L’Affaire Lewinsky, most of us thought, ended with the escape of our President in the United States Senate. As a particularly sweltering July turned to August, though, “all Monica all the time” junkies got their best fix in months. First, Linda Tripp, who is either one of the most evil betrayers of all time or one of the most courageous and dedicated public servants in American history (depending on whether you are a fan of Bill Clinton or of Lucianne Goldberg), was indicted by a Maryland grand jury for unlawfully recording the telephone conversations she had with Miss Lewinsky. Then, a few days later, Miss Lewinsky was hospitalized following a traffic accident in California in which she rolled her Ford Bronco. In the meantime, Hillary Rodham Clinton revealed to a new celebrity-gossip magazine that her husband is “a hard dog to keep on the porch” and offered as an explanation for his infidelities that “He was so young, barely four, when he was scarred by abuse. . . . There was terrible conflict between his mother and grandmother. A psychologist told me that being in the middle of a conflict between two women is the worst possible situation.” And finally, the “hard dog,” the day before Mrs. Tripp was indicted, was ordered by Federal District Judge Susan Webber Wright to pay about $90,000 in penalties to Paula Jones’s lawyers for the extra expenses they incurred because he had given false testimony in the case about his relationship with Miss Lewinsky. Just as Mr. Clinton was the first elected President to be impeached, he also became the first American chief executive ever to have been fined for acts clearly in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.
Judge Wright’s actions speak for themselves. Mrs. Clinton’s comments are best analyzed by psychologists trained in the nuances of projection. A Freudian or, better still, an astrologer or a chaos theorist might be able to figure out why Monica would crash right after her erstwhile friend (“I hate Linda Tripp,” Monica reportedly told Judge Starr’s grand jury) was indicted. As this journal’s legal affairs editor, however, I ought to have something to contribute with regard to Mrs. Tripp’s indictment. But I have to admit that Fm baffled.
On some of its websites, the vast rightwing conspiracy (VRWC) which Mrs. Clinton early on blamed for the Paula Jones lawsuit and the gossip about the White House intern (since we now know that the problem was the President’s mother and grandmother, should Mrs. Clinton retract her earlier statements as a means of clearing the air before her Senate campaign?) is attributing the Tripp indictment to retribution from—mirabile dictu—the First Lady and her purported friend Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the Democratic lieutenant governor of Maryland, the state where Tripp was indicted. Mrs. Tripp supported this theory in some deposition testimony she gave in a lawsuit recently filed by Judicial Watch. Tripp has retained as a lawyer one of the most prominent “whistleblower” attorneys in Washington, a man who literally wrote the book (The Whistleblower Litigation Handbook, 1990), Stephen M. Kohn, who lost no time in declaring that “The State of Maryland should not use its criminal laws to indict and destroy Linda Tripp . . . Any such indictment will have a chilling effect on witnesses who have the courage to document and report . . . official misconduct.” Possibly reflecting somewhat the theories of the VRWC, Mr. Kohn stated that “Attempting to destroy Linda Tripp through the misuse of criminal processes is just plain wrong.” Mrs. Tripp could be subject to a possible five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine on each of the two counts brought against her by the Maryland grand jury. If convicted, she would be the only person so far to suffer such a fate for crimes in connection with l’affaire Lewinsky, and there would be more than a little irony in the fact that the only person so singled out would be the one who actually made it possible for the presidential wrongdoing that led to his impeachment to be revealed.
That irony, I think, would be too much for the judge hearing the case, for the jury of 12 of Mrs. Tripp’s peers, or for a court of appeals reviewing any possible convictions. The Maryland statute, which appears to be addressed at third parties who clandestinely “intercept” wire communications between others, was clearly not intended to be used to punish persons who record their own conversations with those seeking to implicate them in the commission of felonies. This will be Mrs. Tripp’s defense, and Mr. Kohn will also point out that she not only used the recordings to protect herself she also took them to federal authorities who believed them important enough to get the attorney general’s permission to expand Judge Starr’s investigation. Judge Starr saw that Mrs. Tripp was granted immunity from any liability under a similar federal anti-interception statute, and there are powerful arguments that the federal immunity should not be undercut by any state prosecutions. Since the conversation allegedly “intercepted” (can one “intercept” one’s own conversation?) was an interstate one, there is even an argument that the proper jurisdiction is federal, not state, and the state criminal proceeding should therefore be dismissed. The chance of Mrs. Tripp actually serving time in Maryland for taping Miss Lewinsky is remote.
This should have been obvious to the Maryland authorities as well. The grand jury’s action is not surprising (criminal lawyers are fond of stating that any half-decent prosecutor could get any grand jury to indict a ham sandwich), but the fact that prosecutors would choose to go forward with this weak case requires some sort of explanation. Partisan politics would do, of course, but while the prosecution is being conducted by a Democratic state official, Stephen Montanarelli, the proceeding appears to have been approved by Howard County State’s Attorney Marna McLendon, a Republican. The case will probably be dismissed by the time you read this, but in the meantime, is it possible that the Democrats would like to see Tripp in trouble not only to punish her for tarnishing the Clinton presidency, but also to divert attention from the President’s latest legal troubles at the hands of Judge Wright? Is it possible that the Republicans are delighted to see the Democrats caught in the awkward position of trying to punish a whistleblower, whose trial is likely to prove acutely embarrassing to Mrs. Clinton as she begins her run for the Senate?
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