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Did Clinton coach Lewinsky in suit?

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Monica Lewinsky is claiming that President Clinton told her at a private meeting late last month to testify in the Paula Jones lawsuit that her visits to him at the White House were to see his secretary. She says he also suggested that she could avoid testifying by being in New York City.

This recent account of the late December White House meeting, two weeks after she was ordered to testify in Jones' sexual misconduct suit against Clinton, was described by an associate of Lewinsky's who had spoken to her and by others who know Lewinsky's version of what happened.Clinton has not provided an account of any discussions he might have had with Lewinsky, a 24-year-old former White House intern who reportedly has said in secretly recorded conversations that she had a sexual relationship with the president.

But in the week since her reported allegations became public, the president has said that he never told anyone to lie and that he did not have a sexual relationship with her.

What Lewinsky has offered to tell Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel, in exchange for immunity from prosecution is the subject of ongoing negotiations between her lawyer and Starr's office.

William Ginsburg met briefly with Starr Thursday and signaled negotiations for an immunity deal have gone sour. "If you asked if we made any progress, we are making progress today on preparing Monica a defense," attorney Ginsburg said.

He said the meeting, which lasted less than an hour, was "face-to-face" and declined to provide further details.

On Wednesday, Ginsburg had said that if talks designed to reach an immunity deal for Lewinsky in exchange for her testimony broke down, he would turn to preparing a defense for the former White House intern.

According to her associate, Lewinsky said that Clinton sought to reassure her in the late December meeting, after she described how she had just been rejected by American Express for a job in New York City.

Early this year, Lewinsky, with the help of Clinton's friend Vernon Jordan, was hired by Revlon. She got the job at nearly the same time she signed an affidavit saying she had not had sexual relations with Clinton. The affidavit was submitted in the case of Paula Jones, a former Arkansas state employee who is suing the president for sexual harassment.

Revlon rescinded the job offer when the former intern's claims of an affair with the president first became public last week.

In Lewinsky's account, Clinton told her in the meeting not to worry about being drawn into the lawsuit, the associate said. According to this version, Clinton told Lewinsky that, if asked, she could describe her White House visits as meetings with Betty Currie, his personal secretary. And Lewinsky said he suggested that she could avoid testifying in the Jones lawsuit if she lived in New York where her mother has an apartment and where she was seeking employment, according to the account.

Under federal rules, Lewinsky could not escape complying with a subpoena issued in connection with the Jones lawsuit in federal court in Arkansas simply by living in New York. But a move from Washington to New York could have made it more difficult for Jones' lawyers to find her.

The president, meanwhile, was greeted by jubilant crowds of flag-waving Americans at two large rallies staged so he could make the case for the agenda he laid out in his State of the Union address.

Their cheers seemed to rejuvenate him. And the fact that one rally flowed over into a second room surprised him.

But beneath this upbeat reception lay lingering public doubts. The very people who embraced Clinton with enthusiasm Wednesday also reminded him that they, for now, continue to view his presidency through the prism of his problems.

"I have some concerns," said Nancy Schaaf, 42, of Champaign, Ill. "But it's really a private matter between him and his wife. If that's something they're comfortable with . . . who am I to judge?"

Clinton and Vice President Al Gore seemed painfully aware of this skepticism as they traipsed across the heartland to sell the president's education initiatives and his call to repair the Social Security system.

In fact, Gore took to defending Clinton - in growling, preacher-like cadences - without directly mentioning allegations that Clinton had an affair with Lewinsky and tried to cover it up.

"You can't imagine the good it does me and the president to hear that warm welcome," Gore told the second of two overflow crowds at the University of Illinois. "It does us more good than I can tell you."

The president appeared amused by Gore's antics, joking, "I wish I had people walking the aisles and passing the plate." In La Crosse, Wis., Clinton carefully thanked the people "for being here in great numbers and with great enthusiasm."

"I will never forget looking out on this sea of people," Clinton said. "This is the best of America."