The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Linda Tripp says she was the victim of ‘a real high-tech lynching’ in first public address since 2000

Linda Tripp speaks to reporters outside the U.S. District Courthouse on July 29, 1998. (Larry Morris/The Washington Post)
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In her first public address in nearly two decades, Linda Tripp, known for her pivotal role in the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, said she had just one regret: “Not having the guts to do it sooner.”

“It was always about right and wrong, never left and right,” Tripp said at an event Monday marking National Whistleblower Day on Capitol Hill. “It was about exposing perjury and the obstruction of justice,” she continued. “It was never about politics.”

Tripp, a former White House aide, secretly recorded conversations with her “friend” Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern who had an affair with then-President Bill Clinton. Tripp’s tapes blew the whistle on Clinton, who had denied his relationship with Lewinsky in sworn statements. The ensuing and all-encompassing scandal led to Clinton’s impeachment and Lewinsky’s effective banishment (until she resurfaced as an anti-bullying advocate a few years ago).

Tripp, a career civil servant, also disappeared from the public, retreating to a quiet life in Middleburg, Va., and remaining relatively under the radar. But she conducted rare, gut-spilling interviews with the Daily Mail and Breitbart in 2015 and 2016, respectively, in which she called Hillary Clinton “ruthless” and said that Lewinsky was alive because of Tripp’s own actions.

Monday’s event was attended by nearly 60 whistleblowers who exposed corruption in powerhouse institutions including the FBI and a nursing home in Virginia, with more than half a dozen speakers touting the patriotic duty of speaking truth to power. But Tripp, the afternoon’s keynote, nailed that message.

She said that whistleblowers would never truly be safe until “enhanced protections” were put in place that prosecuted the individuals — not just the institutions — who retaliated against those who expose corruption. The room applauded that talking point.

When recounting the personal toll coming forward had on her personal life, Tripp said it was “virtually impossible to get your good name back.”

And for the critics who say Tripp should’ve been a team player, Tripp had one question: Whose team?

“My duty, my oath, was to the office of presidency, not to the sitting incumbent, and I was true to that oath,” said Tripp, who added that she had witnessed a “culture of corruption that was infecting the office of the presidency.” She’d spent years being quiet and afraid to speak up, she said, but decided to act once it was clear that Clinton knew that she knew what she knew. And that’s when things went downhill for everyone.

Borrowing a line from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Tripp said she knew what “a real high-tech lynching feels like.” Her reputation was dragged by a newly emerging 24-hour news cycle, she said, while Clinton was reimagined as the victim of a conspiracy. She felt isolated, as though no one were on her side. “There’s nothing quite like it,” Tripp explained, “and there’s nothing that can prepare you for it.”

Tripp hoped that her appearance on Monday, after decades of silence, would change the narrative, casting the whistleblower as a hero in the story and not the villain — or the punchline.

Before exiting the stage she spent years avoiding, Tripp thanked her lawyers, who founded the National Whistleblower Center, by borrowing a quote.

“A woman I once knew very well,” Tripp continued, “famously said it takes a village.”