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TalkBack Live

Linda Tripp Returns: What Does She Have to Say?

Aired December 19, 2000 - 3:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LINDA TRIPP: I'm just like you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOBBIE BATTISTA, HOST: Linda Tripp then...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRIPP: I'm an average American.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BATTISTA: ... Linda Tripp now. Monica Lewinsky's ex-buddy, accused of manipulating and turning traitor for revealing her pal's intimacies, maligned for her average looks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRIPP: Not surprisingly, many in the entertainment industry have chosen to ridicule me as well, going so far as to even make fun of my appearance in a manner so mean and so cruel that I pray none of you is ever subjected to it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BATTISTA: Tripp of the recorded phone calls, advice about what to do with a stained dress, and testimony that led to a president's impeachment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRIPP: This investigation has never been -- quote -- "just about sex." It has been about telling the truth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BATTISTA: No regrets. Tripp's looks have changed, but her message hasn't.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRIPP: The truth matters. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BATTISTA: And so evidently does beauty. Are you interested in what Linda Tripp has to say? And does Tripp's new image change the way you hear her message?

Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to TALKBACK LIVE.

You know, we had a snowstorm in Atlanta last night, and this is a small crowd that's making a real big noise today and we appreciate that.

Linda Tripp, a cover girl. There she is on the cover of "George" magazine this month, and she's got lots to say about Monica, Bill, Hillary, and life after testimony. Why now after all of this time? And why all the surgery?

We'll talk to "The National Review's" Jay Nordlinger and talk- show host Victoria Jones about being prisoners of our looks in just a moment. But first, meet Nancy Collins, author of the cover story on Linda Tripp in this month's "George" magazine.

Nancy, good to see you again.

NANCY COLLINS, "GEORGE": Hey, Bobbie. How are you?

BATTISTA: Good, thanks. We're surviving the snow.

(CROSSTALK)

I can't believe it snowed in Atlanta.

BATTISTA: Yes, it did, and might do it again.

COLLINS: You've got your only sweater? Is that your only sweater?

BATTISTA: No.

(LAUGHTER)

All right. The byline underneath Linda Tripp here on the front of "George" is "My family paid a huge price, but I would do it all over again." Was that pretty much the bottom line for -- for this whole thing?

COLLINS: Yes, Linda feels very strongly that she did the right thing. She should have only done it better, she said, and sooner.

What surprised me most about Linda, Bobbie, when I met her is she's very different than that public image we just saw on the screen. She's strong and she's even tough, but she's very, very vulnerable. And it turns out -- I mean, she's a very smart woman. She's got a good sense of humor. You know, she shoots from the hip, and I was very surprised at her humanity, because she's been portrayed, alas, as sort of a creature. BATTISTA: Did she do this, this whole thing -- I mean, the cover girl shot and the interview -- for, for us, the readers, the American people, or did she do it for herself? And why did she do it now?

COLLINS: I think it was a combination. She did it now, because she didn't want to speak before the election because she thought it would influence the results of the election, and it may have. She's not very, you know, kind to the Clintons in this piece.

But I think moreover she's finally ready. She said the last three year she hasn't been herself, and now she's finally coming back to where she was before the scandal. And she has some perspective on the story now, too.

BATTISTA: And quoting from the article, she says that "If I remain silent, they win."

COLLINS: Exactly, yes. If I remain silent, she said the Clintons win or the Clinton administration wins, and she doesn't want that to happen.

BATTISTA: Well, does she see herself as a villain, like so many other people do, at all?

COLLINS: No, she doesn't. And you know what's remarkable about her, she's very straightforward about this. She said, look, if I were a better-looking woman, if I had been -- had better pictures of me, if I looked like Goldie Hawn, people would have believed my story more, and the Clinton administration was able to use my looks to portray me as a witch,as a villain.

She said something, Bobbie, I think is so moving in the piece. She said I know that a lot of people have a negative, visceral reaction to me, and it hurts me more than I can tell you.

She's -- on the one hand, she's very confident as a professional in terms of her work, and on the other hand, she's extremely vulnerable about her looks and her self-esteem, just like a lot of women.

BATTISTA: So she was -- but she was clearly like that or had issues with her -- her looks before any of this happened?

COLLINS: Oh, yes. She's had -- you can't -- Linda will never -- she likes these pictures, which we're very happy about. But Linda, you know, never thought she was attractive, always has thought she was quite an ordinary person, and she said, I am an average American. Everybody goes, oh, yes.

But you know, she's a single mother of two. She's been a civil servant for the last five -- decade really. She's supported herself.

She lives -- she hasn't made any money off this, yet anyway. She may at some point, you know, probably do a movie. I don't know. But at this point, she certainly hasn't made any money. She drives a 9- year-old car. Her house is rented. And she's -- probably a million dollars in debt for legal bills.

BATTISTA: A lot of people might wonder then where the money came for all that plastic surgery.

COLLINS: I have a feeling it was pro bono.

BATTISTA: In reading the article, it seemed to me that basically she felt that she had this moral obligation to expose the president's behavior. At the same time, she seems a bit confused as to whether the issue was about sex, which in the beginning it clearly was about sex. Correct?

COLLINS: Well, she said the Clinton administration tried to make it about sex, because of course everybody lies about sex, so that would be acceptable. But she saw it much more as a, you know, as a president trying to fix a court case, the Paula Jones court case.

Linda actually is a real patriot, and everybody goes: Yes, in this day and age, what's a real patriot? But she -- she told me enough times, and I came to believe her, that she moved from a very ethical, from her point of view, point of view.

Her mother's a German immigrant. She was an Army wife for 20 years. She was very into that, loved the whole patriotic side to it.

When she went to the White House in 1990, she was thrilled to death. She never thought she'd get that job. She loved the Bush administration. They were organized, they were decent. And when she got to the Clintons, she said the Clinton White House was so disorganized and so different that she was shocked from day one.

You see, for Linda the White House was a destination and for Monica Lewinsky it was a pit stop.

BATTISTA: One of the quotes that we also have from the book was -- which I found a little bit surprising -- she said: "I never considered Monica a friend. We never spent time outside the office together nor discussed my life. I am not a gossip. The idea that I would cultivate this foolish young girl is offensive."

Now that sort of goes against everything that we thought about their relationship.

COLLINS: Well, that certainly is a question to ask, which I did many times. When Monica came to the Pentagon in 1976, having been banished from the White House -- 1996, sorry -- she obviously was there, as Linda said, we all knew she was somebody's pet rock. She worked for a guy, a very big position, clearly as a typist. Didn't know how to type. She said everybody in the office knew to fear her, that she was connected, and that they all gave her a lot of allowances, and if they didn't talk to her and play along with her, they knew they were in trouble.

At one point, Monica was getting so hysterical in coming to Linda's office several times a day, and you know, ringing her 30 times a day, that finally Linda's supervisors, two females, called her into the office and said: You know, you're going to lose your job if you don't quit, you know, talking to this girl so much.

And finally, Linda said: "Look, this girl is having an affair with the president and it's not going well. You tell me what to do." And they said, "Keep talking to her."

BATTISTA: Yes. I think that's still hard for people to grasp. And even in the letter that her friends or lawyers sent out soliciting money for her legal defense fund, they quote her referring to her friendship with Monica Lewinsky. So...

COLLINS: Well, I think what she says...

BATTISTA: ... it suddenly seems like a redefinition of their relationship. But...

COLLINS: Well, Linda says at the beginning, you know, Monica found out she worked at the White House, she knew all the players, so Monica would come down and talk to her a lot at work and spend a lot of time in her office. And again, Linda was at that point, she says, playing along, and I believe her.

And what happened was that one night she gave -- Monica finally told her about her affair with Clinton in October of '96 I think it was. And then Linda said: "I made my big mistake. I gave her my home number."

I think that -- but Linda said, look, something kicked in with this girl. She wasn't a real friend. Kathleen Willey was a much better friend of mine.

But what kicked in was sort of a maternal feeling, and she said, this girl was so needy and her parents weren't paying attention to her. And she said, look, I was disingenuous, I listened, I heard -- when she first started telling me about the affair, she of course I listened to the details. And I guess I have to say, well, who wouldn't have, at least in the beginning.

BATTISTA: You know, she talks a lot about certain people's sense of entitlement. She talks about Bill Clinton's sense of entitlement. She talks about Monica's sense of entitlement. Did you not get the feeling that she kind of has that same sense of entitlement in some ways? I mean, she -- she holds that sense of moral obligation, I mean, to the point where she felt like she had to step in because Monica's mother and Bill Clinton, nobody was acting like a grownup, so she felt like she had to do that?

COLLINS: Well, she says -- she does say in the piece actually the real reason she finally decided to tape Monica was because she felt threatened. Her safety was threatened. She had gotten death threats, which she thought came from the White House. As soon as Monica's name came out as being on the Paula Jones subpoena list, Monica turned quite radically on her. And she felt that she was delivering threats from the president to Linda. And she kept encouraging her to perjure herself, and say that, of course, there had been no affair between Monica and the president.

And Linda said to her, listen, when it comes to the grand jury, I'm not going to lie.

BATTISTA: I...

COLLINS: So I think Linda felt a much more of a pressure at that point to -- to, you know, protect herself. You know what is important about this piece? You see the psychological buildup: why she came to make the decisions she did. It's not -- it didn't come out of the blue.

BATTISTA: Yes, I think the problem that I'm having and some other people might to are really more the beginning stages of the whole thing and how it got started. What was interesting, I thought, too, in the article was she had some very harsh words for both Betty Currie and also for Hillary Clinton. And Betty was -- it was -- what did she say? That she thought that she had gotten away with the most.

COLLINS: Well, she said that Betty Currie -- she feels that Betty Currie always knew what was going on between the Clintons, which apparently she has said she didn't know the exact specifics, because in 1997 Monica took her out for a drink and told her that she was having this affair with the president.

She believes that if Betty hadn't been so complicit -- complicit and had really put her foot down, because Monica got to the president through Betty -- now, I pointed out, on Betty's behalf, that, you know, she was working for the president. If he was allowing the calls in, you don't go and tell the president, hey, I'm not going to take the calls from this woman. I mean, the president was making that call as well.

BATTISTA: I'm kind of hogging you here. Let me go to the audience quickly. Greg, question or comment.

GREG: Yes. Just the fact that in hindsight I don't know if I would have done what she did, but I do admire the -- the way she covered the tracks of Monica by holding onto that evidence, and the deviousness of her was admirable.

COLLINS: Well, I guess you're talking about the famous blue dress, right?

The blue dress with the stain, supposedly coming from a sexual encounter with the president, Linda said she knew Monica would absolutely never -- never dry clean that thing, because it was a badge of honor for Monica in the first place.

BATTISTA: I've got to take a quick break here, and then we'll go more to the audience when we come back. Also, does Linda Tripp's new look change the perception of her? That's -- that's our TALKBACK LIVE online viewer vote question today. Tell us what you think: cnn.com/talkback.

We'll be right back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BATTISTA: Welcome back, everybody. A couple of e-mails here. Barry (ph) in Florida says: "I believe Ms. Tripp is one of the few people involved in that awful situation that stayed true to her convictions. She acted more courageous than the members of the United States Senate."

Jack in Missouri says: "Ms. Tripp, you got off easy. Your name will always be linked to impeachment of an American president. It was none of your business."

I need to tell you, if you are interested, that President-elect Bush has left the residence of Al Gore in Washington, D.C., the vice president. They were meeting, of course, this afternoon, as you know. And we'll provide more details for you. He's on the way to the airport evidently.

Let me go to the audience here quickly and Larry.

LARRY: Yes. I've listened to her interview, and it seems as though Ms. Tripp portrays herself as such a victim here, you know. Everything -- you know, the country is so against her. If she's the patriot, the hero, then why is she going out and changing her face? I mean, why does she have to go out and get a face job? If she's proud of what she did, then why are you trying to change the way you look?

COLLINS: Well, I think, sir, that this goes to a much deeper issue than pride. You know, all women are -- most people are a little vain. And I think few people in their lives have had their face as scrutinized as this women and made fun of, and it was a lot of very painful stuff, although she was -- she has a good sense of humor about it. She thought the John Goodman portrayal of her in "Saturday Night Live" was hilarious.

But I think...

BATTISTA: That is a good sense of humor.

COLLINS: Yes. That's a very good sense of humor, indeed.

She's not as vindictive as I thought she was going to be. She's much more a matter of fact.

I think she wanted to look better. She said, "I got tired of embarrassing my children by the way I look." They never said anything, but she says they were.

BATTISTA: It doesn't matter to them, I'm sure. Her children are very good-looking, by the way.

COLLINS: Very good-looking, and she's been a very good mother as well.

BATTISTA: Sam, question?

SAM: Well, hey, Nancy, how are you doing?

COLLINS: Hey. How are you doing?

SAM: My question is, as you went into this interview and setting it up and all, what were -- what were your thoughts on Linda and your impression of her as a result of what had occurred, you know, during the, the entire episode of the impeachment?

COLLINS: That is such a good question, Sam, because I'm afraid I probably had the impression most people had. I thought that she was somewhat bitter and seemed vindictive, and certainly she had been portrayed that way in the press: although I always felt there was another story. I always found her a very poignant character as well.

And when we finally met, after a lot of conversation -- my editor at "George," Frank Lally (ph), really pursued the lawyer, and the lawyer set up the meeting. And that was when it was, you know, truth time.

I found her remarkably vulnerable, and that's what really appealed to me, that she, on the one hand, had -- and I said, you know, everybody thinks you're very judgmental. She said, "I am judgmental; it's one of my worst faults." She said, "It's probably why I did some of the things I did."

BATTISTA: At the same time, as a journalist, Nancy, were you not skeptical at all about her, what appeared to be, naivete about how, you know, thinking that she could just expose this whole thing and be unscathed through it?

COLLINS: Yes, I was totally skeptical. I asked her that question many, many times, Bobbie. And she always gave me the same answer. I must have heard the same answer 20 times, with other answers around it. Whether or not it's true, Linda Tripp really believes that is what she did it for. And I kept saying, but you know, you don't do something that's going to destroy your life. I -- I'm not even sure I could destroy my life that way.

And -- but maybe it's because that's what she has to hold onto now, is that she didn't. But I firmly believe that she believes that's why she did what she did: for patriotic reasons.

BATTISTA: Nathan on the phone from Georgia. Go ahead, Nathan.

NATHAN: Yes. Linda is no patriot. She should have been -- she should be ashamed to show her face in public with or without plastic surgery. She is not -- she is an American disgrace for the witch hunt she caused.

COLLINS: I think a lot of people agree with you and she knows a lot of people agree with you. It could be argued that George Bush is president today because of Linda Tripp, because she exposed the president. The campaign became about morality and not prosperity. Clinton didn't campaign for Gore. And so as a result, you know, maybe perhaps George Bush is president today.

I'm not saying that Linda is right or wrong. What I try to portray in this piece is her point of view. Everybody else has gotten to tell their story: Monica, Jeffrey Toobin, Michael Isakoff from "Newsweek." This is her story.

BATTISTA: We'll be back in a minute. Jay Nordlinger and Victoria Jones will join us. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BATTISTA: Linda Tripp's Web site posts letters from supporters. Her admirers have compared her to Joan of Arc, Socrates, Gandhi, Einstein and Galileo.

Joining us now, Jay Nordlinger, managing editor of "The National Review" and self-described Trippologist, we might add. Also, Victoria Jones, a radio talk show host on WMAL in Washington. Welcome to both of you.

Let me ask you: I assume you both read the article. What did you think -- Jay?

JAY NORDLINGER, "THE NATIONAL REVIEW": This is a blockbuster interview. Really, Nancy Collins pulled off something magnificent. This is an important statement, and it's an important contribution into the entire debate or discussion of this episode that the year of Monica as we call 1998 and the battle over impeachment. This is a very important document and every journalist I know is very, very envious of Nancy Collins -- very envious of "George" that she got this.

BATTISTA: And why do you say this?

NORDLINGER: Well, because it's so revealing. Linda Tripp hasn't spoken very often on the record. In fact, she had spoken practically not at all on the record and we've all been sort of pursuing her and writing about her and talking to her spokesman and people who know her and getting dribs and drabs.

And Monica Lewinsky, of course, has been very available to certain people. She had long Barbara Walters interviews and she had a book, ghost-written by Andrew Norton in England, I think and so she has had her say and others have had their say but Linda Tripp has been very elusive and very controversial and has been kind of a morally ambiguous character she remains today.

But she, seems to me, was very forthright with Nancy Collins and Nancy asked her all the right questions and all the tough questions and I feel that this interview enhances our understanding of this entire affair.

BATTISTA: Victoria, I don't say this with disrespect, but do you think that most Americans are interested in what Linda Tripp has to say? I mean, is her story a tough sell?

VICTORIA JONES, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Oh, yes. No, I don't think it'll be a tough sell at all. I think we're definitely interested in what she has to say. I don't think we necessarily believe what she's saying but we're very interested in. What I found interesting in the article, and I agree, I think Nancy asked all the right questions, but she, you know, she is saying something completely different about Kathleen Willy, now, of what she was saying previously.

She implies quite strongly, I think, that Vince Foster was murdered and really that the Clintons may have a whole string of murders behind them. There are a numbers things in this interview that are really quite disturbing that she manages to say without saying. So, yes, she does reveal herself as vulnerable. She always reveals herself as quite capable of handling herself in this kind of situation.

BATTISTA: Nancy, does she know more than she's saying?

COLLINS: Well, she told me after I spent over 20 hours with her that we had only touched 10 percent of it. So, needless to say, there is more. I think the Kathleen Willey thing is interesting because, you know -- on the one hand -- she liked Kathleen Willey very much, and she was the person who saw Kathleen Willey when she came out of this infamous episode with the President in the Oval Office.

And she thought that Linda -- I mean -- she thought that Kathleen Willey was very excited about this and Kathleen Willey says that she was in fact terrified of how the president had behaved. But Linda says I understand now why she might feel that way. It's like a lot of women, at the beginning when somebody sort of -- I don't want to say date rapes you or attacks you, you think maybe it's OK and then later on you when you think about it you say, no, I have been violated.

JONES: Then why did she send thank-you notes to him after that? I find that kind of odd that somebody would do that.

COLLINS: That's Kathleen Willey, you mean?

JONES: Yes, that's Kathleen Willey. I think that's pretty odd.

COLLINS: Well, it is odd behavior, isn't it?

JONES: Yes, there's a lot of that that is odd.

NORDLINGER: Well, we had similar behavior in the Anita Hill- Clarence Thomas case, if you remember that, where Anita later came out with these allegations. And the Clarence Thomas side showed they she had written these thank-you letters to him and so on. So these are very slippery areas.

(CROSSTALK)

JONES: She was thanking him for specific works. The Kathleen Willey thing -- I mean, I remember seeing the interview on TV, where she had her head down the whole time.

BATTISTA: Right.

JONES: And she was trying to look -- a very demur look, the way Princess Di did when she did her revealing interview. And yet Linda Tripp's first reaction to her when she came out seems to me to be far closer to the truth, particularly when you find more about the Willeys' relationship with the Clintons historically.

I also think that, you know, if Linda Tripp had been better looking at the beginning, I do think we would have been more likely to believe her. I think, as the story came out and it became more and more clear that she had taped and ultimately betrayed a friend -- even though she now says she wasn't a friend -- I think we would have turned on her. But do I think her looks were against her from the very beginning.

BATTISTA: Jay?

NORDLINGER: Well, Linda Tripp is in part a tragedy I think, especially of this looks issue. I mean, we -- the popular culture, the elite culture simply destroyed her. And one of the lessons we were supposed to have learned from feminism is that you don't attack women on the basis of looks. But she had no feminist friends. They all deserted her, or they were never with her in the beginning. It just seemed that she was in the way of the Clintons. She was a nuisance to the Clintons. And the object was simply to take her out. I think the same thing happened with Paula Jones

(CROSSTALK) JONES: What does that mean: take her out? Take her out with what: with a 9 millimeter? Or what are you talking about?

NORDLINGER: I am talking about a campaign of vilification and demonization. She made -- they made her out to be a kind of beast, something other than of a human being. And this is why I think that this interview -- part of why this interview is important, is that we see the humanity of this woman. She is not just some creature, some hateful apparition.

She is a flesh-and-blood human being with feelings and opinions and so on. And I think that her enemies sought to deny her humanity. In fact, I remember one prominent journalist wrote that she had -- and I quote -- "read herself out of the human family," which

(CROSSTALK) JONES: That kind of thing was appalling. And there was a great deal of it that was said about her.

NORDLINGER: Well, it was quite prevalent.

JONES: I remember saying about her at the time that I thought she was a sad human being. And I stand by this, even after reading this article.

BATTISTA: I have got to take a break here. But we will continue with this line of discussion. Stay with us. We'll be back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BATTISTA: Welcome back. E-mails: Patrick in Virginia says: "I think Tripp's current version of events is a self-serving crock."

T. Olson in Connecticut says: "I support Linda Tripp. It took a lot of courage to do what she did. She has gotten a bad rap from liberals and the media in general."

Earnest, your question.

EARNEST: Yes, Bobbie, I would like to know if this is all about looks equating to believability, how do we account for Monica Lewinsky's perceived success and believability, when I -- in my opinion, she's not overly attractive versus Linda Tripp's inability to be successful because of her looks. And, secondly, I would also like to know what Linda is doing now and what is kind of ahead for her.

BATTISTA: Nancy, why don't you take those?

COLLINS: Well, first of all, anybody who says -- any woman who says that it's not an advantage to be attractive in society is simply lying. It is an advantage. And, you know, Monica was young. Yes, she was overweight. But she had all that hair, and that white skin, and those -- and kind of luscious lips. And she was flirtatious. And she had a certain confidence, even though she wasn't confident.

And she was kind of sexy. A lot of people thought she was sexy. So people were willing to -- the grand jury loved Monica Lewinsky. When she got up there and gave her testimony, they really liked her. And they said, "We wish you well," at the end. Linda points this out in the piece, because she said: When I walked in there, I knew they had seen the pictures. They had read the publicity. And I was a pariah. And I kept thinking: If I just tell my story, I'll get it.

And she said: I walked out of there and said: What did I do this for?

I think, on the -- what was the second question?

(CROSSTALK)

BATTISTA: Oh, what is she doing now? Right.

COLLINS: Linda is living still. She just moved to a part of the world -- a part of the country I can't discuss. She goes into the Department of Defense every day. She still has a job. It sort of has no job description. She is not on the upper track she was on when she entered the White House. She had a very, very good record of work at the White House. In fact, one of reasons she was privy to so much Clinton stuff was she started out working for Bruce Lindsey, who is one of Clinton's closest advisers, then went on to work for Bernie Weintraub.

Is it Weintraub or Weinraub? Bernie Weintraub, who is the legal counsel. So she was in the epicenter. And they put her there because she was competent.

NORDLINGER: Nesbaum (ph), I think.

(CROSSTALK)

COLLINS: Bernie Weintraub writes for "The New York Times." I just gave him a big promotion.

(LAUGHTER)

BATTISTA: OK, Donna is on the phone from Kansas -- Donna, go ahead.

CALLER: I appreciate Linda Tripp standing up for what's right. And I believe that Bill Clinton is an adulterer and should be exposed. Also, I don't appreciate the way Clinton destroys everyone's reputation that always gets in his way.

COLLINS: Well, Linda -- may I add to that, Bobbie?

BATTISTA: Yes.

COLLINS: Linda did say you that have to watch the Clintons. It's destroy, defame, get rid of them, and that she feels that everybody who comes in their path somehow gets defamed. And he does have a string of people behind him where that argument might work. She felt that they tried to do it to her. And she saw it firsthand.

And, in fact, I think a lot of -- I think she was surprised, though. What we haven't talked about is the death threat. One day, she walks into the Pentagon and sees on her chair what she calls the body count. It was a list of people who had been -- who supposedly were dead or had been harmed as a result of being involved with the Clintons.

BATTISTA: Yes, that was on Internet.

COLLINS: Yes, that was on Internet. But it was on her chair. And she said: I think you will be -- the person had written: "I think you will interested in this." It wasn't Monica. Linda saw that as a direct threat from some part of the Clinton camp.

BATTISTA: Victoria, you want to comment on that?

JONES: Oh, I don't know who it came from. I was aware of that being on the Internet. It would freak me out if I saw something like that on my chair. I think she reacted in a very normal way to that. But the implication going beyond the list of people is that somehow the Clintons had these people killed. And that is a very serious allegation, that she never entirely follows through on, because I don't think that she can.

I also find it interesting that she does say in the article that she finds Clinton sexy and attractive and charismatic, too. It's Hillary for whom she reserves her real venom. And Hillary has been attacked and vilified for her looks, as well as Linda Tripp. It's interesting. Hillary has also been attacked for her looks over the years.

NORDLINGER: I'm not sure that those two are equivalent. I think that, often, Hillary Clinton is praised for her grace and her poise, and indeed, her looks and her composure and so on. I don't think she has experienced anything like the abuse that Linda Tripp has experienced.

JONES: I think, if you think back eight years, she was, yes. Think back eight years.

NORDLINGER: Yes. Quite right.

(CROSSTALK)

JONES: But think back. She was attacked.

BATTISTA: Oh, she was -- eight years ago.

COLLINS: Well, you know, Linda finds Bill Clinton far less Machiavellian than Hillary. And she tells me this one great story. I said, "What did you think when you saw Hillary giving the vast right- wing conspiracy speech after the news of the affair came out?" She said: "You know, I stood in front of my television set. And I watched Hillary with the gold eagle pin there saying it was a vast right-wing conspiracy, changing the entire conversation away from what it really was." She said, "I just had to admire her. I stood there and said 'Bravo.'"

But she does find Hillary a much more fearsome -- fearful -- fearsome figure than she does Bill Clinton.

NORDLINGER: To me, I would just say that, to me, the most interesting thing about that "Today" show interview that Hillary -- that was right after the Monica scandal broke -- it was in January '98 -- and she made it her famous statement, that this was result of a vast right-wing conspiracy.

But, to me, her most interesting sentence in that interview was: "These allegations will be never be proven." And I thought that an odd thing for first lady to say. And I still do, I guess.

BATTISTA: We will continue here in just a moment -- more questions from the audience. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BATTISTA: Let me go to Scott in the audience -- you made good comment during break that was interesting.

SCOTT: Yes, I just question the timing of Linda Tripp, as far as the looks now as compared to the beginning: why such a dramatic change now compared to before?

BATTISTA: Well, you also pointed out that she was fast on -- as Nancy told us -- on the fast track at the Pentagon. So she was obviously doing well professionally despite her looks.

SCOTT: Correct. Despite her looks, she was doing professionally well -- and now why, all of the sudden, this dramatic change? COLLINS: Well, I think -- in defense of her on this issues, I think that anybody who had their looks so smattered across the American psyche, and everybody said ugly, ugly, ugly, and she is a bad woman and she's an ugly woman, I think would you want that change, too. As a woman, I must say I felt great empathy with her on this.

BATTISTA: Jeff...

JONES: I do, too.

NORDLINGER: May I...

(CROSSTALK)

BATTISTA: Go ahead, Jay.

NORDLINGER: I wonder if I could make a point on this. You remember, in 1987, we had the Bob Bork nomination and the Bork affair. And afterwards, we invented the new verb: to Bork. I think that the secretary of state in Florida, Katherine Harris, got Tripped, if we can coin yet another verb.

BATTISTA: Very good.

NORDLINGER: And here was someone who got in the way of the interests of powerful people. And many people all across the country just demolished her on the basis of her looks, not even so much her actions. But people in the Gore camp called her Cruella De Vil.

(CROSSTALK)

NORDLINGER: And they ridiculed her makeup. And I noticed the other night...

JONES: That's what they ridiculed. It was makeup. It wasn't looks. They couldn't go after her looks. She was a very good looking woman. They went after her makeup, which was really a very bizarre and unfair attack.

NORDLINGER: I think that's splitting hairs. Say appearance then. Say appearance.

(CROSSTALK)

BATTISTA: Somebody in the audience wanted to know who we mean by "they," when we say when "they" go after her, or "they" -- Tony, you asked that question. Are "they" -- she's vilified.

NORDLINGER: Yes.

BATTISTA: Who are we talking about? Are we talking about late- night comedy folks? Are we talking about journalists? Who are we talking about?

NORDLINGER: That's a good point. In the case of Katherine Harris, it was at least two spokesman for the Gore campaign. I remember one was Paul Begala -- I don't remember the other -- who started this line that she was Cruella De Vil. Then I do mean the late-night comics. And I remember a writer in the "Style" section of the "Washington Post." I guess when we say "they," we mean kind of the elite culture: the chattering class, those who write and talk and kind of shape opinion.

(CROSSTALK)

JONES: I think people were talking also about her because she was the Bush campaign chair. And she was making quite sure that only those votes that apparently she wanted counted were going to go in. So I think people were going after her for a number of different reasons. It think there were different reasons to go after Katherine Harris from Linda Tripp. I mean, here is how shallow it is: When we all leave today, nobody is going to say to you, Jay -- even though you look fabulous today -- no is going to say to you...

NORDLINGER: Likewise.

JONES: ... "Jay, you looked great on TALKBACK LIVE." They are going to talk about what you said. What they are going to say to Nancy and me is what we looked like on TALKBACK LIVE.

COLLINS: Our hair.

BATTISTA: That is so true. That is so true.

(APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

NORDLINGER: But that's my point, that the feminists abandoned Linda Tripp.

JONES: I agree with you. I'm in agreement with you.

NORDLINGER: Thank you.

BATTISTA: Yes, we all agree on that.

(CROSSTALK)

BATTISTA: Ken, you had a question.

KEN: Yes, I would like to know how Linda ended up paying her million-dollar legal fees.

COLLINS: Well, that's a very good question. She doesn't have the answer either. There is a Linda Tripp fund, which takes care of -- has been very helpful to her. But she says, "In my lifetime, I never will be able to pay it." I think somewhere on down the line, she may have to make an entertainment deal just to get some money back to start paying somebody, maybe for her story on TV or something like that.

BATTISTA: Oh, gosh, do you think it will be that? Or do you think there is book here in the wings?

COLLINS: I don't know. She has tried -- look, she has talked to publishers twice about a book. And it hasn't come to fruition.

(CROSSTALK)

COLLINS: I'm not sure she actually at this point really wants to write a book, but I don't know that, Bobbie.

BATTISTA: Yes.

NORDLINGER: I'm not sure it would work. I think she's been so thoroughly demonized, I'm not sure it would sell naturally. I don't think she has much hope there.

JONES: And also, the person she's been talking to about the book, at least in the past, is Lucianne Goldberg, Clinton's No. 1 hater, and so I would think that she would be smart, if she was going to do it, to go to a different publisher, because going Lucianne, I -- is going to be a very fringe thing. I don't...

BATTISTA: Simon & Schuster is offering great advances these days. But...

(LAUGHTER)

COLLINS: Well, she had a very funny...

NORDLINGER: Good -- good...

BATTISTA: We'll get into that in a minute.

NORDLINGER: Good point. Linda won't be getting that money, that's for sure.

JONES: No, no.

BATTISTA: Let me take Jeff from Texas on the phone.

JEFF: Yes. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) decided on which side of the political fence you are is how badly you're going to be portrayed. Basically, if you see Katherine Harris and Ms. Clinton, both of them look pretty much the same, but if you see them on "Saturday Night Live," one of them is going to be really, really portrayed as horrible and vicious and mean. The other one, Katherine -- if Albright was inside of a Reagan White House, she'd be portrayed by John Goodman with pillows stuck into her in a dwarf composure cut off at the knees. I mean, the hatred from the Alec Baldwins, even now...

BATTISTA: You know what, you bring up -- Jeff brings up a point.

JONES: Well, Janet Reno is -- Janet Reno is portrayed by a man on "Saturday Night Live." That's what they do for Janet Reno.

BATTISTA: Yes, she is. But you know, the bigger question is, I guess, if we laugh at this stuff, are we contributing to this notion? Are we contributing to the idea of putting...

NORDLINGER: Yes.

JONES: Sure, we are, but sometimes it's funny.

NORDLINGER: We're validating it in playing along.

JONES: But sometimes it's funny. I mean, some things...

BATTISTA: Well...

(CROSSTALK)

NORDLINGER: That's why it's all the more important to resist. It is funny.

BATTISTA: I...

COLLINS: I'll tell you a funny story -- do we have time, Bobbie?

BATTISTA: No, hold it. You know, Nancy, hold that story.

COLLINS: OK, all right.

BATTISTA: I've got to take a quick break, and we'll have Nancy's story when we come back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BATTISTA: It's a small but enthusiastic crowd. We love them.

Lynn (ph) in Texas says: "After reading the 'George' interview, it's obvious why no one wants to publish a book by Tripp: She's extremely biased and not credible enough. After watching tapes of Clinton's depositions, I don't think he lied under oath."

Lisa in Georgia says: "Clinton's behavior was exposed by Linda Tripp. It is tragic that Americans choose to insult and criticize Linda instead of holding Clinton responsible."

Nancy, funny story you were going to tell us.

COLLINS: OK, quick funny one. It has nothing to do with that, although I must reiterate that this is Linda's story. And that's what I promised to tell, and it's told in the magazine.

Anyway, we were -- when I first sat down, you know, I was fooling with my tape recorders. And I looked at her and I said, I guess you have some experience with this, and she started to laugh.

BATTISTA: Ooh!

COLLINS: And she said, you know -- but no, she's got a great sense of humor. You can do that with her. And she started to laugh and said, "Yes, but you know, I wasn't very good at that when I had my turn at it." And then the second thing was, you know, Lucianne Goldberg actually taped some of their conversations when Linda was talking to Lucianne. And I said, "What did you think when you found out that Lucianne had taped your conversations?" And she said: "Poetic justice. How could I complain about that? Look what I had done."

You see she's very straightforward on this. There's not...

BATTISTA: Yes, I see what you mean.

COLLINS: I would say also she's not -- she doesn't come across as a victim to me as much as she comes across fairly straightforward about what she did.

BATTISTA: Sarah (ph) in the audience.

SARAH: I think I'm more sympathetic because I've experience a national news event firsthand, and I think people take looks and whatever they can, and judge a human being on one experience in their entire life. Nobody in this room has met Linda Tripp. Nobody knows what she's really like. And I think it's just really unfair to judge people on the basis of stuff like that.

(LAUGHTER)

COLLINS: Well, I think, you know, I think that she really hopes this piece will turn that around, too. That's why she talked to me.

BATTISTA: Frasier (ph) says she's a sellout. But she hasn't made any money from any of this so far, right?

COLLINS: No, not yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's more a portrayal of the friendship aspect. First, she portrayed herself as being a friend and then later on she comes back and says she's not a friend. She wasn't a friend.

So it's kind of hard to believe a person like that.

JONES: Well, I think she -- I think she's trying to rewrite history in her own favor and in her own interest. I think she did try -- set out -- or excuse, set out to, but she was put in a position of appearing to befriend Monica. And she did betray Monica Lewinsky. There's no question about that, whatever she says.

NORDLINGER: She's never wavered. The story remains the same.

JONES: Whatever she says.

BATTISTA: All right. That'll have to be the last word. Nancy Collins, Jay Nordlinger, Victoria Jones, thank you all very much for being with us today.

COLLINS: Thank you, Bobbie.

BATTISTA: Appreciate it.

Thanks to our great audience today for coming out in the snow. We appreciate that as well. And we'll see you again tomorrow at 3:00 for more TALKBACK LIVE.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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