Tripp on Trial
A key figure in the Clinton Impeachment Scandal may be tried herself.
by Elissa Haney
Tripp claims she began taping her conversations with Lewinsky for her own protection, as a potential witness.
Lewinsky testified against her former friend this week in a hearing that will determine whether Tripp can be tried for illegal wiretapping. Tripp was indicted for recording a December 22, 1997, phone call with Lewinsky and for illegally revealing its contents to the magazine Newsweek in January 1998.
The phone conversation in question was one of a series of calls that Tripp taped between October 13, 1997, and January 13, 1998. At that time President Clinton was in the midst of the Paula Jones case. Tripp claims she began taping her conversations with Lewinsky for her own protection, as a potential witness. She later turned more than 20 hours of recordings over to Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr for his investigation of the President.
Immunity from State Law?
Tripp was not initially aware that Maryland law forbids recording phone conversations without the permission of both parties. Under the state law, an individual can only be prosecuted for wiretapping if they are aware of the law. The December 22 call, in which Tripp rejected Lewinsky's plea for her to lie on the stand in the Jones case, was the only one taped before Tripp received immunity and after she was informed by her lawyer (on November 24) that her actions were illegal.
Maryland judge Diane Leasure decided during Tripp's present hearing that the federal immunity granted her by Starr does not protect Tripp from prosecution at the state level, making the trial a strong possibility. In addition, Leasure found that the immunity deal did not protect Tripp from prosecution for illegally playing the tape for Newsweek on Jan. 16, 1998.
Tripp will fight the charges by trying to prove that her immunity agreement with Starr does in fact protect her from being prosecuted on the state level. She may also assert that she is the victim of a political vendetta, her prosecutor's investigation allegedly encouraged by fellow Democrats in the Maryland legislature. Finally, Tripp will argue that using the tapes against in her in the state court violates her Fifth Amendment protection from self-incrimination because the tapes were subpoenaed by Starr.