RadioShack sheds light on claim by Linda Tripp

September 01, 1998|By MICHAEL OLESKER

At The Mall in Columbia, I head straight for that wonderful new historic landmark, RadioShack, located picturesquely above that other treasured American landmark, the shopping center food court, to purchase what is now known in the trade as the Linda Tripp National Yenta Telephone Recording Device.

Is this a great country, or what?

Here at the Columbia Mall RadioShack, any citizen, young or old, Democrat or Republican, concerned friend or back-stabbing slimeball, can purchase an innocent-looking electronic device officially called a Telephone Recording Control, which allows the purchaser to secretly tape record phone conversations, whether they're the stuff of national security or Nobody's Damned Business but Bill and Hillary's.

Or whomever.

They can do this the same way Linda Tripp tape-recorded her conversations with Monica Lewinsky, after Tripp walked into this very Radio Shack at the Columbia Mall so many months ago, purely in the interests of of well, it certainly wasn't national security.

And, says Tripp, it wasn't in the interest of a big-money book deal (wink, wink), and never mind that it was Tripp's friend, the literary (you should pardon the expression) agent Lucianne Goldberg who told Tripp, "Phone conversations? With the President's backup squeeze? Go get yourself a taping device, you crazy patriot and literary stylist."

Which she did -- right here at RadioShack, where a sales clerk named Jeff leads me to the Linda Tripp Memorial Eavesdropping Section, the very spot where Tripp purchased her device, and never mind that she was about to break the criminal laws (to say nothing of the laws of human decency) when she did it.

Are we excusing Bill and Monica in all this anti-Linda ranting? Of course not. Monica should apologize to Hillary Clinton, and to Chelsea, and to anyone who ever tried to teach Monica decent values and obviously failed. And Bill should apologize to those same people, and to all who defended him because they believed his claims of faithfulness to Hillary.

But it doesn't for a heartbeat excuse Linda Tripp -- nor the prosecutor Kenneth Starr, who we'll get to in a moment, after we talk to our man Jeff the sales clerk. "I understand you sell equipment for taping telephone conversations," I say to Jeff.

"Yes," he says.

And, like that, as though by Pavlovian reflex, he declares, "I'm required to tell you, telephone tape recording in the state of Maryland is illegal without the consent of all parties involved."

I love this guy.

I love him, because he continues the stripping away of Linda Tripp's defenses. She says she didn't know it was illegal to secretly tape record phone conversations. Employees from RadioShack have testified: Fat chance.

As reported last Friday by The Sun's Jill Hudson Neal and Scott Higham, two RadioShack employees -- the manager of the store and the clerk who sold her the equipment a year ago -- have told a Howard County grand jury that Tripp was informed when she bought it that such practice was illegal in Maryland.

It's RadioShack policy to issue the warning.

Not only that -- the warning's printed on the package.

Not only that, but Tripp's a longtime federal employee with high-level security clearance, to whom such knowledge should have been routine.

Much of this concern stems from the grand jury investigation being conducted by State Prosecutor Steve Montanarelli. If found guilty, Tripp could face up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. To make his case, Montanarelli needs to prove not only that the taping was conducted (everyone in America can vouch for that), but that Tripp knew she was breaking the law.

"We always give the warning," Jeff the sales clerk was saying now. He showed me two different devices: a so-called Multi-Phone Recording Control, for $24.95, and a Telephone Recording Control, for $19.95.

"Which one of these," I ask, bringing Tripp's name into our conversation for the first time, "did Linda Tripp purchase?"

"We're not allowed to discuss that," Jeff says.

(For the record, I learn elsewhere, it was the $19.95 model. Can you believe it? The woman's trying to pull down a government, and she won't spring for the extra five bucks!)

As everyone knows, Tripp took these recordings to Kenneth Starr, the special prosecutor so meticulous about the law that he's ready to examine stains on dresses -- and it doesn't bother Starr that he's using illegal tape recordings to make his case. "Special" prosecutor? Absolutely. Any ordinary prosecutor in the country, offered illegally obtained sex conversations, would have pushed the sleazoid out the door and then scrubbed his hands raw.

Instead, he and Linda Tripp have foisted a gross indignity on the whole country. And, to whose benefit? Certainly not the country's. Clinton's wrong -- nobody's arguing otherwise -- but it doesn't justify the dreadful way his private business has been exposed to everyone.

Some things are supposed to be private. You can ask the folks at RadioShack. Or just read the message on the box.

Pub Date: 9/01/98

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