Clinton mulls Lewinsky appeal

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WHITE House advisers were yesterday mulling over whether President Bill Clinton should appeal a judge's decision that two of his closest aides must testify in the Monica Lewinsky case. The two, Bruce Lindsey, a long-time friend and legal adviser of Mr Clinton's, and Sidney Blumenthal, a friend of Hillary Clinton and media strategist to the President, had refused to answer questions about conversations with Mr Clinton on the grounds that they were protected by "executive privilege" - the President's need, by virtue of his office, for confidentiality.

Their right to claim this protection had been contested by the independent prosecutor in the case, Kenneth Starr. A federal judge - in a judgment that represented a big setback for Mr Clinton - found for Mr Starr. She ruled that the prosecutor's need to uncover the truth outweighed Mr Clinton's need to keep White House conversations private. Mr Starr is trying to establish the truth of allegations that Mr Clinton had an affair with Ms Lewinsky, who was then a White House trainee, lied about it under oath, and prevailed upon her to lie about it also.

For the White House to claim executive privilege on Mr Clinton's behalf was a risk, because the last President to do so was Richard Nixon, who persisted with his claim up to the Supreme Court, and lost.

Any White House appeal of the judge's decision would keep the story in the public eye, to Mr Clinton's likely disadvantage. On the other hand, an appeal would buy time for Mr Clinton in the Lewinsky case. There was still the possibility that Mr Lindsey could claim lawyer-client privilege to preserve the confidentiality of at least some of his conversations with Mr Clinton about the case.

As the White House was weighing up the pros and cons, Mr Clinton's personal secretary, Betty Currie, was making her long-awaited second appearance before the grand jury in the Lewinsky case. Part of Mrs Currie's job was to function as gatekeeper to the Oval Office; she is also recorded as having authorised Ms Lewinsky's admission to the White House on numerous occasions after the former trainee was transferred to work at the Pentagon.

The one bright spot on Mr Clinton's horizon came from Congress, where a Republican attempt to implicate the Clintons in possible malpractice rebbounded badly. The senior aide to a House committee chairman resigned, and the chairman himself, Dan Burton, was under strong pressure to do the same after it emerged that edited transcripts of tape-recordings they had released had given a misleading impression of the contents. The edited version appeared to cast doubt on Mrs Clinton's role in the Whitewater affair, while the full version ruled out any wrongdoing on her part.