Tuesday, January 27, 1998 Published at 14:28 GMT
Tape transcripts pose as many questions as answers
In a manner uncannily reminiscent of the Watergate scandal that brought down President Nixon in the 1970s, a number of audio tapes lie at the heart of the current scandal rocking the White House.
This time the tapes do not contain the voice of the president, but of Monica Lewinsky, the woman with whom it is alleged that President Clinton had an affair.
The tapes allegedly indicate that Miss Lewinsky and President Clinton may have both lied under oath when they denied having an affair, during testimony in the Paula Jones case.
Worse, it is claimed that the tapes may show that Clinton and his close friend, Vernon Jordan, tried to have the affair covered up and instructed Monica Miss Lewinsky to lie in her deposition.
The tapes were made by Linda Tripp, like Miss Lewinsky a former White House staff member, who had fallen out with the Clinton administration. She befriended Miss Lewinsky and was told details of the supposed affair.
Miss Lewinsky would call Mrs Tripp who then secretly taped the conversations with a device connected to her telephone. She did this for her own record and to protect herself as it became clear that she could be subpoenaed.
Paula Jones case brought matters to a head
As expected both women were eventually subpoenaed by lawyers for Paula Jones in relation to her sexual misconduct case against President Clinton, and were forced to decide what they would say under oath.
Excerpted transcripts of the tapes published in Newsweek magazine show that Miss Lewinsky was worried that she would either have to commit perjury when testifying in the Paula Jones case or admit the affair.
In one conversation, she considered disclosing the relationship to other people to try to get Clinton to settle the Paula Jones case and so prevent Miss Lewinsky from testifying.
"Look, maybe we should just tell the creep. Maybe we should just say, 'Don't ever talk to me again.' "
But she concludes: "He'll never settle. He's in denial."
Miss Lewinsky makes clear in the transcripts that she doesn't believe that anyone will be able to prove she lied about the affair.
When Mrs Tripp asks about phone conversations Miss Lewinsky allegedly had with the president, Miss Lewinsky said: "I'm sure he calls on some sort of special phone ... You know he got caught once [by using a regular phone] so..."
Transcripts also reveal that Miss Lewinsky said she was encouraged to lie about her relationship by the president's close friend, Vernon Jordan. According to Newsweek, she says: "Look, I will deny it so he will not get screwed in the case, but I will get screwed personally."
In the end, Lewinsky did testify under oath on January 7th and denied the affair. This opens her up for charges of perjury, if it can be proved that she did in fact have an affair. But questions have been raised about both Lewinsky's credibility and Tripp's motivation.
Credibility of tapes in question
Mrs Tripp turned the 17 tapes, containing about 20 hours of conversation, over to Kenneth Starr, the Special Prosecutor appointed to investigate the Whitewater affair, on January 12.
Mr Starr listened to the tapes, on which Miss Lewinsky seemed to clearly intimate that she had been having a sexual relationship with the President. At one point on a tape it is reported that Lewinsky can be heard saying "I have lied my entire life."
Further recordings were sanctioned
Mr Starr's office informed Mrs Tripp that taping phone calls without permission was illegal but that they would offer her immunity from prosecution if she agreed to wear a body wire and meet Miss Lewinsky the next day.
Mr Starr also obtained permission from Janet Reno, the US Attorney General, to extend his inquiry to cover the possibility of perjury and obstruction of justice.
On January 13 Mrs Tripp, wearing the FBI wire tap, met Miss Lewinsky at an hotel and they had further conversations about the president and the case. Mr Starr believed that the tapes would give him sufficient leverage and evidence to force Miss Lewinsky to 'flip' to their side and then use her to 'sting' Vernon Jordan or others, but details leaked to the media before he had a chance.
The president's supporters say that Mr Starr's actions, as well as those of Mrs Tripp, show that the case against President Clinton is based on entrapment and selective evidence from witnesses whose credibility is questionable. Only the full transcript of the tapes may hold the answers.