A Talmudic exegesis of the "Talking Points."
Updated Saturday, July 4, 1998, at 3:30 AM
Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's obstruction of justice case against President Clinton is likely to turn on his identification of the author of the so-called "Talking Points." Like Shakespeare's works and the Bible, the TP, a three-page document, has inspired numerous schools of thought that disagree on the meaning of seemingly banal phrases and discern the handiwork of different authors. As a service to scholars in the burgeoning field of TP Studies--as well as to the general public--here is a Talmudic exegesis, a Reader's Guide to the TP.
Background: Only one person claims to have firsthand knowledge of the TP's origins: Linda Tripp. Tripp told Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff that Monica Lewinsky had given her the TP on Jan. 14, 1998, while driving Tripp home from work. That night, Tripp handed the document over to Starr's office. The following day, wearing an FBI-supplied wire, she met Lewinsky at the Pentagon City, Va., Ritz-Carlton. FBI agents interrupted their conversation and took Lewinsky to a room in the hotel for questioning.
The TP advises Tripp on crafting an affidavit that would recant statements she had made to Newsweek's Isikoff. Tripp told Isikoff last summer that she had bumped into Kathleen Willey after she left the Oval Office Nov. 29, 1993, and that Willey had looked flushed, lipstickless, and happy. Three days before Tripp received the TP, Willey gave sworn testimony in the Paula Jones case that the president had fondled her breasts and placed her hand on his crotch. Tripp had been scheduled to be deposed in the Jones case in December, but the deposition was postponed.
Whodunit? There are seven theories about the authorship of the TP. The leading suspects: Lewinsky, Tripp, her ex-lawyer Kirby Behre, Clinton, Bruce Lindsey (the president's closest aide), the Right-Wing Conspiracy, and a collaboration among several of the above. Click here for a summary of the major theories.
The TP appears to have been composed in three parts, each in a different voice. The first section, in which Tripp receives legal-sounding advice, is smoothly and efficiently written. The document then shifts from the substance of the affidavit to the strategy behind it, with special reference to Tripp's relationship with the president's lawyer Robert Bennett. The final portion recasts the original section in the first person. It also includes a chatty paragraph discrediting allegations about Lewinsky's alleged affair with Clinton.
Exegesis: This is the widely circulated version of the TP. For annotations, click on the hot-linked phrases.
Points to Make in an Affidavit
Your first few paragraphs should be about yourself--what you do now, what you did at the White House, and for how many years you were there as a career person and as a political appointee.
You and Kathleen were friends. At around the time of her husband's death (The President has claimed it was after her husband died. Do you really want to contradict him?), she came to you after she allegedly came out of the oval and looked (however she looked), you don't recall her exact words, but she claimed at the time (whatever she claimed) and was very happy.
You did not see her go in or see her come out.
Jodie T. Allen is the senior editor at the Pew Research Center.
Franklin Foer is editor at large of the New Republic. He is the author of How Soccer Explains the World.