By Susan Schmidt and Paul W. Valentine
Also at the courthouse yesterday was Linda R. Tripp, who set the probe in motion by giving Starr secretly recorded tapes of Lewinsky talking about an alleged affair with President Clinton. Tripp's tapes are now the subject of a separate Maryland grand jury probe into whether they were illegally made, and State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli yesterday denied that his investigation was politically motivated, releasing a detailed four-page accounting of his talks with various state Democrats and Tripp's lawyers.
Currie, summoned by Starr as his first witness Jan. 27, has testified five times before the federal grand jury probing whether Clinton had a sexual relationship with Lewinsky and urged her to lie about it under oath. "We believe that Mrs. Currie has completed her grand jury testimony," attorney Lawrence Wechsler told reporters.
Sources have said Currie turned over to Starr gifts from Clinton that she retrieved from Lewinsky when lawyers for Paula Jones sought them under subpoena. Currie was also involved in helping Lewinsky get some high-level job assistance from Clinton friend Vernon E. Jordan Jr. and U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson, who testified before Congress about it yesterday.
Richardson, Clinton's nominee to be secretary of energy, was questioned under oath during his Senate confirmation hearing about a job offer he made to Lewinsky last fall.
Under questioning by Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Frank H. Murkowski (R-Alaska), Richardson said deputy White House chief of staff John D. Podesta, a friend, called him and asked if he'd interview Lewinsky, then at the Pentagon press office. "He said this was a friend of Betty Currie. . . . He asked me as a favor to Betty to interview her," said Richardson, adding that Podesta "did not even know what her name was when he asked me to interview her."
Richardson said he and two aides met with Lewinsky last October in a Watergate Hotel suite he often used in Washington. "She was impressive," said Richardson. "I remember my chief of staff being impressed with Ms. Lewinsky's gregariousness, her ability to express herself. She came very well-prepared," he told the committee.
Murkowski said he found it "curious" that Richardson would be interviewing applicants for a $30,000-a-year political outreach job. But Richardson said it was "a very normal procedure" for him to sit in on interviews.
Richardson noted that the discussions with Lewinsky occurred well before Starr received Tripp's tapes, in which the young administration aide purportedly discussed efforts by Clinton allies to get her a job in New York.
Tripp, who has spent six days before the grand jury already, was summoned again late in the day yesterday but did not end up testifying. She and Secret Service personnel who guarded Clinton are expected to return, some of them today.
As Tripp waited at the federal court in the District, Montanarelli in Maryland was releasing his detailed statement defending his probe of Tripp. Montanarelli said Tripp should not feel "surprised" or "intimidated" by his recently announced decision to convene a local grand jury on the issue, since he had notified her attorneys twice, in February and June, that he would be doing so. It is against the law in Maryland to record telephone conversations without the consent of the person being called.
Tripp and her lawyers Anthony J. Zaccagnini and Joe Murtha questioned why Montanarelli announced the investigation two weeks ago in the midst of Tripp's appearance before Starr's grand jury. At the time, Tripp called Montanarelli's action "the latest in a series of attempts to intimidate me."
But yesterday Montanarelli said that when he met with Murtha and Zaccagnini Feb. 16 and June 8, "they asked me to decline the investigation, and I told them that the matter would be investigated by my office without specifying a date."
"There was no malice intended," he said. "Investigations are initiated based on the workload of the office, priorities and other factors, not the wishes of the subject of the investigation."
Montanarelli was responding to a request by Republican state legislator Robert L. Flanagan for disclosure of all his "communications" with state officials about the Tripp case.
Flanagan, who represents Howard County, where Tripp lives, and who is House Republican whip in the General Assembly, has said the timing of Montanarelli's grand jury announcement raises questions about his motivation.
Flanagan and other state Republicans also noted that 49 Democratic lawmakers signed a letter in late January urging Tripp's prosecution. The letter was addressed to Marna McLendon, Howard County's chief prosecutor, and accused her of foot-dragging on the Tripp inquiry. McLendon, a Republican, days later handed the investigation off to Montanarelli, saying no matter what her office did, it would be accused of "political partisanship."
Montanarelli yesterday released summaries of a series of letters and telephone calls he said he received from a half-dozen legislators and state officials inquiring about the Tripp case but he said that in each instance there was "no attempt to influence me."
Montanarelli said, for example, that he was called Feb. 11 by Del. Gilbert J. Genn, a Democrat from Montgomery County, "urging me to undertake the investigation of Ms. Tripp. I told him that I would defer to [Starr] for a reasonable time."
He said he initiated a call on June 19 to another delegate, Leon G. Billings, also a Montgomery County Democrat, on an unrelated matter, but noted in passing that Billings was one of the 49 legislators who signed the letter to McLendon. "He asked me when I would start the investigation," Montanarelli said, "and I replied, 'When it is appropriate.' He did not attempt to influence me in any way."
Montanarelli, a Democrat, said the only contact he had with a federal official was one call from a member of Starr's staff in February. "I told him we were deferring to his office," Montanarelli said.
Montanarelli yesterday also turned down a far-reaching request for Tripp-related documents by Judicial Watch, a conservative foundation that contends Montanarelli's probe is "motivated by political considerations." Montanarelli's office said it denied the group access to any documents because, among other things, it would compromise the secrecy of grand jury proceedings. Judicial Watch plans to appeal.
Staff researcher Nathan Abse contributed to this report.
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