WASHINGTON (AP) _ The special prosecutor investigating former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy and Tyson Foods Inc. is trying to keep attorneys for a Tyson executive from interviewing the wife of a key witness in his probe.

At the request of Independent Counsel Donald C. Smaltz, an attorney for Mary Ann Henrickson of Fayetteville, Ark., on Thursday asked a circuit court judge in Arkansas to delay attorneys for the Tyson Foods executive in taking a sworn deposition from her.

The case involves a libel lawsuit brought by Bill Jaycox, vice president of human resources at the Springdale-based company, against Mrs. Henrickson. The deposition from her by Jaycox's attorneys had been scheduled for Friday.

Mrs. Henrickson is the wife of Joe Henrickson, a former Tyson Foods pilot who is suing Jaycox, claiming he was wrongfully fired from his job. Henrickson has said that, while employed as a pilot for the company, he delivered cash payments from Tyson Foods Chairman Don Tyson to then Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton.

Circuit Court Judge Kim Smith stayed the deposition pending a hearing Monday after Mrs. Henrickson's attorney, Donald C. Donner, asked for a six-month delay.

``We are concerned that the lawsuit brought by Mr. Jaycox is no more than a transparent effort to learn the specifics of the information provided to federal agents of the Office of Independent Counsel by Mr. and Mrs. Henrickson,'' the letter from Smaltz's office to Donner said.

The letter said the efforts by Jaycox's attorneys to interview Mrs. Henrickson could violate federal laws against obstructing justice and intimidating witnesses.

``We also question whether there are other parties besides Mr. Jaycox who are in control of the litigation,'' the letter from Smaltz's office said.

Archie Schaffer III, a spokesman for Tyson Foods, said his company had no interest in Jaycox's suit against Mrs. Henrickson.

``This is Mr. Jaycox' and not Tyson's lawsuit,'' Schaffer said. ``The suggestion that it's anything other than that is just wrong. We have 55,800 Tyson people in 20 states and around the world, and my guess is that at any given time there are several hundred who have civil litigation pending. This is simply one of them.''

Jaycox' attorney, W.H. Taylor of Fayetteville, had left his office for the day and could not be reached for comment.

Jaycox alleges Mrs. Henrickson defamed him in an interview published Dec. 21 in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette when she described allegations her husband had made that he transported cash from Don Tyson during the 1980s to Clinton.

Jaycox said in his suit in January that even though Mrs. Henrickson didn't mention him by name, it was apparent she was referring to him.

He had been sued in a wrongful-firing case brought by Henrickson. Judge Smith dismissed that case last October. Judge Smith said Thursday he would also dismiss Jaycox' libel suit if Jaycox did not produce more information.

Smaltz has interviewed Henrickson on the allegations concerning cash payments and a grand jury has subpoenaed him.

Smaltz also has brought several other former Tyson Foods pilots before the grand jury investigating Espy, his relations with Tyson Foods and the company's conduct over more than a decade.

No one has been able publicly to corroborate Henrickson's account, first published last December in Time magazine. Attorneys for Tyson Foods and the White House have called the Henrickson's allegations frivolous.