The woman who taped Monica Lewinsky’s conversations about an alleged affair with President Clinton said Friday she was present at a late-night phone call between the two.
Linda Tripp, a central figure in obstruction of justice and perjury investigations of Clinton and Lewinsky, said she went to an independent counsel because of these possible crimes related to the Paula Jones sexual misconduct trial.
“I was being solicited to participate in a plan to conceal and cover up the true nature of the relationship between Monica Lewinsky and President Clinton,” Tripp said in a written statement, her first public comment since she helped bring the Lewinsky allegations to light.
Clinton has denied any sexual relationship with Lewinsky, and the White House had no comment about the case.
In other developments Friday:
The federal judge in the Jones case granted a Secret Service request to quash subpoenas for agents from Jones’ lawyers. The agency is expected to oppose similar subpoenas in the Clinton-Lewinsky matter.
“The Secret Service has long maintained the need for a confidential relationship with the people we protect,” spokesman Arnette Heintze said.
An administration witness emerged from the grand jury inquiry being run by independent counsel Kenneth Starr and denounced it as “Big Brother at its worst.” The witness, Bob Weiner, a spokesman for the president’s drug control policy office, accused prosecutors of trying to intimidate him because he had called Maryland Democratic officials and urged them to question whether Tripp might have violated wire-tap laws in tape-recording Lewinsky without her permission.
“We have just experienced the witch hunt and the partisanship that more and more of the American people resent about this case,” said Weiner.
Former White House deputy chief of staff Evelyn Lieberman also appeared before the grand jury. She has said she had Lewinsky transferred out of the White House in April 1996 because of concerns that the intern was immature and not doing her job effectively.
“I know of no improper relationship between the president and Monica Lewinsky, or anyone else for that matter,” Lieberman said outside the courthouse.
Polls showed public support for Clinton at record highs. In a CBS survey, the president’s job approval rating reached 73 percent, up 14 points from a week ago. In a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll, 77 percent predicted Clinton will complete his second term. That group was divided almost evenly between those who believed his denials of involvement with Lewinsky and those who didn’t.
CBS News reported that the FBI had found no evidence of semen on any of the clothes taken from Lewinsky’s apartment.
Breaking her silence on the Clinton investigation, Tripp said that Lewinsky described her relationship with Clinton in detail, “during hundreds of hours of conversations over the past 15 months.”
“In addition, I was present when she received a late-night phone call from the president,” Tripp said. “I have also seen numerous gifts they exchanged and heard several of her tapes of him.”
In an interview on the ABC News program “20/20,” Lewinsky attorney William Ginsburg said that to his knowledge no one has ever overheard a conversation between his client and the president.
Tripp, a former White House employee in the Bush and Clinton administrations, taped as many as 20 hours of conversations between herself and Lewinsky. In reported transcripts of those conversations, Lewinsky alleged an affair with Clinton and subsequent efforts by Clinton to secure her silence about the relationship. Clinton has denied that he ever asked anyone to lie under oath.
In a Jan. 13 conversation taped with Starr’s authorization, Lewinsky asked Tripp to mislead attorneys in Jones’ suit about her relationship with the president, according to court records.
Tripp’s statement on Friday did not provide specific information about her relationship with Lewinsky. But she did deny that she was part of a conspiracy against Clinton, as first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton charged this week.
Tripp also discussed her friendship with New York City literary agent Lucianne Goldberg, a self-described Clinton enemy who first urged Tripp to tape conversations with Lewinsky.
Goldberg is a friend, Tripp said, but they are not engaged in an anti-Clinton plot as the president’s allies assert.
“I want to emphasize that whatever political agenda Goldberg may have is not mine,” Tripp said. “I went to her as a friend in the fall of 1997 for advice and counsel; she did not seek me out.”
As for why she taped Lewinsky, Tripp cited comments by Clinton lawyer Robert S. Bennett challenging her veracity after she told Jones’ lawyers about an alleged incident involving Clinton and another woman.
Tripp said she hesitated before contacting Starr, citing “a general climate of threats, intimidation, McCarthyistic tactics, and guilt by association.”
She also attacked what she called efforts to discredit Lewinsky. The former intern, Tripp said, is “a bright, caring, generous soul … who has made poor choices.”
“She was not a stalker, she was invited,” Tripp said. “She did not embellish, the truth is sensational enough.”
In her Secret Service ruling on Friday, Judge Wright reiterated her position that the Lewinsky evidence, though relevant to Jones’ lawsuit, is not essential to the civil case.
The Little Rock, Ark., judge also said legal scrutiny might impair the agency in its job: guarding the president and his family.