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Clinton-Lewinsky Scandal Is Trail of Beltway Desires, Fulfilled and Denied

Retrospective: Tripp's wish for a tell-all book deal began a chain of events that led to what has become a nine-month ordeal for the president and the nation.

October 04, 1998|RICHARD A. SERRANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Linda Tripp wanted a book deal. Kathleen Willey wanted a job. Bruce R. Lindsey hoped to protect his boss. And Monica S. Lewinsky was after romance.

None of them got what they wanted.

Tripp's book proposal exposing alleged shenanigans inside the Clinton White House fell through. Willey worked for a while for the administration but eventually left embittered over an encounter outside the Oval Office.

Lindsey, the president's close advisor, could not in the end save Clinton from his detractors--or himself. And Lewinsky ultimately became the star witness against the man she said she had loved.

From start to finish, this seemingly unconnected chain of events is what cornered Clinton into telling independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's grand jury and the nation that he had lied in the past and that he had indeed carried on an "inappropriate relationship" with Lewinsky.

And by Saturday, almost nine months after Starr began investigating the trail that led from Tripp to Lewinsky to Clinton and others, the House Judiciary Committee was completing its preparations for hearings on what is likely to be a broad and lengthy impeachment inquiry of the president.

Spokesman Again Denounces Release

At the White House, meanwhile, a spokesman again denounced Friday's release of Starr's documents and the president and his lawyers continued to jockey for an eleventh-hour financial settlement in the civil lawsuit that still undergirds the whole Clinton-Lewinsky sex-and-perjury scandal: the Paula Corbin Jones sexual harassment lawsuit.

Jones has dropped her demand for an apology from Clinton. The president has raised his settlement offer from half a million dollars to $700,000, still less than her $1-million request. The lawsuit was dismissed by an Arkansas federal judge earlier this year, but Jones' lawyers are attempting to get it reinstated.

After the release of six volumes of Starr material containing about 8,000 pages of testimony and other evidence, however, it is the story of the Tripp book proposal and how it ultimately crossed paths with Lewinsky's love interest in Clinton that provides a fresh look into how a fateful set of coincidences has jeopardized this presidency.

In her lawsuit, filed in 1994, Jones alleges that Clinton, then governor of Arkansas, had sexually confronted her in a Little Rock, Ark., hotel room in March 1991. But his real troubles began in the summer of 1996, when Tripp, a former Bush White House employee then working at the Pentagon, met New York literary agent and former Nixon campaign aide Lucianne Goldberg.

The two women visited for a couple of hours in the Washington home of Goldberg's son, Jonah, and Tripp brought some assorted "documents and notes" to help fill in her plan for a tell-all book about irregularities inside the Clinton White House.

No 'Warm and Fuzzy' Portrait

Goldberg later told Starr's office that Tripp preferred the "style" of the Bush White House over that of his successor. The agent added: "Tripp did not provide a warm and fuzzy portrait of the Clinton administration."

A ghost writer was brought in to work up Tripp's book proposal. Buried in the proposal was a passage about two women that the author would claim "were involved sexually" with Clinton. One was a White House intern who was not Lewinsky. The other was Willey.

But before Goldberg could sell the book proposal, Tripp called and said that she had decided to abandon the project. "Tripp advised that she thought publishing such a book was too big a risk and Tripp was afraid she would lose her job," Goldberg told Starr's investigators.

Fourteen months passed. Tripp and Goldberg talked again. It was the fall of 1997 and they had three phone conversations. According to Goldberg, Tripp told her that a Newsweek magazine reporter was asking her what she knew about the incident between Willey and Clinton.

Tripp told Goldberg that there was another woman now--Lewinsky, who was no longer in the White House but was working with Tripp at the Pentagon--who had been involved with Clinton.

According to a Starr office summary: "Goldberg told Tripp to tape the telephone conversations with the young woman [Lewinsky] from the Pentagon."

"Tripp did not want to tape the calls as she thought it was 'sleazy,' " Goldberg said.

But Tripp, because of the unflattering testimony about White House officials that she gave to a congressional committee investigating the mysterious death of Deputy White House Counsel Vincent Foster, was worried that she was "being betrayed" by the Clinton administration. She wanted protection for herself, she said.

So she agreed to begin taping Lewinsky when Goldberg, according to the summary, warned her about one other thing: that the Clinton "machine would destroy Tripp unless Tripp had irrevocable proof."

Tripp believed that she already had plenty of evidence about Willey.

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