Maryland prosecutors yesterday dropped their wiretapping case against Linda R. Tripp, the only major figure to face criminal charges in the White House scandal spawned by President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky.
The prosecutors said a ruling by a Howard County judge, who ordered nearly all of Miss Lewinsky’s testimony suppressed because it was tainted and not credible, left them with no case.
State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli said the judge’s ruling left him unable to prove that Mrs. Tripp recorded a telephone conversation with Miss Lewinsky without her consent in December 1997.
“There are no other witnesses to the conversation whom the state can call to testify, and Tripp cannot be compelled to testify,” Mr. Montanarelli said.
Prosecutors had to build a case against Mrs. Tripp that did not rely on evidence she gave to independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr’s office while she was under a federal grant of immunity from prosecution.
Mrs. Tripp was granted immunity after she gave Mr. Starr tapes that showed Miss Lewinsky planned to lie about her sexual relationship with Mr. Clinton when questioned under oath. Miss Lewinsky, a former White House intern, also pressured Mrs. Tripp to lie.
“I was given federal immunity when I brought forward evidence that proved the president of the United States actively tried to fix a federal civil rights case and that I was pressured to do the same,” Mrs. Tripp said in a statement.
“Despite the federal grant of immunity, the state of Maryland pursued its selective prosecution of me for more than two years. My family and I are enormously gratified that the federal immunity I was given has finally provided the protection it promised.”
Mrs. Tripp, who has a pending lawsuit accusing the White House and the Defense Department of using confidential Pentagon records to smear her reputation, said the saga is not yet over.
“The full story has not been told, but I continue to believe I did the right thing given the extraordinary circumstances in which I found myself… . I will continue to fight the shameful smear tactics of this corrupt administration in civil court.”
Mr. Montanarelli said Miss Lewinsky did not need Mr. Starr’s office to refresh her memory.
“This was an extremely important and memorable event in her life which was, shortly after it occurred, published in detail in the national news media,” he said of Miss Lewinsky’s recollection of the conversation.
The prosecutor said that while the state believed the testimony, “the court does not, and that resolves the matter.”
Howard County Judge Diane O. Leasure on May 5 ordered most of Miss Lewinsky’s testimony suppressed, saying Miss Lewinsky was “bathed in impermissible taint” because of her access to immunized testimony and her reliance on that information in her own testimony. She also noted that Miss Lewinsky had lied before under oath, which damaged the credibility of her state testimony.
Judge Leasure denied a motion by Mr. Montanarelli on Monday to reconsider Miss Lewinsky’s testimony for trial, which had been scheduled to begin in July.
A dismissal of the charges had been expected after the judge’s ruling. If convicted, Mrs. Tripp could have faced 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.
Mrs. Tripp had faced charges that she recorded a telephone conversation with Miss Lewinsky on Dec. 22, 1997, about the intern’s affair with Mr. Clinton from her home in Columbia, Md., and then allowed her attorney to play it for Newsweek magazine, which published the conversation in its Feb. 2, 1998, edition.
She was indicted in July by a Maryland grand jury on two counts of violating the state’s wiretap law, which is infrequently prosecuted. Recording a conversation without the consent of the other party is a crime in Maryland.
Disclosure of the tape and others Mrs. Tripp secretly recorded gave Mr. Starr evidence of a sexual relationship between Miss Lewinsky and Mr. Clinton. That evidence was used as a base for the trial that led to Mr. Clinton’s impeachment by the House and acquittal after a trial in the Senate.
Mrs. Tripp and Miss Lewinsky became friends while working together at the Pentagon, and Miss Lewinsky later told Mrs. Tripp about her sexual encounters with the president.
Mrs. Tripp said she began taping her friend’s phone calls to protect herself, because Miss Lewinsky was pressuring her to deny knowledge of the relationship in an affidavit for Paula Jones’ sexual harassment case against Mr. Clinton.
Mrs. Tripp’s attorneys had maintained that the grant of federal immunity given to Miss Lewinsky before the impeachment of Mr. Clinton protected her from state prosecution. They also charged that Miss Lewinsky was out for revenge and that the Maryland grand jury that indicted Mrs. Tripp had been given tainted evidence.
In New York, book agent Lucianne Goldberg has said she urged Mrs. Tripp to start taping her calls with Miss Lewinsky after doubts were cast about the credibility of Mrs. Tripp’s statements regarding another woman linked to Mr. Clinton, former White House volunteer Kathleen Willey.
Ms. Goldberg said she was “just thrilled for Linda,” adding that her friend had “been through such an extraordinary and unfair ordeal. This has eaten up two years of her life, and her biggest crime was telling the truth.”
Mrs. Tripp has admitted in federal grand jury testimony that she taped Miss Lewinsky’s conversations in 1997 and continued taping even after she was warned that doing so was considered illegal in Maryland.
Miss Lewinsky’s attorney Plato Cacheris said he agreed with Mr. Montanarelli that Miss Lewinsky’s recall of the taped conversation was not tainted by Mr. Starr’s investigation. But he added: “I’m sure Ms. Lewinsky is glad that she doesn’t have to come back to Maryland to testify.”