Lewinsky willing to testify in Md. Cooperation expected if jury summons Tripp over state wiretap case

July 10, 1998|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Monica Lewinsky is prepared to cooperate with the Maryland state prosecutor's investigation of whether Linda R. Tripp broke Maryland law by secretly taping phone conversations with the former White House intern, a source close to Lewinsky's legal team said yesterday.

If summoned by the state prosecutor, Stephen Montanarelli, to appear before the Howard County grand jury, which has begun investigating Tripp on possible wiretap violations, Lewinsky "will honor that authority," the source said.

Tripp, meanwhile, returned to a different grand jury yesterday -- the federal panel led by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr that is looking into Lewinsky's connection to President Clinton -- for a fourth day of testimony.

Her spokesman, Philip Coughter, read a brief statement from Tripp in which she said, "Despite the events which have recently unfolded in Maryland, I continue to focus on my testimony before the federal grand jury."

Coughter said Tripp is scheduled to return Tuesday for a fifth day of questioning, and one of her lawyers, Anthony J. Zaccagnini, said he expected at least another week of testimony from her.

Montanarelli announced earlier this week that he had launched an inquiry into the 20 hours of phone conversation with Lewinsky that Tripp taped from her home in Columbia. On those tapes, Lewinsky reportedly talked of a sexual relationship she had had with President Clinton, although, in sworn statements, both Lewinsky and Clinton have denied having had such a relationship.

In Maryland, it is illegal to tape-record a conversation without the consent of both parties.

State's key witness

Lewinsky is considered one of the key witnesses for Montanarelli. She could be vital to him because Tripp has been granted immunity from federal prosecution in exchange for her cooperation with Starr. That immunity might prevent testimony or evidence she provides in the federal investigation from being used against her by the state prosecutor.

Lewinsky is not expected to volunteer her testimony in the state proceeding but if subpoenaed is expected to comply. She could either testify in person before the Howard County grand jury, answer questions under oath outside the grand jury or sign a sworn affidavit.

Tripp's former friend and colleague would likely be asked by the state prosecutor whether she consented to having Tripp tape their phone calls. Lewinsky also may be asked whether she has heard the tapes, or whether she knows that they do in fact exist.

Ever since the sex scandal and alleged cover-up erupted in January -- sparked by Tripp's tapes -- Starr has been seeking Lewinsky's cooperation in his investigation. But negotiations between lawyers for Lewinsky and the independent counsel have stalled as Lewinsky has sought immunity from prosecution for her testimony. Starr's spokesman, Charles Bakaly, said he did not know whether participation by Lewinsky in the Maryland inquiry would affect her negotiations with Starr.

State case 'apolitical'

Meanwhile yesterday, the state prosecutor beat back further accusations that he bowed to political pressure from Democrats in beginning an investigation into Tripp's taping.

Zaccagnini said yesterday that Montanarelli had "advised" him that Democrats in the Maryland General Assembly had contacted the state prosecutor requesting that Tripp be investigated and prosecuted.

"I think that speaks of political motivation in and of itself," Zaccagnini said on NBC's "Today" show.

And Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard County Republican, sent a letter to Montanarelli yesterday asking him to make a "complete and thorough disclosure" of his communications from politicians regarding the Tripp matter.

Montanarelli's office did not directly respond to Flanagan's request.

James I. Cabezas, chief investigator for the state prosecutor, acknowledged that Montanarelli had received questions about whether he was going ahead with the Tripp matter before his announcement this week but denied that the prosecutor felt political pressure. Cabezas said the prosecutor's office received a copy of a letter written in February by 49 Democratic legislators in Maryland. The letter to the Howard County state's attorney, Marna McLendon -- a Republican who was handling the politically sensitive Tripp matter before she decided to hand it off to Montanarelli -- urged McLendon to investigate Tripp.

Cabezas said McLendon provided the letter to the state prosecutor's office "as a courtesy copy."

"But the letter and those inquiries have not been perceived to be FTC political pressure," Cabezas said. "Mr. Montanarelli's decision was apolitical."

Pub Date: 7/10/98

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