Tripp's lawyer avoids testifying about tapes Literary agent to go before grand jury in friend's wiretap case

November 11, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

An attorney for Linda R. Tripp will avoid appearing before a Howard County grand jury tomorrow about his client's alleged illegal wiretapping, but New York literary agent Lucianne Goldberg is expected to tell prosecutors about her conversations with Tripp.

The state prosecutor's office subpoenaed attorney Joseph Murtha last month in its almost five-month-long investigation of Tripp's taped conversations with Monica Lewinsky about the former White House intern's relationship with President Clinton. The state is investigating whether Murtha's client Tripp broke Maryland law by audio-taping Lewinsky without her consent.

The issue between Murtha and the office of state prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli was resolved when the two discussed whether Murtha's testimony to a grand jury might violate the attorney-client privilege. Murtha was represented by attorney David B. Irwin. Also at issue was whether Murtha has copies of the Tripp-Lewinsky tapes, sources said. Murtha won't acknowledge having them, but prosecutors subpoenaed him in hopes he did.

Montanarelli would prefer to get tapes of conversations between Tripp and Lewinsky made Dec. 12 or Dec. 22, 1997, after Tripp was warned that Maryland law requires consent of all parties for such taping.

Montanarelli "is going to be sorely disappointed," Murtha said in an interview after he received the subpoena. "I've never said I do or I don't have [the tapes]."

Without an authentic copy of the tapes, Montanarelli lacks proof of the crime, much as a prosecutor in a murder case lacks a corpse. Getting the tapes from Tripp -- if she has them -- would be difficult because she cannot be forced to provide evidence that could be used against her.

"We believe there is a way to communicate with state prosecutors and retain our attorney-client privilege," Murtha said yesterday. "That's what we intend to do."

Prosecutors must prove that Tripp knew it was illegal to tape conversations she had with Lewinsky. Ignorance is an excuse for violating the Maryland wiretap law. The maximum penalty for violating the law against wiretapping is five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Goldberg's resistance

Goldberg, who met Tripp in 1996 and is expected to testify today at the courthouse in Ellicott City, claims she has copies of the Tripp-Lewinsky tapes but is reluctant to turn them over to prosecutors.

She said there is no specific language in the subpoena she received last month that requires her to provide anything more than the tapes of two conversations that Goldberg had with Tripp -- Sept. 18 and Sept. 28, 1997.

"It's problematic whether I owe them the tapes with Monica and [Tripp]," Goldberg said. "They're not called for in the subpoena.

"I'm like Clinton -- I go by the letter of the law," she said. "Whatever 'is' is."

Protective of Tripp

Goldberg said independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's office gave her permission to duplicate the tapes, which Tripp gave to her after they met with Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff on Oct. 6, 1997.

Goldberg has said she advised Tripp in September 1997 that she should "protect herself against what Monica was asking her to do, which was lie under oath." Goldberg said she told Tripp to buy a voice-activated tape recorder from RadioShack.

Employees of the RadioShack at The Mall in Columbia testified before the grand jury during the summer that Tripp purchased the device and was told it is illegal in Maryland to tape-record conversations without the other person's consent. But Goldberg says Tripp didn't know it was illegal.

Although Goldberg seemed agitated to have to travel to Ellicott City to testify, she said she plans to go antique shopping and take care of "some other business" while in the Baltimore-Washington area.

And she staunchly defends her friend Tripp.

"I like Linda very much," she said. "She's an honest, straightforward person and she has never let me down. She's a patriotic citizen."

Pub Date: 11/11/98

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