Agent says Tripp innocent in taping 'I take all the blame,' Goldberg testifies of Lewinsky recordings

November 13, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth and Del Quentin Wilber | Dana Hedgpeth and Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Attracting a throng of reporters and photographers to Ellicott City, New York literary agent Lucianne Goldberg testified for 1 1/2 hours yesterday before a Howard County grand jury, saying later she had turned over tapes of conversations involving her friend Linda R. Tripp.

Goldberg, the highest-profile witness to appear before the grand jury investigating allegations that Tripp broke state wiretap law, insisted to reporters that "Linda did nothing illegal" in taping former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Two of the tapes Goldberg said she turned over were of conversations she said she had with Tripp in 1997; two others were copies of tapes she said Tripp made of conversations with Lewinsky.

In the two Tripp-Lewinsky tapes, Goldberg said, there is talk of "a lot of pain, a lot of anguish" and "a lot of shopping."

Unlike witnesses who have slipped in quietly, Goldberg seemed to enjoy the attention of the crowd, which included a self-described Lewinsky scandal "groupie" from Jessup.

"Isn't this a great entourage," Goldberg said, laughing, as she walked to the courthouse, escorted by several county sheriff's deputies and her son, Jonah Goldberg, who also testified. She was dressed all in black, wore dark sunglasses and carried a leather bag.

Asked whether she had tapes with her, she pointed to the bag and said: "Right here."

Goldberg, as she has done before, told reporters she advised Tripp that it was legal to tape conversations.

"I told her it wasn't illegal. I take all the blame," said Goldberg, explaining that an associate incorrectly informed her of Maryland law, which bars taping without consent.

Goldberg said she duplicated tapes of five or six conversations in which Tripp and Lewinsky discuss the former intern's relationship with President Clinton.

According to Goldberg, independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's office gave her permission to copy the Tripp-Lewinsky tapes, which Tripp gave to her after they met with Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff on Oct. 6, 1997.

Goldberg said she gave prosecutors copies of two tapes of conversations she had with Tripp in September 1997 in which they discussed the state's wiretapping law. Goldberg said Tripp did not know she was taping those conversations from her New York home. In New York, it is legal to tape-record without both parties' consent.

At Goldberg's urging, Tripp bought a recording device from the RadioShack store in the Mall in Columbia to "protect herself against what Monica was asking her to do, which was lie under oath," Goldberg said. Store employees have testified before the grand jury that Tripp was advised at the time of her purchase that it is illegal in Maryland to tape conversations without the other person's consent.

In a morning cigarette break with Sheriff Michael A. Chiuchiolo and some of his deputies, Goldberg said jokingly that she had difficulty finding an open coffee shop on Ellicott City's Main Street. Goldberg told reporters she had to "schlep all the way down here" with her son, Jonah, who is a contributing editor at the National Review.

Jonah Goldberg, who testified for about a half-hour, said he talked mostly about "the nature of my conversations with Linda Tripp and the nature of the conversations with my mother."

He was subpoenaed because he was present last year when his mother, Tripp and Isikoff discussed the tapes in his Washington apartment.

About 12: 15 p.m., as Jonah Goldberg left the courthouse beside his mother, he said the case against Tripp was "bogus."

"I'm the cute little sidekick of the vast right-wing conspiracy," he said. When asked if he thought the investigation was politically motivated, his mother jumped in and said, "Yeah, and so are we."

Goldberg and Tripp became friends in 1996 when Tripp considered writing a book about the Clinton White House. But Tripp changed her mind about the deal, Goldberg said. "If there had been a book, you'd be standing here with it in your hands. There never was a book."

Goldberg joked with reporters when asked if she planned to "cash in" on the scandal. "Where do you cash in? I'd be at that window right now," she said.

The book deal between Goldberg and Tripp has fallen through, she said.Tripp, who lives in Columbia, has told a federal grand jury that she knew she violated state law by recording telephone conversations with Lewinsky, a former co-worker. But her testimony was made under a grant of immunity from Starr, meaning the statement can't be used against her in the Maryland investigation, according to prosecutors.

State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli is seeking evidence that

Tripp knew the secret taping was illegal before she began it in September 1997.

Montanarelli refused yesterday to talk about the investigation, saying it would violate the law. Lucianne Goldberg "was very gracious to come down here in her busy schedule," he said as he left the courthouse. "I'm very pleased with what came out today."

Pub Date: 11/13/98

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