America: Military business fits the bill

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New allegations about a meeting between Monica Lewinsky and the President last month could complicate his legal position further. But Bill Clinton is trying to get on with business as usual. Mary Dejevsky reports.

Mr Clinton yesterday met the military brass for a New Year powwow. His day with his 14 senior commanders happens twice a year and affords the brass a chance to communicate concerns to the President. Yesterday's discussions were expected to include the stand-off with Iraq and strategic implications for the US of the Asian currency crises.

But with Washington aswirl with rumours about Mr Clinton and the former White House trainee Ms Lewinsky, it also offered the President a chance to reaffirm his authority as Commander-in-Chief: stage four of a counter- attack that began with his denial of the relationship on Monday. But the New York Times dented his plans with a report that he had told Ms Lewinsky how to evade difficult questions if called to testify in the other presidential sex case, the harassment charge by Paula Jones. The paper, quoting a Lewinsky associate, said she met Mr Clinton one-on-one at the White House on 28 December. She was said to be upset about a lack of work but also about a summons to testify in the Jones case.

Lawyers for Ms Jones, who alleges Mr Clinton propositioned her in an Arkansas hotel while he was state governor, are trying to prove "a pattern of behaviour" by him to boost their case. The Times report said Mr Clinton advised Ms Lewinsky to say her White House visits were to see his secretary. He reportedly also said she could avoid testifying by moving to New York: the delay finding her might mean time would run out for pre-trial testimony.

Whether such advice would constitute an attempt to pervert justice was the subject of much argument but the report added to potentially damaging information emerging daily.

Despite the reports and rumours, gaps in the story remain, above all the exact nature of the President's relationship with Ms Lewinsky, and prospects of that gap being filled receded.

The independent prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, appeared to be refusing to grant Ms Lewinsky immunity from prosecution if she "told all" about herself and Mr Clinton. Her lawyer, William Ginsburg, emerged from a meeting with Mr Starr yesterday saying he was preparing her defence. In other words, that she could face prosecution for perjury.

Ms Lewinsky's sworn denial of an affair with Mr Clinton conflicts with taperecordings of what she recounted to a friend.