Linda Tripp tapes start more waves

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LINDA TRIPP, the woman who singlehandedly triggered the investigation into President Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky through her clandestine tape-recordings, returned to the media spotlight yesterday after the publication of another hefty batch of documents from Kenneth Starr's inquiry.

The documents - which run to more than 4,000 pages - had been authorised by the House of Representatives judiciary committee after spending many hours selecting and editing them.

The new documents include much of the testimony of Mr Clinton's private secretary, Betty Currie, and the President's well-connected "fixer", Vernon Jordan, who was entrusted with finding Ms Lewinsky a job.

But the main interest was expected to be the excerpted transcripts from tape-recorded conversations between Ms Tripp and Ms Lewinsky, including one lunchtime session at an hotel near the Pentagon, which was recorded by Ms Tripp at the behest of the FBI.

The publication of the latest volumes comes a fortnight after the release of almost 6,000 pages of evidence, which included the slightly edited texts of sworn testimony from President Clinton and Ms Lewinsky. Those created the impression of a relationship both more complex and in some respects more sympathetic than had been expected.

Advance leaks from the new documents indicated that Ms Tripp, dubbed the most disliked woman in America for breaching her friend's confidence, orchestrated Ms Lewinsky's decision not to have the semen-stained dress dry-cleaned, telling her - woman to woman - that it made her look fat, but also that it could constitute evidence one day.

The tape transcripts, which postdate Ms Lewinsky's sexual relationship with the President, now reveal the extent to which Ms Tripp led her "friend" on, eliciting the most intimate and legally damaging details of her 18- month involvement with Mr Clinton, including an apparent pact with him to lie about their liaison under oath.

What also emerges is Ms Lewinsky's desperation to keep her relationship with the President secret, not only for her sake, but to protect him. At one point, Ms Lewinsky asks Ms Tripp to lie about what she knows, pledging: "I would be indebted to you for life ... I would write you a cheque for the entire portion of a condominium I own in Australia."

Mr Clinton's lawyers have increased their offer to settle Paula Jones's sexual harassment suit from $500,000 to $700,000, but Ms Jones was reportedly still holding out for $1m.

Mr Clinton has consistently denied her accusation that he propositioned her in an Arkansas hotel when he was state governor and rejected any settlement that entailed an apology. Ms Jones, who is reviving her suit, suggested that any settlement now was tantamount to an apology.