Voters don't care if Clinton lied

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PRESIDENT CLINTON put the legal furore of the week behind him yesterday, joining the rich and famous of the exclusive Hamptons to raise money for the Democratic Party. Back in Washington, however, the omens for his fate in coming weeks were mixed.

The independent prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, made known that he was accelerating his investigation into the Monica Lewinsky affair, and would take three months' unpaid leave from his law firm to concentrate on the inquiry. He has faced criticism in recent weeks for allowing the investigation to drag on, at a cost to the US taxpayer already nudging $40m (pounds 24m). This timetable suggested that Mr Starr's report to Congress - which could recommend impeachment of the President - would be complete by late September or early October.

Latest opinion polls, meanwhile, showed support for the President still holding up well, despite the setback represented by Ms Lewinsky's agreement with prosecutors to "tell all" in return for immunity from prosecution. In a poll taken for CNN and Time magazine on Thursday - after Mr Clinton had announced his agreement to testify - and published yesterday, 60 per cent of those asked said they believed Mr Clinton was lying when he denied a sexual affair with Ms Lewinsky, but the majority said that they did not care.

A similar proportion, 62 per cent, said that Mr Clinton was doing a good job as president, compared with only 31 per cent who disagreed. An even larger percentage, 70 per cent, said that Mr Clinton should not face impeachment, even if the allegations of an affair were true.

Ms Lewinsky's lawyers announced on Tuesday that she would give "full and truthful testimony" to the grand jury in return for complete immunity from prosecution. It was also disclosed that she had surrendered potentially damaging evidence: a cocktail dress rumoured to be stained with semen and recorded telephone messages allegedly left by the President on her answering-machine. The dress has been sent to FBI laboratories for testing, and the preliminary results could be available as early as the coming week.

The poll indicated that the proportion of people believing that Mr Clinton had lied would rise to more than 70 per cent if the dress was shown to be stained with semen, a similar percentage said that in that event, Mr Clinton should be required to take a DNA test - a delicate constitutional question on a par with the question of whether a president is obliged to obey a court subpoena. That issue was fudged last week when Mr Clinton agreed to testify "voluntarily" and the subpoena - served on 17 July - was withdrawn.

On Friday, in his first and only comment on the resurgent crisis over his relationship with Ms Lewinsky, Mr Clinton said - in what seemed an echo of Ms Lewinsky's undertaking - that he would testify "completely and truthfully" to the grand jury, and was "anxious" to do so. He will give evidence from the White House on 17 August. Reports yesterday said that as well as being video-taped, Mr Clinton's evidence would be shown to the grand jury on closed circuit television.