Tripp's lawyers decry `tainted' case evidence

Defense faults action of prosecutors, seeks dismissal of charges

March 21, 2000|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Lawyers for Linda R. Tripp attacked the credibility of former White House intern Monica Lewinsky yesterday as they asked a Howard County Circuit Court judge to throw out the illicit-wiretapping case against their client.

Tripp's lawyers argued in a 36-page memo yesterday that state prosecutors improperly gathered evidence that was protected by Tripp's immunity agreement with federal authorities investigating President Clinton.

They also said the state's key witness, Lewinsky, was "bathed in impermissible taint" and was out to get their client.

"It is important to understand the motive Ms. Lewinsky has to ensure that Mrs. Tripp is prosecuted," the memo said. It then describes a passage from Lewinsky's book, "Monica's Story," that shows Lewinsky jumping for joy when Maryland prosecutors announce they are investigating her former confidante.

Tripp was indicted in July on two counts of illegally recording a Dec. 22, 1997, telephone conversation with Lewinsky, and then having her lawyer disclose the tape's contents to Newsweek magazine.

That disclosure and others exposed a sexual relationship between Lewinsky and Clinton and led to the president's impeachment in December 1998.

Tripp's trial is scheduled for July. If convicted, she could receive 10 years in prison and be fined $20,000. In yesterday's filing, Tripp's lawyers also questioned the credibility of information Lewinsky provided to state prosecutors in an affidavit in August 1998 and her detailed testimony during a pretrial hearing Dec. 16.

"Her incredible recall displayed at the time of her testimony on December 16, 1999, is easily attributed to her motive to carry out her desire that Mrs. Tripp be prosecuted by the State of Maryland," the memo said.

Yesterday's filing follows one by state prosecutors last month in which they defended their investigation witness by witness.

Judge Diane O. Leasure is scheduled to hear arguments from both sides March 29. That will be the last chance for lawyers to persuade Leasure to allow the trial to proceed, to limit evidence or to throw out the case because of tainted evidence. In December, Leasure held a weeklong set of hearings into whether state prosecutors gathered evidence improperly.

Defense lawyers have said they would file other motions to dismiss the case if they lose this round.

State prosecutors have acknowledged that a "small amount" of their evidence was tainted, but they say Leasure should allow the case to proceed to trial.

Tripp's lawyers, Joseph Murtha and David B. Irwin, relied heavily upon a case similar to Tripp's in their filing yesterday.

In 1990, a U.S. appeals court overturned the conviction of Oliver L. North, a central figure in the Iran-contra affair during the 1980s, who was accused of destroying documents. The appeals court sent two other convictions back to a lower court to determine whether highly publicized evidence North gave to Congress under a grant of immunity affected the prosecution's witnesses.

After one witness testified in a hearing that North's congressional testimony had "a very powerful impact" on him, prosecutors dropped the remaining charges.

Tripp's lawyers argue that Leasure should rely on the North decision that says prosecutors must rely on evidence that is independent of immunized testimony.

The lawyers said the public disclosure of immunized information given by Tripp to independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr and a federal grand jury affected nearly every aspect of the state prosecutors' case.

They accused state prosecutors of allowing an intern to create memos based on Starr's report to Congress, which contained Tripp's immunized testimony.

State prosecutors have conceded that misstep, but argued that State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli and other investigators in the case did not read it. Prosecutors also say the intern prepared one memo, not two, as alleged by Tripp's lawyers.

The lawyers also accused state prosecutors of not taking sufficient precaution to prevent grand jurors from viewing and reading material related to Starr's report, which was widely publicized.

The "indictment is the product of an investigation impermissibly tainted directly and indirectly by the State's use of the immunized testimony and information of Linda R. Tripp," the memo says.

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