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9 November 1998

A Howler update: Tripp in chains

Synopsis: The New York Times still won’t let readers know that Linda Tripp has impeached Kathleen Willey.

Peripheral Figure Feels the Heat of Starr’s Investigation
Jill Abramson, The New York Times, 11/1/98

Starr Probing Allegation That Clinton Made Pass at Willey
Susan Schmidt, The Washington Post, 11/1/98

In her appearance on Sixty Minutes in March, Kathleen Willey alleged that she was groped and assaulted by President Clinton in November 1993. Willey’s accusations gained wide national attention as a result of her CBS appearance.

But in Linda Tripp’s testimony to the Starr grand jury, Tripp directly contradicted Willey’s Sixty Minutes account. According to Tripp, Willey had pursued a flirtation with Clinton since the start of the first Clinton term, and on the day the Clinton-Willey encounter occurred, Tripp said Willey was “smiling from ear to ear” as she described the Oval Office high-jinks. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/5/98, for our account of Tripp’s testimony.)

In her testimony, Tripp gives a lengthy, detailed, sworn account which directly challenges Willey’s claim of an assault. But--incredibly--no major paper but the Washington Post has reported Tripp’s account for its readers. And indeed, a recent New York Times article by Jill Abramson continues to ignore Tripp’s account of the matter. To this day, New York Times readers have never been told about Tripp’s remarkable testimony.

In her article, Abramson discusses Kenneth Starr’s legal pursuit of former Willey friend Julie Steele. Abramson gives a detailed account of Starr’s investigation of Hiatt’s peripheral role in the Willey matter, and she suggests that Starr may be planning to charge Steele with perjury in the affair.

For the record, here’s the way that Abramson sums up the current state of the conflicting stories about Willey:

ABRAMSON: Ms. Steele’s version of events is only one of several accounts of the Willey matter. There is Ms. Willey’s accusations of a pass and the President’s absolute denial. There are the accounts of two friends of Ms. Willey’s, Linda R. Tripp and Harolyn Cardozo, who have both said that Ms. Willey was happy about a pass she described from the President.

There is nothing false in Abramson’s brief summary, but it hardly captures Tripp’s actual account. It had been known since last summer, when Tripp was quoted in Newsweek, that she had said that Willey was “flustered, happy, and joyful” about the encounter. But if Tripp’s account is worth mentioning at all, it is worth describing in some detail, and Tripp’s grand jury testimony went far beyond the bare bones account Abramson offers, describing a detailed process in which Willey tried to create a romantic liaison with the president. Abramson’s current account of what Tripp has said barely hints at what Tripp has described.

Again, only the Post has told its readers about Tripp’s grand jury testimony at all. In an article last week about possible Starr legal actions, Susan Schmidt again tells her readers about certain aspects of Tripp’s sworn statement:

SCHMIDT: But what is already a confusing story by Willey is further muddied by a former close friend, Julie Hiatt Steele...and by then-White House employee Linda R. Tripp. Tripp, who ran into Willey as she left the Oval Office that day, has contradicted Willey’s account of what happened with Clinton in grand jury testimony and interviews with FBI investigators.

Later, Schmidt adds to her account:

SCMIDT: When the alleged encounter occurred, Tripp told the grand jury, Willey was excited and pleased, though it “almost took her breath away, it was so forceful.”

Again, Schmidt says nothing that is obviously false, but her recitation of Tripp’s account is becoming somewhat selective. According to Tripp, Tripp did not “run into” Willey after the encounter; Willey came to Tripp’s office to discuss it. And while including Tripp’s direct quote about how “forceful” Clinton was, she omits the portion of Tripp’s testimony that the Post published on October 3:

TRIPP: I can just tell you that she was very excited, very flustered, she smiled from ear to ear the entire time. She seemed almost shocked, but happy shocked.

Gone also of course is Tripp’s detailed account of speculation and planning by Willey as she tried to arrange an assignation.

Here at THE HOWLER, we have no way of knowing what may or may not have happened between Clinton and Willey. We do feel that the public has a right to be told of Tripp’s actual account of these matters. Willey’s dramatic accusations against President Clinton have received massive media coverage. And, as we pointed out in THE HOWLER on November 2, many columnists immediately rushed into print back in March to assure readers they believed Kathleen Willey. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/2/98)

But, to date, the New York Times has never told readers that Tripp’s impeachment of Willey even exists. No op-ed writers on the Post or the Times have ever mentioned Tripp’s account.

We think it is a remarkable example of an old press structure--accusations against public figures get major coverage, impeachment of accusers’ accounts get lost. The New York Times has given major space to Kathleen Willey’s accusation. Its op-ed writers have often stated they believe her statements are true. Linda Tripp has contradicted Willey, but not so much as a word has been said. Unless the press corps accusers, why has so little been said?