The next day, November 21 , Tripp called me. There was another courier pickup from the Pentagon this morning. Only this time, it was not a letter. It was a tape--for phone sex, she told me. I called Speed Service and arranged to get the receipt. It showed once again a "Monica" at Lewinsky's extension at the Pentagon calling it in and a delivery to the White House with Betty Currie's extension as the contact number. As luck would have it, the messenger who delivered it also had to make a delivery to Newsweek that morning. I asked him to describe what he had delivered to the White House. It was a package, sort of like this, he said holding up his hands, sort of like a small box. Like a tape? I asked. Yes, he told me, like a tape.
I was once more impressed with the reliability of what Tripp was telling me. And with the strangeness of the information: a sex tape couriered to the Oval Office. What would people think if they knew about this? But then I also started, for the first time really, to feel strange myself about what was going on--and what I was doing. I realized with a bit more clarity something that should have been apparent much earlier: I was in the middle of a plot to get the president.
I was only covering it, of course. Or so I told myself. But I was covering it from the inside, while it was unfolding, talking nearly every week with the conspirators as they schemed to make it happen. Tripp would at times ask me questions. She would seek my advice. I would, cautiously, give it: No, you shouldn't go to the tabloids with this story, it would only cheapen it, I had told her when she floated this idea. You should deal only with me. Reporters have these kinds of conversations with sources all the time. But in a situation like this, the lines between aggressive reporter and passive co-conspirator can get awfully blurry.
I had tried at every stage to adhere strictly to my role as a journalist: when I wouldn't listen to Tripp's tapes, when I rejected her harebrained scheme to steal the semen-stained dress and give it to me, when I wouldn't give Joe Cammarata the name of Kathleen Willey. But still, I was in treacherous and uncharted territory. There was a lot about Linda Tripp I didn't know--and much that even then made me distinctly uncomfortable. Her duplicity was obvious. Leave aside her tapes, which we had not talked about since that meeting back in October. She was betraying Lewinsky every time she spoke to me. She was relating in the mornings conversations she had been having with her unsuspecting young friend the night before--intensely personal conversations that Lewinsky obviously thought were taking place in confidence. On a practical level, I found it mindspinning--the cutouts, the code names, the switching on and off between sympathetic friend and devious informant. How did Tripp keep it all straight? And what were these talks between Tripp and Lewinsky really like? What was Lewinsky like? Who was she? I had no idea, really, and no effective way to find out--without tipping her off to what was going on, without betraying the woman who was betraying her. Yet it was the betrayer who was my source.
We all like to think of ourselves as ethical people, even headline-hungry reporters. But the ethics here looked a bit bewildering. I retreated to more comfortable terrain: my professional obligation as a journalist. On this score, I felt sure, I was safe. I reminded myself that neither I nor Newsweek had decided to publish anything. And for a good reason, too: I couldn't prove that any of this was real and that Monica Lewinsky wasn't some psychotic fantasist. I was only doing my job: listening, collecting evidence, testing what my sources were telling me to see if the information would hold up if and when Newsweek decided there was something here worth sharing with the public. According to Tripp, Clinton was using his office to get Lewinsky a job. That, in and of itself, was suspect. There was also a lawsuit out there in which the alleged sexual compulsiveness of the president of the United States was a central issue. This thing could well come up. I was doing only what any good reporter under the same circumstances would do, I concluded. What was I supposed to do? Tell Tripp and Goldberg to get lost? Say to them, "How dare you provide me with evidence of presidential misbehavior"?
Excerpted from Uncovering Clinton by Michael Isikoff. Copyright© 1999 by Michael Isikoff. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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