Clash of the Clintons echoes round Washington

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IS ALL well in the White House? Not according to the rumours doing the rounds of Washington dinner tables and even the pages of some national publications. Hillary, they say, has been throwing things at Bill and even smoking cigarettes in their private apartment to trigger his allergies.

Of all the tales, the one about lighting up seems the most outlandish, given that it was Hillary who, as soon as she moved in, declared smoking banned throughout the White House. The objects she is alleged to have hurled at her husband, meanwhile, range from briefing books and a lamp to a Bible.

In print, little is written about what might have caused the alleged displays of rage. One is left to assume that they were the result of normal domestic tensions compounded by the First Couple's heavy workload.

'Ridiculous', the presidential spokeswoman, Dee Dee Myers, said of the rumours yesterday. Any presidential couple suffers from such gossip, she added. 'It comes with the territory, unfortunately.'

But according to Newsweek magazine, which this week devotes several column-inches to the matter, the White House has been sufficiently exercised by the rumours to have traced two of them back to agents of the Secret Service, which shadows the First Couple even inside their private living area. The service, apparently, has been warned that it will lose responsibility for presidential protection to another agency unless it teaches its men the meaning of 'secret'.

Does that mean the President will be hiring 'plumbers' to search out the Secret Service leaks, in the tradition of in-house plumbing instituted by Richard Nixon in the Watergate era, reporters asked yesterday. 'Oh, plumbers', Ms Myers replied, after looking puzzled for a moment. 'Well, I think we can abstain from that