Clinton beats bid to speed up hearings

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PRESIDENT Bill Clinton won a signal victory in the latest round of his battle with the independent prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, yesterday when the Supreme Court refused Mr Starr's request for an accelerated hearing of two legal arguments central to his investigation.

The decision buys President Clinton time, and means that the investigation will not be concluded before the mid-term Congressional elections in the autumn.

Mr Starr had asked the Supreme Court to rule directly on two points contested by Mr Clinton: whether secret service agents should be required to testify about what they may have seen in the course of their White House duties and whether Mr Clinton's conversations with his legal advisers are covered by lawyer-client privilege.

Rulings are needed on both before the investigation can proceed.

Mr Clinton's lawyers argue, first, that the security of a President could be compromised if secret service agents are liable to testify against him and, second, that lawyer-client privilege is something to which everyone, including the President, is entitled.

Mr Starr argues that the priority is to establish the truth about what happened between the President and the former White House trainee, Monica Lewinsky, and that the charges are serious enough to override these considerations.

Mr Clinton is accused of having an 18-month affair with Monica Lewinsky when she was a White House trainee, lying about it under oath, and inducing her to lie about it under oath as well.

The special Supreme Court hearing requested by Mr Starr would have speeded up proceedings by bypassing the appeals court.

It would also have accentuated the gravity of the case by inviting further parallels with the Watergate scandal of the 1970s which forced Richard Nixon's resignation.

While yesterday's decision will delay Mr Starr's investigation into the Lewinsky case, the White House's victory was not unalloyed. It will draw out an already protracted investigation still further, with the effect that the sex and perjury allegations will dog the remainder of Mr Clinton's year, if not the rest of his presidency.