Late last month, Maryland prosecutors indicted Linda Tripp for recording a phone conversation with Monica Lewinsky without her permission on Dec. 22, 1997. How strong is their case?
Although Tripp has said she will plead not guilty, it is almost certain that she technically broke the law. She began recording her conversations with Lewinsky, she says, for her own protection--she felt that Clinton and Lewinsky wanted her to lie about her encounter with Kathleen Willey in testimony for the Paula Jones case. On November 24 Tripp's then-lawyer, a Democrat with ties to the White House, told her that such recordings were illegal and ordered her to stop. Because the state requires that you know about the wiretapping law in order to break it, she was still in the clear at that point.
But Tripp suspected that Clinton and Lewinsky were going to deny their own relationship in their testimony in the Jones case--which would conflict with Tripp's planned testimony that they were involved. So on December 22 she deliberately recorded a conversation with Lewinsky. The following month she called Kenneth Starr's office and handed over the tapes. She also played the tapes for a reporter at Newsweek. Starr allowed her to continue taping and eventually gave her immunity from federal prosecution. Tripp also got a new lawyer, a Republican.
Tripp’s defense relies on three major points:
(1) She alleges that her indictment is a political vendetta. Her prosecutor is a Democrat, and many Democrats in the state legislature reportedly encouraged his investigation. Moreover, Maryland has never before enforced the law. On the other hand, Maryland officials say that this is the clearest-cut wiretapping case they have seen.
(2) Tripp will also argue that because her tapes were subpoenaed by Starr, their use in the Maryland case violates her Fifth Amendment protection from self-incrimination. However, the indictment claims that it was illegal for her to play the tapes for Newsweek.
(3) Finally, Tripp will argue that her federal immunity deal protects her from state prosecution.