White House pressures Starr over Lewinksy leaks

Things are looking up for Bill Clinton. Lawyers' accusations are flying between the White House and the US independent prosecutor's office. And, reports Mary Dejevsky, the President's approval ratings are shooting up.

The prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, will today find himself the target of two legal actions that call into question his methods and motives. Mr Starr is in charge of a series of inquiries into the President's activities, including allegations that he had an affair with a White House trainee, Monica Lewinsky, and told her to lie about it.

The first lawsuit, for contempt, is to be lodged today in Washington by David Kendall, the head of Mr Clinton's legal team in the Lewinsky case and relates to allegations that leaks from the Lewinsky inquiry originated in Mr Starr's office. Leaked information has appeared almost daily in the US media in the three weeks since the allegations were first published, and while the White House has dismissed some of the material as false, many of the statements have gone unchallenged. Mr Kendall described the leaks as "intolerably unfair" and the prosecutor as "out of control".

The second suit, lodged in California, is being prepared by Ms Lewinsky's lawyer, who accuses Mr Starr of going back on an immunity agreement for his client. According to the lawyer, William Ginsburg, Mr Starr agreed to grant Ms Lewinsky immunity from prosecution for perjury if she decided to change sworn testimony she gave about her relationship with Mr Clinton.

According to Mr Ginsburg, he and Mr Starr had finalised an immunity deal a week ago. But, says Mr Ginsburg, Mr Starr subsequently added conditions, including a face-to-face interview with Ms Lewinsky.

In a furious statement at the weekend, Mr Ginsburg accused Mr Starr's office of trying to put pressure on his client to lie. Unofficial reports say that Ms Lewinsky is prepared to testify to a sexual relationship with Mr Clinton - something she initially denied - but will not say that he told her to lie about it.

Some observers see the twin lawsuits against Mr Starr's office as an attempt to build on public criticism of Mr Starr and discredit his investigation. According to an opinion poll conducted for NBC television and the Wall Street Journal, published yesterday, 64 per cent of those asked thought Mr Starr was using the investigation for partisan, political purposes. Mr Clinton's approval rating on the other hand has risen still further, to 79 per cent - a 9 per cent increase on the previous week.

A new lawsuit would complicate matters and could delay the Lewinsky investigation.

Any attempt to oust Mr Starr as independent prosecutor, however, could be counterproductive, as it could give the impression that the President was above the law.

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