Tripp Lawyer Qualifies Her Remarks
Saturday, February 13, 1999; Page A36
Linda R. Tripp's lawyer pulled back yesterday from a statement she made in a television interview that raised questions about the accuracy of testimony independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr gave Congress.
Tripp said on NBC's "Today" show that she may have told Starr's FBI agents on a crucial day in the investigation of President Clinton that she was preparing to talk to the lawyers of Paula Jones.
Tripp's lawyer, Anthony Zaccagnini, later said she never specified to the FBI that she was set to meet with members of the Jones camp. Starr had testified to Congress that his office was unaware of the contact with the Jones lawyers. And Tripp also had testified that she did not inform Starr's office of her impending meeting with the Jones lawyers.
Clinton supporters have suggested that Starr's prosecutors knew that their key witness was funneling to Jones's lawyers information about Clinton and Monica S. Lewinsky the night before the president's Jan. 17, 1998, deposition in Jones's sexual harassment suit against him.
"I don't think that the prosecutors knew" about her contacts with Jones's lawyers, Tripp told NBC. "I may have mentioned to one or two of the agents . . . that I needed to get home because I had an interview with the Paula Jones attorneys." But Starr's office did not know in a "formal way" that she was meeting with the Jones lawyers, Tripp said.
"In the heat of a live interview, it's possible that Linda was less than perfectly clear," Zaccagnini said later. "Linda maintains that she never advised" Starr's office "of the fact that she was meeting with the Jones attorneys. She believes that she mentioned to the agent transporting her that day that she was in a hurry because she had to attend an interview. She never told that agent it was an interview with the Jones attorneys."
Regarding Tripp, Starr testified on Nov. 19 to the House Judiciary Committee that "to the best of my knowledge, we did not have any information that she was, in fact, communicating with the Jones attorneys."
Pressed about her contacts with Jones's lawyers, Tripp said "they approached me," but she did not deny that she brought up Lewinsky's name.
"Are you asking me did I want this behavior exposed? Absolutely," Tripp said.
Separately, she told the New York Times that a Jones lawyer contacted her after getting her unlisted number from New York literary agent Lucianne Goldberg, who came up with the idea for Tripp to tape her phone conversations with Lewinsky.
Tripp also said she believes Lewinsky is concealing information that would hurt Clinton.
"My opinion is that Monica continues to protect the president . . . on the perjury and on the obstruction" articles of impeachment on which Clinton was acquitted yesterday, Tripp told NBC. "Who is going to contradict her? The president? I don't think so."
Lewinsky spokeswoman Judy Smith said the former White House intern will respond to Tripp's comments at an appropriate time. Lewinsky currently is forbidden by Starr's office from talking to the news media.
In an interview with the Times, Tripp said she does not believe Lewinsky's story that she alone created a document containing "talking points" that spelled out how Tripp could give testimony that would be helpful to Clinton in the Jones case.
Tripp, whose tape recordings triggered the Lewinsky scandal, told the Times she believes the document was "dictated by a senior White House official" whom Tripp refused to identify.
"The notion that Monica wrote those on her own is about as likely as her co-authoring the Gettysburg Address with Lincoln," Tripp said.
Tripp also said she does not believe Lewinsky's story that the president first brought up the subject of filing an affidavit in the Jones case in a 2 a.m. phone call Dec. 17, 1997.
"The reality was, there had been talk about how to take care of that affidavit prior to that," Tripp told NBC.
Lewinsky's affidavit denied a sexual relationship with the president.
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