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Top court action called unneeded

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Responding to Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr's urgent appeal, the Clinton administration told the Supreme Court on Thursday it does not believe the justices need to bypass the normal appeals process and resolve a dispute over Secret Service testimony.

"In the end, we are unable to conclude that this case requires the extraordinary procedure" requested by Starr, Solicitor General Seth Waxman said in a filing to the Supreme Court on Thursday.Waxman wrote that one reason is "this court may benefit from review by the court of appeals in a case of this importance, since the single district judge who rejected the claim of privilege is the only judge to have passed on the question at any level."

Starr has asked the Supreme Court to bypass the appeals court and rule on whether two Secret Service uniformed officers and one agency lawyer should be compelled to testify to a grand jury in the Monica Lewinsky investigation.

The administration argues service employees should not be compelled to testify about what they observe protecting the president, arguing it would ruin confidences and possibly increase the risk of assassination.

A lower court has already rejected that claim.

Though Waxman wrote that the administration does not believe high court intervention is needed, he stopped short of urging the court not to take the case.

"If the court concludes that the important interests at issue require immediate review by this court, the (request seeking review before any appeals court ruling) should be granted. Otherwise, should be denied," Waxman said.

The response came as Lewinsky's new defense team made initial contact with prosecutors, marking a fresh start in efforts to save the former White House intern from a possible criminal indictment.

At the grand jury Thursday, lawyer and former Democratic Party official Nathan Landow entered the courthouse. Prosecutors had wanted to question him about his contacts with one of the witnesses in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case, Kathleen Willey.

Landow left about an hour later, saying only, "I'm done."

Expected later at the grand jury were Lewinsky's first lawyer, Francis Carter, and presidential aide Sidney Blumenthal.

Blumenthal originally declined to answer certain questions about Clinton in his grand jury appearances on grounds of executive privilege. But the administration dropped that claim this week, clearing the way for his return.

In addition to the Secret Service issue, the Supreme Court must also rule on Starr's request for emergency intervention in the dispute over the testimony of another presidential confidant, Bruce Lindsey. Lindsey is claiming attorney-client privilege in refusing to answer prosecutors' questions in 14 areas of the investigation.