Tripp perjury charge possible Nine tapes likely not original, as she told jury

September 22, 1998|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Linda R. Tripp, whose surreptitious taping of conversations with her friend Monica Lewinsky led to allegations that President Clinton lied under oath, is now under investigation herself for possible perjury for telling a federal grand jury that the tapes she turned over were undoctored originals.

Citing an FBI analysis showing that nine of the tapes appear to be duplicates, an appendix to the report of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, released yesterday, concludes:

"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 [Office of Independent Counsel] continues to investigate this matter."

The report says Starr's office "cannot exclude the possibility of tampering" with the duplicated tapes. Investigators do not know who made the duplicates, the report says.

The two thick volumes of evidence released yesterday by the House Judiciary Committee flesh out a portrait of Tripp, a Howard County resident, as the older woman upon whom Lewinsky relied for advice and comfort during her emotionally tumultuous sexual involvement with the president. Indeed, Lewinsky testified to the grand jury, it was Tripp who urged her to preserve the infamous stained dress, predicting that it could become evidence.

But in her testimony, also made public yesterday, Lewinsky claims to have lied repeatedly to Tripp as she came to trust her less. Perhaps most significantly, Lewinsky testified that she lied when she told Tripp that Clinton and his friend Vernon Jordan had advised her to testify untruthfully about the affair.

"I think I told her that -- you know, at various times the president and Mr. Jordan had told me to lie," Lewinsky testified to the grand jury. "That wasn't true."

There are indications that Lewinsky made the false statements to Tripp on Jan. 13 -- when Tripp was wearing a body wire and Starr's agents were recording their conversation.

"I told her a whole bunch of lies that day," Lewinsky testified.

Tripp played a crucial role in January in expanding Starr's long-running investigation of Clinton to include possible wrongdoing by the president involving a sexual relationship with Lewinsky. The Lewinsky testimony raises the possibility that Starr's prosecutors planned their investigation in January based part on a false allegation that Clinton and Jordan had urged Lewinsky to lie in the Paula Corbin Jones sexual misconduct case.

In Starr's formal report to the House earlier this month, he alleges only that the president and Lewinsky "had an understanding that they would lie under oath in the Jones case" -- not that Clinton ever directly asked her to lie.

Tripp is a divorced mother of two from Columbia who worked at the White House before transferring to the Pentagon public relations job she still holds. She has been widely denounced for betraying a friend half her age by taping her phone calls and setting up the January meeting taped by Starr. Because Tripp had once shopped a proposal for a tell-all expose of the Clinton White House to Lucianne Goldberg, a New York book agent, her critics have suggested that she hoped to mine Lewinsky's sexual tales for book material.

In testimony released yesterday, Clinton himself attacks Tripp, who he says "had betrayed her friend Monica Lewinsky, stabbed her in the back and given them all this information."

In response, Tripp has portrayed herself as an ordinary citizen who used a tape recorder to protect herself and who helped legal authorities pursue an important case.

"I'm you an average American who found herself in a situation not of her own making," she said after testifying to the grand jury July 29. "I have been vilified for taking the path of truth."

The new material does not dramatically alter Tripp's public portrait. But it adds detail to her -image as a behind-the-scenes manipulator both of the Clinton-Lewinsky relationship and of its ultimate unraveling.

In e-mail messages exchanged with Lewinsky in 1997, Tripp drew Lewinsky out and cheered her on as she pursued the president romantically.

"Thank God for you!" Lewinsky began one message to Tripp on Feb. 4, 1997. "Oh Linda, I don't know what I am going to do. Why did he keep up contact with me for so long and now nothing, now when we could be together?"

Tripp replied: "Do not despair, there is most definitely light at the end of this tunnel."

The next week, when Tripp agreed to meet her for a chat in the Pentagon, Lewinsky exclaimed: "IF ONLY I COULD PERSUADE THE CREEP AS EASILY!!!!!!!"

Tripp answered: "Ah, but that has already transpired, says my omnipotent crystal ball."

In March 1997, when Lewinsky gave Clinton a necktie, Tripp effusively praised her choice of patterns. "It is positively gorgeous. I am knot (ha!) particularly into ties, but from my exposure to you, I am developing an interest. Yours was stupendous, no kidding, clean, crisp, texture, color, pattern, bright, without being at all over the top a total hit."

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