Court To Decide If Tripp To Face Trial Over Taping

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - Hearings began Monday before a Maryland judge to decide whether Linda Tripp can be prosecuted for recording conversations with Monica Lewinsky, recordings Tripp says she made to protect herself while being asked to lie in civil lawsuit against President Bill Clinton.

The judge's decision will determine whether Tripp will be prosecuted in what began as an investigation of alleged corruption by the President of the United States.

Tripp's attorneys are asking Howard County Circuit Court Judge Diane Leasure to dismiss the case on grounds that Tripp's conversations with Lewinsky were covered by a grant of federal immunity in an arrangement with then Independent Council Kenneth Starr.

Leasure is expected to dismiss the case if Maryland State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli fails to prove that his case is not founded on Tripp's collaboration with Starr's office, which is covered under her immunity agreement. Otherwise, Tripp's case is set for trial January 18, 2000.

While Starr was investigating Clinton's role in the Whitewater affair, Paula Jones' attorneys were seeking depositions from Clinton, Lewinsky and Tripp in Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit against the president. Jones' lawyers were seeking to establish a pattern of behavior by Clinton.

Tripp, a former White House employee, maintains that she began recording conversations with Lewinsky when it became apparent that the former intern was asking her to commit perjury during a deposition in the Jones lawsuit.

When Starr learned of the tapes' existence, he arranged for Tripp to be immune from prosecution under federal wiretapping laws. He also sought to expand his investigation to include whether the president committed perjury in a scheme to cover up his affair with Lewinsky.

Like Jones' attorneys, Starr was also seeking to determine whether Clinton exhibited a pattern of behavior.

In the Maryland case against Tripp, Montanarelli contends that the tapes are his to use against Tripp since she gave Starr the tapes before U.S. District Court Judge Norma Holloway Johnson formally approved the immunity deal on February 19, 1998.

Tripp's attorneys David Irwin and Joe Murtha are asking the judge not to allow prosecutors to use the tape, maintaining that her immunity began January 16, 1998. That was the day she handed the tapes over to Starr's office and Deputy Independent Council Jackie Bennett signed the letter of immunity.

Another element that could muddy the waters for prosecutors is a 1995 appeals court ruling demanding proof that defendants in phone taping cases know they are violating the law.

Tripp contends that she relied on the advice of New York publicist Lucianne Goldberg, who allegedly told Tripp that it was legal under Maryland law to tape conversations with second parties without their knowledge.

However, prosecutors maintain that the December 22, 1997, recorded telephone conversation is the only taped phone call Tripp was indicted for since it is the only known recording she made after her lawyers warned that surreptitious recording is illegal under state law.

The pretrial hearings, expected to last through this week, could mean more court appearances for Lewinsky, although her attorney has reportedly said that she is reluctant to appear in any case connected with her affair with the president.