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Amnesty For A Wiretapper?

CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Rita Braver takes on an unlikely cause: one of the most popularly reviled characters of the whole Clinton scandal who is now in the the hot seat for an illegal wiretap. An archive of The Braver Line is available. Rita Braver's email address is

Soft on Linda Tripp! "Oh, no," you're clucking to yourself. She's not going to suggest amnesty for the Witch of Washington, the clandestine taper who dared to call herself a friend even as she manipulated and sold out Monica Lewsinsky.

How could anyone have sympathy for the self-righteous tattletale who called in Ken Starr's gang and thus launched one of the nastiest and most sordid episodes in recent American history, the impeachment of President Clinton?

Were it not for Tripp's agressive, "catch Clinton Campaign," we would never have had to know about Monica Lewsinkys thong underwear, or been forced to conjure up images of the leader of the free world dropping his pants in the Oval Office to receive sexual gratification while he chatted up members of Congress on the phone.

Who could forget Tripp's whiny, self-justifying comments as she tried to tell us, "I'm just like you."

"No!" we recoiled in horror, shouting back at our television sets, "No, No, impossible! We would never tape a friend and then rat on her.

And Tripp's taping was more than despicable, unethical sabotage. It was also illegal. Under Maryland law both parties must agree before there is any taping of a private conversation unless it's a court-authorized tap. Monica Lewinsky had no idea that her alleged pal Linda was recording her sad and graphic musings about liaisons with the "Big Creep," as well as her tales of a job search aided and abetted by first friend Vernon Jordan.

Tripp knew her tapes were illegal. One of the first things she did when she presented her little bombshell to the independent counsel's crew was to demand immunity from prosecution. They eagerly granted it to her, but somehow it took them a month to have a federal judge sign off on it.

The trouble for Tripp is that immunity grant did not protect her from prosecution under Maryland state law. She was indicted on two felony counts.

And now a state court judge has ruled that the case can indeed proceed if prosecutors can prove that they learned of the Tripp tapes for some reason other than the independent counsel's post-immunity collusion with her.

There is such a nice symmetry about all of this. The house is about to come down on that very shrew who wanted to bring down the Clinton White House. But hold on a minute before you burst into a chorus of "Ding, Dong, the witch is dead."

Isn't going after Tripp a bit like punishing the kid who turns over the Giant Rock in the middle of the class picnic? Sure, she wasn't supposed to do, ad she ruined the whole party, but it's not really her fault that all those slimy, creepy, crawly things that make everybody want to throw up are under there.

It was not Tripp who goaded Lewinsky into putting moves on the president and then lying about it in a deposition. It wasn't Tripp who told the president to fool around with a 21-year-old intern and then lie to his wife, daughter, a federal grand jury and the American people about it.

No, that dishonest world was there all by itself. Tripp just made us smell it and see it. And though the president and Lewsinsky did go through some humiliating and scary times, neither of them was convicted of anything. If this case goes to trial and Tripp is convicted, she would face a maximum of 10 years in jail.

So yes, this a call for amnesty for Tripp. She may have been the one to turn over the rock, but she is already considered a pariah for it, a laughingstock, perhaps even more creepy than the other critters she was trying to expose. Her name has become a synonym for betrayal. She has been lampooned for her looks as well as her deeds.

She's been punished aplenty, and the Maryland prosecutors have won their point. Now it may be time for them to exercise some of that vaunted "prosecutorial discretion." C'mon guys, do you really need to squash Tripp? Why not just let her crawl away?

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