Clinton Forces Suspect in Latest Tape Leak

Article excerpt

The weekend leak of selected portions of the Monica Lewinsky tapes that appear to undercut independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's probe is raising suspicions that the disclosure was orchestrated by forces friendly to President Clinton.

New York literary agent Lucianne Goldberg, who first told her friend Linda R. Tripp to tape conversations with Miss Lewinsky about the former White House intern's claim of a sexual relationship with the president, yesterday identified Kirby Behre, onetime Tripp attorney, as a prime suspect as the source of the leak.

Mrs. Goldberg said Mr. Behre was fired after he sought to give the tapes to Mr. Clinton's personal attorney, Robert S. Bennett, who represented the president in the now-dismissed Paula Jones sexual misconduct lawsuit.

She said Mr. Behre returned the tapes to Mrs. Tripp in January, but only after his office had transcribed them.

"It points more and more to Kirby Behre," Mrs. Goldberg said. "I have stopped short of outright accusing him, but another cycle of this and I will. Let him step forward and prove that he didn't do it."

Mr. Behre said yesterday any suggestion he leaked the tapes was "flat wrong."

"I have not violated and will not violate the attorney-client privilege that existed and continues to exist with Mrs. Tripp," he said.

But he declined comment when asked if, as a source close to the case told The Washington Times, he stalled for 48 hours before returning some of the requested tapes to Mrs. Tripp. He also would not say if his office had transcribed the tapes or if he had maintained copies of those transcripts.

It was Mr. Behre who said last year that Mrs. Tripp was "outraged" when former White House volunteer Kathleen E. Willey first came forward to accuse Mr. Clinton of a sexual advance in the Oval Office.

He said Mrs. Willey had wrongly "injected" his client's name into stories concerning the Jones suit by saying Mrs. Tripp could corroborate the encounter.

Mr. Behre vehemently told reporters Mrs. Tripp "never witnessed any inappropriate behavior by the president" and said his client had "no information even remotely relating to Paula Jones or her allegations."

Later, when Mr. Bennett denounced Mrs. Tripp's comments on the Willey encounter as a "pack of lies" - followed by comments from the White House that she was a "reckless gossip" - Mrs. Tripp took her story of furtive Oval Office sex involving Miss Lewinsky, along with and 20 hours of taped conversations, to Mr. Starr.

Mr. Bennett did not return calls to his office yesterday for comment.

U.S. News and World Report said over the weekend that associate editor Elise Ackerman heard two hours of tapes or read the transcripts, but was not allowed to take notes. The magazine said the tapes "cast doubt on a central element of a possible obstruction of justice charge against President Clinton."

Specifically, the magazine said Miss Lewinsky was looking for a job two months before she was subpoenaed in the Jones case. …