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Clinton goes off on tour as speculation mounts

A WEEK before he is due to give evidence on his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, Bill Clinton is planning to do what he does best: go on the campaign trail.

The President is due to set off today on a tour that will take him across the country, to Louisville in Kentucky, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Milwaukee. Mr Clinton may be under attack in Washington, but he is still at very high levels in the opinion polls, and he will attend six fund-raising events. A spokesman said yesterday that it was possible that the African embassy bombings might change the timing of the trip.

The Democrats face a tough time in this November's mid-term Congressional elections, and in a number of elections for state governor. They could see the Republicans winning further seats in both the House and Senate, both of which they already dominate.

Mr Clinton will also be aware that the tour will keep him away from prying questions about his testimony. There has been great speculation about whether he will change his previous statements that he did not have a sexual relationship with Ms Lewinsky, a former White House trainee. She, apparently, told a grand jury in Washington last week that he did. And Time magazine reports today that Linda Tripp gave independent counsel Kenneth Starr a notebook detailing Ms Lewinsky's affair. Ms Lewinsky went to Ms Tripp, who claimed to be a friend, for solace, and she responded by taping their conversations and by taking shorthand notes which she handed over to the authorities.

Mr Clinton may decide that, in advance of his testimony, he should speak to the public about the affair, perhaps confessing to the relationship in an attempt to clear the air. If past evidence is any guide, leaks will ensure that a version of his testimony is in any case quickly presented to the press after he speaks next week by live video link to the grand jury. A mea culpa strategy poses enormous risks to the President, however, since it would mean that he did not tell the truth when he spoke earlier.

The embassy bombings temporarily shifted the media focus away from wall- to-wall coverage of Ms Lewinsky and the President, but the weekend discussion programmes once more devoted most of their time to the issue. Mr Clinton's radio address to the public on Saturday and his appearance at the White House on Friday showed once again that he is without equal when it comes to such occasions: he was dignified, sympathetic and collected.

"No matter how long it takes or where it takes us we will pursue terrorists until the cases are solved and justice is done," he said, adding that the US was a target for terrorism precisely because "we have unique leadership responsibilities in the world".