Shedding New Light on Linda Tripp's Role
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 23, 1998; Page A01
In the voluminous report that independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr submitted to Congress, one person seemed conspicuously absent -- Linda R. Tripp, whose account of Monica S. Lewinsky's affair with President Clinton prompted the investigation in the first place.
But with the release of 3,183 pages of additional Starr documents this week, new details have emerged about Tripp and how she betrayed her onetime friend and acted as a provocateur intent on ensnaring the president at key moments in the unfolding drama.
It was Tripp, according to Lewinsky's grand jury testimony released Monday, who urged her not to clean the semen-stained blue dress that proved she had a sexual encounter with Clinton. And it was Tripp, according to the documents, who urged Lewinsky not to sign an affidavit denying she had an affair with Clinton until the president's friends assisted her in landing a job -- advice that would have set a trap for Clinton had Lewinsky followed it. There are a number of reasons why Tripp, once Starr's key witness, has been so eclipsed in his investigation. Once Lewinsky started cooperating with Starr in July, Tripp's testimony about what Lewinsky had told her was not as important. But an added factor was Starr's own suspicion that Tripp lied about her handling of the audiotapes she made of her conversations with Lewinsky. The independent counsel is investigating whether Tripp was not telling the truth when she told Starr's investigators that she had not altered or made any copies of the dozens of tapes she turned over to Starr.
Starr's office said in papers made public Monday that "if Ms. Tripp duplicated any tapes herself or knew of their duplication, then she has lied under oath before the grand jury and in a deposition. The OIC continues to investigate this matter. . . . For the seven tapes which contain audible conversations and which exhibit signs of duplication, the Office of the Independent Counsel cannot exclude the possibility of tampering at this time."
Tripp's spokesmen have refused all public comment about her role in taping Lewinsky because of an ongoing investigation by a Maryland prosecutor -- taping people without their consent is illegal under state law. But a source close to Tripp said yesterday that Starr's office has told her attorneys that "she is not the target of this portion of their investigation," and added: "At no time and in no way did Linda Tripp alter, duplicate or otherwise tamper with any materials" delivered to Starr.
Tripp herself has made no public appearances since July, when after completing her grand jury testimony she proclaimed from the courthouse that she is "an average American . . . vilified for taking the path of truth."
But Lewinsky left no doubt about who she thinks is the cause of her troubles. At the end of one of her grand jury appearances last month, according to testimony released this week, Lewinsky was asked whether she had anything to add, and she said tearfully: "I'm really sorry for everything that's happened. And I hate Linda Tripp."
The grand jurors then began comforting her, one saying: "right now you feel a lot of hate for Linda Tripp, but you need to move on and leave her where she is because whatever goes around comes around." A second grand juror added: "it comes around . . . And [Tripp] is definitely going to have to give an account for what she did."
Clinton, too, has seemed fixated on Tripp's role in upending him.
During his grand jury testimony, Clinton repeatedly vented suspicions that Tripp was responsible for feeding information about Lewinsky to the lawyers for Paula Jones in her sexual harassment suit against Clinton.
Explaining his surprise when the Jones lawyers began questioning about Lewinsky in his Jan. 17 deposition, Clinton said, "it was obvious to me by this point. . . that they had, these people had access to a lot of information from somewhere, and I presume it came from Linda Tripp."
Noting that the Jones lawyers had met with Tripp the night before the deposition, Clinton said, "now they'd been up all night with Linda Tripp, who had betrayed her friend, Monica Lewinsky, stabbed her in the back and given them all this information."
The new information in the Starr documents only reinforces Tripp's reputation in some quarters as the villain in the Clinton scandal.
"She is the most hated person I've ever seen in my life," said Bruce Fisher, an Internet entrepreneur who as the administrator of the Linda Tripp Web site reads the e-mail sent to her. About half her e-mail is favorable, with comments such as "God love you," Fisher said. But the other half angrily calls her motives into question.
The new documents also shed new light on Tripp's role in launching Starr's investigation of Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky.
According to Starr's report to Congress, Tripp in her initial discussions with his office early in January said that Vernon E. Jordan Jr., a close friend of Clinton's, was helping Lewinsky find a job at the same time that he was advising her on her on how to handle a subpoena in the Jones lawsuit.
Starr said in his report that he "recognized parallels" between Jordan's relationship with Lewinsky and allegations, already under investigation by Starr, that Jordan had provided economic help for Webster L. Hubbell, a key figure in the Whitewater scandal, in order to ensure his silence.
According to Lewinsky's testimony, she took the initiative with Clinton last October to ask the president to secure Jordan's help for her in getting a new job once it became clear to her that suspicious White House staffers would never let her work close to the president again. However, Lewinsky said that the idea of involving Jordan may have begun with Tripp.
Asked by a prosecutor about how she first got the idea of seeking help from Jordan, Lewinsky told the grand jury, "what I don't remember was if it was my idea or Linda's idea. And I know that it came up in discussions with her, I believe, before I discussed it with the president."
After Lewinsky had been subpoenaed in the Jones lawsuit Dec. 19, Tripp pleaded with Lewinsky not to sign an affidavit denying a sexual relationship with Clinton until after Jordan had found her employment.
"Monica, promise me you won't sign the affidavit until you get the job," Tripp said to Lewinsky, according to Lewinsky's testimony. "Tell Vernon you won't sign the affidavit until you get the job because if you sign the affidavit before you get the job, they're never going to give you the job."
That conversation occurred on Jan. 9, according to Lewinsky, who said she told Tripp she would follow her advice. Unknown to Tripp, Lewinsky, by that point suspicious of her friend, had already signed an affidavit denying that she had a sexual relationship with Clinton, and Jordan had arranged for her to get a job offer to do public relations work for Revlon Inc. at the cosmetic firm's New York headquarters.
"I was so desperate for her to -- I was -- for her to not reveal anything about this relationship that I used anything and anybody that I could think of as leverage" to keep Tripp quiet, Lewinsky testified.
Lewinsky's willingness to string along her friend became a more grievous matter four days later. By then Tripp had gone into Starr's office with allegations that Lewinsky was prepared to lie about her relationship with Clinton in the Jones lawsuit and that Jordan had tried to win Lewinsky's silence with offers of a glamorous job. On Jan. 13 Starr's investigators fitted Tripp with a hidden tape recorder when she met Lewinsky for a drink and the two discussed their strategies for dealing with the Jones lawsuit.
Lewinsky told the grand jury that during that secretly recorded conversation, "what I said to Linda was 'Oh, you know, I told -- I told Mr. Jordan that I wasn't going to sign the affidavit until I got the job.' Obviously, which wasn't true."
In addition Lewinsky testified that "I think I told her that -- you know, at various times the president and Mr. Jordan had told me I had to lie. That wasn't true."
Two days later, on Jan. 15, Starr went to Attorney General Janet Reno to ask for permission to open an investigation into allegations that Lewinsky was prepared to lie to defend the president in the Jones lawsuit and that Jordan had tried to win her cooperation by getting her a job, according to Starr's report to Congress.
The key evidence that Starr presented to Reno was the secret tape recording of Lewinsky's conversation with Tripp on Jan. 13. Hearing Lewinsky in her own voice falsely asserting that she had told Jordan she would not sign the affidavit until after he had found her a job proved powerfully persuasive, according to lawyers familiar with the discussions between Starr's office and the Justice Department.
The next day Reno agreed to back Starr's request to expand his three-and-a-half-year-old investigation to include Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky.
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