Who Wrote Talking Points? I Say: Lindsey’s the Man

The mysterious author is the Anonymous of 1998, but this Anonymous has avoided even a fraction of Joe Klein’s scrutiny. Maybe that’s because this Anonymous never wanted a wide audience. No, this Anonymous had only one buyer in mind, and she rejected his work in January.

This Anonymous is the author of the “Talking Points,” a three-page memo that Monica Lewinsky gave Linda Tripp on Jan. 14, urging her to make a false statement in Paula Jones’ sexual harassment suit against the President. These blunt instructions to Mrs. Tripp on how to destroy the credibility of Clinton accuser Kathleen Willey (and slur Monica Lewinsky as a stalker and liar) are a smoking gun that Kenneth Starr and the Clinton Administration have been pitching constitutional battles over. Indeed, the President’s appeals on attorney-client privilege might be seen as an effort to protect White House lawyers from having to answer questions about this one incriminating document. The talking points are so damnable, some speculate that their authorship is the one thing Monica Lewinsky doesn’t want to tell Kenneth Starr.

“The talking points are the click of it,” said Lucianne Goldberg, the literary agent who counseled Mrs. Tripp. “Monica has always thought, because Bill told her, that after he leaves office Hillary is going to leave him, and she thinks if she saves his Presidency, they’re going to be together walking into the sunset.” “Do you really believe that, Lucianne?” I asked. “I do,” she said. “I understand this as only a 62-year-old woman who has seen it all does. I’ve written five novels about women. She has a Cosmo girl in her head to this day.”

The press has speculated, and the White House has denied, that Clinton intimate and deputy White House counsel Bruce Lindsey is the author. Now I’ve studied the talking points, and with a tip of the cap to the bard of literary forensics, Don Foster, here are my speculations:

(1) “TPA”–the Talking Points’ Author–works on Pennsylvania Avenue.

There is so much White House jargon in the talking points that only an Administration insider could have produced them. He or she throws around terms like JCOC (for what USA Today says is the Pentagon’s Joint Civilian Orientation Course) and twice uses the phrase “the oval” to refer to the Oval office. “She [Kathleen Willey] allegedly came out of the oval …”

The only place I’ve seen that term is Spin Cycle , Howard Kurtz’s book on the White House press relations operation.

“I’d never heard that expression before in 20 years of reporting in Washington,” Howard Kurtz told me. “It’s White House lingo. It’s not a shorthand that journalists used. But you’d hear it there. ‘He can’t come to the phone, he’s in the oval.’” Rule out Bob Bennett, David Kendall and Vernon Jordan.

(2) Did President Bill Clinton write them?

Rumor has it that Monica typed up much of the document at her computer, taking phone dictation. Well, Monica reportedly spent a lot of time on the phone with the President. Indeed, Newsweek recently compared language in the talking points with language in Bill Clinton’s deposition in the Jones case with a big wink that the same guy’s talking.

TPA: “I now do not believe that what she claimed happened really happened.” President Clinton: “I have no idea why she said what she did or whether she believes that actually happened.”

Sorry, that’s pathetic. President Clinton didn’t write them. There are countless reasons, notably the characterological one that Bill Clinton is a seducer who is not going to open up to Monica about another woman he supposedly put the make on. Most important, though, the document coaches Mrs. Tripp that President Clinton says he met with Kathleen Willey “after her husband died.” This assertion directly contradicts Mr. Clinton’s own statement in his deposition three days later; twice he told Ms. Jones’ lawyers that he had met with Mrs. Willey before her husband died.

TPA may be close to President Clinton, but Mr. Clinton wouldn’t have gotten that wrong.

(3) TPA is a lawyer. Friends of the President say the talking points are too crude to have come from a lawyer. “I don’t think a lawyer wrote it,” says Mitchell S. Ettinger, one of President Clinton’s attorneys. “They don’t look like lawyer words to me,” William Ginsburg said. This is the party line, and it’s wrong.

The talking points advise Mrs. Tripp that by filing an affidavit showing she’s on the Clinton team, she will stave off a deposition. “Therefore you want to provide an affidavit laying out all of the facts in lieu of a deposition.”

Did you know that you could avoid a deposition with an affidavit? Have you ever used the phrase “in lieu” in your life? Ladies and gentlemen, I submit to you that this is a lawyer talking.

(4) TPA is a ringleader. He or she presumes to know the President’s private thoughts and says darkly to Mrs. Tripp, “Do you really want to contradict him?” He or she knows that Linda Tripp has a lawyer, “Kirby”–Kirby Behre –and speaks familiarly about what Mr. Behre has been advising her before running roughshod over his advice. In TPA’s most assumptive moment, he or she tells Linda Tripp that before she signs her affidavit “you want Bennett’s people to see your affidavit”; i.e., have the President’s attorneys approve it.

This profile certainly points to lawyer Bruce Lindsey. Even President Clinton has said he was his point man on the Jones case.

“Did you ever talk with Monica Lewinsky about the possibility that she might be asked to testify in this case?” Ms. Jones’ lawyer James Fisher asked Mr. Clinton.

“Bruce Lindsey, I think Bruce Lindsey told me that she was,” Mr. Clinton said.

Or here is what Jim McDougal (with Curtis Wilkie) said about Mr. Lindsey in Arkansas Mischief , his wonderfully entertaining new book on Whitewater: “[Lindsey] was extremely defensive about any criticism of Clinton. He began developing a network of Arkansas attorneys loyal to Clinton, a group, I later learned, that included my own lawyer, Sam Heuer.… During my discussions with Sam, I told him of [David] Hale’s visit to my home. Without my knowledge or consent, Sam told [James] Blair and Blair told Lindsey. So much for lawyer-client confidentiality.”

(5) Let’s build the case for Bruce Lindsey.

Like TPA, Mr. Lindsey is a crafty dodger of depositions. Once, in 1996, he boxed out House investigators of the Travel Office affair by showing up for questioning with a tape recorder and arguing that because he didn’t have an attorney he had a right to tape. The House lawyers angrily postponed their questioning.

When he was finally deposed, Mr. Lindsey had a seasoned, clipped tone, like TPA’s. The two speakers share cadences and word choices.

Mr. Lindsey: “Jeff Eller, who was the press person on the plane, came to me and said that they were going to announce that at some point, I don’t recall exactly when …”

TPA: “She came to you after she allegedly came out of the oval and looked (however she looked), you don’t recall her exact words …”

One hallmark of TPA’s style is that he or she refers to ordinary people informally, by first or last names, then stops short when he comes to President Clinton. It’s Kirby. Bennett. Kathleen. But Clinton is “the President” six times. Never Bill. Never President Clinton. Typically: “You and Kathleen were friends. At around the time of her husband’s death (the President has claimed it was after …)”

Bruce Lindsey shares this toadying tic. “Oftentimes I become sort of a contact for people who see the President. Because the President says, why don’t you talk to Bruce about that. So Jeff around that time … he wanted to talk to the President …” Or, of participants in a meeting: “Bernie, Vince, me, the President …”

(6) That isn’t proof.

Those coincidences of language are nice but not conclusive. Lots of White House people toady and prevaricate in similar ways. But Mr. Lindsey would never be so stupid as to write the talking points. And Kirby Behre says: “I’ve never spoken to Bruce Lindsey in my life. Period.”

But TPA refers to Mr. Behre by his first name. One explanation is that (according to Lucianne Goldberg), Linda Tripp always called Mr. Behre “Kirby,” so her phone mate Monica picked this up and, when talking and typing with Mr. Lindsey, rendered Mr. Behre’s name informally. But if Monica’s a co-author, why not assume she is responsible for other portions of the document? “The oval” and JCOC could be Monica. So could the advice to do affidavit not deposition. Monica had just done that herself.

Putting the talking points on Monica, in fact, seems to be the Clinton strategy. When the President’s defenders say that it’s a crude document, it’s not a lawyer’s, that’s where they’re pointing. O.K., sure, Monica talked to Vernon Jordan and Bruce Lindsey. But she went out and did this foul deed on her own.

But she couldn’t have.

(7) I name my suspects.

The week that she got the talking points was a desperate one for Linda Tripp. She had been giving her attorney Kirby Behre the tapes she’d made of Monica, and Mr. Behre had (rumor has it; he won’t discuss it) told her that she was at great personal risk for prosecution and advised her to turn the tapes over to Bob Bennett so that he could settle the Jones case and end the risk for everybody. But Linda Tripp was sickened by years of Clinton Administration lies, from Vince Foster on; if she could finally expose Bill Clinton, she was willing to go down herself. Giving the tapes to the President is the last thing she wanted to do. Out of the belief that her attorney was loyal to President Clinton, she fired him. She got a conservative lawyer with connections to the Jones camp and gave her tapes to Kenneth Starr.

Having “chosen the path of truth,” as Linda Tripp put it so dramatically in her one public statement two weeks later, she now became the true orchestrator of the scandal. It is obvious that she gave Ms. Jones’ lawyers enough information about Monica that on the following Saturday, deposing Bill Clinton in the White House, they were able to blindside him with questions about jobs and gifts, thereby creating a perjury trap. (Q. “Well, have you ever given any gifts to Monica Lewinsky?” A. “I don’t recall. Do you know what they were?”) And apparently with Kenneth Starr’s guidance, Linda Tripp steered her last taped conversations with Monica toward Vernon Jordan, to get Mr. Jordan into the mix.

Why stop with Vernon Jordan? Through her new friends, Mrs. Tripp surely knew something that no one else knew, that certainly Monica didn’t know: The other side was suddenly desperate.

This is the most important hidden fact about the talking points, their timing. On Sunday, Jan. 11, days before the points were delivered, Kathleen Willey dropped a bombshell on the Clinton team. After weeks of speculation about whether she would be loyal (and two months before she went public, on 60 Minutes ), Mrs. Willey turned coat. Ordered by a judge to testify about her encounter with the President, she told a secret session in a Richmond courthouse attended by two lawyers for Ms. Jones and Bob Bennett that Bill Clinton had made a crude pass at her in 1993.

This account–by a Democrat and former Clinton friend–provided eerie backup to Paula Jones’ account of a crude pass in 1991 in the Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock, Ark. It surely fostered panic in the Clinton camp. After all, the window on depositions in the case was about to end. They needed help on Kathleen Willey, and fast.

Linda Tripp was a witness to the Willey incident. She’d seen Mrs. Willey after Mrs. Willey came out of the oval. Indeed, in the only public mention of the case, the previous summer, Linda Tripp had been quoted by Newsweek saying Kathleen Willey had told her of a sexual encounter with the President. After the Newsweek story came out, Bruce Lindsey reportedly phoned Mrs. Tripp to discuss it.

Why would the Clinton team now go back to a woman who had sold them out just months before? The key is that they were desperate, and that Linda Tripp knew that they were desperate. She saw that their desperation presented her with a golden opportunity to implicate the big kahuna. My theory is that Bruce Lindsey dictated the talking points, but that Linda Tripp’s is the intelligence behind them. She did to Bruce Lindsey what she had done to Monica–lured him into her confidence, made him think she was on their side after all and, probably using Monica as a go-between and typist, pleaded for help on an affidavit. Because he was so desperate, Mr. Lindsey ignored the warnings and stepped willingly into the trap.

On Jan. 21, Linda Tripp filed an affidavit in the Jones case. Short and pointed, “true and correct,” it followed none of the rather costly legal advice with which she had been provided.