Politics Behind Tripp''s Prosecution, Says Former Starr Deputy

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

(CNSNews.com) - Howard County, Maryland, prosecutor Marna McLendon was under political pressure to prosecute Linda Tripp for taping phone conversations with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, according to Deputy Independent Council Jackie Bennett.

Bennett testified Monday during hearings before Maryland Circuit Court Judge Diane Leasure, who will determine whether Tripp will stand trial for recording telephone conversations with Lewinsky.

During his testimony, Bennett recalled a January 26, 1998, phone call he received from Howard County State's Attorney Marna McLendon. According to Bennett, McLendon indicated during the call that she "was receiving pressure that was becoming unbearable to her." Bennett said there was a "political campaign" to pressure McLendon into prosecuting Tripp.

Tripp has maintained that by recording the phone calls with Lewinsky, she was protecting herself from being asked to lie in depositions conducted in the sexual harassment lawsuit filed against President Bill Clinton by former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones.

Tripp recorded a series of phone conversations with Lewinsky, but her possible prosecution hinges on a December 22, 1997 tape that prosecutors contend was made after Tripp's attorneys warned her that surreptitious recording is illegal under Maryland law.

During the pretrial hearings, Maryland State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli will have to prove to Leasure that his effort to prosecute Tripp is not based on Tripp's immunity agreement with Independent Council Kenneth Starr. In the agreement, Tripp was granted immunity from prosecution under federal wiretapping laws.

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.

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 and presidential mistress 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 the question of 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.

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