Both sides see gain in Tripp recordings Release tomorrow may reveal manipulator, White House bullying

September 30, 1998|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Linda R. Tripp will emerge in evidence expected to be released tomorrow as a manipulative woman who prolonged the painful collapse of Monica Lewinsky's relationship with President Clinton and helped create many of the suspicious circumstances she would later cast as evidence of a cover-up, Democrats said yesterday.

But while Democrats may take comfort from an expected unflattering portrait of Tripp, Republicans may feel vindicated by other material as the House Judiciary Committee makes its final disclosure of evidence submitted by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr.

Some of the 5,000 pages of grand jury testimony and audiotapes to be released seem to support Starr's contention that the White House undermined his investigation and might have intimidated potential witnesses.

"If [the Democrats] want to focus on lines that help their cause, we can match them line for line," a Republican lawyer working for the Judiciary Committee said yesterday.

Republican and Democratic Judiciary Committee aides characterized information from the more than 100 grand jury transcripts, 27 audiotapes that Tripp made of her phone conversations with Lewinsky, and an FBI body wire that Tripp wore in her final meeting with the former White House intern at a Northern Virginia hotel last January.

Both sides conceded that Starr's most damaging evidence has already been made public, either in his original 445-page report or in the 3,000 pages of appendixes released last week.

But the final documents will provide more information on many key issues, such as Tripp's advice to Lewinsky about her relationship with Clinton, the president's part in finding Lewinsky a new job after her transfer from the White House to the Pentagon, and alleged White House efforts to cover up the Lewinsky matter.

As the Clinton-Lewinsky story continued to unfold, nerves on Capitol Hill grew more frayed.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, contributed to the atmosphere by offering his judgment on the standards that should be considered in the impeachment of a president. Not only are perjury and obstruction of justice impeachable offenses, he said, but so is "bad conduct."

"If you have brought disrepute on the office, that is sufficient," Lott told reporters. "I don't think we should be involved in a process of dumbing down decency in this country, saying, 'Well, that doesn't really matter.' I think it does matter."

White House spokesman Mike McCurry responded tartly:

"Why one who would sit in judgment would render pre-emptively thoughts on what rises to impeachable offense is a bit mystifying," McCurry said.

The House of Representatives, in which Republicans have a majority, is scheduled to vote next week on whether to convene the third presidential impeachment inquiry in U.S. history. Before the vote, members of both parties are jockeying for position in the court of public opinion.

A murkier picture

To Democrats who have seen the remaining documents, the totality of the evidence paints a far murkier picture of the Lewinsky matter than Starr drew in outlining 11 allegations that the independent counsel said could merit impeachment. Starr's

report was "factually accurate," conceded a knowledgeable Democratic source. But she added: "He's taken a narrow slice of all that was going on."

For instance, Starr contended that the efforts of the president and his allies to find Lewinsky a new job was an attempt to keep her from disclosing her relationship with Clinton to lawyers for Paula Corbin Jones, who had filed a sexual misconduct lawsuit against the president.

But according to Democratic aides, the evidence shows that the job search began almost immediately after Lewinsky's transfer to the Pentagon on April 5, 1996 -- long before she came to the attention of the Jones legal team.

Far from being pressured, presidential secretary Betty Currie testified that she acted on her own to help Lewinsky find a new job because she felt the former intern had been mistreated when she was driven from the White House, the Democrats said.

Democratic aides also said Lewinsky told Tripp only once that Clinton and his friend Vernon Jordan had asked her to lie about her relationship with the president. Lewinsky later told grand jurors that the statement was a lie that she told after growing suspicious that Tripp planned to betray her.

A tarnished Tripp?

Republican and Democratic aides alike said Tripp's image would be further tarnished by the next round of disclosures. They said transcripts of Tripp's conversations with Lewinsky would show how earnestly she sought to manipulate her younger colleague.

Democratic Judiciary Committee aides said the transcripts will show that Tripp suggested that Lewinsky contact Jordan about helping find a new job.

VTC Tripp would later contend that Jordan was part of a cover-up.

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