Before Tripp revealed affair, links between lawyers tipped Starr office Attorney associated with Jones suit informed friend on counsel's staff

October 04, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- In his impeachment report to Congress, Kenneth W. Starr said he was first informed about President Clinton's affair with a White House intern by a Pentagon employee, Linda R. Tripp, who called the Whitewater independent counsel's office on Jan. 12.

What the report does not disclose is that the independent counsel's office had already been tipped off by a lawyer with connections to the Paula Corbin Jones sexual-misconduct lawsuit against Clinton.

At least a week before Tripp's call, Jerome M. Marcus, a Philadelphia lawyer with ties to the Jones legal team, informed a law school friend in Starr's office of the accusations related to Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky, lawyers familiar with Starr's inquiry said yesterday.

The tip in early January indicates that the independent counsel's office could have been developing a strategy to persuade the Justice Department to expand the scope of the stalled Whitewater inquiry before the call from Tripp.

For months, Clinton's lawyers and political advisers have complained that lawyers sympathetic to Jones' case had fed information to Starr in hopes of prompting a criminal inquiry about the president and elevating the importance of Jones' lawsuit.

After the scandal became public later in January, Hillary Rodham Clinton claimed that there was "a vast, right-wing conspiracy" determined to destroy her husband.

According to people familiar with the discussions, the role of go-between played by a group of conservative lawyers with ties to the Jones case created an early and previously undisclosed back channel between Starr's office and Tripp.

Marcus is one of a group of conservative lawyers who assisted the Jones legal team and then secretly helped Tripp find a lawyer and bring her accusations to Starr's attention, according to lawyers familiar with their actions.

Marcus, a partner with the law firm of Berger & Montague in Philadelphia, did not respond to messages left at his office. Neither would Starr's office confirm any involvement by Marcus.

"A person in our office did get a heads-up call that some information may be coming or may be out there," said Charles Bakaly, a spokesman for Starr. "And this person was instructed that we accept information through the front door, and that the ZTC appropriate person to contact is Jackie Bennett, the Washington deputy."

Responding to White House charges that the investigation of Clinton is the product of a conservative conspiracy, Bakaly said, "We believe these kinds of allegations that something was improper or inappropriate are merely efforts to divert attention from the facts and evidence that was gathered by this office."

Besides Marcus, the group of lawyers that helped Tripp included Richard W. Porter, a law partner of Starr's at the Chicago firm of Kirkland & Ellis, and George T. Conway III, a partner at Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz in New York.

The three, all members of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization whose events have been attended by Starr, helped Tripp find a new lawyer, James A. Moody, also a member of the Federalist Society.

They then worked together, in secret deliberations with Tripp's confidante Lucianne Goldberg, a New York literary agent, to bring Tripp's tapes and story to Starr.

Goldberg said yesterday that she had told these lawyers and several other friends who are politically conservative about Tripp's accusations in late December and early January.

"Who else would I go to to get involved in something like this?" Goldberg asked. "The people who have the most axes to grind."

The three lawyers who formed a secret bridge between Tripp and Starr share involvement in the Jones case, membership in conservative groups and friendships, some of which extended into Starr's office.

Pub Date: 10/04/98

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