Tripp's mystery job: What's $90,000 more or less?


WHILE THE political voyeurs in Washington's congressional un-zip code strive to make Bill Clinton's sex life sound like a threat to the national well-being, the woman who blabbed about his philanderings, Linda Tripp, attempts to slip through history's side door while nobody's paying attention.

In Ellicott City, a grand jury heard testimony last week that could help nail Tripp on charges of illegally taping her telephone conversations with Monica Lewinsky. Tripp's lawyers publicly deplore these unseemly proceedings. They'd like everybody to go home and watch those extremely seemly impeachment proceedings on television and forget about their client's violations against both the law and simple decency.

Meanwhile, in Washington, reporters attempting to find what Tripp is doing to justify her $90,000-a-year government job while sitting at home every day are given the royal brushoff. Ask us about something important, the government says. Ask us about stains on dresses.

As everyone knows, Linda Tripp was once employed at the White House and was then unhappily bumped to the Pentagon, but has quietly "worked" at home in Columbia virtually since the dawning of her public connection to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.

What's she actually doing at home, besides watching the televised fallout from her late-night chats with Monica? Who knows? Is she doing any work at all? Who knows? All we know is she's collecting that $90,000 a year under a work arrangement known as flexi-place and that, when pressed about it at a briefing the other day, a Defense Department spokesman, Navy Capt. Michael Doubleday, diplomatically told everybody to mind their own business.

"Her work with the special prosecutor has been over for some time. Why is she still on flexi-place?" Doubleday was asked.

"That is as much as I have for you today," he answered.

Allegedly, Tripp has been working on some unnamed project at home. But, a reporter told Doubleday, "Her lawyers say she's finished her project [and] says she'd like to come back to work."

"You're certainly free to talk to her lawyers as much as you want," Doubleday answered. "I am not going to comment on her activities."

"Mike," a reporter said, "she was granted a lot of administrative leave to cooperate with the special prosecutor. Now that she may be facing prosecution herself, would she get administrative leave for that, too?"

Same answer: "I would not want to comment on her specific situation."

Well, what's $90,000 between us taxpayers? The special prosecutor spends four years and $40 million to find out Clinton's got an uncontrolled libido, and then tries to turn it into a constitutional crisis because the president lied the way married men in his situation -- presidents and otherwise -- have lied forever. Another four years, and $17 million, goes to an investigation into charges that former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy illegally took $33,000. Espy's been cleared. In the face of $57 million of investigating, what's a piddly $90,000?

In New York, the talkative Lucianne Goldberg, spiritual godmother to Linda Tripp, sees all of this -- the Clinton humiliation, the tiresome and sanctimonious (and expensive) House Judiciary hearings -- as a grand lark and says everybody's thinking too small when it comes to money.

Goldberg tells the New York Observer that she tried to make a lot of money for Tripp last summer by selling the Tripp-Lewinsky tapes. An entrepreneur she won't name allegedly promised $6 million upfront. The tapes would be released one at a time, at $5 a pop, says Goldberg. But Kenneth Starr didn't want to let the tapes go, and Tripp didn't push to get them.

"She said her lawyers told her it would double her jail time," Goldberg says. "I said, 'Linda, so what? You can buy every [sexually predatory inmate] in the county jail, you can have a VCR and tapes, you can send out for dinner every night. You can refurnish your cell. Six months later, you come out and you have $26 million in the bank.'"

It's beautiful when patriots talk about the president's morality, is it not? Tripp and Goldberg figured they'd cash in patriotically, before their deals fell apart. Henry Hyde, the Judiciary Committee chairman, bristles whenever his own extramarital fling is mentioned and calls it a youthful indiscretion, and never mind that he was in his 40s, and never mind that it ended another couple's marriage.

And the Pentagon, asked about Tripp's $90,000 salary, tries to change the subject. OK, how's this? Why is the Pentagon estimating it might spend $50 million in the coming year -- on Viagra for American troops and military retirees? Why is it spending $4.5 billion a year on nuclear arms programs -- far more than the average spending during the height of the Cold War? Why is it spending $250 billion a year to defend the country against -- against whom? -- while schools can't scrape together money for teachers?

You want to talk scandals, let's talk scandals. Clinton's an embarrassment, but he's Prince Valiant next to these guys.

Pub Date: 12/13/98

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