By George Lardner Jr.
Linda R. Tripp, whose tapes triggered the investigation that now endangers Bill Clinton's presidency, is herself under investigation by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr.
Preliminary FBI tests of "several" of the tape recordings Tripp made of her telephone conversations with Monica S. Lewinsky show signs of having been duplicated, Starr said in his report to the House. Beyond that, Starr said, one of the apparently duplicated tapes "was produced by a recorder that was stopped and restarted during the recording process."
Tripp, who befriended Lewinsky at the Pentagon and then recorded the younger woman's accounts of her sexual encounters with the president, turned over 27 tapes to Starr last January, four of which proved to be inaudible or blank.
Tripp testified that the tapes she gave the independent counsel's office were the original recordings. She also testified that she knew nothing about any duplications, "though others had access to or control over the tapes at times before they were turned over," according to the report.
Since the FBI's preliminary findings raise questions about the reliability and authenticity of at least one recording, Starr said, they also "raise questions about the accuracy of Ms. Tripp's testimony regarding her handling of the tapes." He said his office is continuing to investigate the matter.
Tripp is already under investigation by a Maryland grand jury for possible violation of state law prohibiting the taping of telephone conversations without the consent of those being taped. She would have no comment on Starr's report until she has had a chance to read it, one of her lawyers, Joe Murtha, said yesterday.
Murtha also said that he believed "Linda has been vindicated" by Starr's investigation and that it would be "appropriate" for Maryland state prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli to drop his inquiry. "It appears to be political retaliation in Maryland against Linda for activities that are rarely investigated and prosecuted," he said.
Montanarelli, a Democrat, has denied any political motivations. The grand jury is scheduled to reconvene Sept. 17 in Howard County, where Tripp lives. Under Maryland law, prosecutors must prove she knew taping Lewinsky without her consent was prohibited.
New York literary agent Lucianne Goldberg, who encouraged Tripp to record Lewinsky, has said she has a tape of one of Goldberg's conversations with Tripp in which Goldberg erroneously advised her it was legal to tape in Maryland. The Baltimore Sun reported last month, however, that the Radio Shack employee who sold Tripp the recording device says he told her it was illegal to use it without first obtaining the other party's consent.
Tripp has denied through a spokesman that she was told that.
Lawyers for President Clinton yesterday also directed fire at Tripp, saying that a fair report on Starr's part would have answered questions about her motives in contacting Starr's office, about what authority Starr had to wire her for a surreptitiously taped conversation with Lewinsky in January before his jurisdiction was expanded, and a series of other issues such as Tripp's "anti-Clinton book proposal to avowed Clinton hater Lucianne Goldberg."
"Linda's motivation was to come forward, tell the truth and disclose what she believed to be outrageous conduct," Murtha said.
Starr said that he did not rely in his report on any tapes that showed signs of duplication. He also said that Tripp provided him with notes she took during some of her conversations with Lewinsky. Those notes, he said, "have been extensively corroborated [and] refer specifically to places, dates and times of physical contacts between the president and Ms. Lewinsky."
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