The strange affair of Bill Clinton, the 'stunning divorcee' and a kiss that wasn't what it seemed

Outrage over a muck-raking biography of Hillary Clinton has intensified with the revelation that a photograph in the book was doctored to support one of its main charges - that she knew of her husband Bill's infidelities and did nothing about them.

The Truth About Hillary, by veteran journalist Edward Klein, has soared to second place on Amazon's best-sellers list within days of publication. Its claims that the New York Senator is a power-craving liar, adulterer and frustrated lesbian have been far less well-received, however, by political commentators, almost regardless of political affiliation.

Now it has emerged that a closely cropped photograph in the book of former President Clinton in an apparent intimate embrace with a middle-aged woman was taken at a campaign rally, in front of thousands of people. The caption says: "Bill mouth-kissing a supporter. Hillary's aides noticed that Bill seemed to grow even more reckless after his memoir, My Life, became a big bestseller. He was rolling in money - and hubris. Throwing caution to the wind, he started a torrid affair with a stunning divorcee in her early forties."

The insinuation is that the woman in the picture is the "stunning divorcee". But the photographer, Jay Clendenin, told New York magazine the picture was one of dozens he took at a rally for presidential candidate John Kerry last October. The book's use of the photograph was a "huge misrepresentation of the event", he said. "She kissed him on the cheek. Nothing more. Two seconds out of each other's lives."

Mr Klein, a former senior editor with Newsweek and The New York Times magazine, stands to make a fortune from the book. But he may not have succeeded in his other apparent aim: to provide ammunition to those keen to derail any attempt by Senator Clinton to run for the White House in 2008. So many and so lurid are its accusations that some Republicans warn that it may create a backlash of sympathy for her.

At the very least, however, the book serves as a reminder that the prospect of a presidential candidacy by Mrs Clinton is now being taken seriously by almost everyone - even if she insists she is focusing only on winning re-election to the Senate in New York next year. Polls repeatedly put her far ahead of any other possible Democrats in a 2008 field. Mr Klein insisted last week that he started out with no pre-ordained agenda, but became convinced a President Hillary Clinton would be "a danger to the republic". The book's power is diminished, however, by his enthusiasm for garish innuendo - he never actually says she is a lesbian, just that she admires and bonds with them - and the repeated use of anonymous sources.

The character assassination begins from page one, with a quick reminder of a certain intern and what she did with Hillary's husband. Mr Klein suggests Mrs Clinton knew of the dalliance with Monica Lewinsky long before it became public, and used the fallout to generate spurned-wife sympathy to help in her first Senate bid.

Elsewhere the writer disparages Mrs Clinton's physical appearance, suggests she had spies in the White House to monitor Bill's extra-marital activities and resurrects speculation about her relationship with Vince Foster, the Arkansas friend who, after coming to Washington as a legal adviser, died in 1993 from "apparent" suicide.

Several Republicans have now disowned the book. "This stuff is disgusting. It makes your skin crawl," said Craig Shirley, a conservative consultant. "It could backfire and make Hillary a more sympathetic figure." New York Post columnist John Podhoretz said it was "one of the most sordid volumes I've ever waded through".

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