Sex scandal saga swings in Clinton's favour

As the muddled saga of the President and Paula Jones - the Arkansas receptionist who alleges improper advances in a Little Rock hotel room - chunters slowly in the direction of the courtroom confrontation for which all America lusts, the balance of advantage is unexpectedly shifting in President Bill Clinton's favour.

In recent days, new claims have called into question some of the allegations made against Mr Clinton - allegations regarded hitherto as the only solid elements in ever-shifting sands of unverifiable accusations.

At the centre of the claims is a group of Arkansas state troopers who belonged to Mr Clinton's security detail in 1991, when he was state governor and when Ms Jones says she was called to a room at the Excelsior hotel and asked for oral sex.

Several of the troopers had claimed that they regularly procured women for Mr Clinton while he was governor of Arkansas, and kept guard outside hotel rooms while he took his pleasure. They had supplied this information to the anti-Clinton magazine, The American Spectator, among others, which printed its expose about Mr Clinton's Arkansas years soon after he came to office in 1993.

Now, one of the troopers, Ronald Anderson, stands accused by his one- time lawyer in the New Yorker magazine of wrongly verifying his colleagues' tales of Mr Clinton's infidelities in the hope that they would all profit. A second trooper, Danny Ferguson, who is said to have taken Ms Jones to the hotel room, reportedly tried to sell his story first for $1m.

Then last week, the generally pro-Clinton Washington Post disclosed that Kenneth Starr, the independent prosecutor appointed to look into another Clinton "scandal" - the Whitewater land deal - was extending his investigations to include Mr Clinton's past sex-life. This time, too, the information came from former state troopers, who said they had recently been questioned on the subject.

The Washington Post story led to an outcry from an American public that is firmly of the view that Mr Clinton's past sex-life is none of Mr Starr's business.

A third shift in Mr Clinton's favour was provided by the resignation of Daniel Traylor as Ms Jones's Arkansas lawyer. He said he disliked the approach of the Jones family, and complained that Ms Jones's charge - that she had observed "distinguishing characteristics" on Mr Clinton's private parts - had not featured in her original testimony to him. Thus is Ms Jones's veracity called into question.

The conjunction of these developments raises many questions. Why is the truthfulness of the troopers being challenged now? Did anyone suggest to Mr Traylor that he might step down? And what has Mr Clinton's lawyer, Bob Bennett, been doing recently?

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