Tripp: Taping a Relationship
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The phone call came to Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s office on Jan. 12, a Monday evening. The caller did not identify herself, but prosecutors learned quickly enough.
She was Linda Tripp and she was soon to become Starr’s star informant in an investigation that now confronts President Clinton with possible impeachment.
By 11:45 that night, prosecutor Jackie Bennett was on the phone with Mrs. Tripp, who had worked at the White House under both Presidents Bush and Clinton and now had established a relationship with Monica Lewinsky _ a relationship so close, so ``sisterly,″ as Mrs. Tripp put it, that Ms. Lewinsky had confided to her about having an affair with the president.
The three bulky volumes of tape transcripts, testimony and legal documents made public Friday by the House Judiciary Committee cast Mrs. Tripp as the essential informant in Starr’s inquiry. In all, she was interviewed at his offices 23 times between February and June, and she testified to the grand jury in nine separate appearances.
The White House on Friday accused Starr of playing down what it said was Tripp’s ``troubling role″ in the case.
``Miss Tripp’s repeated effort to encourage behavior that the independent counsel later suggests is central to his case against the president raised disturbing questions about her role in this entire affair,″ said attorney Greg Craig, head of Clinton’s anti-impeachment team. Craig said it was Mrs. Tripp who encouraged Ms. Lewinsky to demand a job in exchange for denying the affair, and Mrs. Tripp or Ms. Lewinsky _ not Clinton _ who suggested that Clinton friend Vernon Jordan help in the job hunt.
Mrs. Tripp’s low opinion of Clinton and her desire to see him exposed comes across clearly in the tape transcripts.
``I hate what he has done to you,″ Mrs. Tripp tells Ms. Lewinsky in one January conversation, making clear she has no desire to lie to protect Clinton. ``That schmuck had no business doing this to you. And so, to go in and lie like that makes me help the schmuck do it to another young girl.″
At another point, Mrs. Tripp says of Clinton, ``I wouldn’t mind seeing him, you know ... have to admit in public that he has a problem.″
Ms. Lewinsky is protective of the president.
``He has a problem,″ she concedes, ``and we the American people elected him, so let him do his stupid job, you know?″
In a separate call, Ms. Lewinsky, complaining about Clinton’s tendency to ignore her, says, ``I think he’s on drugs.″
Mrs. Tripp tries to draw her out: ``That’s not so far-fetched, you know.″ Lewinsky, however, does not take the bait.
The next day, Mrs. Tripp calls Lucianne Goldberg, the New York publisher who first encouraged Tripp to tape her conversations with Ms. Lewinsky.
``You know what she said on the tape last night to me?″ Tripp says, repeating Lewinsky’s remark.
``Wow. On tape _ you got it on tape?″ Goldberg exclaims, apparently unaware that she, too, was being taped.
``Yep,″ says Mrs. Tripp.
``Well, I tell you, that justifies everything. That son-of-a-(deleted),″ Goldberg says.
Mrs. Tripp then quotes Ms. Lewinsky as saying that Clinton tends to ``zone out,″ although in the transcript of the earlier conversation, it is Tripp who makes that remark. Mrs. Tripp says she kept prodding Ms. Lewinsky on the drug comment, ``Like I wanted to keep her, to keep talking.″
The exchange is precisely the example of the kind of coaching and prodding by Mrs. Tripp that the White House is likely to seize upon in questioning the motives of Clinton’s inquisitors.
Within 12 hours of the first phone interview with Starr’s deputy, Mrs. Tripp allowed FBI agents to outfit her with a recording device for a meeting at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Arlington, Va., with Ms. Lewinsky.
Later, Mrs. Tripp was in nearly constant contact with Starr’s investigators, calling them sometimes three or four times a day to report Ms. Lewinsky’s every move and phone call.
Plus, she had been taping her phone calls with Ms. Lewinsky for months.
In the early transcripts, apparently of calls taped in the fall of 1997, Ms. Lewinsky is upset about her stalled relationship with Clinton and inability to return to a job at the White House.
``The bottom line is you’re going to have to get out of town if this doesn’t pan out,″ Mrs. Tripp says.
Mrs. Tripp urges Ms. Lewinsky to press the White House for a government job, one in the $90,000-a-year range in New York, where Ms. Lewinsky is planning to move with her mother.
When Ms. Lewinsky reads Mrs. Tripp a letter she was about to send to Clinton asking for a salary between $47,000 and $56,000, Mrs. Tripp chides her.
``Oh, Monica, Monica, Monica. For people who are not even in any situation, they can do better,″ she says.
Through all the conversations, though, Ms. Lewinsky’s concern is less with her job prospects or legal situation than her relationship with Clinton.
``If he could just be nice to me. Why can’t he just say, ’Look, go enjoy your life, and in three years, we’ll get married,‴ Ms. Lewinsky says.
In a conversation early this year, Ms. Lewinsky tells Mrs. Tripp she’s not worried about having lied about her affair with Clinton in an affidavit signed Jan. 7 in the Paula Jones sex harassment lawsuit.
``I will not get in trouble because you know what? The story I’ve signed under _ under oath is what someone else is going to say under oath.″
``The big guy?″ Mrs. Tripp asks.
Ms. Lewinsky responds: ``So there’s two people ... that have said nothing happened.″