New documents reveal Tripp's long scheming Lewinsky's ex-friend planned for months to expose affair

More Starr evidence

Grand jury testimony includes Jordan, aides, bodyguards

The Clinton Investigation

October 03, 1998|By Paul West and Susan Baer | Paul West and Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF Sun staff writers Ellen Gamerman, Marcia Myers and Jean Marbella contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- Months before she began secretly taping Monica Lewinsky, Linda R. Tripp set out to expose President Clinton's affair with the former White House intern, believing the president's actions were an "unconscionable" abuse of power, according to testimony by Tripp made public yesterday.

Tripp's justification for her betraying her former friend -- one of the enduring mysteries of the Lewinsky matter -- is one of many new details to emerge from 4,610 additional pages of documents sent to Congress by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr.

Tripp acknowledged to the federal grand jury that she knowingly broke Maryland's law against taping phone calls last winter. She explained that she turned her tape recorder back on, after learning that it was illegal to make surreptitious recordings, because "I needed to protect myself."

In that emotional Dec. 22 phone conversation, Tripp told her distraught young co-worker that she did not wish to lie if she was ever questioned about her knowledge of Lewinsky's affair with the president.

"I feel like I'm sticking a knife in your back, and I know that at the end of this, if I have to go forward, you will never speak to me again and I will lose a dear friend," Tripp said prophetically.

Tripp's admission cannot be used against her by Maryland prosecutors because her testimony was given under Starr's grant of immunity, said her lawyer Anthony Zaccagnini.

If Tripp is charged with breaking the wire-tapping law in Maryland, Zaccagnini said, she could argue that her action was justified because she was being solicited to commit perjury and participate in a plan to obstruct justice.

The three fat volumes put on sale by the Government Printing Office ($92 a set) include roughly 1,000 pages of tape transcripts, grand jury testimony and other information provided by Tripp. They represent the last release of material before an expected vote next week to open a formal impeachment inquiry of Clinton by the House Judiciary Committee.

Among the highlights is grand jury testimony by Clinton's secretary, Betty Currie, and his friend Vernon Jordan, which provide fresh glimpses into the anguished president's actions as news of his relationship with Lewinsky began to break in January.

Another of those who spoke with the president in those hours, political consultant Dick Morris, conducted a private poll for Clinton that compared public reaction to the president's illicit sexual activity with its view of President John F. Kennedy's adultery.

Word from the White House

Yesterday Clinton, on a campaign swing through Ohio and Pennsylvania in advance of next month's congressional elections, had no immediate comment on the latest information. But a spokesman took the occasion to resume the White House attack on Starr.

Gregory Craig, a White House special counsel, claimed that Starr's office, "in its zeal to prop up its allegations against the president," had "intentionally omitted direct exculpatory testimony, paraphrased unambiguous statements to obscure their plain meaning and systematically resolved conflicting testimony in its favor."

Starr responded with a prepared statement that called the White House statement "disingenuous" and insisted his report did not omit exculpatory information.

"Significantly, the White House today did not question Ms. Lewinsky's credibility or the factual underpinnings of nine of the 11 possible grounds for impeachment, including the president's perjury in his civil deposition and before the grand jury," Starr said.

Lawmakers play down data

The response from several House Judiciary Committee members sought to play down the importance of the latest release.

"I don't think it contributes much," said Rep. Charles T. Canady, a Florida Republican. "The fundamental facts were set forth in the independent counsel report."

Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, a committee Democrat, said: "Nothing released today has any relevance whatsoever of whether our constitutional system has been undercut" by Clinton's actions.

But Republican Rep. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas pointed to Currie's testimony about retrieving gifts that Clinton gave Lewinsky, which had been subpoenaed in the Paula Corbin Jones sexual-misconduct suit.

"Would a personal assistant to the president of the United States put gifts under subpoena under a bed on her own?" asked Hutchinson, a former prosecutor.

Still to be made public are dozens of hours of audiotapes of Tripp's phone conversations with Lewinsky, secretly recorded on device in Tripp's Howard County home. But transcripts of 29 tapes were published yesterday.

In them Tripp, described in one FBI interview as "sort of a surrogate mother to Lewinsky," emerges as a manipulator, coolly interspersing questions about Clinton with social chitchat and compliments about her young friend's appearance.

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