Clinton struggles to relaunch agenda

(First Edition)

AFTER a two-week respite from the scandal-obsessed atmosphere of Washington, first on holiday and then campaigning countrywide for health-care reform, President Bill Clinton has returned hoping to struggle free from the tangle of the Whitewater saga and to re-focus attention on his legislative agenda.

Congress, which also comes back today from its Easter recess, may give him a little help. On Capitol Hill - and even in the media - some of the steam appears to have escaped from Whitewater. Members also have a heavy workload, most notably in bargaining on the President's anti-crime bill.

Crime was the theme of Mr Clinton's weekly radio address on Saturday. 'In my travels this week, people made it clear to me they expect us here in Washington to take care of one job immediately: to confront the crime and violence that are tearing our communities apart,' he said. The bill includes the three-strikes-and-you're-out provision that would jail for life anyone found guilty of three successive serious violent crimes.

Though Whitewater fever seems to have subsided somewhat - the story, one columnist said yesterday, appears suddenly to 'have fallen off a cliff in the public consciousness' - elements of the saga still pose possible serious danger to Mr Clinton and may erupt at the very moment that his presidency has a chance to get itself back on track.

The core issues - the relationship between Mr Clinton as Arkansas governor and a failed savings and loan bank, the Madison Guaranty; what monies may have flowed from Madison to his campaign finances and to the Whitewater real-estate scheme; what cover-up of may have since have been attempted - are still to be raked over in congressional hearings later this spring.

Beyond those, however, new questions continue to surface about the morality, if not legality, of Hillary Clinton's past speculative financial dealings. In addition to the revelations of astonishing profits made in the cattle futures markets at the end of the Seventies, Time magazine is expected today to provide another tale of Hillary profit-taking that has to do with an investment she made in a cellular telephone consortium in the mid-Eighties.

Then there is the question of the 'bimbo eruptions'. That volcano has again been spewing salacious lava in some US tabloid publications for weeks, but remains mostly dormant in the pages of mainstream dailies such as the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The apparent reluctance of these newspapers to give credence, and column inches, to these allegations of sexual impropriety by Mr Clinton is itself almost becoming a news item. The Washington Post last week carried an advertisement from a group called Accuracy in the Media (AIM), accusing the newspaper of suppressing the claims of an Arkansas woman, Paula Jones, that three years ago she was improperly propositioned by Mr Clinton in a hotel room.

The Post said last week that it will look into stories about the private conduct of politicians and 'publish if we find it is factual, relevant to the person's conduct of public office or character'. That might soon put Ms Jones on the newspaper's front page for she has said she is preparing to sue the President over the alleged encounter. When she does, any relative calm the First Couple may for the moment enjoy could be shattered.

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