Jones Team on Tapes
By Peter Baker
The two-hour session in Tripp's Columbia home armed the Jones legal team with enough information to ask Clinton precise questions the next day about Lewinsky and his ties to her. Instead of merely inquiring whether he had a relationship with her, the Jones lawyers were able to ask Clinton about gifts and visits and other details intended to pin him down.
Although he acknowledged giving her small gifts, Clinton denied under oath that day that he had sexual relations with Lewinsky, and said he could not recall ever being alone with the former White House aide except perhaps briefly when she dropped off papers, sources knowledgeable about his testimony have said. Those statements have led to much of the legal jeopardy Clinton faces, leaving him vulnerable to a possible perjury charge if independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr can prove that the president had sex or was ever alone with Lewinsky for any length of time.
Tripp's activities that day demonstrate the unusual nexus between the Jones team as it sought ammunition in its civil case and the Starr team looking for potential criminal violations. By cooperating with Jones's lawyers even as she provided Starr with information about Lewinsky's alleged affair, Tripp proved the crucial link in a crisis that has imperiled this presidency.
The previously unreported meeting between Tripp and the Jones team on Jan. 16 also adds another twist to what is known about the events of a day that is shaping up as a pivotal moment in the unfolding crisis. That was the same day that Lewinsky's first lawyer filed her affidavit in the Jones case denying any sexual liaison with the president. And it was the day that Tripp lured Lewinsky to an Arlington hotel where federal investigators confronted the 24-year-old woman and tried to enlist her as an undercover informant in their probe into whether Clinton or his friend Vernon E. Jordan Jr. tried to obstruct justice by urging her to deny an affair.
Tripp spent the afternoon at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel at Pentagon City while federal investigators interrogated Lewinsky in the next room, then left for home where she met with Jones attorney T. Wesley Holmes in the evening, according to sources informed about the meeting.
James Moody, Tripp's attorney, was also there, the sources said. But in an interview last night, Moody said he was out of town and suggested he was unaware of any such meeting. "I guess a lot happened that day," Moody said. "No one knows what anyone else was doing that day."
No one, it seems, except for Tripp. Among the many unanswered questions in the ongoing drama is what motivated her to surreptitiously record more than 20 hours of conversations with her one-time friend, hand over the tapes to Starr and, as it turns out, simultaneously provide crucial information to Jones's lawyers.
One reason she may have cooperated with the Jones camp, Moody said, was to avoid having to testify in a formal deposition about the Jones case, where Clinton's attorneys would have had the chance to grill Tripp as well. Tripp had been subpoenaed by Jones's lawyers, but may have been able to persuade them to withdraw it by submitting to a private interview.
"My objective at the time was to get her out of being deposed and off their radar screen," Moody said.
Clinton advisers see the Tripp-Jones meeting as further evidence of what they consider collusion. They would not comment last night on the details of Tripp's role in the cases.
From the Jones perspective, however, interviewing Tripp the night before deposing Clinton was simply thorough and necessary research before going up against a hostile witness. "They wanted to prepare as completely as possible so they were ready to properly and fully question the president," said Joseph Cammarata, an attorney who had represented Jones before her current Dallas-based team took over. "That's good lawyering. To prepare in advance -- is that bad? What are you supposed to do? Walk in with a blank pad?"
The Jones team had sought out a meeting with Tripp that day. All six lawyers from the law firm of Rader, Campbell, Fisher & Pyke had flown in from Dallas for the deposition. But Tripp put them off for much of the day, without saying why.
After noon, she met Lewinsky at the Ritz-Carlton for a lunch arranged at the request of Starr's investigators. As they arrived, FBI agents swooped in, flashed their badges and took Lewinsky upstairs to a room. Tripp went to an adjoining room with other agents and attorneys. Finally, late in the day, Tripp sent word to Jones's lawyers that she would talk to them.
During their meeting, Tripp related much of the information that has since become public, including what she was told by Lewinsky three days earlier when they got together at the Ritz-Carlton bar, according to the sources. Unbeknown to Lewinsky at the time, Tripp was wearing a hidden microphone supplied by the FBI and the tape of their conversation helped prod Starr to seek the authority to expand his Whitewater investigation.
Jones's lawyers asked to review the tapes she had made on her own but Tripp would not allow it. Instead, they used the information they gleaned that night to confirm what they had previously been told by Tripp or intermediaries who had talked with her. On the next Monday and Tuesday, they negotiated with Moody the wording of a formal written declaration from Tripp, which she then signed Jan. 21, the same day the Lewinsky allegations were first reported in The Washington Post.
In that statement, which was obtained by The Post last week, 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."
Jones's lawyers were interested in other women who may have had sexual encounters with Clinton to prove a pattern of behavior that could help prove that he crudely propositioned their client when he was governor of Arkansas in 1991.
Tripp, who had worked with Lewinsky at the Pentagon where both were transferred after White House stints first came to their attention last summer when she publicly said she ran into another White House aide, Kathleen E. Willey, after an alleged sexual encounter with Clinton in 1993.
In early October, the Rutherford Institute, which by then had taken over the Jones case and was paying some of the legal expenses of Rader, Campbell, received the first of three anonymous calls from someone with a woman's voice suggesting they look into someone named "Monica." Tripp at the time had been confiding in a friend, New York literary agent Lucianne Goldberg, however Goldberg has denied providing information to Jones's lawyers. The Jones camp does not believe Tripp or Goldberg was the source of those calls, but quickly learned that Tripp might have information about Lewinsky.
Tripp was subpoenaed by the Jones team Nov. 24, but she began having a series of contacts with the lawyers and so her deposition scheduled for Dec. 18 was postponed. The Wall Street Journal reported that Tripp talked with Jones's lawyers twice in the week leading up to the Clinton deposition.
The information she provided apparently proved important in the questioning, led by Jones attorney James A. Fisher. Did you ever have sexual relations with Lewinsky, Clinton was asked. Did she ever actually visit you when she was cleared to visit the White House by the president's personal secretary, Betty Currie? Did you give her gifts? Were you ever alone with her?
The president was so struck by the specificity of the questions, one person close to him has said, that when he returned to the White House that night, he called Currie and asked her to come into the office the next day so they could compare notes. Currie has told investigators that Clinton told her she was always in earshot while Lewinsky was around, which Currie agreed with, a source informed about the account said. But Currie also told investigators that in fact she sometimes did leave Clinton and Lewinsky alone while she was in an outer office.
Staff writer Lorraine Adams contributed to this report.
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