Tripp’s courage was punished
Bill Clinton lied under oath. His 22-year-old mistress lied for him under oath. His top aides covered up for him.
Yet neither the president, nor Monica Lewinsky, nor Bruce Lindsey, Sydney Blumenthal, Lanny Breuer, Timothy Keating, Nancy Hernreich, Patsy Thomasson nor any other White House apparatchik faced criminal action for felonious conduct.
No, the lone individual who is staring at both a prison sentence and $20,000 in fines for her role in the White House sex scandal is Linda Tripp.
Tripp, a Maryland resident, stands accused of violating the state’s obscure wiretap law. The charges stem from secret recordings she made of phone conversations with Lewinsky in which the former White House intern detailed her sexual relationship with the commander-in-chief.
The state attorney for Howard County, Md., where Tripp resides, wasn’t remotely thinking of bringing state charges against the former White House secretary (who has since been reassigned to the Pentagon) when the existence of the tapes was first reported in the national news, in January 1998.
That is, until state attorney Marna McLenden received a letter signed by 49 members of Maryland’s House of Delegates — all of whom happened to be Democrats — demanding that she investigate Tripp’s heinous crime.
”There is no place,” the Democrat lawmakers piously proclaimed, ”for partisan politics within our criminal justice system.”
So now, the state of Maryland has put together its legal ”dream team” — including the state attorney general (an elected Democrat), the deputy attorney general, the assistant attorney general, the chief of the criminal investigations division of the attorney general’s office, the state prosecutor and the assistant state prosecutor — to try Tripp for a putative ”crime” that is virtually never prosecuted in the Old Line State.
And the state of Maryland’s legal lynch mob benefits from the fact that the Tripp case is being heard by a relatively inexperienced circuit court judge, Diane O. Leasure, who has been on the Howard County bench a mere four years, having exclusively practiced civil (rather than criminal) law before her appointment by governor Parris Glendening (a Democrat).
In the months leading up to Tripp’s appearance in her courtroom, Leasure confided that she was positively happy to be presiding over the high-profile case.
”It’s always fun,” the judge related, ”to have a case that presents an interesting challenge. It’s always an absolute pleasure when two or more attorneys are involved… I hate to see those trials end.”
She does indeed.
And that may explain why she ruled this week that Tripp did not have federal immunity — as she clearly thought — when she turned over tapes of her conversations with Lewinsky to independent counsel Kenneth Starr.
Had Leasure accepted the argument of Tripp’s lawyers, that her immunity began Jan. 16, 1998, when she received a letter from Starr’s office effectively immunizing her from prosecution, the state of Maryland’s case against Tripp would have been over because the could not have used the tapes as evidence.
But Leasure decided, in her wisdom, that Tripp wasn’t protected against prosecution until Feb. 19, 1998, when the immunity order was actually signed. So the state of Maryland is able to proceed with its politically motivated prosecution of Tripp. And Judge Leasure is able to have her ”fun” at Tripp’s expense.
Now Tripp isn’t viewed sympathetically by many (if not most) Americans. They buy the White House spin that she betrayed a ”girlfriend” (Lewinsky) not only by secretly taping their phone conversations, but also by revealing the contents of those confidential conversations to both third and fourth parties (the independent counsel and a national news magazine).
But Tripp is hardly to blame for the role she played in the White House sex scandal.
It was Bill Clinton who debased the presidency, like no previous occupant of that high office, by his sexual trysts with a girl young enough to be his daughter.
It was Clinton who baldly lied about his Oval Office dalliances, not only in sworn testimony, but also in a nationally televised heart-to-heart with the American people.
It was Lewinsky who urged her ”girlfriend” Tripp to lie, under oath, after Tripp received a subpoena to testify in the Paula Jones case. It was Lewinsky who gave Tripp a list of ”talking points” to use as part of the White House cover-up.
It was Lewinsky who left a photocopied list of ”deceased persons reportedly associated with the Clinton administration” on Tripp’s office chair.
Tripp faced an unenviable choice: Be a ”team player” and go along with the White House lies, or tell the truth.
Well, Linda Tripp courageously decided to do the latter. And now she is being persecuted for her courage by the state of Maryland.
Copyright1999 NEWSPAPER ENTERPRISE ASSN.
Joseph Perkins is a columnist for The San Diego Union-Tribune. He can be reached via e-mail at joseph.perkinsuniontrib.com.