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The Tapes

By George Lardner Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 22, 1998; Page A30

Linda R. Tripp's role in gathering and preserving evidence in the Monica S. Lewinsky investigation was described more fully in documents released yesterday, which included voluminous e-mail correspondence between Tripp and Lewinsky and summaries of tape-recorded conversations. The evidence presented to the House also revealed new concerns within independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's office about some of the 27 tapes Tripp turned over in January.

Monica S. Lewinsky was going to send the navy blue dress stained with President Clinton's semen to the cleaners when her friend Linda R. Tripp told her to keep it "because it could be evidence one day," according to records released yesterday.

Lewinsky told a federal grand jury Aug. 20 that she quickly dismissed the idea as "ludicrous" when Tripp first mentioned it. She said she was about to go ahead with plans to have the dress cleaned so she could wear it again last Thanksgiving when Tripp talked her out of it.

"[S]he [Tripp] told me I looked fat in the dress, I shouldn't wear it," Lewinsky testified. "She brought me a jacket from her closet to try to persuade me not to wear the dress. So I ended up not wearing it."

Tripp's role in touching off the investigation that now threatens Bill Clinton's presidency as well as questions about her own veracity are laid out in fresh detail in the thick volumes of testimony and exhibits compiled by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr.

Starr disclosed that the tapes Tripp gave him of her conversations with Lewinsky last fall and early this year included nine that preliminary FBI tests show were made on a tape recorder other than the Radio Shack model Tripp said she used. Tripp, however, testified that the 27 tapes she gave Starr's office in January were the original recordings.

"[I]f Ms. Tripp duplicated any tapes herself or knew of their duplication," Starr said, "then she has lied under oath before the grand jury and in a deposition."

The sexual encounter with Clinton that left Lewinsky's dress stained took place near the Oval Office on Feb. 28, 1997, according to Starr's Sept. 11 report to the House. Clinton gave her a hat pin and a copy of Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass." Lewinsky later discovered the dress was stained with semen.

"I didn't really realize that there was anything on it until I went to wear it again," Lewinsky testified. "It may sound silly, I have a lot of clothes [and] I usually don't clean them until I know I'm going to wear them again."

Having decided to wear it for Thanksgiving, she said she showed it to Tripp and said something like, "'Look at this, isn't this gross?' Or whatever. I don't really remember what I said."

"And she [Tripp] told me that I should put it in a safe deposit box because it could be evidence one day," Lewinsky said. "And I said that was ludicrous because I would never-I would never disclose that I had a relationship with the president."

Although Tripp talked her out of wearing it, Lewinsky said she still planned to have it cleaned and took it to New York where she left it with her mother. "[I] was going to clean it up there and then this broke," she said of the scandal that eventually drove her to seek immunity from prosecution and promise a full confession.

Lewinsky began confiding in Tripp shortly after she began working at the Pentagon, driven out of the White House by the unease aides felt about her proximity to the president.

At first Tripp took notes, and then on Oct. 3, 1997, began recording many of her telephone conversations with Lewinsky. A list compiled by Starr's office reflects 48 separate conversations, sometimes as many as three or four on a single day.

Tripp used a voice-activated Radio Shack model hooked up to the phone in her study, which automatically picked up all phone conversations. She is under investigation by a Maryland grand jury for making the tapes without Lewinsky's knowledge.

After making two tapes, Tripp met in Washington with New York literary agent Lucianne Goldberg, Goldberg's son, Jonah, and Newsweek correspondent Michael Isikoff. Goldberg kept these two tapes, made copies, and handed both the originals and copies to Starr's office in January, Starr said in a special summary.

Tripp, meanwhile, kept her phone tapes, uncatalogued and unmarked, "in a bowl on a piece of furniture" in her house. Around early 1998, she gave most of these to her lawyers, who turned them over to Starr's office. Four more turned up in March when Tripp made fresh searches of her home.

FBI audio experts in Quantico are still studying the tapes, but preliminary results show nine, including two inaudible ones, were not made on Tripp's machine and seven of these duplicates were apparently made on one other recorder. One tape shows signs of having been stopped and started again during the recording process.

As a consequence, Starr said his office does not possess the originals of nine of the tapes Tripp made and does not know who made the apparent duplicates he does have.

Tripp's lawyers did not respond to calls seeking comment.

Starr said he did not rely on any duplicate tapes and used only those that Lewinsky identified as accurate renditions and that his investigators corroborated with independent evidence. He also said that Tripp's notes have been "extensively corroborated."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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