The People's Panel 'What would you have done?'

Linda Tripp: Opportunist or patriot? The People's Panel talks about friendship and betrayal.

October 13, 1998

Without Linda Tripp, her tape recorder and a little microphone taped to her thigh, President Clinton would not be where he is today - facing impeachment hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives. The seven men and women taking part in our People's Panel agreed with that conclusion, but most found nothing noble in Tripp's decision to record her conversations with the president's Oval Office paramour, Monica Lewinsky. So today we discuss Tripp's actions and, as always, the wise rabbi from Columbia, Martin Siegel, tries to lead us from the mud to a higher ground.

Moderator Dan Rodricks: I was amused, in a cynical way, by something I found in the documents released by Congress on Oct. 2. At some point in this saga, Tripp said that, if she went to Kenneth Starr with the telephone tapes and her knowledge of Monica Lewinsky's affair with the president, she feared she'd be losing a dear friend, Monica.

Dee Herget (screen painter): Balderdash.

Elayne Smith (counseling center administrator): I think she used Monica. Clinton used Monica, and Tripp used her.

Nance Jacobs (medical assistant and teacher): She had a reason to make the tapes. Tripp felt she had been burned by not having documentation before. Someone on Clinton's staff ...

Smith: His lawyer.

Rodricks: His lawyer said she was not to be believed.

Jacobs: Right.

Rodricks: But what do you think of what she did?

Jacobs: I didn't know it was against the law, but knowingly taping someone, I think that's a problem. Not that it's equal to what the president did.

Rodricks: Put yourself in Tripp's position. Would you have done what she did for the purpose of proving the president had a sexual relationship with someone not his wife?

Jacobs: I've been in that position, having to tape telephone calls. In the mid-'70s, we were fighting a developer behind us and this guy was playing pretty dirty. So I started taping conversations with people - if I called someone in the county government, for instance - to have, word for word, what they said.

Rodricks: It probably wasn't illegal to do that then. ... But what do you think of what she did? Do you think she was motivated by wanting to get Clinton?

Smith: Yes.

Rabbi Martin Siegel: She said something in front of the grand jury I found very interesting. Before Clinton admitted he lied, she said, "There are people in this case who have lied, and they know they've lied." The issue for me is that she betrayed her friend. I know people who have lied under oath to protect their friends. I'm not saying you should lie under oath. I just think friendship is one of the most sacred things there is. But what I think caused her to do it is the same disease that [afflicts] the House Judiciary Committee - she believes she is right, she believed they were wrong, and she was going to make sure that right triumphed, and therefore she could use this method that was illegal. She didn't care.

Rodricks: If she was such a friend, why didn't she tell Monica to stop doing what she was doing?

Jacobs: I think she tried a couple of times.

Smith: It sounded to me like she egged her on.

Herget: I think she needed money to put a couple of kids through college.

Bobby Knatz (Democratic precinct pol): The most ludicrous part of all the myriad of television I've seen on this: The wired Linda Tripp, coming out after the grand jury testimony, and saying, "After all, I'm just like you, I'm just a suburban mom." Now, heaven forbid if she is just like a suburban mom. She was totally motivated. She got fired from the White House, sent over to the Pentagon. And, by the way, that disturbs me greatly if she still has a top-secret clearance at the Pentagon. The whole thing - 20 hours of taping without an ulterior motive? Come on.

Daniel Myung (certified public accountant): I don't really care about Linda Tripp. If she broke the law, let her be punished. I care about Clinton.

Rodricks: What would you have done? Let's play Scruples. You have a friend who's having sex with a president you don't like, whose politics you don't like. What do you do?

Myung: I'd be scared. I'd be scared of Clinton ...

Rodricks: Scared? Really?

Smith: She saw this young woman, she saw this opportunity - I don't think they were really friends - and started using her.

Knatz: She contacted a book agent.

Smith: Her friend, Lucianne Goldberg. Just as I wonder what kind of a friend Linda Tripp was to Monica, I wonder what kind of friend Lucianne Goldberg was to Linda Tripp. She egged Tripp on, just as Tripp had egged Monica on. Tripp and Goldberg had a mutual hate and were out to get Clinton.

Siegel: We've got to be careful about implying motives. It's just not healthy. Linda Tripp could very well have believed she was saving the country from this evil man, Bill Clinton.

Knatz: Let me rephrase my comment, Rabbi. What I have seen or read relating to actions of Linda Tripp, they were somewhat less than admirable. This wired suburban mom made Mata Hari look like a Sunday school teacher.

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