Prosecutor continues investigation of Tripp

Meeting with grand jury is first since February in wiretapping case

June 19, 1999|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Meeting with grand jurors yesterday for the first time since February, State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli said his investigation into possible illegal wiretapping by Linda R. Tripp was "going well" but declined to say when the yearlong probe would end.

"A prosecutor can't forecast how long an investigation is going to last," he said yesterday in an interview. "If we do that, we are fools."

The grand jury met for 3 1/2 hours at the Circuit Courthouse in Ellicott City.

"Everyone is interested in bringing this to a close," Montanarelli said, "and so am I."

Tripp attorney Joseph Murtha said he hopes Montanarelli's optimism signals the conclusion of the case.

"I look forward to the end of the investigation," Murtha said.

Investigators have encountered several obstacles in their investigation of Tripp, a Columbia resident accused of illegally taping conversations with Monica Lewinsky, the former White House intern who had a sexual relationship with President Clinton.

Tripp's tapes from 1997 helped Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr build a case against Clinton that led to the president's impeachment in December.

Montanarelli has been seeking tapes made by Tripp after she was warned about the Maryland law, which bars taping conversations without both parties' consent.

Ignorance is a valid defense, and the statute carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

In late February, Montanarelli lost a legal skirmish to force Tripp's former lawyer, James Moody, to answer his questions.

Last month, Montanarelli's office requested access to Tripp's tapes from the federal judge who oversaw Starr's investigation, said sources familiar with the case.

The outcome of that action is uncertain, the sources said.

Tripp gave those tapes to Starr after being promised immunity from prosecution, creating a major roadblock for Montanarelli, who needs the tapes to prove his case, legal experts have said.

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