Odyssey goes from friendship to betrayal Lewinsky and Tripp: infatuation matched by indignation

'We are on opposite sides'

October 04, 1998|By Susan Baer and Ellen Gamerman | Susan Baer and Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Linda R. Tripp entered the Ritz-Carlton hotel near the Pentagon last Jan. 13 and wondered to herself: "Is everyone looking? Does anyone know?"

In handwritten diary-like notes to herself, she recalled the day she arranged to meet Monica Lewinsky at the hotel, nervous about the body wire attached to her inner thigh that would secretly record their conversations. "Maybe this will work," she scribbled. "Feeling low -- guilt -- fear -- overriding emotion -- fear, 00 however.

"I am wired."

So began the final chapter of the strange odyssey of the nearly two-year friendship between Lewinsky and Tripp, one that began with shared confidences about everything from diets and hair to perjury and subpoenas and ended with explosive fights, desperate attempts at self-preservation and a final act of betrayal.

Through testimony, notes, e-mails and transcripts of taped phone conversations released Friday, Tripp, 48, who is nearly twice Lewinsky's age, emerges as a woman with complicated motives who was propelled by a palpable disgust for Clinton's behavior.

Tripp, a Columbia resident who retains a $90,000-a-year Pentagon job, nearly lived the affair alongside the former White House intern while scheming to bring President Clinton's sexual misdeeds to public light.

At times, she encouraged Lewinsky in the liaison -- even fueling Lewinsky's fantasy of a future life with Clinton -- and forged a bond of trust.

"You're so good at it. No wonder he likes phone sex with you," Tripp told Lewinsky, encouraging her to send Clinton a personalized taped message. "You're just like a little Marilyn Monroe vixen."

Other times, Tripp berated and mocked Lewinsky, told her she was a "hysterical baboon" whose obsession with the president "nauseated" her.

Though Lewinsky implored Tripp to guard her confidences -- and even to lie if necessary -- Tripp, increasingly irate over an affair she deemed an "unconscionable" abuse of presidential power, became determined to expose the secrets.

Eventually, Tripp decided it was her duty to inform both independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr and lawyers for Paula Corbin Jones, who was pursuing a sexual misconduct case against the president, of everything she knew about her friend's entanglement at the White House.

She gave investigators more than her word. She gave them 29 tapes of intimate phone conversations with Lewinsky that she had begun secretly recording last October as an "insurance policy."

"There was no way Monica was going to remove herself from what I considered to be an extremely unhealthy relationship," Tripp told the grand jury, explaining her aim to expose the affair. "Nothing good was going to come of this for Monica."

Two days after the "wired lunch" in which federal investigators first heard Lewinsky's words and worries live, Tripp reflected on her shattered relationship with her former colleague, seeming to justify to herself the extraordinary actions she had just taken.

"She sounds strange," Tripp wrote in notes to herself after a call from Lewinsky. "This is no longer a friend but a manipulator. I feel the same way. We are on opposite sides. Guilt is still there, but lessening. Her decision to lie is hers alone."

The tape is running

In the recorded phone conversations from October 1997 to January 1998, Tripp revealed little of substance about herself. Instead, Lewinsky expressed her insecurities and despair over her love for Clinton, while Tripp alternated the occasional withering remark ("He's never been attracted to you because you use big words") with comfort and assurance.

"You're a very unusual person," Tripp told Lewinsky. "Most people going through what you've gone through would have said, 'Hey, [expletive] you and the horse you rode in on and let me call the National Enquirer.' "

At one point, with considerable sangfroid, Tripp kept calm as Lewinsky noticed noise on the phone line. "You know what's really weird? I keep hearing these double clicks," Lewinsky said. "That's my gum," Tripp responded.

Tripp, as counselor to Lewinsky, edited her love letters to the president and urged her to press Clinton for a high-paying job through his friend Vernon Jordan. The more Tripp heard of the affair, the more she appeared to boil with moral indignation.

"I hate what he's done to you," Tripp told Lewinsky. "I hate what I've had to watch."

The blue dress

Transcripts and documents show that Tripp also tried to collect evidence to delineate the full scope of the Lewinsky-Clinton relationship. In her first interview with the FBI, on Jan. 12, Tripp disclosed that Lewinsky had a blue dress stained with Clinton's semen and that Lewinsky "won't have the dress dry-cleaned to this day."

But in their calls, it is clear that Tripp persuaded Lewinsky not to have the dress dry-cleaned. "I would rather you had that in your possession if you need it years from now," Tripp says.

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