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Hillary leaps to Clinton's defence

AS A dismayed White House struggled to contain the new charges of philandering by Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton yesterday rallied to her husband's defence, calling the lurid allegations of Arkansas state troopers 'outrageous and terrible stories' put about for 'political and financial' gain.

At the same time, senior aides have confirmed that the President himself had contacted former members of his security detail as Arkansas Governor, after hearing reports they had been offered large sums of money to go public. But they flatly denied the President had tried to suppress their accounts of how he had used them to facilitate his trysts, purportedly as recently as January this year.

In an interview with Associated Press, her first public remarks since the storm broke at the weekend, Mrs Clinton called the episode 'pretty sad'. She complained of the lack of protection for public figures. 'You still have feelings and families and reputations that shouldn't be so easily attacked by people who clearly have political and financial reasons for doing so.'

Whatever the facts of the matter - and there has been no independent corroboration of the charges launched on CNN on Sunday evening by two Arkansas troopers, Roger Perry and Larry Patterson - this week's events have proved that Mr Clinton's sex life is a story that will not go away.

Mr Perry's reminiscences, flatly denied by the White House, contain graphic detail. During his nocturnal adventures, Mr Clinton would allegedly ask guards at the Governor's mansion to phone him if the lights went on in his wife's bedroom. On one night they did so. Mr Perry telephoned Mr Clinton, who replied 'God, God, God, God,' and rushed home. Later, he claims, there was a furious row between the couple.

Versions of this and other incidents, said to involve several women and first published by the small circulation, right-wing American Spectator magazine, now fill entire pages in mainstream newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times.

Outwardly at the White House it has been business as usual: meetings on the 1994/1995 budget, promises of fresh action to tackle crime, and yesterday presidential appearances to mark a new Unicef report as well as the fifth anniversary of the Lockerbie disaster. Backstage, though, there is frantic damage control, and not only on the stories of sexual misbehaviour.

Simultaneously, Mr Clinton's top aides have been fending off charges of a cover-up in another tale that refuses to disappear, concerning the Clintons' involvement with an Arkansas savings and loan bank that collapsed in the late 1980s. Yesterday, the White House admitted a file with records of the Clintons' business dealings with the S & L owner had been removed from the office of a former White House deputy counsel, Vince Foster, their lifelong friend, shortly after he committed suicide last July.

On top of that came the revelation that Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, Mr Clinton's Defense Secretary-designate, had not paid social security taxes on a part-time housekeeper, and news of the arrest of the son of the Surgeon-General, Jocelyn Elders, on drugs charges - a fortnight after Ms Elders had suggested drugs might be legalised.