Investigating Linda Tripp Montanarelli's inquiry: Prosecutor can enforce state's wiretap law and raise public awareness that it exists.

June 21, 1998

STATE Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli seems determined to become another victim of the Monica Lewinsky matter.

Initially, he gave signs of moving forward with an inquiry into whether former White House aide Linda Tripp illegally taped phone conversations with Ms. Lewinsky in which she claimed to have had an affair with President Clinton.

Ms. Tripp, a former White House aide seeking a book deal, recorded the calls from her Columbia home. Howard County State's Attorney Marna McLendon should have investigated immediately, but she stumbled on the job and then washed her hands of the case by turning it over to Mr. Montanarelli.

Now Mr. Montanarelli is backing away from statements he made to The Sun, saying he has not decided whether to proceed. He says he will wait until special prosecutor Kenneth Starr has finished his investigation before moving ahead on the Tripp matter.

His mixed signals add to the embarrassment for defenders of Maryland law.

Granted, the case against Ms. Tripp is not open and shut. A state appellate court has ruled that prosecutors must prove a defendant was aware of the prohibition against secret recordings, as outlined in Maryland's wiretap law.

Mr. Montanarelli can complain if he wants about how difficult it is to prosecute violators of the wiretap law, but such an investigation could help future cases. An investigation would make it much more difficult for violators to plead ignorance in the future.

It is disappointing that no one seems concerned about enforcing a statute that legislators passed to protect individual privacy.

Pub Date: 6/21/98

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