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Lewinsky May Not Testify in Probe

Linda Tripp Linda Tripp speaking to the press in July. (AP file)

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  • By Toni Locy and Paul W. Valentine
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Wednesday, October 21, 1998; Page A02

    Maryland State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli and attorneys for former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky are discussing ways to avoid her having to testify in person before a state grand jury about telephone conversations taped by her then-friend Linda R. Tripp, according to a source familiar with the discussions.

    To avoid the media stir an appearance by Lewinsky would create, the prosecutor's office and Lewinsky's attorneys are discussing her giving a deposition, an affidavit or an interview to a state investigator, the source said, in which she would state that she was unaware her conversations about an affair with President Clinton were being taped and did not consent to the recordings by Tripp.

    The effort to avoid a personal appearance by Lewinsky is consistent with Montanarelli's low-profile approach to the politically charged investigation of whether Tripp violated the state's anti-wiretap law by recording the conversations in late 1997 and early 1998 from her home in Columbia.

    The Tripp tapes played a pivotal role in independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's efforts to persuade U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and a three-judge panel to give him permission to expand his Whitewater jurisdiction to include possible perjury in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit against Clinton.

    Montanarelli, according to sources, is concerned that if he summons Lewinsky to the grand jury's basement meeting room, the old, stone Howard County Courthouse in Ellicott City would be under siege by the throng of reporters and photographers that follow Lewinsky wherever she goes.

    At the same time, Montanarelli needs Lewinsky's testimony that she did not consent to Tripp's recording the conversations.

    Plato Cacheris, one of Lewinsky's attorneys, declined to comment. "All I can say is . . . that [Lewinsky] has not been subpoenaed," he said.

    On Oct. 3, 1997, Tripp began secretly taping her young friend and co-worker at the Pentagon, as Lewinsky graphically discussed her affair with President Clinton. The taping continued until Jan. 15, when Tripp secretly recorded two conversations with Lewinsky while "under the supervision" of Starr's office.

    Montanarelli is investigating what Tripp knew at the time of the recordings about Maryland's anti-wiretap law, which requires consent of both parties before any taping can occur legally -- and, more importantly, he also wants to know when she might have become aware of it. To convict under the anti-wiretap law, the state must show that the person making the recording knew it was illegal.

    New York literary agent Lucianne S. Goldberg has said that she suggested that Tripp tape Lewinsky in September 1997 so Tripp would have proof of presidential wrongdoing. Goldberg said Tripp was concerned about taping Lewinsky -- until Goldberg consulted an unnamed person or persons and reported back to Tripp, erroneously, that the tapings would be legal. Goldberg and her son, Jonah, say they have been subpoenaed to testify next month before the Maryland grand jury.

    Tripp has testified that she did not know the taping was illegal until late November or early December 1997. She also testified before a federal grand jury that she deliberately taped Lewinsky twice in December 1997 after being warned by two lawyers that it was illegal. She told the grand jurors: "To me, the choice was clear. I needed to protect myself."

    Tripp testified before a federal grand jury that she ignored the warnings from the lawyers and activated the recording equipment in the study of her Howard County home on Dec. 12 and Dec. 22, taping her conversations with Lewinsky.

    That testimony, however, was given under a federal grant of immunity from prosecution in Washington that complicates Montanarelli's approach to the case and is forcing him to develop evidence independent of any of the information gathered by Starr.

    Montanarelli's investigators are at a further disadvantage because they do not know what the immunity agreement with Tripp covers. The document is beyond the state prosecutor's reach because it remains under seal in federal court.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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