By Paul W. Valentine
Linda R. Tripp said in her first conversation with federal investigators in January that she did not know she was breaking Maryland law when she secretly taped conversations with Monica S. Lewinsky. But Tripp's literary agent suggested Tripp may have made one or more tapes after being warned by her lawyer not to.
According to documents released yesterday by the House Judiciary Committee, Tripp freely acknowledged to prosecutors and FBI agents that she secretly recorded conversations with Lewinsky from her home in suburban Maryland a key element in state investigators' effort to establish evidence that Tripp violated the state's anti-wiretap law.
When Tripp first called the office of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr on Jan. 12, she expressed concern about being prosecuted by Maryland for making the tapes and discussed the possibility of getting immunity, according to typed prosecutors' notes from the conversation released yesterday.
The notes also said Tripp "advised she did not realize recording her own telephone conversations with Lewinsky was a violation of state law at the time she did it." That is a critical point, because the Maryland law one of the toughest in the nation for prosecutors to enforce requires evidence not only that the recordings were made without consent but also that the person taping the conversations was aware of the law.
However, Tripp's account appeared to be challenged in part by another document released yesterday quoting her confidante and literary agent, Lucianne Goldberg.
Goldberg told federal investigators that a week before Tripp went to Starr with the tapes in January, she took one of the tapes to Kirby Behre, an attorney representing Tripp at the time. Behre went "ballistic," according to Goldberg, because "he had told Tripp to stop taping phone calls from her home in Maryland."
Goldberg said yesterday evening in an interview that Behre "told her [Tripp] she could go to jail for this, and she really got nervous." Asked whether Tripp had made any tapes after Behre first spoke to her, Goldberg said she didn't know.
Behre did not respond late yesterday to a phone message left at his office.
Goldberg told the investigators that she originally urged Tripp to make the tapes, in order to have "irrevocable proof" of Lewinsky's account of her relationship with President Clinton. Tripp did so even though she thought the idea was "sleazy," Goldberg said.
According to Tripp's federal grand jury testimony, also released yesterday, Tripp believed that she had obtained both federal immunity and a "commitment" by Starr's office to "request that the state of Maryland not prosecute."
Maryland state prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli has been conducting a grand jury investigation into whether Tripp, a Howard County resident, violated state law by covertly recording the conversations in late 1997.
Joe Murtha, one of Tripp's attorneys, declined to comment on the new disclosures. "It would be premature," he said, "until we read all the material" released by the Judiciary Committee.
He reiterated earlier assertions that the mass of Tripp-related materials transcripts, grand jury testimony and summary investigative reports originated from Starr's office and cannot be used by Montanarelli because it was produced under a grant of immunity from prosecution for Tripp.
Montanarelli also declined to comment, but he said earlier this week that the kind of case he is investigating should be built not on transcripts but on original tapes of the telephone conversations or certified copies usable in court proceedings. He would not say whether he has any such tapes, either from Starr or other potential sources such as Goldberg or attorneys who represented Tripp.
Starr has turned over to the Judiciary Committee the tapes Tripp gave him but has questioned whether some of them are duplicates, rather than originals as Tripp claimed.
A committee spokeswoman said the tapes will be released to the public later this year.
In one report released yesterday, Starr describes how FBI agents on March 3 visited Tripp's home in Columbia, where she told them how she maintained a recorder when talking with Lewinsky numerous times. She admitted she was not skilled at working the recorder and her cats sometimes "stepped on the machine and activated the pause button."
Staff writer Toni Locy contributed to this report.
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