Joe Conason's Journal

Why did the Pentagon pay off Linda Tripp?

Published November 4, 2003 9:58PM (EST)

Linda Tripp's very valuable privacy
Irony is not quite adequate to describe the outcome of Linda Tripp's lawsuit against the Pentagon, which yesterday agreed to pay her $595,000 for invading her privacy. In addition to her cash windfall, the betrayer of Monica Lewinsky's confidences also has managed to spin her own story, at least in this error-ridden CNN account. Tripp always insisted that she sacrificed her young friend on the altar of "truth," so she shouldn't mind a few corrections for the record.

According to CNN, "Tripp sued the government when Pentagon officials leaked information from the government background investigation about her, which included the fact that she was arrested as a juvenile in a case involving drinking alcohol; she was never charged." Almost every statement in that paragraph is false -- and could easily have been checked against Tripp's actual arrest record, which has long been posted here on the Smoking Gun.

Tripp was 19 years old when she was arrested for grand larceny in the alleged theft of money and a watch from two men at a motel in upstate New York. Whether she was "drinking alcohol" or not, that had nothing to do with the charges against her (which were later reduced in a plea bargain to "loitering"). More important, perhaps, no Pentagon official leaked the story of Tripp's arrest to New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer, who was the first to report it in March 1998. In the course of preparing a profile of Tripp, Mayer learned about the arrest from Tripp's stepmother.

Like any competent reporter, Mayer had taken the information she got from the stepmother, filed a request at the local police station where Tripp had been busted, and got a facsimile of the arrest report.

At the time, Tripp's arrest was germane not so much because of anything it revealed about her youthful character but because it proved she had lied on her application for a top Pentagon security clearance. That Defense Department form required the applicant to disclose any prior arrest -- and indeed, the form itself warns that failure to disclose such information in pursuit of a security clearance may constitute a felony offense. When Tripp omitted the information about her 1969 arrest from the DOD form and then signed it, she violated those provisions (an offense for which she has never been punished).

The Pentagon couldn't have revealed Tripp's arrest record to Mayer for a very simple reason: Nobody there knew about it. What the Pentagon officials told Mayer was that they had no record of Tripp's arrest. This was the "invasion of privacy" underlying her subsequent lawsuit and the barrage of right-wing propaganda that pilloried Mayer and the Pentagon.

So Tripp is being paid almost $600,000 because Pentagon spokesmen told the New Yorker that the Defense Department knew of no arrests in her background.

The settlement negotiations with Tripp's lawyers were overseen by the Justice Department, which represented the Pentagon in her case. I wonder whether Attorney General John Ashcroft or Solicitor General Ted Olson signed off on this payoff.

This hectic life, debate format
On Thursday evening at the City University Graduate Center in New York, I will debate (or possibly just discuss) media bias with William McGowan, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of "Coloring the News," a study of the allegedly deleterious effects of affirmative action on American journalism. Terence Smith of PBS's Newshour will serve as moderator. Sponsored by the Donald and Paula Smith Family Foundation, the event is free and open to the public. It will begin at 6:30 p.m.
[11:30 a.m. PST, Nov. 4, 2003]

For your regular Joe, bookmark this link. To send an e-mail, click here.

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------