Journalist disowns Paula Jones expose

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THE journalist whose article lay at the origin of Paula Jones's sexual harassment claim against President Clinton has recanted, casting aspersions on his sources for the story and regretting that he helped to "debase" American politics.

This unexpected turn of events came the day after the prosecutor in the main criminal case against the Clintons, the Whitewater land deal in Arkansas, lost one of his main witnesses in the case with the sudden death of James McDougal in a Texas prison.

The two developments could presage a sharp improvement in Mr Clinton's legal fortunes. The current investigation against him - for allegedly having an affair with the White House trainee, Monica Lewinsky, and inducing her to lie about it - has links with Whitewater and with the Jones case, and anything that weakens either could undermine the case for investigating his relationship with Ms Lewinsky.

It was David Brock's article in the American Spectator in 1993 naming a certain "Paula" as a past girlfriend of Mr Clinton's that prompted her to sue the President for damages. Her lawsuit, alleging that Mr Clinton made unwelcome advances to her in a hotel room in 1991, is due to come to trial in May.

Now, in an open letter to the President in next month's Esquire magazine, Mr Brock describes his sources - Arkansas state troopers who were members of Mr Clinton's security detail - as "greedy" and having "slimy motives".

"My ransacking of your personal life," Brock tells the President, "had given your political adversaries ... an opportunity to use the legal process to finish the job that I started.

"If we continue down this path, if sexual witch-hunts become the way to win in politics ... we can and will destroy everyone in public life."

Mr Clinton could also benefit from the death of Mr McDougal, a businessman and architect of the loss-making Whitewater land deal in which the Clintons were investors. McDougal died of a heart attack while serving a three- year prison sentence for fraud.

He had been co-operating with the independent prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, into allegations that Mr Clinton used his position as governor to obtain an illegal loan. Mr McDougal made headlines last year when he explained his decision to co-operate with Mr Starr by saying: "I just got sick and tired of lying for the fellow [Clinton]."