The First Lady's trading brings home the bacon

A few months ago it was Saint Hillary, dressed in white and adorning the cover of the New York Times magazine as she extolled 'the politics of meaning'. Today, 'Our Lady of Cattle Futures' (and of soya beans, hogs, copper and lumber for good measure) might be a more apposite title.

Goaded by an allegation in Newsweek that Mrs Clinton did not put up a cent of her own money to finance her celebrated foray into the commodities markets in 1978 and 1979, the White House has released details of the First Lady's trading operations. They have left weathered veterans of the Chicago futures pits gasping in admiration.

According to the records, in less than 12 months Mrs Clinton (or Hillary Rodham as she is listed on the account at the Refco broking company) managed to parlay an initial dollars 1,000 ( pounds 675) investment into a gain of dollars 99,537 between October 1978 and July 1979. She closed the account when she became pregnant, said White House officials this week, because she found it 'too nerve-wracking'.

She got off to a heady start with a dollars 5,300 profit on the dollars 1,000, on her very first day, 12 October 1978. By the end of 1978, Mrs Clinton was showing net gains of dollars 26,541. The following year she was ahead dollars 72,996 when she stopped trading in cattle and other futures in July.

'This is highly unusual for a beginner,' said a specialist. 'I'm not saying she did anything wrong, but it's still quite remarkable. She had savvy trading skills or an enormous amount of luck.'

Or, as snipers murmur, an unfair inside track. As throughout the Whitewater affair, this latest effort by the Clintons to come clean has raised new questions. They may be irrelevant, but they serve to thicken the miasma of innuendo spread by foes such as the Wall Street Journal. As the paper gleefully reported this week, Robert 'Red' Bone, her broker at Refco's Arkansas office, was repeatedly disciplined in the late 1970s for switching trades and other 'serious and repeated violations' of market regulations. The White House has denied Mrs Clinton was involved in any way .

More plausible are the broader charges of hypocrisy on the part of a candidate and his wife who spent the 1992 campaign lambasting the greed of the 1980s, but who - even before the reviled Reagan era began - were making very fast bucks of their own. Whatever else, Americans are unlikely to look at Mrs Clinton, liberal lawyer and high priestess of health care, in quite the same light again.

This week Jim McDougal, the Clintons' partner in the Whitewater real estate venture, announced he was running for Congress against an incumbent Arkansas Republican. His chances are considered zero. But he said, 'at least my name recognition is sky high'.

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