Scandal's toll still mounting

August 04, 1999|By Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover

WASHINGTON -- Ah, justice! How wondrously do its wheels spin! On one hand, a president gets acquitted by the Senate after lying to a grand jury and being found in contempt of court for giving a false deposition. On the other, a common citizen who complains about senatorial foot-dragging in the trial against that president faces six months in the slammer and a $500 fine.

This strange confluence of events culminated the other day with the federal judge in the Paula Jones case ordering President Clinton to reimburse her lawyers and others for about $90,000 in expenses, and then a jury convicting a man of disrupting Congress by shouting from the Senate gallery.

The man, Richard Llamas, listening to the senators drone on last February as they considered whether to convict Mr. Clinton of the impeachment charges voted against him by the House, finally rose and yelled: "Good God Almighty! Take the vote and get it over with!"

The man was quickly escorted from the gallery for shouting what many others watching from there or at home on television surely felt like saying.

With 45 Democrats in the Senate and only 34 of them needed to block conviction, it was a foregone conclusion that the Senate would vote for acquittal, but the trial went on and on.

Mr. Llamas' court-appointed attorney said his client had "a long history of mental treatment" for "delusional thinking," but the jury somehow found him guilty anyway, and he is to be sentenced Sept. 10.

Mr. Clinton meanwhile is doing a good job of putting the whole impeachment mess behind him. The amount that Judge Susan Webber Wright ordered him to pay to Ms. Jones' lawyers and to the Rutherford Institute, a conservative group that helped pay for her lawsuit against Mr. Clinton, was far short of the combined total of nearly $500,000 they had sought in reimbursement. And the president has friendly fund-raisers who have proved their ability to raise $90,000 for him in the wink of an eye from political supporters.

Meanwhile, over in Maryland, the Darth Vader of the whole Clinton sex-and-lies scandal, Linda Tripp, was being indicted on two charges of violating state wiretap laws.

Ms. Tripp had the geographical misfortune of taping conversations with White House intern Monica Lewinsky in Maryland, which requires both parties consent for taping. Ms. Lewinsky, of course, didn't realize until later that her good friend and confidante was preserving her ramblings about Mr. Clinton and their sexual escapades for posterity -- or at least for the grateful Republicans in the House.

If convicted, Ms. Tripp could face five years in jail and a $10,000 fine on each of the counts -- wire-tapping without consent of the other party and disclosing what was said. She is now the only central figure in the whole sex-and-lies mess who has had criminal charges placed against her -- unless you count the overwrought man in the Senate gallery.

The indictment is certain to set off another round of legal squabbling. Ms. Tripp turned over the tapes and testified in independent counsel Kenneth Starr's investigation under a federal grant of immunity, but the Maryland prosecutors have argued that it does not protect her in a state jurisdiction.

So just when you thought the wheels of justice had made their final turn in the whole business, there is more to come. At least talk radio will be happy.

Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover write from the Washington Bureau.

Pub Date: 8/04/99

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