FLASHBACK: Lanny Davis Blasted Linda Tripp for Secretly Recording Monica Lewinsky as a 'Betrayal'

Lanny Davis / Getty Images
July 25, 2018

Former White House special counsel Lanny Davis repeatedly blasted Linda Tripp in the late 1990s for betraying Monica Lewinsky by secretly recording her conversations about her sexual relationship with President Bill Clinton.

Davis now represents former Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who recorded a conversation with Trump in 2016 where they discussed buying the rights to a Playboy model's story claiming she and Trump had an affair years earlier. Davis provided the recording to CNN.

"What is this about," Davis asked on CNN. "This is about honesty versus false disparagement of Michael Cohen. Why is [Trump attorney Rudy] Giuliani out falsely disparaging Michael Cohen—because they fear him."

As a frequent cable news guest in 1998 and 1999, Davis disparaged Tripp for taking advantage of Lewinsky and possibly breaking the law. Tripp became a key figure in the scandal after she turned over recordings to Special Counsel Kenneth Starr of Lewinsky confiding in Tripp about her relationship with Clinton.

Davis ripped Tripp for deceiving Lewinsky before Tripp testified to the grand jury about the tapes and their now-ceased friendship.

"Fact number one is that she secretly taped a young woman who considered her a friend," Davis said of Tripp in an article published June 30, 1998. "Fact number two is that she secretly contacted and debriefed the Paula Jones attorneys the night before the president was deposed essentially setting up a trap for the president of the United States. Fact number three is that Lucianne Goldberg, her literary agent, said that she advised Ms. Tripp to do the taping in order to enhance the prospects of a book contract."

He also hit Tripp for betraying Lewinsky's trust.

"Even if you believe she did it to protect herself, what kind of person would do that at the expense of a young woman confiding in her, set up a tape recorder and do that behind her back?" he said, according to a transcript from ABC's "Nightline." "She's got to live with herself. Is self-protection as an end so important to her that she'd be willing to sacrifice Monica Lewinsky and betray a young person?"

In a debate on CNN that day with Jonah Goldberg, the son of literary agent Lucianne Goldberg, Davis called Tripp's conduct "betrayal." Lucianne Goldberg encouraged Tripp to record her conversations with Lewinsky.

"The fact is that this woman taped a young woman, who she was inducing or encouraging to confide in her," Davis said. "The American people understand the word betrayal, and that is a fact. If Mr. Goldberg wants to put spin on that by saying that something that happened five months later justifies it ... There is no defense, I think, to the betrayal that occurred by Linda Tripp of that young woman."

"That wasn't about self-preservation," Davis added. "That was about setting up the president and destroying the president. And everybody sees through who Linda Tripp is."

On February 6, 1998, Davis said Tripp had admitted to engaging in "illegal conduct" with the recordings. On July 29 of that year, he said Tripp would have to address whether she knew her actions were legal.

"Ms. Tripp made a wiring decision in the state of Maryland, and she's going to have to address whether she had knowledge about that act being illegal," he said. "I would say that Ms. Tripp, looking in the mirror, is also going to have to ask herself: Was it right? Was it fair for me to take advantage of a young woman confiding in me and then putting a wire on and entrapping her? The American people are viewing Ms. Tripp for her actions and she's going to ultimately have to face those questions rather than the rhetoric she displayed today."

Since Tripp was a resident of Maryland when she made the recordings, she was indicted in 1999 on two criminal wiretap charges in the state. The case was dropped in 2000.

Davis also mocked her on January 19, 2001—Clinton's second-to-last day in office—when it was announced Tripp had been fired from her Pentagon job. While Tripp claimed it was the Clinton administration being vindictive, it's common practice for political appointees to be asked to resign upon the arrival of a new administration.

"I get very choked up. Let's be factual: Every schedule C political appointee was asked to resign, and Linda Tripp happens to be one of them," Davis said on CNN. "Now, if she thinks based upon betraying a young woman that she should get a special exception, everybody knows the type of human being that Linda Tripp is and what she did to Monica Lewinsky."