Tripp Details the Basis for Her Allegations
Ending weeks of silence, former White House aide Linda Tripp laid out the basis for her allegations of sexual impropriety and possible perjury against President Clinton, saying Friday that former intern Monica S. Lewinsky “described every detail of the relationship during hundreds of hours of conversations.”
In a written statement defending her motives and attacking her critics, Tripp said she had also “seen numerous gifts they exchanged and heard several of her tapes of him.”
Tripp also asserted that she was at Lewinsky’s apartment when she received a late-night telephone call her friend later said was from the president.
But Lewinsky’s attorney William Ginsburg disputed some of Tripp’s contentions Friday as well as other details that have been attributed to tapes that Tripp secretly made of conversations with his client.
In an interview with ABC’s “20/20,” Ginsburg denied reports that Clinton once gave Lewinsky a dress, “unless you consider a long T-shirt a dress.” And he downplayed gifts Clinton gave her as “small and inconsequential. There has never been a gift that frankly you couldn’t buy in the White House souvenir shop.”
But even as he attempted to cast doubt on Tripp’s account of the president’s relationship with Lewinsky, Ginsburg said that Clinton and Lewinsky had spoken on the telephone at least several times. He characterized those calls as “of the ‘Hi, hello, how are you, fine’ variety. They were few and far between, and, as far as I know, they were in no way fraught with sexual innuendo.”
Regarding Tripp’s statement, the attorney earlier had said, “Sometimes people don’t always tell the truth; sometimes there are exaggerations.”
Tripp became the young woman’s confidant when they worked together at the White House and later at the Pentagon. She secretly recorded about 20 hours of their conversations and delivered the tapes to independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, triggering the allegations that have engulfed Lewinsky and the Clinton presidency.
Yet in her statement, Tripp described Lewinsky as a “bright, caring, generous soul” and declared: “She was not a stalker; she was invited. She did not embellish; the truth is sensational enough.”
Clinton has denied having a sexual relationship with Lewinsky.
Tripp’s statement, a carefully crafted amalgam of allegations, self-justifying rhetoric and elbow-in-the-eye ripostes to her White House critics, could do at least three things:
* Provide glimpses of the web of evidence Starr’s prosecutors are striving to knit around the president as, one by one, they call members of the White House staff and other Clinton associates before the grand jury.
* Bolster Tripp’s credibility at a time when critics have portrayed her as a self-seeking political zealot prepared to sell out a friend for the sake of a future book contract.
“I struggled long and hard before contacting the prosecutor,” she said. “The allegations involved immensely powerful and important people. I was facing substantial risk of losing everything I have aspired to during my 18-year civil service career,” she said, but “my responsibility was to serve and support the institution of the presidency rather than its particular incumbent or party.”
* Deliver a series of counterpunches to a White House that only a week ago was reeling but now has fought its way back, seemingly cheered on by a solid majority of the public.
“Because I have chosen the path of truth, I have been vilified by spokesmen for the administration I proudly serve as a political appointee,” Tripp declared, accusing Clinton’s supporters of “vicious personal attacks.”
Meanwhile, on another front, U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright ruled in Little Rock, Ark., that Secret Service records and testimony by agents will be excluded from the Paula Corbin Jones sexual-harassment lawsuit against Clinton. The ruling was an extension of Wright’s decision Thursday to exclude the Lewinsky matter from the Jones case because it was not vital to the lawsuit and pursuing it could delay the trial, now scheduled to begin May 27.
However, government officials and other experts said they thought Wright’s decision would have no effect on whether the Secret Service will provide evidence to Starr in his criminal investigation, which poses a much more serious threat to the president.
Lawyer to Seek Grand Jury Dismissal
Also on Friday, Ginsburg said he will soon file a motion in federal court to “dismiss the Lewinsky grand jury.” Ginsburg said he expects that lawyers for Clinton will do the same.
Legal analysts said that, since Starr was given permission to expand his inquiry by a panel of three federal judges, the court is unlikely to grant such a motion--especially not at such an early stage of the investigation.
Tripp’s assertions in her statement Friday fall short of the kind of solid legal evidence needed to clinch a criminal case against the president.
For example, although she says she was present during a late night call from Clinton, a source close to the matter says Tripp was staying overnight in Lewinsky’s apartment and did not hear much. Tripp “was sleeping in a guest room, as she frequently did, and could hear the phone ring,” the source said. The next morning, the source said, Lewinsky told her that the caller was the president.
Messages Reportedly From Phone Machine
Similarly, the tapes of Clinton’s voice Tripp said she heard are understood to be messages from Lewinsky’s answering machine. The messages are innocuous, the source said. “They are things like, ‘I wish you were there at home so I could talk to you.’ ”
The source said Lewinsky once brought the phone machine tapes to the Pentagon, where the two women worked then, and played them for Tripp. “She wanted to discuss them with Linda, to let her hear his tone of voice,” the source said. “It was like she was telling Linda, ‘Now do you believe me?’ ”
It is not known what became of the tapes, or if they still exist. However, the source said, “Monica keeps things. She has a tendency to keep things.”
Tripp on Friday also said that “I have also seen numerous gifts they exchanged and heard several of her tapes of him.”
The presidential gifts are believed to include T-shirts and a book of Walt Whitman poetry in which Clinton allegedly inscribed his best wishes to Lewinsky.
Tripp, in her Friday statement, also described hearing other angry phone conversations with Lewinsky related to her relationship with the president. It remained unclear with whom Lewinsky was speaking.
Tripp said she presented Starr with the secret tapes and other material because “I had confidence in his fairness, thoroughness and integrity, based on my experience during previous investigations.”
Tripp previously had been questioned by prosecutors about other Clinton problems, including Whitewater, the suicide of Deputy White House Counsel Vincent Foster and irregularities in the White House travel office.
She said she originally was going to use her tapes of conversations with Lewinsky, and other materials, for a book detailing life inside the White House, similar to a bestseller by former FBI Agent Gary Aldrich.
Tripp said a “trusted friend” put her in touch with Lucianne S. Goldberg, a New York literary agent, but they later clashed over what kind of book there might be.
“I withdrew from this project shortly thereafter because of disagreements over style and format, and because of potential risk to my job,” Tripp said.
Though it was her decision to make secret tape recordings of her friend’s conversations and take them to a book agent and to Starr, Tripp said, “As a parent of children close to Monica’s age, I felt and continue to feel horror at the abuse of power and emotional anguish she has endured over a two-year period.”
Ex-White House Aide Testifies
Tripp’s statement came as former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Evelyn Lieberman testified before the grand jury. Lieberman was instrumental in moving Lewinsky from the White House to a position in the Pentagon public affairs office.
Prosecutors are believed to have questioned Lieberman about what led to the former intern’s transfer. Sources close to Lieberman have said she had moved Lewinsky only because of unhappiness with her job performance.
“I want to make one thing perfectly clear,” Lieberman said after her appearance before the grand jury: “I know of no improper relationship between the president and Monica Lewinsky or anyone else for that matter.”
Meanwhile, immunity talks between Starr and Lewinsky’s lawyers remained at an impasse.
Ginsburg, who began representing Lewinsky the night she was first questioned by investigators, said the two sides are no longer even exchanging phone calls. Ginsburg said that he believes Starr’s staff is continuing to prepare perjury-related charges against his client.
“She’s a target and I’m treating her like a target,” Ginsburg said. “If they tell me she’s not a target, then I’ll go home. . . . They [Starr’s prosecutors] know where to find me.”
In an interview, Ginsburg offered no corroboration for two key contentions put forth in Tripp’s statement. For instance:
Did Lewinsky play for Tripp recordings that showed Clinton had called for Lewinsky?
“I don’t know of any tapes,” Ginsburg said. “And I don’t know that she ever did that.”
Did Lewinsky speak with Clinton by phone, in Tripp’s presence?
“I have no indication at all that she was ever present during any conversations between my client and the president,” Ginsburg said.
Ginsburg said Lewinsky will come forward with her story publicly. But not now.
“There will come a time when she’ll tell her story,” Ginsburg said. “But I’m not going to expose Monica to a hungry press, at the height of a frenzy. . . . I don’t think that feeding a prurient, soapy story does my client any good, or frankly the country any good.”
Regarding Tripp’s statement, he said, “Sometimes people don’t always tell the truth, sometimes there are exaggerations.”
Times staff writers David Lauter, Robert L. Jackson and Ronald J. Ostrow contributed to this story.