Senate Republicans suggested yesterday that White House aides refused to hand over to police documents in the office of the presidential lawyer Vince Foster because they showed accounting irregularities in Bill and Hillary Clinton's Whitewater real estate venture, which Foster was trying to clear up at the time of his suicide in July 1993.
Opening what promises to be a partisan and divisive second set of Whitewater hearings, Senator Connie Mack of Florida declared that, contrary to recent White House assertions, "this is not a harmless issue of tax returns". Foster could not square public statements by the Clintons about their Whitewater finances with reality. "The White House had reason to worry about a Department of Justice search of Vincent Foster's office."
With those words Mr Mack set out what will be the Republicans' central charge in the days and weeks ahead: that senior Clinton aides, including former White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum, and Maggie Williams, Mrs Clinton's chief of staff, deliberately removed documents from the office in a cover-up starting on the night of 20 July, 1993, hours after Foster's body was found in a park overlooking the Potomac river.
Democrats insist that the new hearings are simply a politically motivated witch-hunt, designed to embarrass Mr Clinton in the run-up to next year's presidential election.