`Clinton raped me in hotel,' claims Arkansas woman

HIGHLY DAMAGING allegations concerning President Bill Clinton's past finally appeared in America's mainstream media yesterday, after months in the shadowy realms of the Internet.

The Wall Street Journal, which pursued a fiercely anti-Clinton stance throughout the impeachment proceedings, devoted most of its editorial page on Friday to an Arkansas woman's graphic account of a sexual assault by Mr Clinton.

The article reports Juanita Broaddrick's claims of her rape by Mr Clinton 20 years ago, when he was attorney general of Arkansas. According to Ms Broaddrick, she was attending a conference in Little Rock Arkansas where he was speaking. They arranged to meet for coffee. He suggested that her room would be quieter than a noisy coffee shop, and she agreed. In her account, they were looking out of the window: he put his arm around her, propositioned her, forced her on to the bed and had sex with her.

He bruised and bit her lip, then suggested an ice-pack to reduce the swelling. Ms Broaddrick says she was pained and shocked, but never brought charges because he was the state's chief law officer and had ambitions to be governor.

Ms Broaddrick was one of the women summoned to testify in the sexual harassment suit brought against Mr Clinton by Paula Jones, but she signed an affidavit denying that the incident happened - an affidavit she has subsequently refuted.

She also denies rumours that her husband was paid not to divulge the story.

However, the similarities in approach, if not outcome, between Ms Jones' account and Ms Broaddrick's, made Ms Broaddrick's evidence highly relevant to that case.

Although there were rumours of the attack circulating around the time of Mr Clinton's first presidential campaign, Ms Broaddrick remained silent, until now. Last month, she was interviewed by NBC but the tape was kept under wraps - according to some because of White House pressure.

Clinton supporters maintain that the revival of Ms Broaddrick's accusation is just one more aspect of the "right-wing" conspiracy against him: having failed on the impeachment front, they say, his enemies are looking for other ways of discrediting him.

But the extent to which Mr Clinton's past is bound up with contemporary politics, suggests that the truth may never be known - and would not change anything if it were.