Clinton loses his support in Congress

Lewinsky affair: Intern due for second appearance before Starr as President begins family holiday
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AS MONICA LEWINSKY prepared for her second grand jury appearance today, the political establishment steered an ever-wider berth around President Clinton, with long-time political allies conspicuously withholding their support.

Opinion polls taken after Mr Clinton's admission of his "inappropriate" relationship with Ms Lewinsky showed his popular support holding up, but the signs were that, for the first time in his career, the political might trump the popular.

Democrats in California were among the most outspoken, with Senator Dianne Feinstein - mooted as a possible vice-presidential candidate in the year 2000 and a noted Clinton ally - saying: "My faith in the President's credibility has been shattered." California is expected to see some of the toughest races for the Democrats in this autumn's mid-term congressional elec- tions. One three-term Democratic member of the House of Representatives even went so far as to add his voice to growing Republican calls for Mr Clinton's resignation.

Paul McHale, of Pennsylvania, who is not seeking re-election this autumn, said: "The consequences when any public official lies under oath should be the forfeiture of office. Regrettably, I've come to the conclusion that the President lied under oath. I would not have accepted that from Richard Nixon. Unfortunately, I can't accept it from Bill Clinton."

While no other Democrat went so far, the word from the White House was that attempts to drum up public support from Democratic Congressmen had failed. On Capitol Hill, the watchword was caution, with a majority wanting to wait to see what evidence had been collected by the independent prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, before committing themselves. Mr Starr's report, which could presage impeachment proceedings in Congress, is expected in mid- September.

Monica Lewinsky's summons to appear before the grand jury today for the second time was hailed as a further sign that the investigation is nearing its end. She is expected to face questions related to Mr Clinton's testimony on Monday.

Further reports of that occasion seeped out yesterday, adding to the picture of acrimony and defiance on Mr Clinton's part. The President was said to have interrupted proceedings for a full hour of consultation with his lawyers after refusing to go into precise details of his sexual contact with Ms Lewinsky. His lawyers reportedly broke off the encounter before prosecutors were ready, leaving open the possibility that Mr Clinton could be recalled, this time under subpeona.

Editorial comment in leading newspapers - the first day of considered comment in most of the East Coast press - was highly unsympathetic, even in notably liberal papers such as The New York Times and Washington Post. The Wall Street Journal, which has taken a tough, anti-Clinton line ever since allegations about his relationship with Ms Lewinsky first broke in January, printed a battery of comment. This was led by a column headed: "Why he must go" from the conservative commentator, William Bennett, who described Mr Clinton's television address as "the most deceptive, shameless and self-pitying speech ever delivered by an American President".

In a sign of the ripple effect that Mr Clinton's admission is likely to have, Paula Jones - the woman who tried unsuccessfully to sue Mr Clinton for sexual harassment - issued a statement disputing the President's claim that his evidence in her case was "legally correct". "There is good reason to believe that he did try to get other people not to tell the truth. Obstructing justice is wrong, no matter how cleverly done."

The Clinton family meanwhile was marking Mr Clinton's 52nd birthday in seclusion in Martha's Vineyard. Mrs Clinton, who issued a statement on Tuesday saying that she was "committed" to her marriage and felt "uncomfortable" about the spotlight on the family's private life, was said to have given her husband a birthday present. The White House spokesman, Mike McCurry, had noted as they departed for their two-week holiday, however, that they had "a lot of healing to do".

David Aaronovitch,

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