Maryland authorities yesterday defended their decision to begin an investigation of Linda Tripp in the midst of her grand jury testimony in the Monica Lewinsky case.
James I. Cabezas, chief investigator for Maryland State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli, said he would proceed with the week-old probe in spite of accusations that it was launched to intimidate Mrs. Tripp, a key witness against President Clinton. Mr. Cabezas said political pressure from Democrats "wouldn't influence us, and anyone who knows this office is fully aware of that."
Mr. Montanarelli's determination to move forward with the investigation raises questions about whether it will interfere with independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's probe of Mr. Clinton. Presumably, Mr. Montanarelli will need much of the same evidence that Mr. Starr is presenting to a federal grand jury, including Mrs. Tripp's testimony and her 20 hours of secretly recorded conversations with Miss Lewinsky.
"We need to collect evidence to present to the [state] grand jury, and we'll do that," Mr. Cabezas said. "We're going to have to do some legal gymnastics."
That might include overcoming immunity that Mrs. Tripp has secured from federal authorities. Mr. Starr granted her "production immunity" for the tapes, according to Mrs. Tripp's attorney, Anthony Zaccagnini. He declined to comment on reports that Mrs. Tripp had also received immunity from a federal judge that is under seal.
Mr. Cabezas said: "If immunity has in fact been granted, it would not impede or disable our investigation."
A source close to the investigation said Mr. Montanarelli is prepared to cite case law in arguing that federal grants of immunity cannot be used to hobble a state investigation. Mr. Montanarelli has come under fierce criticism for deciding to begin his investigation on July 2, while Mrs. Tripp was giving her second day of testimony to the federal grand jury, and for publicly announcing the probe on Tuesday, Mrs. Tripp's third day of testimony. Mr. Zaccagnini, alerted to the Maryland probe by The Washington Times, told his client about it during a break in her testimony. …