. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

First Lady Accusations Promise Campaign Ire

WASHINGTON -- With blood rushing to his face, Bill Clinton stared down Hillary Rodham Clinton's chief accuser and hissed, "You ought to be ashamed of yourself for jumping on my wife."


The year was 1992, the accuser was fellow Democrat Jerry Brown, and the strategy worked: Clinton backers viewed the Democratic primary debate as a watershed moment in their uphill battle to prevent Clinton's wife from becoming a political liability.


This time, it won't be so easy.


Clinton is an incumbent now, and Republicans have accused his wife of using the power of his office to fire seven White House employees. Her role and truthfulness in the Whitewater affair is openly questioned. Still, aides see history repeating itself.


"There are strong parallels,'' senior White House official George Stephanopoulos said Wednesday. "That was 1992, which was an election year, and this is 1996, which is an election year. And because of that you have people who will try to churn up the issue to make political points.''


The latest flurry of news stories about Hillary Clinton appears to be having an effect. A poll by the CBS broadcasting networking found that 47 percent of 619 adults interviewed Wednesday had a favorable opinion of her, down from 59 percent a week earlier. The poll has an error margin of 4 percentage points.


White House aides are worried that the president's wife will be an issue throughout the 1996 election, and the president has few options.


"He can't fire her," said one White House official, who paused before adding with a chuckle: "Can he?"


That remark, coming from a Clinton defender, highlights a growing frustration, even among loyalists, with the steady drip of embarrassing developments at the White House.


Records belatedly discovered by Clinton aides last week seem to contradict the first lady's statements about her role in the travel office firings and legal work she did for the key Whitewater savings and loan.


The revelations energized Republicans, prompting a new round of congressional hearings beginning Thursday. Senate Whitewater Chairman Alfonse D'Amato, a New York Republican, said the documents "spell out a much different pattern than the investigators were told by both Mrs. Clinton and her representatives."


Republican presidential candidates haven't focused on the Clintons' Whitewater troubles, but it's an unspoken campaign issue nonetheless. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, the Republican front-runner, said he has "never raised it as an issue, and I don't think I should," although he sees nothing inappropriate with D'Amato, his New York campaign chairman, heading the Senate probe.


Clinton's campaign dismisses the charges as partisan politics.