Trial by grand jury looms for Lewinsky

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Monica Lewinsky returned to Washington from California to comfort her mother, the victim of a battering from Kenneth Starr's grand-jury inquisitors, as controversy raged over whether White House Secret Service agents should be compelled to testify against the man they are sworn to protect.

In a climate of bewildering procedural confusion the one thing that now appears as certain as anything else is that Ms Lewinsky, the 24-year-old former White House intern alleged to have had sex with the President, will be facing the music herself before the grand jury next week.

Her mother, Marcia Lewis, was scheduled to have undergone a third successive day of interrogation on Thursday but "the torture", as Ms Lewinsky's lawyer described it, was postponed pending developments on the matter of the Secret service agents' testimony.

Mike Leibig, a lawyer who represents a 500-member association of Secret Service officers, said it was inappropriate to compel any testimony that makes it difficult to protect the First Family. "We've expressed that view in a letter," Mr Leibig said. "I don't know what Starr's office has decided to do."

Mr Leibig is also acting on behalf of Lewis Fox, a retired Secret Service agent quoted in the Washington Post this week as saying he had seen the President and Ms Lewinsky alone in the White House at the end of 1995. Now that story is changing. "That's not his recollection," Mike Leibig said of his client, Mr Fox. The officer "saw them together", but "he could not tell whether they were alone or not. He knows they were in the Oval Office, but he does not know whether there were other people in the room."

At least one other Secret Service agent who worked in the White House has received a subpoena to appear before the grand jury by Mr Starr, the independent counsel investigating Mr Clinton.

Attorney-General Janet Reno, drawn in to arbitrate on the controversy, said the Justice Department was reviewing the question of whether the government should oppose subpoenas for members of the Secret Service. "We're trying to review all of the issues; obvious among them is the security and the safety of the president of the United States," Mrs Reno said.

The word "safety" could be interpreted in two ways, since Mr Starr is apparently convinced eyewitness evidence from a Secret Service agent could contradict Mr Clinton's public denials, and Ms Lewinsky's denial under oath last month, that they engaged in an "improper" relationship.