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THE CLINTON INVESTIGATION

Tripp Counseled Intern on Clinton Affair, Tapes Show

Scandal: Lewinsky confidant coached her on saving evidence, making job demands. Documents released by House panel also detail testimony of several witnesses.

October 03, 1998|RICHARD A. SERRANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The secret tape-recordings that triggered the sex scandal investigation of President Clinton show that Linda Tripp actively counseled Monica S. Lewinsky on her illicit relationship with the president and coached her on saving evidence and making job demands on Clinton.

Transcripts of the tape-recordings that Tripp, a Pentagon employee, made of her telephone calls with Lewinsky were released Friday by the House Judiciary Committee from the voluminous files of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's nine-month investigation of the president.

The 4,610 pages of investigative documents were the third and final group to be made public before the House committee begins considering whether to initiate an impeachment inquiry against Clinton.

The new papers, covering the testimony of more than a score of secondary witnesses in the investigation, do not appear to alter seriously the essence of Clinton's legal and political predicament: that he engaged in an "inappropriate relationship" with Lewinsky but denied it under oath.

But the long-awaited release of the tapes does appear to boost Clinton's defense that his enemies--in this case, Tripp--looked for opportunities to harm him and damage his presidency. After learning about the relationship from Lewinsky, Tripp, whose unhappy tenure at the Clinton White House ended in 1994, secretly taped the young woman's confidences and turned them over to Starr in January.

At the White House, Special Counsel Gregory Craig accused Starr of using information from people like Tripp to mount "a pattern of evidentiary manipulation and misdirection" to drive Clinton from office.

But the tapes also damage the credibility of many White House aides and Clinton confidants, even as Tripp lays out numerous allegations that apparently remain unsubstantiated by other testimony and evidence gathered by Starr.

On Monday, the Judiciary Committee will begin debating whether to open a formal inquiry into Clinton's possible impeachment on charges that he committed perjury or obstructed justice in attempting to cover up his affair with Lewinsky. The full House takes up that proposal at week's end.

Rep. John T. Doolittle of Rocklin, Calif., said he and other Republican House members will push on toward impeachment, unconcerned about any public backlash over the release of yet more salacious documents.

"It's a volatile situation," he said. "You've got people who voted for Clinton in denial. . . . This is something they don't want to think about."

The Tripp material raises questions about the grounds of Starr's investigation because Tripp's intent in secretly recording Lewinsky is suspect and because Lewinsky has testified that much of what she told Tripp was untrue.

Tripp's Version Is Detailed

According to Tripp:

* Kathleen E. Willey, a former White House volunteer who has said publicly that Clinton fondled her in his study outside the Oval Office, wore provocative clothing in an attempt to lure the president into a sexual relationship.

"I am not a big advocate of Kathleen because . . . she was claiming sexual harassment when it clearly wasn't," Tripp says in a recorded phone conversation. "She should have kept her mouth shut because she was as guilty as he was."

* Clinton seemed "paranoid" in his efforts to either get Lewinsky rehired at the White House or help her find a new job through his friends and contacts in the private sector.

* Clinton told Lewinsky and Willey that they should always "deny, deny, deny" if asked about having a sexual relationship with the president, and his confidant, Vernon E. Jordan Jr., advised Lewinsky that "you will not go to jail for perjury in a civil suit," such as the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit against the president.

"What if someone else knows?" Tripp said Jordan told Lewinsky. "It's that person's word against yours."

In other revelations, presidential secretary Betty Currie testified that she knew that her boss and Lewinsky were carrying on a special relationship, but she did not know whether it was sexual.

"I didn't want to know anything or be able to say I know anything," she told the grand jury.

And some Secret Service agents said Lewinsky, known around the White House as a "clutch" or "stalker" of the president, was often pouty, snooty and arrogant.

"She was a bit of a pest," said Agent Brian Henderson. "No disrespect intended to her, but that's my opinion."

In her grand jury testimony and 23 debriefings with FBI agents and prosecutors, Tripp depicted herself as amazed that two of her friends, Willey and Lewinsky, would tell her such similar stories about the president.

"It was a sense of 'why me,' what are the odds, that two of them will tell me the same thing?" she said.

In both cases, Tripp contended, the women talked of going to great lengths to appear at presidential events wearing eye-catching clothing, of passing notes to Clinton and, eventually, of having a forceful, sometimes "violent" sexual encounter with him.

Tripp Was Angry With Administration

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