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Hillary Clinton takes oath over Whitewater

JHillary Clinton was testifying under oath yesterday before a grand jury seeking to establish whether she is deceitful or just plain disorganised. If the 23 members of the grand jury, who conduct their work in total secrecy, find sufficient evidence that the wife of the President of the United States lied, she could be indicted for conspiracy to obstruct justice.

In the absence, however, of any clarity as to what exactly it is Mrs Clinton might be covering up, it appears more likely that the impact of the hearing will be more political than criminal, providing ammunition in this election year to those who question President Bill Clinton's judgement and integrity.

Mrs Clinton's undignified ordeal yesterday, one never before endured by a First Lady, revolves around a pile of legal documents sought for two years by investigators into the complex Whitewater investment affair. The papers eventually turned up in the private quarters of the White House.

The 116 pages contain the records of work done by Mrs Clinton 10 years ago as a partner in the Rose law firm in Arkansas on behalf of Madison Guaranty, a savings bank that went bankrupt and which was owned by the Clintons' partner in the ill-fated Whitewater property venture.

Before a White House aide stumbled upon the documents, which were simply lying on a table in the First Family's book room, three weeks ago, Mrs Clinton had maintained that her work for Madison Guaranty had been "minimal". The records indicate that over 15 months she did 60 hours of work for Madison. Debate continues over whether that was "minimal'' involvement or not.

Mrs Clinton said in a newspaper interview published yesterday that it would be "a relief" to answer prosecutors' questions. "This is not a first that I'm particularly pleased about," she said, "but I think that it's a necessary part of the investigation, and I intend to co-operate."

Speaking of what she called her "limited" work for Madison Guaranty, she said that had she foreseen 10 years ago that people "would try to distort it to undermine my reputation and my law practice, of course I would not have done it."