Monica may yet tell her story

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MONICA LEWINSKY flew into Washington from Los Angeles last night as Bill Clinton's impeachment trial was thrust into turmoil by prosecutors' efforts to force the former White House intern to submit to questioning about her relationship with the US President.

The issue of Ms Lewinsky dominated the opening moments of the session. Republicans, battling against moves to wind down the trial, insisted that witnesses should be called, and yesterday secured a ruling that Ms Lewinsky could be compelled to answer their preliminary questions.

Ms Lewinsky's lawyers had said that she would appear before the Senate, but would not meet the House prosecutors in advance. Republican prosecutors want to sound her out in advance, because her evidence has the potential to help or harm the President, and they want to be sure how she would testify.

Now US District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson has ruled that Ms Lewinsky should answer more questions about her affair with the President. She ordered that Ms Lewinsky must co-operate with independent counsel Kenneth Starr. House managers of Clinton's trial may be present for the questioning.

White House Counsel Charles Ruff assailed the manoeuvre. "Can you imagine what that little conversation is going to look like, held in the independent counsel's office, with the people there who have the capacity to put Ms Lewinsky in jail?" he asked.

But Republican Representative Asa Hutchinson rejected suggestions Ms Lewinsky would be mistreated. "The White House counsellors do not want to talk about the facts. Just like in the House, they want to talk about the process, everything but the obstruction of justice," he said.

Majority Leader Trent Lott said Senate Republicans would submit written questions to Clinton as early as tomorrow. "We'd like to see what the President has to say about some of the inconsistencies," he said.

The prospect of a meeting between the House prosecutors and Ms Lewinsky could delay tomorrow's scheduled vote by the Senators on a motion to dismiss the charges altogether or proceed to calling witnesses.

The motion to be submitted by the veteran Democratic Senator, Robert Byrd - one of Mr Clinton's harshest Democratic critics - could herald the end of the impeachment trial after less than two weeks. But that prospect, effectively letting the errant President off with only the House of Representatives' impeachment vote against him, prompted a fierce backlash from Republicans.

The White House, clearly sensing that the Lewinsky witness question might have to be confronted, was said to be preparing for the worst by compiling a witness list of its own. But it was also sowing as much public fear and dread on the issue as it could.

The Republicans have supported calling "live" witnesses on the grounds that Senators could clarify contentious points of detail and reach conclusions about the veracity of people like Ms Lewinsky and the President's secretary, Betty Currie, on the basis of their demeanour. The White House and, following its lead, most Senate Democrats, fear that witnesses would not only extend proceedings indefinitely, but also introduce an element of unpredictability that could harm the President's case.