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Sunday, July 26, 1998 Published at 18:39 GMT 19:39 UK

Clinton ordered to testify

President Clinton is hoping to avoid a grand jury appearance

Stephen Sackur on the story behind the subpoena
President Clinton has been called to testify before the grand jury investigating the Monica Lewinsky affair.

It has emerged that he was served with a subpoena some weeks ago calling on him to give evidence in the matter.

Stephen Sackur on the president's legal troubles
While not formally confirming the subpoena, the White House has not denied receiving it.

Bill Clinton's lawyers have been negotiating with the special prosecutor in the case, Kenneth Starr, to decide how the president will tell his side of the story.

Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Orrin Hatch: "A real impeachment problem"
Mr Starr is investigating whether the president and Ms Lewinsky, a former White House intern, lied under oath in Paula Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit against Bill Clinton.

On Friday, the White House announced that it was examining ways of providing information to the jury.

The president has declined at least four requests from Mr Starr to testify voluntarily.

[ image: Kenneth Starr may hear Clinton evidence on video]
Kenneth Starr may hear Clinton evidence on video
The indications are that President Clinton does not want to appear in person before the grand jury where witnesses cannot be accompanied by their lawyers.

But the president may not have to go to court himself - he could instead present his evidence to the special prosecutor in person at the White House, or perhaps in writing or on videotape.

If no arrangement is made, he then has the option of refusing to respond on the grounds of separation of powers between different branches of government.

Constitutional crisis

That would mean a political crisis according to the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Orrin Hatch.

"I think the fact that he would violate and ignore a subpoena would certainly be grounds to file articles of impeachment," he said.

"If Kenneth Starr does have additional information, I think it could snowball into a real impeachment problem for the president. I personally hope that doesn't happen."

No sitting US president has previously been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury. Legal scholars disagree on the constitutional issue of whether the chief executive can be compelled to testify in a criminal investigation.

Clinton supporters argue such a demand could be unconstitutional and accuse Kenneth Starr of wasting public funds.

Democrat Representative Richard Gephardt told reporters: "The investigation has gone on for four years and has cost $40m."

"It's time to bring it to an end."

Deal likely

The BBC's correspondent says that it is more likely than not that some deal will be reached, as it would be politically damaging for the president to provoke a crisis which he might in the end lose.

President Nixon refused a subpoena ordering him to hand over the Watergate tapes, and went on to lose his case in the Supreme Court.

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