Democrat Billings asks McLendon about GOP inquiries on Tripp case Montgomery delegate wants to know if prosecutor was pressured

July 15, 1998|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

State's Attorney Marna L. McLendon is back in the middle of the Linda R. Tripp saga, whether she likes it or not.

The Republican prosecutor has been asked by a Democratic lawmaker whether she talked with any Republicans about the Tripp case, which she chose to hand off to state prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli. The implication: Republicans might have pressured her not to prosecute, just as Democrats now are being accused of pressuring Montanarelli to go after Tripp.

McLendon had little to say yesterday about the request from Montgomery County Del. Leon G. Billings to provide records of any contacts she may have had with Republicans about the case.

"I'm not going to say anything that has anything to do with the public information request right now until I have prepared a response to it," she said, predicting she may respond by next week. Otherwise, McLendon said, "End of discussion. I'm not commenting."

McLendon sidestepped a potential maelstrom when she decided in February to refer the matter to Montanarelli, who now is conducting a grand jury investigation of whether Tripp violated state law when she secretly taped her telephone conversations with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Democratic lawmakers had sent McLendon a letter urging her to prosecute Tripp.

Billings all but admitted yesterday that his request, mailed to McLendon Friday, was a tit-for-tat gesture responding to the very similar inquiry that Howard Republican Del. Robert L. Flanagan sent to Montanarelli a day earlier. Billings said he talked briefly with Montanarelli about Tripp but did not ask him to prosecute her.

Flanagan, the House's vocal minority whip, accuses Democrats of a "comprehensive effort" to force a prosecution of Tripp. He was named specifically in Billings' public records request, and he acknowledges one conversation with McLendon in which he asked for a copy of the letter Democrats had sent her.

"I expressed my outrage at the letter, that the letter had been written, and I asked her for a copy," Flanagan said yesterday. "I have never directly or indirectly in any way whatsoever encouraged or discouraged the prosecution of Linda Tripp."

Pub Date: 7/15/98

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