Following Orders: Chapter 1 Excerpt
The air was still in Middleburg, Virginia. The only sounds came from the crickets outside.
“Linda, let’s go back to the day Vince Foster died,” I said.
There we were, Linda Tripp and I, in the summer of 2000, secluded in a private, gated estate on a horse farm in a guesthouse above a four-car garage, across from the magnificent main house.
It was the temporary apartment Linda had rented to escape her Maryland home, because her address had been printed in the newspapers during the events that led to U.S. President William Jefferson Clinton’s impeachment.
Tripp, a single mom and career civil servant had served outside President Bill Clinton’s Oval office and inside First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential counsel’s office. She had been subpoenaed to testify in the Clinton White House investigations from Travelgate to Whitewater—and the Foster death investigation.
A little history here is necessary. In 1998, Tripp made international headlines when her secretly taped conversations with a former White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, became public. Lewinsky disclosed on those recordings that she had been sexually involved with President Clinton in the White House. Clinton had denied the affair and was accused of suborning perjury, obstruction of justice, and witness tampering to cover it up in an attempt to fix a sexual harassment court case. Hillary had defended her guilty husband and branded his accusers, including Linda Tripp, as part of “a vast right-wing conspiracy” bent on destroying the president.13
As the political war escalated in the media, however, a problem emerged: the “vast right-wing conspiracy” was right. The president had been sexually involved with Monica Lewinsky. Tripp’s recordings were accurate. He had lied under oath, and Linda did not want to lie under oath in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case against the president.14
While Linda had testified that she had made those tape recordings as an insurance policy to protect herself from the Clintons—and from being caught in a false perjury charge if she told the truth under oath and President Clinton lied (he did)—the media following the Clinton White House narrative didn’t buy it.15
Tripp was an evil, gossipy villain, a rabid Republican bent on destroying them, they declared while endlessly vilifying her. But the media elite were wrong. Linda was a registered Independent who—she had admitted to me and testified under oath—had actually been a Clinton team player.16
“With all the different investigations I felt like I had been a team player,” she even admitted to the mainstream press, a critical detail they chose to ignore. “It bothered my sense of values—it did—it bothered me, but I was selfish. I wanted my job,” Linda said. “I wanted my livelihood. So for security I shut up.” This was the excuse she fell back on when attempting to justify her crisis of conscience and decision to testify exactly as the Clinton White House had instructed her and all of the staffers.17
Indeed, as reported in The Whistleblower, Linda had protected the Clintons in all the earlier investigations—which is the real reason she needed to be discredited and destroyed during the events that led to only the second president in the history of the United States being impeached. It had nothing to do with sex.
And now, as Hillary was making history running for the junior New York State Senate seat, a stepping stone for her planned presidential run (which came to pass, and failed in 2007, and may happen again in the 2016 presidential contest), the criminal wiretapping charges that had been filed against Linda for taping her conversations with Monica Lewinsky had been dropped.18 Linda was finally free to set the record straight on the Clinton era where she had served—or so I had thought.
With Cleo, Linda’s golden retriever dog, gently asleep at her usual spot, in front of the living room couch, I faced the computer and clicked print. Page after page rolled out documenting the events of July 20, 1993—that was the day White House deputy counsel to the president of the United States, Vincent Walker Foster Jr., was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head in Fort Marcy Park in McLean, Virginia. It was the highest-ranking suicide in government since 1949, when President Truman’s secretary of defense, James Forrestal, committed suicide by throwing himself from a sixteenth floor window to his death from the Bethesda Naval Hospital.19
Foster was the son of a real-estate broker, who excelled at virtually everything he did, from athletics to academics. The former student-body president at Hope High School, in 1967 Foster graduated from Davidson College. During his first year of law school, at Vanderbilt, he married Elizabeth “Lisa” Braden at St. Henry Catholic Church in Nashville in April 1968. As Lisa later recounted in an interview in The New Yorker she had “kissed him on the first date”—something she had never done in her life. Having fallen head over heels in love with him, “Vince seemed so smart and so interested in the world.”20 The happy couple would go on to have three children.
In 1971 Foster transferred to the University of Arkansas law school in Fayetteville, where he earned the top score on the state’s bar examination. Two years after joining the powerful Little Rock, Arkansas, Rose Law Firm he was made partner. It was Foster along with Rose Law Firm partner Webster Hubbell, “a big burly, likable man … who was a great fun to work with and loyal supportive friend,” as described by Hillary, who were among a handful of Arkansans who went to Washington to serve in the Clinton administration;21 Foster in Hillary’s presidential counsel’s office, and Hubbell, as associate attorney general, in the Justice department. In fact, Foster was instrumental in hiring Hillary as the first female associate at the Rose Law Firm. Admittedly, Hillary worked most closely with both Foster and Hubbell, with Foster for nearly fifteen years.22
Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas at the time.
“Vince Foster’s backyard touched [Bill Clinton’s] when he lived with his grandparents in Hope, Arkansas. [Bill and Vince] were friends virtually all their lives …23 “Foster was one of the best lawyers [Hillary] had ever known and one of the best friends” she had ever had … “steady, courtly, sharp but understated, the sort of person you would want around in times of trouble.” 24
In search of peace, answers, anything, she drove to the nearest bookstore, bought everything that dealt with death and suicide, and, like former Clinton communications aide George Stephanopoulos, Linda sought outside help. Stephanopoulos began weekly sessions with a therapist “for all the usual reasons,” but the reasons “were magnified by the shock of Foster’s suicide.”25 For Linda, no book, no person could explain, nor did the official findings appear to calm her angst. Linda’s angst manifested itself in a form you could see: her weight gain that began after Foster died.
When I met Linda in 2000, seven years had passed since his death; and her self-recriminations had not faded. Foster’s death seemed to eat at her soul, sometimes over-whelming her when I brought it up. Instead of answering my questions—questions prompted by her testimony and public statements, she fueled my curiosity by changing the subject to safer territory; to another gossipy Monica Lewinsky story perhaps. Other times she exclaimed, “I don’t know what really happened,” or she hid behind her self-constructed wall of rationalizations. “Casting blame won’t bring Vince back,” she’d insist, “nor is it my place to lay credence to conspiracy theories.” Which was true—if the official findings were correct.
It was Linda who suggested otherwise when she testified during Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr’s Office of Independent Counsel Clinton-Lewinsky grand jury: “I had reason to believe that the Vince Foster tragedy was not depicted accurately under oath by members of the administration … and these are, remember, instances of national significance that included testimony by, also, Mrs. Clinton, also in Travelgate. It became very important for them for their version of events to be the accepted version of events,” she testified. “I knew based on my personal knowledge, personal observations that they were lying under oath. So it became very fearful for me that I had information even back then that was very dangerous.”26
But what also really heightened my suspicions about the circumstances surrounding his death was that we had gone over the Clintons’ stay-in-power tactics, such as the “cohesive strategy” tactic: a smoke and mirrors public relations trick where the White House would tell Americans and investigators what they wanted them to know as opposed to what really happened, and how their scripted version would became the so-called truth, the ‘talking points,’ the narrative picked up by the press—regardless of any inconvenient facts that would pop up. I knew how those tactics worked.27 So why did Linda constantly contradict herself?
“No one challenged Hillary, not low-on-the-totem-pole me all the way up to senior staff and the president,” Linda repeatedly said, clearly still intimidated.
Yet, after all this time, she still heeded their warnings. “What couldn’t you tell investigators about Vince’s death then that you wanted them to know but were too afraid to tell?” I’d ask her.
And she would dodge, sometimes getting angry. “I told you,” she bristled, “I was afraid I’d lose my job. I had kids at home, my pension. You don’t understand. You don’t have kids.”
And she was right; but at the same time, I could not help but wonder what she could lose now—if there was something to tell. She had been trashed by the media on a global scale during the events that led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, was threatened, put into a safe house by agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Office of Independent Counsel (OIC), felt the full force of the Clinton machine, and as a political appointee serving in the Clinton administration, like all political appointees, was about to lose her job after the 2000 elections when the George W. Bush administration would take office.28 Her kids, now young adults, Alison and Ryan, had left home; and still all these years later, she remained tight-lipped and defensive. How could I not think she was hiding something? But what was it?
One afternoon, out of the blue, Linda surprisingly and unnecessarily apologized for her grief over Foster’s death. She was afraid it might appear disproportionate, considering the short time she had known him (which was not quite six months). She wanted to be clear.
“Vince was not just someone I worked for, but a friend,” she said defending her sorrow. Then she over-compensated by describing how their bond was forged quickly with a shared camaraderie amid their hectic high-pressure jobs in Hillary’s counsel’s office. Other times she would simply lament, “If only Vince were alive …” how “Vince would’ve understood” —referring to her predicament with the Clintons.
“You could trust Vince with anything, such a decent soul,” she told me. “I wish you could’ve met him.”
In the cramped suite in the West Wing’s counsel’s office Linda could overhear Vince on the Dictaphone dictating letter after letter full of kind words and encouraging advice to young Americans, “When I first started out … Go for it, it’s your dream,” even sometimes typing the letters up for him. “That was Vince, always taking the time to lift another person up,” she would sadly reminisce.
Ironically, had he lived, Foster would have been the person she would have trusted to help her navigate through the treacherous months of President Clinton’s impeachment.
“You know people just don’t know,” Linda would warn me. “Vince wasn’t like them,” referring to the Clintons. “He wasn’t ruthless. Hillary is ruthless. Vince cared about people. He was genuine—they’re not. Only when the camera is running do they act like they care.”
For the Clintons, who had also suffered a loss, Foster’s death sparked a firestorm that engulfed the nation. The charges leveled against them were serious: Foster knew too much. They had killed him. Clinton staffers removed files from his office. Must be a cover-up. Investigators never found the fatal bullet. It’s a conspiracy. Even long-time friend Webb Hubbell couldn’t believe Foster had committed suicide. And on and on it went.
Despite five government investigations that concluded Foster committed suicide in Fort Marcy Park, the conspiracy beast was still on the prowl. With my reporter’s cap fastened tightly on, I was ready to find out the truth. Were the Foster conspiracy theories viable or were they created by the Right for political gain?
Having finished dinner, Linda emerged from the kitchen and sat on the couch across from me. Ahead would be a long night. I spun my chair around to face her. Steadying my feet on the table rim, I lightly brushed against two large three-ringed black binders. Inside the binders housed what the public knew: copies of White House press briefings and investigative reports into Vince Foster’s death, including the Office of Independent Counsel (OIC) Reports with media articles stacked along-side them.
Handing Linda a copy of what I had reconstructed using public records interwoven with fragmented details she had cautiously shared over six months, I glanced at her, trying to gauge her mood. Would she procrastinate, balk, or change the subject as before? Or would she explain what she meant: why the White House dishonesty during the Foster investigations had shaken her so? 29
That night would be my chance to find out.
Like this excerpt? Keep reading ….
Updated: It’s true. Vince Foster’s tragic suicide was a turning point for Linda Tripp.
See: Lauren Kranc, “Impeachment: American Crime Story Shows The Tragic Death of Vince Foster: The deputy White House counsel’s 1993 suicide furthered Linda Tripp’s disillusion with the Clinton administration,” Esquire, September 8, 2021
13. “The President under Fire;” excerpts from interview with Hillary Clinton on NBC’s Today Show, January 28, 1998.
14. “Clinton Accused. Key Player: Paula Jones,” Washington Post, October 2, 1998.
15. Linda Tripp, Starr Report, Part III, p. 4276, see July 28, 1998, p. 46. “I felt that it was an insurance policy so that it would be more difficult for them to fire me because they didn’t like what I was saying under oath.”
16. Linda Tripp, Starr Report, Part III, June 30, 1998; p. 57-58.
“Look, I don’t understand this,” [she] said to Lindsey, “I’ve been loyal. I have worked through these horrible investigations … I don’t understand why all of a sudden I’m not considered of any value. What has changed?’ And [Lindsey] said, ‘Look, nothing’s changed. You are valued….’ My feeling was that for some reason I was not thought to be ‘on the team,’ which is a phrase you hear a lot and I had not at that point done anything not to be on the team.”Starr Report
17. Linda Tripp, Larry King Live, CNN, February 16, 1999. 18. Paul W. Valentine, “Maryland Jury to Probe Tripp’s taping,” Washington Post, July 8, 1998; p. A14. Also see: “Democrats Pushed for Tripp Wiretap Probe, Lawyers Say,” Associated Press, July 10, 1998.
19. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2001. Also see: Helen Kennedy, “Md Prosecutors Drop Tripp Wiretapping Charges,” New York Daily News, May 25, 2000.
20. Peter J. Boyer, “Life After Vince,” New Yorker Magazine, September 11, 1995.
21. Hillary Clinton, Living History, (First Scribner trade paperback edition 2004), p. 80.
22. Hillary Clinton, Living History, (First Scribner trade paperback edition 2004), p. 79.
23. Bill Clinton, My Life, (Alfred A. Knopf, 2004), p.530.
24. Hillary Clinton, Living History, (First Scribner trade paperback edition 2004), p. 79.
25. George Stephanopoulos, All Too Human, (Little Brown and Company, 1999) p. 187.
26 . Linda Tripp, Starr Report, Part III, p. 4276. See: July 28, 1998, p. 47.
27. Marinka Peschmann, The Whistleblower: How the Clinton White House Stayed in Power, (One Rock Ink Publishing, 2012), p. 61. Also see: p. 6-65.
28. “Tripp’s Life Threatened, attorney says,” The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, May 27, 1998; p. 12a. “Asked whether Tripp was taken to a safe house after the allegations surfaced, Zaccagnini said,
“Linda Tripp … was the subject of a lot of press scrutiny and there were some threats made against her life. As a result, the FBI, in conjunction with Starr’s office, decided to move her to a secure location.”The Atlanta Journal and Constitution
Also see: “Linda Tripp on Life after the Pentagon,” ABC News/Good Morning America, February 21, 2001; . “Tripp was fired by the Pentagon Jan. 19 after she refused to resign with the other political appointees.”
29. Tony Snow, “Linda Tripp’s Comments,” Creators Syndicate, July 31, 1998.
“And now, she feels free to recount some of the things she has seen. She says she was shaken by White House dishonesty during investigations of Vince Foster’s death, Filegate, Travelgate and reports of drug abuse among administration employees. “It’s chilling,” she says, “to watch high government officials lie under oath.” … Tripp made her choice. “There are no standards in that White House,” she says, “and I’m not going to be a part of it. I’m going to expose it.”Creators Syndicate
30. Marinka Peschmann, The Whistleblower: How the Clinton White House Stayed in Power (One Rock Ink Publishing, 2012), p.10- 11.
“In 1994, Paula Corbin Jones, a former Arkansas state employee, filed suit against President Clinton. She alleged that when he was the governor of Arkansas, he had propositioned and exposed himself to her in a Little Rock hotel room three years earlier. The whole sordid story was the talk of the nation and the world. Corbin accurately described “distinguishing characteristics” in Clinton’s genital area.” Also see: Paula Jones Complaint Against President Clinton & Danny Ferguson, filed May 6, 1994; access online at: http://www.lectlaw.com/files/cas03.htm.