Hillary in Whitewater storm

Hillary Clinton is at the centre of a political storm after an explosive Senate investigative report published yesterday portrayed her as the ringleader of alleged Clinton White House misdeeds.

Ending a bitterly divisive 14-month Whitewater investigation, Republicans in the United States Senate suggested yesterday that the President's wife had covered up misdeeds and that presidential aides also may have lied.

Citing alleged discrepancies, the Republicans referred several presidential aides to Whitewater criminal prosecutors to determine whether they had lied in their testimony.

Democrats, meanwhile, concluded that President Bill Clinton and the first lady had done nothing wrong.

The committee issued two reports - one from each party's senators - that disagreed on nearly every major issue in an event cast in the long shadow of the presidential election.

The panel's 10 Republican senators suggested that Mrs. Clinton was responsible for the disappearance of her law firm billing records, which turned up inside the White House living quarters two years after they were subpoenaed by prosecutors.

"Mrs Clinton is more likely than any other known individual to have placed the billing records" in the reading room of the White House where they were found last August, the Republican's 700-page report said.

A "powerful motive", the Republicans concluded, was fear that the public might learn of Mrs Clinton's role as a private attorney advising a fraudulent savings and loan development called Castle Grande.

Focusing on the first lady and presidential aides, the Republican report offered no broad or stinging criticism of the President's conduct since he took office. However, it did suggest that Mr Clinton benefited from confidential information relayed to him by aides who interfered in federal government investigations related to Whitewater.

The report also questioned Mr Clinton's ethical judgement a decade ago, while governor of Arkansas, in giving James McDougal, the Clintons' Whitewater partner, personal access to the governor's office.

The committee's ranking Democrat, Paul Sarbanes, decried his Republican colleagues' "venom ... directed toward the first lady".

The first lady's defenders say that she is unruffled by the Republican report. They say that Mrs Clinton, who was never called to testify before the committee, believes the public will dismiss the report as a partisan, election-year attack. They also say they see no evidence that she has become a liability in the President's battle for a second term in office.

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