Tripp made earlier sex allegation Woman who bugged intern also claimed president fondled volunteer in 1993

January 22, 1998|By Tom Bowman and Mark Matthews | Tom Bowman and Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF Sun staff writers Caitlin Francke, Dana Hedgpeth, Edward Lee and Craig Timberg, and staff researchers Robert Schrott and Jean Packard contributed to this report.

WASHINGTON -- Until yesterday, Linda R. Tripp was a fairly ordinary federal worker, a 48-year-old divorced mother of two living in a quiet Columbia subdivision.

Now she will be forever known as a woman who reportedly wore a body wire -- and maybe snagged a president.

Tripp secretly recorded and turned over to Whitewater investigators 10 conversations with her friend Monica Lewinsky, a 24-year-old Pentagon assistant who allegedly told her she had an affair with President Clinton. Some recordings were made using a hidden body microphone, CNN reported.

Tripp allegedly tape-recorded Lewinsky saying the president and his friend Vernon Jordan pressed her to lie about the relationship to lawyers for Paula Corbin Jones, who is suing Clinton for sexually harassing her.

Newsweek reported last night, in an online story, that most of the 20 hours of secretly recorded conversations were made from Tripp's home in Maryland, a state in which it is illegal to tape conversations unless both parties consent or by court order.

"I'm a witness in a federal investigation," Tripp said yesterday, as she walked briskly back to her home through a throng of reporters. "No comment," she kept repeating.

Her two-story house with a minivan in the driveway has a hand-lettered sign on the front door: "Do Not Disturb."

Last summer, Tripp was also at the center of another sexually based allegation against Clinton and a White House volunteer. She told Newsweek magazine in August that Kathleen E. Willey, 51, emerged from a 1993 meeting with Clinton "disheveled. Her face was red and her lipstick was off." And Tripp recalled Willey saying Clinton had kissed and fondled her in a hideaway off the Oval Office.

At the time, Clinton's lawyer, Robert Bennett, said Tripp "is not to be believed."

Willey was subpoenaed by Jones' lawyers and resisted testifying until compelled to do so by the courts. She gave a deposition this month. Various news organizations have reported that she testified Clinton made unwanted sexual advances toward her.

Tripp worked in the Bush White House and later stayed on with the Clinton administration in various administrative posts.

She moved to the Pentagon in August 1994, working as a public affairs specialist in the directorate of programs, traveling around the country and taking community groups to Pentagon installations. Her annual salary is $88,173.

It was at the Pentagon where Tripp met Lewinsky, who also worked in the public affairs section as an assistant to Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon. Tripp took the woman under her wing, offering her career advice.

Tripp also was the last person to see Vincent W. Foster Jr. alive. As the White House deputy counsel was leaving his office on a July day in 1993, Foster said she could have some of the candy on his lunch tray and said he would be back. He was later found dead at Fort Marcy Park outside Washington in what was ruled a suicide.

After nearly 20 years of marriage, Tripp was divorced in 1992 from her husband, Bruce M. Tripp, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, who also lives in Columbia. He declined to comment yesterday. The Tripps have two children, a 22-year-old son and an 18-year-old daughter.

While some Clinton partisans are quick to claim the charges are politically motivated, neighbors and co-workers describe Tripp as not particularly partisan.

Jim Weber, a computer consultant and next-door neighbor, does not recall her ever initiating a political conversation or saying anything about Clinton.

"All I know is that my jaw hit the floor when I heard the news this morning. She's a good next-door neighbor. If this is all true, I admire her. It takes a lot of guts to make allegations like that."

Bush administration officials said Tripp was not a political appointee but a career employee.

C. Boyden Gray, White House counsel to President Bush, said Tripp worked in his office for a time. "She loved just being in the White House. She loved the excitement of it all," he said.

A former Bush administration official recalled something about Tripp that may explain how she came to play such a key role in the widening investigation into the president's behavior.

"She was kind of strait-laced, maybe a little judgmental," he said. "She appeared to have clear ideas about how people should act, how they should conduct themselves."

Pub Date: 1/22/98

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