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Clinton aide sets stage for showdown

A team of 10 White House lawyers accompanied presidential confidant Bruce Lindsey to the federal courthouse Thursday in an apparent effort to limit questioning in the Monica Lewinsky investigation, setting up a possible showdown over executive privilege.

After an hour meeting with the judge supervising the grand jury, Lindsey headed back to the grand jury for more testimony.President Clinton said his lawyers were trying to resolve the issue and declined to speculate whether he would invoke executive priv-ilege.

"It is my understanding the White House counsel is trying to resolve the issue today. And while he is working on it, I don't think I should comment about it," Clinton said at a brief session with reporters.

Lindsey was surrounded by the phalanx of attorneys as he entered the U.S. courthouse, where a federal grand jury and a prosecution team led by Kenneth Starr are investigating whether the president had an affair with Lew-in-sky and tried to cover it up.

They met for nearly an hour with U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson, who supervises the grand jury, then Lindsey headed to the grand jury room. There was no word of a resolution.

"They're having discussions about the scope of questions," said one White House official. "One possible, ultimate outcome is invoking executive privilege. But there are steps before asserting it."

The legal team included White House counsel Charles F.C. Ruff and the president's personal lawyer, David Kendall. Lindsey's questioning Wednesday by the grand jury was interrupted by a closed hearing before Johnson.

The presence of the large group of lawyers seemed to signal the White House was ready for a legal showdown on the issue with Starr.

Lindsey also was accompanied by deputy White House counsel Cheryl Mills and Neil Eg-gleston, a former White House lawyer.

Only Clinton can assert executive privilege, and as of Wednesday night he had not asserted it, officials said.

Lindsey is the president's most trusted adviser, a loyal and intensely discreet Arkansas-born lawyer who has been a close Clinton friend since 1968.

Attorney General Janet Reno disclosed at her weekly news conference Thursday that, by mutual agreement with her department, the White House has hired outside lawyers to represent the White House's view of executive privilege in this case.

"With the agreement of the Department of Justice, the White House has retained separate counsel to represent any governmental interests on behalf of the White House, including any questions of privilege," she said. Justice officials could not identify the outside attorneys.

With the investigation pressing forward, evidence is emerging that presidential friend Vernon Jordan met four times with Lewinsky, ex-changed several calls and received a package by courier - all in just one month's time.

The new details of Jordan's contacts with the former White House intern from early December through the second week of January show the intensity of efforts to find her a job just after she surfaced as a potential witness in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case against Clinton.

Jordan had been expected to appear before the grand jury on Thursday, but the appearance was postponed.