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Linda R. Tripp/Reuters
Some Democrats are angry over the delay in investigating Linda R. Tripp. (Reuters)

Howard County Prosecutor Turns Over Tripp Probe

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 11, 1998; Page A14

Howard County State's Attorney Marna McLendon will turn over responsibility for the Linda R. Tripp telephone-taping investigation to Maryland's independent state prosecutor in hopes of removing partisan politics from a case of national importance, according to sources familiar with her decision.

McLendon (R) is scheduled to announce today that State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli has agreed to handle any future investigation into whether Tripp broke state law when the Columbia resident secretly taped conversations with Monica S. Lewinsky discussing her relationship with President Clinton.

Last month, Montanarelli advised McLendon, who faces a reelection campaign this year, to allow independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr to finish his investigation before proceeding with a case against Tripp. Montanarelli has no plans to begin an investigation now, according to law enforcement sources.

"Marna and I have been discussing this over the past few days," said Montanarelli, appointed in 1984 to run the office responsible for prosecuting official corruption. "But for any more you'll have to talk to Marna."

McLendon said she will discuss the matter at a news conference today. "I won't have anything to say until then."

McLendon previously said she would consider investigating Tripp's role in what has become a national spectacle after Starr concludes a federal inquiry into whether Clinton urged Lewinsky to lie under oath about a possible sexual affair.

McLendon's decision to delay any investigation angered state and county Democrats, who have accused the first-term Republican prosecutor of failing to pursue Tripp because she is central to a matter threatening a Democratic president.

Maryland's electronic surveillance law requires that both parties agree to a taped conversation.

Under Maryland law, any of the 24 state's attorneys are allowed to ask the office of the state prosecutor to handle a case if the alleged crime occurred in more than one jurisdiction. The Tripp case overlaps with federal jurisdiction, which would allow McLendon to make the request.

"I'm quite disappointed that the state's attorney for Howard County is abdicating her responsibility," said James Kraft, president of the Columbia Democratic Club and McLendon's most vocal critic. "This is a simple issue of did Miss Tripp violate state law in Howard County."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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