- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 16, 1999

 There is no charge too baseless and no punishment too severe, it seems, when it comes to Linda Tripp. For her part in exposing the falsehood that led to President Clinton’s impeachment, she is now the subject of a political prosecution by the president’s Democratic allies in Maryland that could cost her five years in prison and $10,000 in fines on each of two counts. Ironically that means she could wind up as one of the few people in the whole Monica Lewinsky affair to face criminal sanctions as a result and this because she, unlike the others, told the truth about what happened.
Maryland Judge Diane O. Leasure, a Democratic appointee, has now ruled that Mrs. Tripp did not have immunity from prosecution when she handed over tape recordings of her conversations with Monica Lewinsky to Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr and his deputies in January 1998. They merely offered her immunity at that time, the judge ruled. The real thing didn’t come until a federal judge issued an order giving her immunity in February 1998, she ruled. This fine distinction matters because Maryland is one of the few to make it illegal for someone to tape a conversation without telling the other party. Since she handed over the tapes before getting the immunity, the state apparently can use them to prosecute her.
Anyone but Linda Tripp would have little reason for concern. Up until this case, as noted here previously, Maryland officials have rarely, if ever, prosecuted persons for this offense. Given limited resources and a universe of more serious, violent crimes, state prosecutors didn’t think it worth their while to take such cases. Why did they take this one? A former prosecutor for Kenneth Starr, Jackie Bennett, testified this week that the Howard County, Md., prosecutor with jurisdiction over the case, Marna McLendon, called him in January 1998 to tell him “there was a political campaign to put pressure on” her office to go after the woman who taped Monica Lewinsky. “She indicated that she was receiving pressure that was becoming unbearable to her,” Mr. Bennett said. Democrats in the statehouse and in Howard County demanded action. The courageous Ms. McLendon wavered under the pressure, then hastily stepped aside to allow the appointment of Democratic prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli to do the job.
Second, Mrs. Tripp only provided the information under a federal grant of immunity from Mr. Starr and his deputies. Those deputies have acknowledged they could not guarantee her immunity from state prosecution, but one wonders about the constitutionality of having the federal government in the person of the independent counsel, first compel Mrs. Tripp to release material that incriminates her and then having the state prosecute her based on that material. Is this Democrats’ idea of civil liberties?
Finally, it is worth recalling that despite the caricatures of Mrs. Tripp as a right-wing crazy, she was not exactly eager to take on the role of informant. When reporter Michael Isikoff confronted her with allegations of presidential philandering, the first thing she did was notify the White House that there was a reporter running around asking questions embarrassing to the president. But under pressure from Miss Lewinsky to lie about the intern’s affair with the president and having seen the White House call her a liar in Mr. Isikoff’s Newsweek article, she undertook the taping to protect herself. She wound up aiding Paula Jones’ harassment case against a liberal, feminist president, which ultimately led to his impeachment. They cannot forgive her for that. Their resentment is the source of the political pressure on Maryland prosecutors.
After the endless barrage of attacks the president’s supporters have leveled against Mrs. Tripp, lots of people may not be open to arguments on her behalf. For them and for others, there is this question: What does it say about this system of justice that a president sworn to uphold the laws of this land lied under oath according to federal Judge Susan Webber Wright and yet remains in office, while the woman who dared to prove he was lying is threatened with jail?

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