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Clinton's woes worsened by `rapist' claim

WARY OF transgressing the bounds of law and public taste, the United States media were yesterday tiptoeing around one of the most sensational accusations to have emerged from the tortuous investigation of President Bill Clinton's sex life: that in 1978, while attorney general of Arkansas, he raped a woman and resorted to bribery and threats to cover it up.

The accusation of rape against Juanita Broaddrick, a nursing home supervisor, was contained in documents filed by lawyers for Paula Jones, the woman who is suing Mr Clinton for sexual harassment over an alleged incident in an Arkansas hotel room eight years ago.

The alleged rape is the subject of a letter written to the alleged victim by Ms Broaddrick's male friend, Phillip Yoakum, in 1992. In it, he refers back to "your brutal rape by Bill Clinton" and supplies graphic details, including "how you resisted until he ripped your clothes off". He added, "He bit your lip until you gave into his forcing sex upon you."

Ms Jones's lawyers have produced the letter to support their case that their client's experience was part of a pattern of behaviour by Mr Clinton over many years.

While the letter brought into the open a rumour that has long circulated in President's home state of Arkansas, its contents were widely treated as suspect. And Ms Broaddrick herself has said under oath that there was no such incident. Contacted by the Associated Press news agency at the weekend, she would make no comment. Her lawyer said there was "a vicious process" going on, and "we're not going to get involved".

The author of the letter, meanwhile, was not to be found and so could not be asked why he was relating the sordid details of a alleged rape back to the victim 14 years later.

While the President took time out from his Africa tour to view lions and elephants in Botswana, reporters back home have ignored the rape allegation or countered it immediately with the White House response that it was "outrageous and false".

NBC was the only US network to report the charge quickly and as a potential "sensation". The cable network, CNN, which - like several US channels - has held back from reporting anti-Clinton allegations since appearing to forecast the President's demise over sex allegations two months ago, did not mention the claim until yesterday.

The main broadsheet newspapers also steered around the issue. They are introducing the rape allegation as secondary to the less sensitive, though still damaging, claim of Ms Jones's lawyers, that the White House obstructed the course of justice by not producing letters written by another of Mr Clinton's alleged victims, Kathleen Willey.

Photograph, page 11