Starr Defends Decision on Tripp

Thursday, May 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SALISBURY, Md. (AP) — A day after Maryland prosecutors dropped wiretap charges against Linda Tripp, former Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr defended his decision to grant her federal immunity, which helped her beat the state case.

``At the time, we needed the information and so we, consistent with Justice Department practices, granted immunity. But it was a limited form of immunity,'' Starr told reporters today after addressing a prayer breakfast in Salisbury.

Tripp's secret taping of conversations with Monica Lewinsky gave Starr evidence of a sexual relationship between Lewinsky and President Clinton. That evidence was used as a base for the impeachment trial against the president. Tripp was the only major figure in the scandal to face criminal charges.

On Wednesday, Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli dropped the charges, saying a judge's decision severely limiting testimony from Lewinsky left him unable to prove that Tripp recorded a telephone conversation with the former White House intern without her consent in December 1997.

``There are no other witnesses to the conversation whom the state can call to testify and Tripp cannot be compelled to testify,'' Montanarelli said.

Prosecutors had to build a case against Tripp that did not rely on evidence she gave to Starr's office while she was under immunity.

``Despite the federal grant of immunity, the state of Maryland pursued its selective prosecution of me for more than two years,'' Tripp said in a statement.

Her lawyer, Joseph Murtha, said the former Pentagon employee ``would do it all again, because she had no choice.''

Tripp said she began taping her friend's phone calls to protect herself because Lewinsky was pressuring her to deny knowledge of the relationship in an affidavit for Paula Jones' sexual harassment case against Clinton. The scandal came to light after her attorney played a recording of a Dec. 22, 1997, conversation for Newsweek magazine.

Maryland's wiretap law, which is infrequently prosecuted, forbids intercepting telephone conversations without both parties' consent. Tripp, who recorded the conversation from her home in Columbia, Md., could have faced 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine if convicted.

Last December, Howard County Judge Diane Leasure ruled that the conversation between Tripp and Lewinsky did not fall under the immunity agreement.

But earlier this month, Leasure decided to suppress most of Lewinsky's testimony, which she considered tainted and not credible.

The judge said Lewinsky could not identify and authenticate the call because she likely relied on the Starr report to refresh her memory of the tape's date. That made it difficult for prosecutors to establish that the call took place before Tripp's immunity took effect.

Montanarelli said he did not agree that Lewinsky's recollection of the date of the conversation was influenced by her contact with Starr's office and the Starr report.

``This was an extremely important and memorable event in her life which was, shortly after it occurred, published in detail in the national news media,'' Montanarelli said.

On the Net:

The judge's rulings in the case are available at

Linda Tripp's Web site is