By Bill Miller and Roberto Suro
No final decisions were reached, the officials said, on how to proceed in the wake of Tuesday's decision by a federal appeals court against establishing a new legal privilege shielding the president's protectors from having to testify about what they observe while on duty.
Since independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr first sought testimony from officers about what they may have seen or heard of an alleged affair between Lewinsky and President Clinton, Secret Service Director Lewis C. Merletti has privately argued in favor of taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary and continues to favor that course.
The deliberations about the Secret Service privilege case came as Starr continued to move ahead with his grand jury probe, bringing in Linda R. Tripp for her fourth day of testimony yesterday. Her lawyers predicted that she will appear at least two more days before she's done.
If the attorneys are correct, Tripp will become the longest-running witness to appear to date before the grand jury, which yesterday completed its 24th week reviewing perjury and obstruction of justice allegations concerning President Clinton and Lewinsky. Presidential friend Vernon E. Jordan Jr. is the current record-holder, having appeared at the courthouse on five separate occasions.
Tripp, whose secret tape-recordings of Lewinsky launched Starr's investigation when she turned them over to the independent counsel in January, shows no sign of wearing out. Unlike Jordan, who said he was asked the same questions "over and over," Tripp hasn't complained. She has arrived and departed with a polite smile each day, and stayed on the same floor with the grand jurors even through the lunch hour.
"Linda will be finished with her appearance before the grand jury when excused by the office of the independent counsel," said her friend and adviser, Philip Coughter. "As of now, we do not know when that will be."
Tripp released a statement saying that she remains focused on her testimony before the federal grand jury despite facing a new probe of her secret taping in Maryland. State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli has begun his own investigation into whether Tripp's 20 hours of tape recordings of Lewinsky -- made in phone calls from her Columbia home -- violated the state's wiretapping law.
Maryland Republicans stepped up their criticism of the state prosecutor yesterday, accusing Montanarelli of political motivations.
Del. Robert L. Flanagan, the House Republican whip, filed a request under Maryland's Public Information Act with Montanarelli's office seeking a list of his contacts with Democratic legislators. A Montanarelli spokesman said the office would determine whether it is legally bound to comply.
"I believe the public has a right to know which politicians have been communicating to you regarding the Linda Tripp matter," Flanagan wrote.
Flanagan's letter was prompted by reports of a phone conversation last month between Del. Leon G. Billings (D-Montgomery) and Montanarelli. Billings, who wrote a letter signed by more than 40 Democratic lawmakers in February calling for Tripp's prosecution, said he asked Montanarelli when he planned to proceed with a case against Tripp.
Montanarelli aides denied that Democratic lawmakers had exerted any pressure.
Staff writer Scott Wilson and staff researcher Nathan Abse contributed to this report.
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