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Tripp says her deepest regret is the pain she caused Lewinsky; Pentagon worker says she betrayed friend to save her


WASHINGTON -- Linda R. Tripp, the woman whose secret tape recordings made her the reviled symbol of a double-crossing friend, says now that her deepest regret is the pain that she caused Monica Lewinsky.

In her first lengthy interview since the scandal began 13 months ago, Tripp said she betrayed Lewinsky to save the young woman from being abused by the president of the United States.

"As a mom, especially with a daughter close in age to Monica, I would hope some other mom would do for my daughter what I did for Monica, despite the fact that it looks horrible, that it looks like betrayal," Tripp said as she broke down in tears toward the end of a two-hour conversation here Wednesday.

Her interview with the New York Times was one in a series of media appearances she has scheduled in an attempt to rehabilitate her image. She will appear on NBC's "Today" show this morning and on CNN's "Larry King Live" show Monday night.

It might strain credulity that Tripp now portrays herself as Lewinsky's surrogate mother, a woman who had no choice but to teach some tough lessons to a wayward daughter, even if the methods were unorthodox. Her tone in the interview contrasted sharply with the Linda Tripp heard on her now-infamous audiotapes, where she seemed manipulative, pushing Lewinsky to demand high-powered help from the president's friend, Vernon Jordan, in finding a job and encouraging her to insist on getting one before signing her false affidavit in the Paula Corbin Jones lawsuit against the president.

It was her decision to turn over those tapes to Kenneth W. Starr, the independent counsel, that transformed a private Washington affair into a public scandal. But Tripp contends that Lucianne Goldberg, a New York literary agent, encouraged her to do so.

"It never occurred to me to go to Ken Starr," Tripp said. "It wasn't on my radar screen."

It was also Goldberg, she said, who pushed her to reveal Lewinsky's affair with the president to lawyers for Jones, who was suing Clinton for sexual misconduct. It was Goldberg who gave the Jones lawyers Tripp's unlisted telephone number, she said, adding that she spoke at length with one of those lawyers in October 1997.

Told about Tripp's remarks last night, Goldberg said simply, "Whatever Linda says, Linda says." She declined to comment further.

Now, Tripp describes herself as Lewinsky's protector, perhaps her "only friend."

"I always saw Monica as a kid, I always saw her as a lost soul," Tripp said. "I believe she and the country will never understand that I believed this was in her best interest, and that makes me very sad."

The 49-year-old Pentagon employee, who appeared poised and articulate, said that she is now convinced that Lewinsky was so distraught about her affair with Clinton that she might have done herself harm. "I didn't believe that Monica could put this behind her unless it was severed once and for all," Tripp said.

She bristled at the notion that the president's relationship with Lewinsky was sex between consenting adults, as many have described it.

"It was the farthest thing from that," she said angrily. "It was horrifying, is what it actually was. This was a young girl who, as an enthusiastic participant in this relationship, fell head over heels in love with the president. He clearly did not share those feelings and his callous abuse in discarding Monica Lewinsky made it look as if he thought of her as a servicing contract, a woman who could be easily discarded."

Many Americans view Tripp as the villain in the Clinton sex scandal and see her as an archetype of a girlfriend betraying a girlfriend. They were most incensed at Tripp's advice to Lewinsky not to dry-clean that navy-blue dress from the Gap.

According to the Starr report, Tripp had told Lewinsky that she looked fat in it and that she should not think about wearing it to a Thanksgiving dinner. Tripp even plotted with Goldberg about stealing it from Lewinsky's closet, the report alleged.

Pub Date: 2/12/99

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