Hillary `felt lonely and humiliated'

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The Independent Online
LAST AUTUMN Hillary Rodham Clinton was living her darkest days. Her husband, Bill Clinton, had admitted to his affair with Monica Lewinsky, the former intern, and Kenneth Starr, the special prosecutor, had treated the American public to every sordid detail. But still she held herself together, drawing strength from God and resolving that, in spite of it all, her marriage was still worth defending.

This, at least, is how Bob Woodward, the respected journalist and political historian, tells it in his latest book, Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate. Extracts printed in The Washington Post this week may clear up a question that, as the first lady gears up for a probable run next year for a New York Senate seat, will not go away. Is the Clinton marriage a sham? Is it over or will it endure?

That Mrs Clinton was in pain is left in no doubt. To illustrate her anguish, Mr Woodward recounts a singular moment of revelation as Mike McCurry, White House spokes-man at the time, broached the crisis with her during the first family's summer break last year on Martha's Vineyard. Sensing his concern, she reportedly put five rhetorical questions to him: "Do I feel angry? Do I feel betrayed? Do I feel lonely? Do I feel exasperated? And humiliated?" The answers, clearly, were "yes" to all of the above.

In the short conversation that ensued, Mrs Clinton humbled Mr McCurry, who has since left the President's service. She told him, according to Mr Woodward, that in her heart, "she still believed in the work Bill was doing as President". Mr Woodward goes on: "As for forgiveness - No, she said, she was not at the point emotionally where she wanted to forgive him."

The sadness of those late summer days was fully grasped by Mr McCurry. He remembers glimpsing Chelsea Clinton, who "looked so sad that McCurry thought he did not want to ever see a kid look like that again in his life", writes Mr Woodward.

Mr Woodward, whose numerous books have rarely attracted challenges as to veracity even though they are always characterised by snat-ches of alleged first-person conversation, traces several episodes when Mrs Clinton felt herself to be on trial while in the White House. Those included the discovery of previously undisclosed billing records from her days at the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock and the unearthing of a memo identifying her role in the 1993 firings of White House travel staff.

And she was not always up to the pressure, Mr Woodward suggests. He relates a period in early 1996, when she was preparing to promote her book, It Takes a Village and Other Lessons Children Teach Us. Suddenly, she was hit by a Newsweek cover that posed the question "Saint or Sinner?" over her photograph and a piece by the New York Times columnist William Safire, labelling her a "congenital liar". "I can't take this any more," she reportedly confessed in despair to an aide. "How can I go on? How can I?"

What is most striking is her fortitude in the face of the Lewinsky furore. Her humiliation was compounded by her efforts at the outset to depict her husband as the innocent victim of Mr Starr's vindictiveness. On the Today show in January 1998, she alleged that Mr Starr was part of a "vast right-wing conspiracy". When the interviewer, Matt Lauer, asked if her husband "would admit that he again had caused pain in this marriage", she replied: "No, absolutely not. And he shouldn't."

By the autumn, however, she knew that the reality was different. But, according to Mr Woodward, she "retreated to her religious and spiritual convictions". He writes: " `I've got to take this,' she told one friend. `I have to take this punishment. I don't know why God has chosen this for me. But He has, and it will be revealed to me.' "

Even as Mrs Clinton was debating her own future, reports Mr Woodward, she had a pivotal conversation with a friend, who told her of the marital strains endured by another high-powered couple. After 40 years of marriage the wife had discovered that her husband had been having serial affairs. " `She was devastated,' the friend said, `but she thought hard about it. They had a great friendship, and she decided he is worth fighting for, and it would be unwise to turn him out or to give him to someone else. Her decision was that it was better to fight for him and to fight for the relationship.' " Hillary, according to Mr Woodward, replied instantly: " `Man, that's exactly what I'm thinking now'."

The two friends then discussed the importance of seeing a marriage counsellor. Mr Woodward writes further of their conversation: "A therapist can stop the bleeding, Hillary's friend said. That was the key to making progress and saving the marriage. Hillary said she and Bill knew that counselling was the right thing to do. `We are doing the right thing'."

Mr Woodward's insights stop there. But his book, published in the US by Simon and Schuster, appears to suggest we may be wrong to surmise that the first marriage is over and that the first lady's lust for a Senate seat is an attempt to break the bonds with her husband.