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Starr Staff Tapped In Tripp Case

Prosecutors in Linda Tripp's state wiretap case have subpoenaed five current and former members of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's staff, hoping they may be able to clarify when Tripp's federal immunity took effect.

In subpoenas dated Nov. 30, the staff members were ordered to appear at a Dec. 13 hearing by Judge Diane O. Leasure, who is presiding over the case. Attorneys told the judge Tuesday they were not able to agree on the facts in the case.

The judge had said she might rule on the immunity dispute before the Dec. 13 hearing.

Tripp's secretly tape-recorded phone calls with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, in which Lewinsky confided an affair with President Clinton, formed the starting point for his impeachment in the House. The Senate acquitted him.

Maryland State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli has argued that the federal immunity agreement does not shield Tripp from a state wiretapping charge, in part because he believes her federal immunity agreement did not take effect until Feb. 19, 1998, more than a month after she played a tape for Newsweek magazine.

Tripp's attorneys have argued that her immunity agreement with Starr took effect a day before she played the tape for Newsweek.

A Howard County grand jury indicted Tripp last July on two counts of wiretapping. She taped more than 20 hours of phone calls, but was charged only with making a tape Dec. 22, 1997.

The indictment's second count alleges that Tripp's attorney played the tape with her consent for Newsweek magazine on Jan. 17, 1998. Her attorneys claim she received a letter from Starr on Jan. 16, and that is when the immunity deal took effect.

Montanarelli contends the immunity agreement didn't take effect until a judge approved it Feb. 19, 1998.

Montanarelli said after the November hearing that it would be extremely difficult to prosecute Tripp if the judge rules the immunity agreement took effect in January.