Mysterious Links Permeate Lewinsky, Jones Allegations
Tripp Denies Any Role in an Organized Effort
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, January 31, 1998; Page A13
It all started with three anonymous messages left on a telephone answering machine in Charlottesville, Va.
In mid-October of last year, someone began placing calls to the Rutherford Institute, the conservative legal firm bankrolling Paula Jones's sexual harassment lawsuit against President Clinton. The voice -- a woman's -- left tips about another young woman, Monica Lewinsky, who allegedly had a sexual relationship with Clinton.
That was the first, but not the last, mysterious link between two different allegations, years apart, involving two women from different worlds. And it is raising questions about whether there has been collusion between those with knowledge of Lewinsky's claims and those who are Jones's advocates.
The issue is a significant one for several reasons: The decision by Jones's legal team to pursue the Lewinsky tip prompted Jones's lawyers to ask Clinton under oath about his purported relationship with the young woman. His denials, contradicted on secret tapes of Lewinsky, have triggered a new probe by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr into the most intimate aspects of Clinton's life.
The intersection of the two cases also is creating an important legal battle over what evidence Starr and Jones's attorneys can use about the president. And the prospect of collusion is fueling accusations by first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and other White House officials that the allegations are being stage-managed by the president's political enemies on the right.
In her first public statement yesterday, Linda R. Tripp, the Pentagon aide who secretly taped her co-worker Lewinsky, denied having any role in an organized effort against Clinton, portraying herself instead only as an apolitical civil servant compelled by conscience to tell the truth.
"I struggled long and hard before contacting the prosecutor," Tripp said in the statement. "I was facing substantial risk of losing everything I have aspired to during my 18-year civil service career."
The New York book agent who urged Tripp to tape Lewinsky, Lucianne Goldberg, also scoffed at the idea that either of them have taken part in any orchestrated attempt by political conservatives to take Lewinsky's allegations first to Jones's attorneys, then to Starr.
"The simplest answer is the answer, to all of this. This is only about two old broads who got really [angry]," said Goldberg, who nevertheless acknowledges that she would like to see Clinton's political demise.
But the story of how Lewinsky's allegations came to the attention of Jones's lawyers well before the public became aware of them, and how allies of Jones are now aiding Tripp, is still filled with unanswered questions, faulty memories and odd coincidences.
In some instances, what is not known is nearly as remarkable as what is.
The Rutherford Institute, for example, says it still has no idea who first tipped it to Lewinsky's sensational claims. The institute says that since it began funding Jones's lawsuit it has received many calls concerning allegations of Clinton and other women. But eventually this one was taken seriously enough that the institute decided to seek a sworn deposition from Lewinsky.
The timing of the anonymous tips seems more than accidental. Rutherford began getting them just as Tripp had started taping Lewinsky.
In an interview, Goldberg denied knowing anything about those tips. She also said that last fall few people knew about Lewinsky's alleged affair, and that she's sure only three other people besides her knew that Lewinsky's claims were being taped -- Tripp, Goldberg's son Jonah, and eventually Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff.
"It certainly wasn't me," who made the calls, Goldberg said. "Linda might have done it. I don't know."
Tripp's attorney said last night that his client was not the one who placed the calls.
There is also the less-than-lucid story of how Tripp came to be represented by James Moody. He is a Washington attorney with ties to several conservative legal groups and who has made his reputation by trying to deregulate the agriculture industry.
Moody, who is offering his services at no charge, took the high-profile job several weeks ago after Tripp became "totally paranoid" that she could not trust her first attorney, according to Goldberg.
Anxious to find Tripp a new lawyer, Goldberg said she sought suggestions from dozens of friends and associates.
One of those people she spoke with apparently called a 34-year-old New York lawyer named George Conway, who worked behind the scenes helping Jones's attorneys convince the Supreme Court that their case should be allowed to move forward.
Conway acknowledges that he was the one who suggested Moody, but he refuses to say to whom he gave that recommendation. And Goldberg says she doesn't know who she got the recommendation from because it came in the form of an anonymous message on her answering machine.
Conway and Moody, it turns out, are friends who have vacationed together and who share some of the same ties to conservative legal groups. Conway would say only that he "threw Moody's name into the hopper" because Moody is a solo practitioner and wouldn't have to contend with the usual law-firm bureaucracy in order to take the case.
Moody, meanwhile, said that he hasn't spoken to Conway in months and was unaware until recently that he was working on the Paula Jones case. The last time he saw Conway was at a meeting of the Federalist Society, a national conservative group of attorneys and judges, he said.
"I asked him, 'Que pasa?' but he didn't mention anything about Paula Jones," Moody said. As for how Tripp got his name, Moody said simply: "I get so many calls all the time that I stopped asking whether they heard about me through the press or from a referral," Moody said. "I don't start by quizzing my clients" about that.
Once again, Goldberg suggests that the simplest answer is the right one. She said that neither she nor Tripp was familiar with Moody, but that he seemed to fit the criteria they wanted.
"I told Linda his name and she said, 'What do you know about him?' and I said, 'Damn little, but I know for sure that he's not a Clintonista,' " Goldberg said.
And there is one more mystery: how Conway came to work on the Paula Jones case.
He probably came to the attention of the Jones camp sometime after writing an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times in 1994 criticizing the president's arguments for immunity in the sexual harassment suit.
But neither of Jones's former attorneys, Gil Davis and Joseph Cammarata, said they could recall how Conway joined their case against Clinton. "We were on the case for three years, we had a lot of people volunteer to help," Davis said. "Either he called us and volunteered, or somebody he knew suggested that he could be helpful."
Conway can't shed any light on this subject either. He said he began giving Jones's legal team assistance a few years ago after someone called to solicit his help -- but he said he could not recall who that was. Officials at the Rutherford Institute, which began handling Jones's case last fall, said Conway has not worked with them.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company