Her credibility was attacked by the president's lawyer, her government file was leaked to the press, and she endured countless jokes about her appearance from TV comedians.

Wednesday, in the sweltering heat outside the federal courthouse, Linda Tripp broke her silence and struck back.The Pentagon employee, whose 20 hours of audio tapes triggered the Monica Lewinsky investigation, blasted the "legions of paid prevaricators" who vilified her. Her list included Clinton lawyer Robert Bennett.

She also set the stage for a potential clash with Lewinsky's testimony by denying she had anything to do with controversial "talking points" - a document given by Lewinsky to Tripp that was designed to sway testimony in the Paula Jones case.

"Imagine how you would feel if your boss's attorney called you a liar in front of the whole country," said Tripp after her eighth and final appearance before Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's grand jury. "Imagine if that boss was the president," Tripp said in a reference to Bennett's comments about her credibility.

"Imagine how you would feel if someone you thought was a friend urged you to commit a felony," she said, referring to Lewinsky, who allegedly asked her to lie to investigators.

"Imagine how you would feel if your employer illegally released your confidential records to the media, then demoted you and cast you aside for daring to tell the truth," she said of the Pentagon's release of information on her failure to list a disputed teenage arrest on employment forms.

Wearing a black pants suit, her blond hair resting on her shoulders, Tripp portrayed herself as an average suburban mom who never asked for the limelight.

Her life changed, she said, when Lewinsky began confiding in her about an affair the former intern said she had with President Clinton - a relationship he denies.

With her grown son, Ryan, and daughter, Allison, her two lawyers and a press spokesman standing behind her, the 48-year-old Pentagon employee did not discuss details of her grand jury testimony and took no questions.

Left unanswered were why she recorded her talks with Lewinsky, whether anyone put her up to it and exactly what prompted her to go to prosecutors.

"As a result of simply trying to earn a living, I became aware between 1993 and 1997 of actions by high government officials that may have been against the law," said Tripp, who worked for White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum and also has testified about the events surrounding deputy counsel Vincent Foster's suicide.

For those five years, she said, she witnessed events that "made me increasingly fearful that this information was dangerous, very dangerous to possess.

"On Jan. 12, 1998, the day I approached the Office of the Independent Counsel, I decided that fear would no longer be my master. This investigation has never been, quote, `just about sex.' It has been about telling the truth. The truth matters.

"I have been vilified for taking the path of truth," she said