Prosecution filing urges Tripp trial

Memo defends probe, says tainted evidence unnecessary to case

February 29, 2000|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

State prosecutors yesterday offered a witness-by-witness defense of their investigation of Linda R. Tripp, arguing that a Howard Circuit Court judge should allow the wiretapping case to proceed to trial.

In a 41-page filing, state prosecutors stressed a theme heard during hearings two months ago: Their investigation was not tainted by Tripp's immunized testimony before a federal grand jury investigating President Clinton.

"This court should conclude that dismissal of the State of Maryland's indictment against Linda Tripp is unwarranted and that the State Prosecutor may proceed to trial," the filing stated.

Tripp turned over tape recordings of her conversations with White House intern Monica Lewinsky to federal authorities under a promise of immunity in January 1998.

The tapes revealed a sexual relationship between Lewinsky and Clinton, and the tapes' disclosure led to his eventual impeachment.

After a week of hearings in December into whether they used Tripp's immunized testimony in their inquiry, state prosecutors revealed no surprises in their filing yesterday, though they conceded some evidence was tainted.

They argued that evidence was limited to a witness who did not provide much information to a Howard County grand jury investigating Tripp. They also discounted the significance of a memo prepared by an office law clerk about the report to Congress by Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr.

During the hearings, prosecutors revealed they learned the name of one of Tripp's friends through Lewinsky. Investigators then questioned that friend, Kate Freidrich.

Freidrich revealed that Tripp played a tape recording of an argument she had with her daughter and asked whether she should erase it because it seemed unflattering. That tape also contained a conversation with Lewinsky, prosecutors say.

Under cross-examination at December's hearings, Lewinsky acknowledged that she learned Freidrich's name from investigators in Starr's office. Tripp's lawyers are asking Judge Diane O. Leasure to throw out the case because Freidrich testified before the Howard County grand jury, which then indicted their client.

State prosecutors conceded they cannot use Freidrich as a witness and contend that she didn't tell grand jurors anything they didn't already know.

"Ms. Freidrich's testimony established only that Mrs. Tripp was taping telephone conversations with Ms. Lewinsky in November and perhaps early December 1997. As discussed above, these same facts already had been conclusively established by several other witnesses," the memo says.

Another issue concerns the actions of the law clerk, Gavin Patashnick.

Patashnick wrote a memo about the Starr report and gave it to prosecutors, who testified that they never read it. Patashnick also collected news accounts of the independent counsel's investigation but nobody else in the office read the articles, prosecutors say.

"Nothing Mr. Patashnick may have learned from [Starr's] report and materials was used" in the prosecution, the memo says.

Tripp was indicted in July on two counts of illegally tape-recording a Dec. 22, 1997, telephone conversation with Lewinsky and having her attorney disclose its contents to Newsweek magazine.

It is illegal to tape-record conversations in Maryland with the other party's consent. Tripp faces 10 years in prison and $20,000 in fines if convicted.

Tripp's lawyers, who could not be reached to comment yesterday, are expected to submit their filing by March 20. A hearing before Leasure is scheduled for March 29.

State prosecutors also said that most of the leads developed by their office occurred before the Starr report was made public and the crux of their case was solidified early on.

A key witness, Lewinsky, testified in the December hearings that she never gave consent for Tripp to tape her conversation on Dec. 22, which she read in a February 1998 Newsweek. Though state prosecutors have obtained copies of Tripp's tapes, including the one made on Dec. 22, they might not even need to play them for the grand jury because a transcript of the conversation was published in Newsweek.

Prosecutors also have witnesses who would testify that Tripp knew it was illegal to tape record conversations in Maryland -- another key aspect of the law. A lawyer for Paula Jones, who sued President Clinton for sexual harassment, said that Tripp told him in November 1997 that she knew it was illegal to tape in Maryland.

"She was concerned that, if Maryland law applied, that this could be something that could be used against her for coming forward with information," the attorney, David Pyke, told the Howard County grand jury.

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