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Charge Puts Focus on Young Lewinsky

January 22, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Monica Lewinsky needed a mentor when the White House moved her across the river to the Pentagon. She sought out Linda Tripp. The girlish confidences that ensued landed both women _ at least one unwittingly _ in Wednesday’s headlines.

As allegations swirled about a reported affair with President Clinton and possible criminal cover-up, Ms. Lewinsky, 24, was said to be holed up in her mother’s apartment at the Watergate and seeking refuge behind an unlisted phone number.

Her job offer from cosmetic giant Revlon was abruptly withdrawn.

Ms. Lewinsky’s attorney described her as devastated. ``If the president of the United States did this _ and I’m not saying that he did _ I think he’s a misogynist,″ said William Ginsburg. ``If he didn’t, then (special prosecutor) Ken Starr and his crew have ravaged the life of a youngster.″

Ms. Lewinsky’s resume reads like thousands of White House interns before her: At 21, fresh out of college, she started work answering phones in the West Wing offices of Leon Panetta, then chief of staff. That unpaid internship led to a paid position in the Office of Legislative Affairs, handling letters from members of Congress, and sometimes ferrying mail to the Oval Office.

From there, Ms. Lewinsky’s story veers. She signed an affidavit last year denying any affair with Clinton. Attorneys litigating Paula Jones’ sexual harassment suit against Clinton have subpoenaed her to tell her story Friday under oath.

But according to taped conversations between Ms. Lewinsky and Tripp, as described by lawyers who have heard them, Ms. Lewinsky at some point in 1995 began a sexual relationship with Clinton after running into him on one of her routine trips to the Oval Office.

In April 1996, nervous Clinton aides had Ms. Lewinsky transferred to the Defense Department, with the promise that she could return to the White House after Clinton’s re-election was clinched, the lawyers said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

At the Pentagon, Ms. Lewinsky was secretary to spokesman Kenneth Bacon, at a starting salary of $30,658 that was later bumped to $32,736. A functionary without access to the inner circle, she was limited to taking phone messages and transcribing interviews.

She sought out Tripp, a White House aide and holdover from the Bush administration who was relocated to the Pentagon, and took the older woman into her confidence.

Those confidences _ details of the relationship with Clinton and discussions of whether she would be subpoenaed to testify in Jones’ suit _ were secretly recorded by Tripp and turned over to Starr, the independent counsel probing Clinton’s Whitewater deals, the lawyers said.

Tripp’s alleged treachery had a precedent. In 1995, her Whitewater testimony on the suicide of White House lawyer Vincent Foster, gained her a reputation at the White House as a ``loose cannon″ for contradicting statements by a fellow office worker.

And last summer, Tripp was a source for an article in Newsweek magazine on an alleged sexual encounter between Clinton and former White House employee Kathleen Willey.

Two sources familiar with Tripp’s involvement in the Foster and Willey matters said Wednesday that Tripp spoke of approaching a New York literary agent to negotiate a book deal.

Ms. Lewinsky, by contrast, is described by friends and associates as an ingenue _ a chatty, sweet-faced, pudgy brunette. A Beverly Hills doctor’s daughter, she baby-sat for pocket money at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore., shared a house with several roommates, and invited elderly neighbors to backyard barbecues.

Never adept at typing, she was described as being notoriously slow in preparing transcripts of Bacon’s interviews. She held a ``Top Secret″ clearance that officials described as routine _ necessary even to carry classified documents from one office to another.

``Nothing in my observation of Monica or knowledge about her would give me any evidence that these allegations are correct,″ Bacon said in an interview Wednesday in Seoul, South Korea, where he was with Defense Secretary William Cohen.

Bacon said he hired Ms. Lewinsky after asking the Defense Department and White House personnel offices for recommendations.

``This is standard in a situation like this when you’re filling a political slot,″ he said. ``The White House sent over, I believe, several names, one of whom was Monica’s. They didn’t make a big push for Monica, but her name came over. I interviewed four people for the job _ three from within the Pentagon, one from without _ and hired Monica.″

Ms. Lewinsky’s last day of work at the Pentagon was the day before Christmas. ``She said she wanted to move to New York, and that she decided that she felt in the long run she would be more comfortable in corporate public relations,″ Bacon said.

Ms. Lewinsky interviewed last fall with Revlon and was offered a public relations post. The cosmetics company released a statement Wednesday saying the offer was withdrawn ``in light of today’s events.″

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