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SIGNIFICANT SHORTS : Hillary Clinton was behind the hiring of Craig Livingstone

An ex-FBI agent says First Lady Hillary Clinton was behind the 1993 hiring of Craig Livingstone, the former head of White House personnel security who is at the centre of the deepening row over the White House handling of over 700 confidential FBI background files.

In a book out next week, Unlimited Access: An FBI Agent Inside The Clinton White House, Gary Aldrich says he asked about the credentials of Mr Livingstone, a former Democratic campaign operative and restaurant bouncer, for the job, and was told by a White House counsel that "Hillary wants him". The book, recounting Mr Aldrich's three years as an FBI agent assigned to the White House, makes other stunning claims. It alleges late night trysts between Mr Clinton and a woman in Washington's Marriott hotel, to which the President was driven hiding under a blanket in the back of a dark- windowed limousine. He complains of an "Arkansas Mafia" taking over the White House, dismantling the existing security clearance system, and "stonewalling" FBI attempts to conduct background checks on new officials.

Testifying yesterday to a Senate Committee probing the files affair, Mr Livingstone said as far as he knew, neither President nor Mrs Clinton was involved in his appointment. A White House spokesman dismissed the Aldrich book as having "zero credibility," calling it "right-wing trash for cash."

Nonetheless the incident is further proof that the forthcoming presidential campaign could be the dirtiest yet, as Republicans seek to erode Mr Clinton's comfortable polls lead by hammering the "character" issue. Rupert Cornwell - Washington