Author and freelance journalist Marinka Peschmann talks with the Opportunist’s Managing Editor Leslie Stone about her new book and why she believes we have to call politicians—from both sides of the aisle—out on their behavior.
It was 14 years ago this month that President Clinton testified before a grand jury about his involvement with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The Lewinsky scandal, as it came to be known, riveted the nation for more than a year and resulted in Clinton’s impeachment by the U.S. House of Representatives. (And his eventual acquittal by the U.S. Senate.)
At the epicenter of this tawdry tale of sex, lies and audio tapes was civil servant Linda Tripp, Lewinsky’s fellow Pentagon employee, to whom she confessed—via telephone—the details of her alleged affair with the commander in chief. Unbeknownst to Lewinsky, as we learned, Tripp was taping their conversations. The rest is history.
Hailed as a hero by the right, suspected of being part of a “right-wing conspiracy” by the left, Tripp’s life was forever and irretrievably changed. She became a household word, the brunt of cruel jokes and was even impersonated—in the form of actor John Goodman in drag—in comedy skits on “Saturday Night Live.” We all felt as if we knew her. But did we?
In her book, The Whistleblower: How the Clinton White House Stayed in Power to Reemerge in the Obama White House (One Rock Ink Publishing), Peschmann tells readers what she learned during her exclusive interviews with Tripp about what really happened in the Clinton White House. Originally contacted to ghostwrite Tripp’s version of the story, Peschmann discovered that: “Linda was neither the whistle-blowing hero the right embraced nor the villain the left reviled—but she was used as such for political purposes by both sides. The truth was in the middle.”
“What’s so incredible to me is when you mention the story people think they know it,” Peschmann adds. “It’s a story you think you know but you don’t know.”
Opportunist: More than a decade has passed since Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp made front-page news. What inspired you to publish your book now?
Peschmann: Americans have a right to know what’s going on in the White House. The same tactics the Clintons used to stay in power during all the investigations are being used again in the Obama White House. Washington is broken because we are dealing with the same people over and over again using the same playbook. We constantly hear talk about accountability and transparency but that never occurs—it’s just talk. History is repeating itself, and if we don’t learn the lessons from the past we are never going to correct the problems. We need to look past the smoke and mirrors to see how these corrupt administrations stay in power. The Obama administration—and that includes Hillary Clinton’s State Department—is thwarting the rule of law by withholding documents in the Fast and Furious investigation, the same thing occurred during all the Clinton investigations. I have over 400 endnotes in my book. It’s fully documented. People have a right to know what happens in the White House and now I know finally they will.
Opportunist: In your book, you describe the Obama administration as being “like the Clinton White House on steroids,” and in each chapter you cite parallels between the two administrations. How did you draw those conclusions?
Peschmann: They are using the same tactics and strategies. The Clinton White House is back in the Obama White House. It’s the same people with the same ideology where the “ends justify the means.” History has been rewritten. Americans deserve to know the truth. That is another reason why I wrote the book now. [Washington Post reporter] David Maraniss’ book [Barack Obama: The Story] cites several falsehoods from Obama’s books. It’s the same with Bill and Hillary’s books. It’s ironic, if you’re James Frey [author of A Million Little Pieces] you get raked over the coals but if you’re a powerful politician you get a pass. We have to call these politicians out and hold them accountable.
In America there is still freedom of speech but it’s fading. Take [CBS news investigative correspondent] Sharyl Attkisson, for example. She was yelled at for asking questions about [the ATF’s] Fast and Furious scandal, for doing her job. But the government should not be withholding documents under subpoena, nor should federal officials be “factually incorrect” with investigators—otherwise known as perjury for everyone else. If you or I did that, we would be held at a minimum of contempt, charged with obstruction of justice and quite possibly thrown in jail. There is a special justice system that does not apply to everyday Americans. What happened to One Nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all?
Opportunist: If this scandal had taken place in a Republican White House would you still have written your book?
Peschmann: In a heartbeat. If the Clintons were Republicans I would be writing the same book. This story has nothing to do with politics. We have to lose this Left-Right Paradigm. There are problems on both sides of the aisle. For too long people have been operating on what is left and what is right, instead of right and wrong. Linda Tripp is a perfect example. She was either revered or reviled for what people think she did purely for political reasons. Ironically, both sides were wrong about her and about what she did during her time serving in the Clinton administration.
Opportunist: Do you come from a political background?
Peschmann: No. I was never involved in politics and had no political leanings one way or the other. My background was initially in writing about Hollywood, where your Bible is Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, from there I segued into true crime. I had no idea at the time how helpful that experience would be when reporting on politics. I am Canadian, so I don’t vote in the United States.
Opportunist: How, then, did you become a political journalist?
Peschmann: I followed a very unlikely and unpredictable path that started out in advertising. I worked at a great creative ad agency that had a job-training program. In advertising you are trained to tell a story in 30 or 60 seconds. When they lost their largest client I was laid off, so I took my severance and did some traveling. I ended up in Los Angeles, where I did some celebrity writing that, of course, was serendipitous.
Opportunist: How so?
Peschmann: I learned all the Hollywood marketing tips, which I have found most helpful in reporting politics. How many times, for example, have we watched trailers for movies that make us run out and go buy a ticket only to find out that all the best parts of the movie were in the trailer? People forget that Bill and Hillary Clinton left the White House scandal-ridden, dodging indictments. Remember Pardongate? And with the help of Hollywood marketing tricks they have been able to recast themselves and reemerge in power. Everything is scripted. News has become publicity stunts disguised as news. Everything is polled. It has nothing to do with reality. It’s wrong. Politicians are elected to do a job—not to entertain people. They are there to serve the American people, not their own personal interests. There’s a lawlessness that has taken over Washington that is very disturbing.
Opportunist: Did you really meet Linda Tripp through a rock star?
Peschmann: Yes. God works in mysterious ways. Without naming names, I can say that he was very politically active. He met her spokesman through some kind of rally and gave him my name. I met Linda during the Clinton’s last year in office, when Bill was on his apology tour and Hillary was planning to run for a New York Senate seat. It’s incredible how quickly the world has changed since then. At that time, few people had heard the name Osama bin Laden.
Opportunist: Until your book I never knew Linda was hesitant, at first, about taping her phone conversations with Monica.
Peschmann: Yes, she struggled with it. Everything is upside down. I don’t think people understand that she was a team player. Ultimately, during the events that led to President Clinton’s impeachment, she actually did what she always did during all the earlier investigations and protected the Clintons and her job. She turned her tapes over to the White House appointed attorney and people from the Paula Jones camp learned about them. She is probably the most reluctant witness in history.
It was terrible. When the story broke, she received so many death threats she had to be put into a safe house. That shouldn’t be happening in America. Serving in the White House truly was her greatest honor and privilege—under any administration. All she did was she go to work. But you cannot serve under corrupt leadership and not become corrupted and compromised yourself. That’s the bottom line. Linda’s justifications [for not telling the whole truth and for being a “team player”] were my job, my pension and my kids. For a long time she kept her employment. But it eventually blew up in her face.
If people think she was vilified and destroyed because of Bill Clinton’s sexual escapades in the White House, they can guess again. That’s ridiculous. It just goes to show how effective politicians have become at controlling the narrative. After you read my book you will see it really was about obstruction of justice, suborning perjury and witness tampering.
Opportunist: Has she heard about your book?
Opportunist: Were you disappointed?
Peschmann: I don’t know if disappointed is the right word. I wish she would’ve come forward a long time ago and actually blown the whistle!
Opportunist: Why did your original book deal with her fall through?
Peschmann: When we first met she was facing criminal charges. Telling her story could either vindicate her or hurt her in court. She had to tell the whole truth and that’s what she agreed to do, the good, bad and the ugly. After her Maryland wire-tapping criminal charges were dropped, standing tall and telling the truth was less of a priority. She was selectively telling the truth like the Clintons do. I wasn’t going to be involved in a publicity stunt disguised as news. The truth matters. She was in a very unique position to have done so much good. She could have really blown the whistle and, God knows, I wish she had.
Opportunist: Did notoriety, in some weird way, eventually go to her head?
Peschmann: Well, oh gosh, she certainly did not seek it. I never got that impression. She was constantly outed by other people. So I don’t think so. No. People don’t realize that she was a God-fearing, patriotic person. Her greatest honor was to serve in the White House. Sadly enough, as I already said, you cannot serve under corruption without getting corrupted. Once you do their bidding, technically, they own you. If you look the other way when others take the fall, don’t be surprised when it happens to you. Everyone is disposable. The worst part…was watching her becoming something she despised. But if you tow the line and are a part of thwarting investigations, you’re part of the problem.
Opportunist: What has the overall reaction been from readers?
Peschmann: Some people who reached out to me actually work in government and are generally scared of what they are seeing. If you are a federal employee and you see corruption, by law, you must report it. But that’s not happening.
Opportunist: Do you sincerely believe things can change?
Peschmann: We can turn things around and clean things up very quickly by holding corruption accountable. Now is a critical time to step forward. I would encourage people to do what Linda did and document what is happening. You must have proof because it’s too easy for politicians to lie. As we have seen, only tapes and forensics seem to stop them. Truth is all we want. I’m not saying it’s easy to come forward, it’s very intimidating standing up to power, but I think we can all agree we are in trouble. We are either going to clean things up or we are going to fall deeper into this pit. Not to speak is to speak.
I think we all can agree that we haven’t been served well by our elected leadership on both sides. The problems are not just in America but around the world. I would like to be able to say that when there’s a press conference you can believe what you hear coming out of an administration but I can’t honestly say that. Freedom of the press is in jeopardy. Politicians control access to the press. They’re not going to grant access if you ask tough questions. Our job as journalists is to report the truth, not act as their publicists. That’s the problem. We have a responsibility to cut through all the smoke and mirrors and tell the story. People can draw their own conclusions.
Opportunist: Former White House Deputy Counsel Vince Foster appeared in your book right up until his demise. What are your thoughts on that?
Peschmann: We are not allowed to talk about that, according to the Clintons. Forgive me if I’m being facetious. Seriously, though, if you look at the evidence and the official investigations—and we don’t have all the evidence—as I documented in my book, you will see that there was also contaminated evidence and obstruction. The Clinton White House obstructed law enforcement at every turn. Why not let them conduct a thorough investigation? Instead, before a preliminary investigation started, they told us what happened. It’s all a part of the cohesive strategy I write about. Remember Senior White House Counsel Bernie Nussbaum, Linda’s boss, resigned in disgrace for his handling of the Foster case and Whitewater.
Don’t take my word for it. Look at the official reports. If you read through the investigations, you will find that each of the conclusions are based on the available evidence. Available is the keyword here. They don’t have all the evidence. So, commonsense would say no one can say for sure what happened to Vince Foster.
He was the highest ranking government official since the assassination of John F. Kennedy to die suddenly under extraordinary circumstances. The American people deserve to know the truth.
Opportunist: Can you share some highlights from your other memorable assignments?
Peschmann: Working in journalism gives you a front row seat, in many cases, to history in the making. There are many stories I could tell you about. I covered the United Nations for a while including during the Oil-for-food scandal. The corruption there was mind numbing and, again, no one was held accountable. I’m glad former Secretary General Kofi Annan resigned last week as Special Envoy to Syria. With his track record at the U.N., including his failure of leadership during the genocide in Rwanda, I was appalled when he was appointed.
I also covered Walter Reed [Army Medical Center] and spent time with some of the wounded troops. I will never forget that. Their love of country is inspiring and humbling.
Opportunist: Your book is captivating—no matter the reader’s political leanings. How long did it take to you to write it?
Peschmann: From start to finish, I’d say I have been writing it off and on about a dozen years—long time. It’s a story that I had to keep going back to update.
Opportunist: Did you face any obstacles in trying to get it published?
Peschmann: Yes. When I first pitched it I was told the Clintons were old news, move on. Publishers would not even touch it. On the left, right, middle, whatever. Then it literally became an annual event. Unfortunately they were wrong, that old news is back in power.
The business is changing rapidly. It’s incredible when you see major publishing houses like Houghton Mifflin file for bankruptcy and several others had to downsize and lay people off. But people are really hungry for the truth, and I think many publishers have been publishing under this Left-Right Paradigm for so long it’s hurt them. At the end of the day it’s never a bad time to set the record straight and hold people in power accountable. Because, if you don’t, what happens is they are able to rewrite history and come back and if they are corrupt, the corruption grows.
Corruption is wrong when it happens on the left and it’s wrong when it happens on the right. We have to speak truth to power and do everything we can to make sure that corruption is held accountable—no matter what side it comes from. People are finally seeing a lot of these politicians as emperors with no clothes. Once we start seeing some indictments I think things will change, but until we do it’s impossible for good people to get through. Americans deserve a good, honest, efficient government. Now is the time to take a stand.
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer/editor with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications. Originally from Virginia, she currently resides in the Orlando area.