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Starr report `may be sent to Congress next month'

THE INDEPENDENT prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, could send his report to Congress as early as next month and limit its focus to President Bill Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky, the Washington Post reported yesterday. Such an accelerated timetable could embarrass Mr Clinton and throw into disarray the politics of the November congressional elections.

The Post report, quoting sources "familiar with the investigation" - which usually means lawyers from one camp or other - contributed to the rising political temperature in Washington in the countdown to 17 August, the day scheduled for President Clinton's testimony to the grand jury.

Other reports, citing unnamed officials, affirmed that Mr Clinton had finally rejected the widely canvassed "confession strategy" and would persist in his denials of a sexual relationship with Ms Lewinsky. His personal lawyer, David Kendall, spent time at the Washington courthouse on Tuesday, where he is believed to have viewed the videotape of Mr Clinton's testimony in the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit.

The judge in the current case had agreed that he could view the seven- month-old tape, which includes questions and answers about Mr Clinton's relations with Ms Lewinsky. In the partial transcript of that testimony, made available by Ms Jones's lawyers in the hearing earlier this year, Mr Clinton expressly denied a sexual relationship with Ms Lewinsky.

Most of the other specific questions, however, about such matters as whether he was ever alone with Ms Lewinsky in the Oval Office, whether she gave him presents, whether he gave her presents, etc, he parried with a series of equivocal answers such as: "I don't recall."

While many have commented adversely on these lapses of Mr Clinton's otherwise "prodigious" memory, such open answers make it more difficult for the President to be caught in outright lies.

According to the Wall Street Journal this week, there was even some discussion during the questioning about the very precise definition of "sexual relations" set out by the judge in the Paula Jones case. If this is so, the Journal report hypothesised, Mr Clinton might be able to claim that he was confused about the definition and thought the question, "Did you have a sexual affair with Ms Lewinsky", embraced a more limited definition of "sexual relations", allowing his unequivocal "No" to stand.

Another report hazarded that Mr Clinton could decide to draw a distinction between his private life - which he would refuse to discuss with the grand jury - and strictly judicial matters, including the claims that he had perjured himself in his Paula Jones testimony and induced Ms Lewinsky to perjure herself as well.

The evidence given by Ms Lewinsky to the grand jury last week is not thought to support allegations that Mr Clinton forced or encouraged her to lie.

The proliferation of such reports in advance of Mr Clinton's testimony on Monday reflects the speculation in Washington about what he will say. It also reflects the concern of both sides to "spin" the facts to their advantage.

The Washington Post's prediction that Mr Starr's report will concentrate on the Lewinsky case, to the exclusion of the Whitewater land deal and possible illegalities at the White House, for instance, conflicts with recent reports that Mr Starr's investigation will present a devastating catalogue of presidential misdeeds.