Women about the House

Profile; One woman clearly isn't enough for the President. John Carlin on the objects of his attention

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HILLARY CLINTON may turn out to have not one, but two things in common with Monica Lewinsky. History could tell that each played a part in the downfall of a President.

For almost 24 years ago to the day, in January 1974, Mrs Clinton took up a job as a researcher in the House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee, the congressional body charged with investigating the Watergate scandal. A recent graduate from Yale Law School, she was one of the select few favoured with the opportunity to listen to the Nixon tapes, which she described as "surreal, unbelievable".

Today, in a twist of fate that is no less surreal and unbelievable, the boot is on the other foot. A different team of lawyers armed with a fresh set of tapes threatens to do to her husband what she and her colleagues did to Richard Nixon.

The Lewinsky tapes, secretly assembled over six months by a treacherous friend, are reported to contain the most convincing evidence to date that Bill Clinton's reputation as an adulterer is entirely merited. During the course of 20 hours of private conversation, a young woman tells an older woman in whom she has absolute, but misguided, trust the graphic details of an affair she began with the President barely six months after she graduated from college when she was 21.

IN ALL previous incidents Clinton has issued his denials safe in the knowledge that the truth could not be independently confirmed, that it always boiled down to a case of someone else's word against his. Paula Jones would go down on her knees for the opportunity to present in court a tape of one of the agitated, distraught conversations she claims to have had with friends after her encounter with Clinton in an Arkansas hotel room. As it is, she will have no legal comeback if Clinton flatly denies in court that she cried out "I'm not that kind of girl" after, as she claims, he asked her to kiss his curiously proportioned member.

That is why Jones's lawyers have sought to build their sexual harassment suit against the President around the contention that he is a serial philanderer for whom such brazen propositioning represented no deviation from the norm. With that in mind, they have investigated more than 100 women with whom Clinton has been linked sexually over the past 30 years.

In some cases, one would assume, they have hit a dead end. It would seem, surely, a little too much of a comic book implausibility that he counted among his conquests Elizabeth Ward Gracen, a former Miss Arkansas, Miss America and Playboy centre-fold. She has categorically denied the charge. There again, according to sources close to the Jones legal team, she escaped the serving of a subpoena in December by flying first from Arkansas to Las Vegas, and from there back across-country to New Jersey.

Another unlikely recipient of the President's manly warmth, but one on whom Jones's lawyers have succeeded in serving a subpoena to testify under oath, is Sheila Lawrence. She is the widow of Larry Lawrence, a wealthy contributor to the Democratic Party and ambassador to Switzerland whose body was recently disinterred from Arlington Memorial Cemetery, America's Heroes' Acre, after it emerged that he had lied through his teeth about his service in the Merchant Marines during the Second World War. The body's removal served to appease raging Republican allegations that Clinton, in a deal so bizarre that it could only be believably attributed to him, had promised Lawrence a plot at Arlington in exchange for election campaign cash.

The source of the allegation that Sheila Lawrence had sex with the President was the colourful conservative pundit Arianna Huffington. Ms Huffington wrote in Thursday's New York Post that Larry Lawrence's leverage for obtaining the Geneva post came from "having turned a blind eye toward Clinton's affair with his own wife".

The widow Lawrence has described Ms Huffington's story as "outrageous and scandalous lies" but, these days, no one in Washington - not even the President's bewildered friends and associates - knows what to believe.

For now the word is that Clinton confessed in his deposition before Paula Jones's lawyers last weekend to have had an affair with Gennifer Flowers, the woman who nearly torpedoed his White House ambitions in 1991, during the middle of his first presidential campaign. She said, but he denied at the time, that she had been carrying on illicitly with then Governor Clinton for 12 years. A former nightclub singer, she was to claim later that Clinton had introduced her to the joys of kinky sex, that he liked spreading food over her naked body, that he enjoyed spanking and being spanked. She also claimed that in 1977, before Hillary gave birth to Chelsea, she had become pregnant with Clinton's child, and then had an abortion.

All of the above was attributed to her in the Daily Express but now suddenly, by the sheer repetitiveness of the President's predatory pattern, it has more than a faint ring of credibility. The reason it didn't in 1991, or rather less so than today, was that Hillary sat solemnly by him as he uttered his pious denial before a vast national audience on CBS television. The reason Clinton became President of the United States was that on the same programme she declared: "I'm not sitting here, some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette. I'm sitting here because I love him, and I honour what he's been through and we've been through together. And you know, if that's not enough for people then, heck, don't vote for him."

Hillary Clinton saved her husband's career. As she has done again and again, by refusing to buckle under the strain of accumulated "bimbo eruptions". When a prostitute alleged in 1996 that she had been selling her services to Dick Morris, then Clinton's chief election campaign strategist, he owned up, and his wife, perfectly naturally, left him.

In marriage, as in all matters of the human heart, it may be inappropriate for third parties to venture trenchant opinions. But to suggest that it was unnatural for Hillary to have turned up with her husband at a dinner on Wednesday night - a matter of 12 hours after the Lewinsky scandal broke and to do so wearing a broad grin on her face - does perhaps enter within the bounds of permissible intrusiveness.

Asked, as the cameras flashed, what she thought of the allegations, she replied: "Certainly I believe they're false ... It's difficult and painful any time someone you care about, you love, you admire, is attacked and subjected to such relentless accusations as my husband has been."

Hillary cares about, loves, admires Bill. Sounds more like a mother than a wife. Or a woman whose ambition, whose love of fame, status and reflected power, trumps all. It could be that, like her heroine Eleanor Roosevelt, she's entered into a pact with her husband - spoken or unspoken - the conditions of which are that their marriage will be fond but sexless and he will be free to pursue his libidinous impulses elsewhere.

But she is not a robot, and somewhere behind the public mask there must lurk a terrible humiliation and pain. Which might explain why halfway through her husband's first presidential term she enlisted a New Age psychic to teach her how to communicate with the ghost of FDR's wife. Late into the night she would engage in imaginary conversations with Eleanor Roosevelt. We do not know what they talked about, but we may safely guess that Hillary sought to draw some advice and inspiration from the fabled grand-dame's resilience in keeping up appearances, pursuing an active political life, even as she knew that her husband, whose bedroom she did not share, was sleeping with other women.

WHETHER Eleanor Roosevelt's complicity would have stretched to granting photographers a purportedly unchoreographed picture of President and First Lady dancing in bathing suits on a Caribbean beach, a picture that just happened to be taken a week before Clinton's interrogation at the hands of Paula Jones's lawyers, we can only speculate. In the same way that we can only speculate as to what Hillary's true feelings might have been upon hearing reports that her husband had been enjoying secret trysts for a year with Monica Lewinsky, a clueless young intern from Beverly Hills.

Sporadically in recent years articles have surfaced in the gutter press alleging both that Hillary is a lesbian, and that she conducted a long and passionate affair with her old friend Vincent Foster, the White House lawyer who committed suicide in 1994. It might not be a bad thing to learn that, in one way or another, the gutter press reports have some semblance of truth to them, that Hillary too has some consoling skeletons tucked away in her cupboard.

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