I was walking into with something involving the president of the United States. And to me the choice was clear. I needed to protect myself."
The same motivation as ever, in other words.
"Consequently, because Monica continued to court my -- to ensure that I would lie under oath, the conversations became increasingly more frightening to me. 'You'll be destroyed, they'll destroy you.' 'The least of your problems will be the job.' 'How are you going to support yourself?' 'You'll be banned in the government.' 'Look at people who have crossed them in the past; people end up dead around them.' Over and over and over again. 'They know you have two children.' 'They know where you live.' "
And who knows, maybe Lewinsky was saying such things -- but by the time the recorder was on again, what Lewinsky was talking about didn't speak so much to Tripp's motivations as to her own.
"I think down deep, you don't like having to lie," Tripp said.
"Of course not," Lewinsky said. "I don't think anybody likes to. I don't think anybody likes to, but it's like -- "
"But the scary thing to me -- " Tripp said, cutting her off.
" -- this is how my family is," Lewinsky said, plowing ahead, a point to make. "I would lie on the stand for my family. That is how I was raised as family."
"You know what, Monica?" Tripp said. "I would do almost anything for my kids, but I don't think I would lie on the stand for them."
"Well, I mean, that's just -- " Lewinsky said, trying to respond, and then said, "I was brought up with lies all the time. That was how you got along in life -- was by lying."
"I don't believe that," Tripp said. "Is that true?"
"Yes," Lewinsky said, "that's true. I wanted something from my dad? Well, once my parents were divorced, if I wanted money from my dad, I had to make up a story. When my parents were married, my mom was always lying to my dad for everything. Everything. My mom helped me sneak out of the house. I mean, that's just how I was raised."
"Well, in the Catholic religion, there are white lies and there are black lies," Tripp said. "Those are white lies."
"I have lied my entire life," Lewinsky said, and on they went, just like in every other of their conversations, except while once the conversations were about intimacies, now they were less about the meanings of love than of truth.
I will lie, Lewinsky said.
I will not, Tripp said.
You must, Lewinsky said.
You can't, Tripp said.
Later, after all the meanings of what they were discussing had time to settle in, both Tripp and Lewinsky would say that this was the conversation that altered their relationship permanently, removing whatever trust was left. After this, their contacts would be infrequent and disingenuous. Soon enough they would be at the Ritz-Carlton, engaged in the most friendless conversation of all. On this night, it was clear that the transition was underway.
"I feel like I'm sticking a knife in your back, and I know that at the end of this, if I have to go forward, you will never speak to me again, and I will lose a dear friend, someone whose friendship I value very much," Tripp said.
"I know," Lewinsky said. "I know."
December 28, 1997THE LAST VISIT
They met in the private study off the Oval Office.
They talked about Buddy the dog.
They talked about Paula Jones.
They talked about how in the world Paula Jones's lawyers had known to name her as a witness, and he said, "Maybe it was the woman from the summer with Kathleen Willey," and she thought: Linda.
They talked about the subpoena, and the gifts she would have to produce, which included two T-shirts, a dress, a baseball cap and a mug he had given her in September after he had flown back from Martha's Vineyard with Vernon Jordan on Air Force One. Which was incredibly meaningful, she told Linda Tripp, because it was the most money anyone other than a family member had spent on her since she was 14 years old and a boy named Danny gave her a dozen roses and took her to the movie "La Bamba."
They talked for nearly an hour.
He gave her some Christmas gifts: a box of cherry chocolates, a stuffed animal, a Rockettes blanket, a pin with the New York skyline on it, a novelty pair of sunglasses and a marble sculpture of a bear's head that he told her was an Indian symbol of strength. "You can hold onto this when you need to be strong," he said about that.
They kissed once, in a doorway, and in the midst of it, when she opened her eyes, she saw that his eyes were open, too, and he was looking out a window.
"Well, I was just looking to make sure no one was out there," he said.
January 13, 1998 THE BODY WIRE
Another tape. Another first word. This time it belonged to a special agent with the FBI who was making sure that the body wire was working.
"Linda, for voice identification, would you please state your name?"
"And would you tell me whether or not you're conducting this recording today voluntarily?"
"Do you plan, then, to meet on today's date, January 13, 1998, with Monica Lewinsky?"
"And that's going to be somewhere in the public area of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Crystal City, Virginia?"
Which was where Tripp was now, one day after she called Lucianne Goldberg in hysterics and said, "I don't know where to turn, I don't know what to do," and Goldberg put her in touch with someone at the Office of the Independent Counsel, and a carload of lawyers came careening to her house, and they talked for hours, and now she was wearing a body wire, about to have a conversation with Lewinsky that, the following day, writing in her journal, she would describe like this:
"Arrive by Metro -- nervous -- go up thru Fashion City to side mall entrance of Ritz. Is everyone looking? Does anyone know. Get to room, 9th floor -- knock . . . agents in room -- 1 tall (5'7) blonde 40-ish slim female, dressed casually & another -- a male, younger, sweater, clean cut. I ask, What do you do? 'I watch,' he said . . . I will be wired, a surveillance squad will pick her up, I see a professionally installed camera lens smack dab in the middle of her navy standard Dooney & Bourke purse! I express shock that it is so obvious -- he says it will not be seen, always facing the other way until she moves it quickly. I am reassured the wire will not be discernible. I'm drenched w/ perspiration. I have photos of Monica -- I give one for ID . . . The wire feels OK. I'm less nervous about detection . . . mike turned on."
That's what she would write the next day, but that day, as it was unfolding, just before the meeting, what she wrote in her journal was, "feeling low -- guilt -- fear -- overriding emotion fear, however," and what she said into the microphone to all the people listening on the other end was, "Hope I don't let you down," and now, into the Ritz came Lewinsky.
"Oh, my God. Happy New Year," she said.
"Oh, my God. How are you?" Tripp said back.
And the conversation deteriorated from there.
It lasted a couple of hours. It took place at a table near a fireplace in the piano bar. Once more, the subject was what Tripp would say when she testified, and from beginning till end it was filled with constant manipulations and lies.
For instance, Tripp, who'd always been willing to use nicknames but had been told by the OIC that it was investigating "possible obstruction of justice by Vernon Jordan and/or others," now was saying things like, "But Vernon Jordan is behind you," and, "Maybe I'm placing too much emphasis on Vernon's involvement in this, but I see that as a huge, huge umbrella of safety," and, "But did he address the perjury issue at all?"
And Lewinsky, in replying, "No, I don't think he's behind me," didn't bother to add that just before coming to the Ritz she had stopped by Jordan's office to thank him for a job offer she'd gotten that very morning and to give him a tie.
And Tripp, in saying, "I don't have anybody protecting me," didn't mention the immunity agreement she had worked out with the OIC before putting on the body wire.
And Lewinsky, being urged by Tripp not to sign an affidavit saying she didn't have sex with Clinton, never bothered to say that she'd signed it two days before.
And Tripp, in excusing herself to go to the bathroom, really went to fix the microphone, which kept falling down her bra.
And Lewinsky, while Tripp was gone, started poking through a bag Tripp had left behind because, as she would tell the grand jury, "I was very nervous. I was wary of her. I actually thought she might have a tape recorder with her . . ."
That, then, is what things had come to.
One day a man with money was invited to the White House, and because of that a young woman got a job, and because of that she got to meet the president, and because of that she lost her job, and because of that she got a new job where, one day, mistaking some large photographs for a sign of loyalty, she became friendly with a woman who not only became her confidante but, amazingly, happened to have been the confidante of another woman, several years before, who also had gotten to meet the president. And now, because of that, Bill Clinton's private world was about to become his primary one.
On January 16, Lewinsky would return to the Ritz-Carlton, where she would be intercepted by FBI agents and federal prosecutors as she was walking toward Linda Tripp, who, more than anyone, would have understood her description of what that was like: "So frightening," Lewinsky would say. "It was so incredibly frightening."
On January 21, the first news stories would appear.
On March 3, Vernon Jordan would emerge from his first day of testifying before the grand jury and say, "As to those of you who cast doubt on my friendship with President Clinton, let me reassure you that ours is an enduring friendship, an enduring friendship based on mutual respect, trust and admiration. That was true yesterday. That is true today. And it will be true tomorrow."
On May 21, Walter Kaye would get his turn, telling the grand jurors about what they were doing, "I think it's America at its best. No other country like this where a group of ordinary citizens, you know, enforce the law, really. That's the way -- I'm not a lawyer or anything, but I just think it's -- I get goosebumps as I tell it to you. I can't say enough great things about this country."
On August 17, President Clinton's schedule would consist of: morning -- prepare for grand jury; afternoon -- testify to the grand jury; evening -- speak to nation about grand jury testimony.
And where would the nation be as the year neared its end? A world away from the moment 11 months ago when Linda Tripp, her microphone back in place, emerged from the restroom and resumed sitting across from Lewinsky.
"I can't hear you," she said at one point.
"Stop whispering," she said at another, and then she and Lewinsky left, and Lewinsky offered to drive her back to the Pentagon, and Tripp said okay, and the FBI followed, and the OIC followed, and the country was in its last days of ignorance as two unknown women, one in love, the other in a body wire, had a final conversation in the car:
"You're at the wrong place," Tripp said. "Turn left."
"Go up here?"
"No. Turn left."
"Go into the parking lot and bring me back around where I can get up the stairs."
"What stairs? This is the south parking -- "
"But this doesn't get me to -- "
" -- the soda place."
"If you don't mind, because -- "
"Oh, I don't mind at all."
" -- my feet hurt."
"I'd drive you to the moon, my dear," said the one who was in love.
"Yeah, sure," said the other one, who wasn't.