By Peter Baker and Susan Schmidt
Linda R. Tripp provided Paula Jones's lawyers with a sworn statement last month testifying that Monica S. Lewinsky told her on "innumerable occasions" of a long-running affair with President Clinton and played for Tripp "at least three tapes" containing Clinton's voice.
The statement demonstrated that Tripp was cooperating with Jones's lawyers even as she was providing information to independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, triggering the criminal investigation that has imperiled Clinton's presidency. The one-page document, a copy of which was obtained yesterday by The Washington Post, was signed Jan. 21, nine days after Tripp first approached Starr with her allegations and the same day news of Starr's subsequent investigation became public.
In the statement, Tripp said Lewinsky told her the sexual relationship with Clinton began on Nov. 15, 1995, and that the former White House intern and correspondence clerk planned to lie under oath about her involvement with the president when questioned by Jones's attorneys.
"She said that she was going to deny everything, that President Clinton would deny everything and she repeatedly stated that I must lie and deny that she had ever told me anything about a relationship with President Clinton," Tripp said.
The Tripp sworn statement, which remains under seal in federal court, essentially put on paper and in Tripp's own words a version of events that until now primarily has been reported secondhand by sources familiar with secret tape recordings Tripp made of conversations with Lewinsky. The statement adds several details not previously known and lays out under penalty of perjury the assertions that led to Starr's investigation.
The Tripp declaration was filed as part of an effort by the Jones legal team to force Lewinsky to testify. Jones's attorneys were seeking evidence of Clinton sexual encounters to prove a pattern of illicit behavior that would lend more credibility to their client's claim that the then-Arkansas governor propositioned her in a Little Rock hotel suite in 1991.
Lewinsky tried to avoid undergoing a deposition by swearing out an affidavit on Jan. 7 denying any sexual relationship with Clinton. Her lawyer attached that to a motion to quash the Jones subpoena and filed it on Jan. 16. To resist the quash motion, Jones's attorneys solicited Tripp's statement, signed five days later, to demonstrate to U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright why Lewinsky's testimony was relevant.
The next day, however, on the eve of the scheduled Jan. 23 deposition, Wright called off the interview after Lewinsky's lawyer made clear she planned to refuse to testify under her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
The Jones case and the Starr investigation tracked closely for a short while, with both camps seeking many of the same witnesses and evidence. Clinton defenders have cited these parallel efforts as proof of a conspiracy to get the president. However, Starr ultimately damaged the Jones case by persuading Wright to prohibit her attorneys from using any evidence from the Lewinsky matter in their lawsuit.
Tripp first came to the attention of Jones's lawyers because of her public statement that Kathleen E. Willey, a onetime White House aide, had told her Clinton made a pass at her. Over time, though, the lawyers learned independently that Tripp also might have information about Lewinsky and they subpoenaed her on Nov. 24, according to sources close to the case. Tripp's deposition was scheduled for Dec. 18, but was put off. Yet in several contacts with Jones's lawyers over the weeks, the sources said, she made clear she had intimate knowledge about Lewinsky.
In her Jan. 21 statement, Tripp said Lewinsky "revealed to me in detailed conversations on innumerable occasions that she has had a sexual relationship with President Clinton since November 15, 1995. She played for me at least three tapes containing the President's voice and showed me gifts they exchanged."
Although she did not elaborate about them, the tapes presumably were telephone message recordings left by Clinton.
On Nov. 15, 1995, Clinton was immersed in a titanic budget battle with the Republican Congress that had forced the federal government to close. On that day, in fact, Clinton canceled a planned trip to Japan for an economic summit because he said he had to deal with the crisis.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company