While Linda reinvents herself for TV, prosecutor's case keeps tripping along


AMONG THOSE watching Linda Tripp bare her delicate soul on television Friday morning were a few folks in the office of the Maryland prosecutor, who were not even a little impressed with her talk of patriotism, of good citizenship, or of being a "surrogate mom" to Monica Lewinsky in the hours of her presidential infatuation.

Their focus is pretty narrow in this prosecutor's office, and their criminal investigation continues, notwithstanding the end of impeachment hearings in Washington and all the postdated assurances from Tripp that she was only looking out for poor Monica.

While everybody on Capitol Hill goes home, trailing pieces of their reputations from the bottom of their shoes, the people in the Maryland prosecutor's office continue to work. Their concern is simple: Did Tripp, in taping her telephone conversations with Lewinsky, break Maryland law? They already know she broke all state and national laws of common decency.

So some of them watched Tripp's appearance on the "Today" show, which appeared simultaneously with an interview Tripp gave the New York Times, and precedes an appearance set for tomorrow night on Larry King's television program.

It's part of a carefully choreographed coming out for our Linda, who arrives via Columbia, Howard County, and also from the time of Cotton Mather. Now she's appearing in our homes like America's debutante, newly made up, newly coiffed, denying she's Queen of the Betrayers, wishing instead to pass herself off as Grand Madame of the Misunderstood.

"Monica confided in me in excruciating detail for over a year," Tripp declared on television Friday.

"I was almost a surrogate mom."

Naturally, there are no scientific studies on this, but it is believed that moms, surrogate or otherwise, historically are not in the habit of secretly taping their daughters' sexual confessions and then taking these confessions to a special prosecutor to be played for the whole world to hear.

But Tripp has her own explanation.

"This was to protect Monica," she says with what appears, miraculously, to be a straight face.

Right, to protect Monica. This is the same Tripp who told Monica not to clean the stained dress. It's the same Tripp who told Monica to send Clinton a sexually suggestive tape. It's the same Tripp who told Monica to get help from Vernon Jordan in getting a cushy private-sector job in New York. It's the same Tripp who urged Monica to send letters to the president through a courier firm owned by the brother of Lucianne Goldberg, who then happily leaked such information to the immediate world.

All of this, assuredly, "to protect Monica."

And it's the same Tripp who went to a Columbia Mall Radio Shack, where she purchased a telephone recording device and was informed -- it's store policy to do so -- that secretly taping phone conversations is illegal in Maryland, and was further informed when she looked at the box carrying the equipment, which states explicitly that such practice is illegal.

"Our investigation is active, and it is proceeding," said James Cabezas, chief investigator for the Maryland prosecutor's office.

He said this Friday, as the U.S. Senate finally began to wash its hands of the Monica-and-Bill business, leaving untouched the business of Maryland-and-Linda. He also said state prosecutor Steve Montanarelli had not watched the "Today" show interview -- "He's very careful not to let any outside influences color his thinking during an investigation," Cabezas said -- but others watched.

"There was nothing [Tripp] said that impacted on our investigation," Cabezas said. "We're just going through the usual legal gymnastics of getting in front of a grand jury."

So let's get back to a few extralegal issues, to wit: In the course of being "surrogate mom" to Monica, did Tripp have to reveal her sexual secrets to the whole country?

If she'd really been thinking of Monica's interests, why didn't Tripp approach Bill Clinton? She'd worked in the White House, remember? Or, if she couldn't reach Clinton, why didn't she approach someone near him, and say, "Listen, I know this is a private matter, but I'm aware of the president's relationship with Monica Lewinsky. She tends to talk. Tell him, for his own good, and for the country's, that the relationship has to stop."

That's what a concerned friend, or a "surrogate mom," might do. It delivers a bone-chilling message to the president that he's not only acting inappropriately, but that others know about it and might talk.

Also, it avoids exposing the "surrogate daughter" Monica to national humiliation, avoids putting Clinton's wife and daughter through their ordeal, and lets the whole country avoid its year of scandal and shame and wasted time.

Not to mention, it lets us avoid the spectacle of watching Linda Tripp now appear on our television sets, trying to rewrite the essence of her dirty little history.

Pub Date: 2/14/99

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