Judge rules Clinton's agents can be forced to testify in Lewinsky case

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The Independent Online
BILL Clinton yesterday lost another in a series of legal battles in the investigation into whether he lied about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

A court in Washington ruled that the secret service agents who guard the President can be made to testify before a grand jury, something that Mr Clinton and his lawyers had resisted.

Kenneth Starr, the independent prosecutor leading the investigation, wants to bring three agents into the court because he believes that they may have crucial evidence. He is investigating charges that Mr Clinton lied under oath in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit, and that he and his officials encouraged Ms Lewinsky, a former White House intern, to do the same. Both Ms Lewinsky and the President have testified under oath that they did not have a relationship.

The same federal judge has also decided that Ms Lewinksy does not have immunity from prosecution, and that two of Mr Clinton's key aides are not protected by executive privilege. After a long period when Mr Starr's investigation seemed becalmed, it is now gaining ground on the President. But there is a long way to go before he is in serious trouble; most of this is procedural manoeuvring before the main event.

The President has argued that bringing the secret service agents into the daylight would compromise his security. Knowing that they can testify will make the relationship with his protectors more difficult, he has said, and will make it harder to have them around him 24 hours a day. The current head of the secret service has backed him in this argument, though other former agents have rejected it.

"At least, it will have a chilling effect perhaps on the conversations Presidents have and the work that they do and the way that they do it," said Mr Clinton yesterday, reacting to the news.

It is still up to the President to decide if he wishes to appeal the decision, or to claim executive privilege for the agents. "I think it will raise some serious questions and present a whole new array of problems for managing the presidency and for the secret service managing their responsibility," he said.

The President admitted that there was no federal law on the matter, but said: "It never occurred to anybody that anyone would be so insensitive to the responsibility of the secret service that this kind of legal question would arise".

The secret service, part of the US Treasury, are the elite Presidential protectors, but also play a much wider police role. Some are in uniform, with secret service insignia, and hence not that secret at all. But the plain-clothes men and women who guard the President have always sought to establish very close relationships with the first couples and their families.

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