Clinton defiant as accusations pour in

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The Independent Online
President Clinton defiantly faced new allegations about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky yesterday, denying that he had asked his secretary to lie for him.

Questions about the affair quite overwhelmed the visit by Tony Blair to Washington. Asked at a White House news conference - conducted jointly with Mr Blair - at what point he might just get up and walk away, Mr Clinton said: "Never ... I would never walk away from the people of this country and the trust they've placed in me."

Warming to his theme, he said: "I'm just going to keep showing up for work. I'm going to do what I was hired to do." Obliquely admitting that the allegations had hurt him, he said: "The pain threshold ... of being in public life today, has been raised. But to give in to that would be to give in to everything that I have fought against."

Mr Clinton repeated his denial that there was an improper relationship with Ms Lewinsky, then a 21-year-old White House trainee, but refused to discuss a spate of new disclosures, saying that all legal proceedings were subject to a confidentiality order and he was intent on complying with it, whether others did or not. He was said to be considering legal action against the independent prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, for the leaks.

Mr Clinton's concern for legality was interpreted by some US analysts as evidence that the latest disclosures - details of which were published in yesterday's newspapers - were potentially very damaging. He is alleged not only to have had an affair with Ms Lewinsky, but to have told her, and perhaps others, to lie about it.

The New York Times, relying on what it said were "lawyer" sources, said there was a significant discrepancy between sworn testimony given by Mr Clinton about his relationship with Ms Lewinsky and subsequent information given by his personal secretary, Betty Currie.

Mrs Currie was one of the few members of the White House staff to emerge from giving evidence this week not to have told reporters afterwards that she was "unaware of any improper relationship between the President and Ms Lewinsky or anyone else for that matter".

Mrs Currie, described as a devout Christian, was said to have been "in turmoil" about her evidence and went absent from her White House job for several days after testifying. According to the New York Times, Mr Clinton had effectively coached her in what she should tell the inquiry, calling her into the office on a Sunday to recount in detail his own testimony and encourage her to repeat it. At one point, the newspaper reports, he told her: "We were never alone, right?"

Mrs Currie, however, seems to have proved less biddable than Mr Clinton may have hoped. She reportedly told the inquiry that the two were sometimes alone, though they were always in earshot. She also said to have handed to investigators a box containing a dress, a brooch, hatpin and other small articles said to be gifts from Mr Clinton to Ms Lewinsky. Yesterday, both Mrs Currie's lawyer and the White House denied that Mr Clinton had "coached" his secretary in what to say, but did not deny that a meeting took place or the existence of gifts.

Another damaging leak was printed in the Washington Post. This was the text of an affidavit, signed by Linda Tripp, the colleague of Ms Lewinsky who secretly taped her conversations with the former trainee. In this short statement, dated 21 January, she says that Ms Lewinsky "revealed to me in detailed conversations on innumerable occasions that she has had a sexual relationship with President Clinton since November 15, 1995". She said she had also heard "at least three tapes containing the President's voice" and had seen "gifts they exchanged".

The date mentioned is when the US government was virtually shut down because of a budget disagreement and the White House was staffed to a large extent by trainee volunteers.

In the meantime, Ms Lewinsky was pondering whether to accept the terms set by Mr Starr for obtaining immunity from prosecution. She needs such immunity to avoid a perjury charge if she goes back on her sworn denial of an affair with Mr Clinton. According to her lawyer an immunity deal was agreed and signed before she left Washington for California on Tuesday. The prosecutor, however, was reportedly insisting on a face-to face interview with her before granting immunity and had given her until midday yesterday to decide.

Holiday snaps and stiff upper lips, page 12

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