Tripp to testify on Lewinsky before grand jury next week Appearance called sign that Starr is nearing close of investigation

June 26, 1998|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- More than five months after sparking the White House scandal involving Monica Lewinsky, Linda R. Tripp will tell her story to a federal grand jury next week, her lawyers said yesterday.

Tripp, who secretly tape-recorded her conversations with the former White House intern, is one of the central players in the sprawling sex scandal that has dogged President Clinton since January.

Her testimony, scheduled to begin Tuesday and expected to last several days, is seen as a signal that independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr is nearing the long-awaited finale of his investigation of the Lewinsky matter.

"Linda's looking forward to the opportunity to testify truthfully about what she knows to be the facts," Anthony J. Zaccagnini, one of Tripp's lawyers, said in an interview last night.

"She must be seen as a key witness. We view this as an indication that the investigation is moving forward."

Tripp, who lives in Columbia, received a subpoena yesterday to testify next week. Her testimony comes at a critical time in Starr's investigation.

With new Washington lawyers recently hired by Lewinsky, the prosecutor has been trying again to negotiate an agreement for the cooperation of Lewinsky, who reportedly described a sexual relationship with Clinton on the tapes recorded by Tripp.

In sworn statements, both Lewinsky and Clinton have denied having had a sexual relationship.

Starr's summoning of Tripp could be seen as a warning to Lewinsky that, with the grand jury now hearing from the most crucial prosecution witness to date, Lewinsky could be charged with perjury if she does not fully cooperate with the independent counsel.

Negotiations between Starr and Lewinsky's previous lawyer, William Ginsburg, collapsed in a courtroom battle in which a judge ruled that Lewinsky had not received a grant of immunity from the independent counsel, as Ginsburg had contended.

Tripp has gained worldwide notoriety -- satirized on "Saturday Night Live," the butt of jokes on late-night TV -- for her role in the Lewinsky investigation.

PTC She secretly taped about 20 hours of her phone conversations with Lewinsky, a one-time friend who, like Tripp, moved from a job at the White House to the Pentagon.

Tripp turned the tapes over to the Whitewater independent counsel in January and then, wired by Starr's office, taped Lewinsky when the two women met for drinks.

Starr is investigating whether Clinton lied under oath about his relationship with Lewinsky and whether he or anyone else encouraged Lewinsky to lie about the relationship in exchange for help finding a job in New York.

Tripp has said little publicly and has remained mostly out of view for the past five months, but she has met frequently with Starr's office. Since the explosive story broke, she has retained her $88,000-a-year Pentagon job as a public affairs specialist, but has been working from home.

"Linda's ready to testify," Zaccagnini said. "She looks forward to moving on to the next stage of her life."

Lucianne Goldberg, a book agent and one-time Tripp confidante, put it more bluntly: "Linda's thrilled. She can't wait to get out of the house and into the courtroom."

Though she has been cooperating with Starr's inquiry, Tripp faces the threat of prosecution in Maryland.

State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli is waiting for Starr to wrap up his investigation before the state moves to explore whether Tripp's secret taping violated Maryland's wiretap laws.

Starr has been proceeding with the Lewinsky investigation on two fronts -- before grand juries in Washington and Alexandria, Va.

Tripp is to testify before the Washington grand jury, which has heard the tape recordings she made and most of the witnesses in the case, including Clinton's friend and confidant Vernon Jordan.

The same grand jury heard for the third time yesterday from Sidney Blumenthal, a presidential adviser who spoke about the Lewinsky matter with both Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In previous appearances, Blumenthal has refused to answer some questions, claiming executive privilege. But a federal judge ruled last month that Starr's need to gain information from Blumenthal outweighed the aide's right to keep his conversations private.

Speaking outside the courthouse yesterday, Blumenthal said, "I have answered the questions put to me truthfully. The president shared his account of the Lewinsky matter with me unguardedly and freely under the assumption that we were speaking in complete privacy.

"What I told the grand jury under oath supports what the president has told the American people and is contrary to any charge that the president has done anything wrong."

Pub Date: 6/26/98

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