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Secret Service Chief Quits

Lewis Merletti, the Secret Service director who fought unsuccessfully to keep his agents from being forced to testify in the Monica Lewinsky investigation, is retiring to coordinate security for a professional football team, an official said Thursday.

Merletti, who protected Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton, will become vice president of security for the expansion Cleveland Browns, said the official close to Merletti, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

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The hiring was to be announced later Thursday in Cleveland.

Clinton said in a statement Thursday, "On behalf of everyone who has felt the reassurance of being in the care of Lew Merletti and the Secret Service agents he led, I want to thank this distinguished director for his remarkable devotion to duty and country. I will miss him very much."

Merletti has served almost 25 years, becoming director of the Secret Service on June 6, 1997. He headed the Treasury Department's investigation of the 1993 Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas.

As director of the Secret Service, he argued that allowing agents to testify in the Lewinsky investigation would endanger future presidents. He reasoned that a president who did not trust the discretion of his protectors would try to keep his distance from them.

The Supreme Court, by a 7-2 vote, on Monday refused to spare the agents from testifying. Weeks before, more than 30 Secret Service personnel had testified before a grand jury and their recollections were sprinkled throughout Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's report to Congress.

Merletti, a Pittsburgh native, will leave the Secret Service in January, having earned his full pension after 20 years, the official said.

The original Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore after the 1995 season. A new expansion franchise is to begin playing in 1999.

Merletti's executive assistant, Bob McDonough, also is retiring, leaving this week to be director of corporate security for Bayer Corp. in Pittsburgh. The 24-year veteran protected the last five presidents.

By RON FOURNIER

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