Linda Tripp Dies at 70: Lightning Rod Exposed Bill Clinton's Lewinsky Affair — Then Started Over Away from D.C.
"There are people who think I'm a hero, and there are people who think I'm a villain," she told PEOPLE in 2003. "And I'm neither"
Linda Tripp Rausch, the Pentagon employee whose secret recordings thrust her into the middle of the historic scandal involving former President Bill Clinton and former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, died this week, PEOPLE confirms.
She was 70.
An attorney who had previously worked with her, Joseph Murtha, said Wednesday that “sadly, Linda did pass away today.” He said he could not provide more information.
“My mommy is leaving this earth. I don’t know myself if I can survive this heartache,” daughter Allison Tripp Foley had written on Tuesday in a since-removed Facebook post, according to The New York Post.
Foley continued: “Please pray for a painless process for the strongest woman I will ever know in my entire lifetime.”
“She fought on as hard as she could,” son-in-law Thomas Foley told the Post on Wednesday, adding, “I know all the press will focus on the other stuff, but she was a special person and a fantastic grandparent who was devoted to her family. People forget this part.”
PEOPLE’s efforts to reach her family were not successful.
Although the cause of Rausch’s death was not known, her daughter told TMZ that it was unrelated to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Rausch previously survived breast cancer, and her mother told CNN she had recently been diagnosed with cancer in her pancreas and lymph nodes.
Daughter Allison, an accomplished equestrienne and real estate agent, was reportedly at her mother’s deathbed in intensive care along with Dieter Rausch, Linda’s husband.
(DailyMail.com first reported news of her death on Wednesday; the Post first reported she was seriously ill.)
Linda rose to prominence — and, for some, infamy — in 1998 when she revealed information about the president’s affair after having grown close with the 20-something Lewinsky, a former intern who was moved from the White House to the Pentagon but continued her burgeoning relationship with Clinton.
With Linda, Lewinsky shared intimate details about her time with the president.
Amid an investigation into Clinton’s conduct with another woman, Paula Jones, Linda turned over some 22 hours of taped phone conversations with Lewinsky, who first opened up to Linda in 1996 — describing her dalliances with the married commander-in-chief inside the White House.
Linda recorded her calls with Lewinsky, without Lewinsky’s knowledge, and shared what she knew of the relationship with independent counsel Kenneth Starr, who was investigating Clinton.
Linda began taping Lewinsky in the fall of 1997 and gave the recordings to authorities in January 1998. She received immunity for her cooperation.
That evidence, including some 22 hours of audio and a semen-stained blue dress worn by Lewinsky, was used against Clinton and he was impeached by the House of Representatives. The Senate, however, acquitted him.
Linda’s protracted stratagem — sometimes talking with Lewinsky for hours, in great detail — as well as her work in President George H. W. Bush’s administration and her association with a book agent for a possible Clinton White House exposé opened her up to criticism that she was partisan and self-interested rather than righteous, tossing aside someone she had pretended to befriend for her own motives.
While testifying before the grand jury convened to investigate Clinton, Lewinsky said, “I’m really sorry for everything that’s happened. And I hate Linda Tripp.”
But, her former friend insisted, she was uncovering something she couldn’t abide.
That book agent who encouraged her to record Lewinsky, Lucianne Goldberg, has said she did so in order to help Linda protect herself from any claims that she was lying.
“I was fascinated,” Linda told ABC News in 2001. “I couldn’t believe — could he [Clinton] be that reckless? Could he be that arrogantly reckless to philander with a child? I was reeling from the horror of it all.”
She said in 2003 that she hoped Lewinsky could move on with dignity in her life: “I would wish for her the same thing I would wish for my daughter: self respect, a sense of self, the ability to make the right choices in life.”
Even so, she has said the two were not truly ever friends.
Lewinsky, now 46, tweeted on Wednesday about Linda’s health problems before news of her death broke.
“No matter the past, upon hearing that Linda Tripp is very seriously ill, I hope for her recovery,” Lewinsky wrote. “I can’t imagine how difficult this is for her family.”
Linda spoke out only sporadically in the years since Clinton’s scandal. She split from husband Bruce Tripp in 1991, married Dieter in 2004 and re-settled in the Middleburg, Virginia, area outside Washington, D.C. The Pentagon had dismissed her from her job as a political appointee in 2001, on the last day of the Clinton administration.
Linda spent years resolving other legal issues after making the Lewinsky tapes: She sued the government, claiming they violated her privacy, and received a six figure-settlement in 2003; charges in Maryland that she illegally recorded Lewinsky were dropped in 2000 because Lewinsky was barred from testifying.
She moved on from her longtime home in suburban Maryland after the years of scrutiny became too much — for her, children Allison and Ryan and their neighbors.
“We essentially had to abandon it because it became a tourist trap, a tabloid haven,” she told PEOPLE in 2003.
Of farm life in Northern Virginia with 16 horses, she told Page Six in 2017: “It’s paradise with complete autonomy and privacy, and that’s how I like it.”
Linda and her husband, who fell in love decades after first meeting during summers in Frankfort, Germany, also ran a Christmas shop, according to a previous PEOPLE report.
Starting in late 1999, she underwent expensive — and extensive — plastic surgery, bankrolled by an anonymous benefactor. Indeed, the verbal slings and arrows hurled at her because of her ’90s appearance (including John Goodman’s Saturday Night Live impersonation) seemed to take their toll.
“The notion of betrayal is ridiculous,” Linda told PEOPLE in 2003. “If I had looked perky, sweet and cute, I wouldn’t have been defined the way I was by the press.”
In 2018, in what seems to have been her last public appearance, Linda gave the keynote address during National Whistleblower Day on Capitol Hill. She said again that her exposure of Clinton’s conduct had little to do with politics.
She lamented the toll her role in the scandal took on her life, noting that it was “virtually impossible to get your good name back,” The Washington Post reported.
“There’s nothing quite like it,” she said, “and there’s nothing that can prepare you for it.”
As she had told PEOPLE in 2003: “You don’t spend 22 years of your life taking pride in working for the federal government, doing a great job and — I don’t want to sound like a flag-waver — but feeling a sense of duty … and then throw it out with the baby and the bathwater. You take it very seriously.”
“There are people who think I’m a hero, and there are people who think I’m a villain,” she said then. “And I’m neither.”
“I regret what I put my children through. I regret very much that they had to endure that level of vitriol,” she told the Mail. “But would I do it again? Yes.”
• With reporting by WENDY GROSSMAN KANTOR