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Wednesday, January 28, 1998 Published at 20:57 GMT

Special Report

Getting to grips with the conspiracy theory
image: [ Hillary Clinton defends her husband on ABC television ]
Hillary Clinton defends her husband on ABC television

Is the sensational Clinton sex scandal a "vast right-wing conspiracy", as First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton contends? And perhaps more important, will the American public believe her?

[ image: Hillary Clinton is attacking right-wing critics]
Hillary Clinton is attacking right-wing critics
In two separate interviews on US television, Mrs Clinton alleged that the latest White House crisis was simply another smear campaign against her husband. Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr's team, she said, was "scratching for dirt, intimidating witnesses, doing everything possible to try to make some kind of accusation".

At first, Mrs Clinton's accusation seemed almost as shocking the allegation against Mr Clinton himself. But polls this week show that the Clinton conspiracy theory may be taking root.

According to ABC News, 56% of Americans believe Mr Starr is more interested in hurting the president than discovering the truth.

Another poll conducted after Mr Clinton's State of the Union address found the public divided evenly (44% - 46%) on whether a right-wing conspiracy exists to discredit Clinton.

Of those who do see a conspiracy, three-quarters believe the Lewinsky matter is part of it.

Could this be possible? Certainly, some conservative forces are fanning the scandal.

No Friend of Bill

[ image: Lucieanne Goldberg: no friend of Bill]
Lucieanne Goldberg: no friend of Bill
Some of the major players in the case are not friends to Bill Clinton.

Lucianne Goldberg, a New York literary book agent on the fringes of the Paula Jones legal case encouraged Linda Tripp to tape her conversations with Miss Lewinsky.

Mrs Goldberg was a spy for Republican President Richard Nixon's campaign on Democratic rival George McGovern's campaign plane in 1972.

Her cover story - that she was a magazine reporter - was exposed during the Watergate investigation that drove Nixon from the presidency in 1974.

Mrs Tripp too has an anti-Clinton history. She previously accused Clinton of sexual advances toward another woman, Kathleen Willey, who was then subpoenaed to testify in the Paula Jones case.

The Jones case itself is financed by the Rutherford Institute, a non-profit conservative legal foundation with links to the Rev Jerry Falwell, a prominent right-wing preacher who has long-been one of Mr Clinton's fiercest critics.

[ image: The Clintons say Kenneth Starr is out to get them]
The Clintons say Kenneth Starr is out to get them
Special Prosecutor Starr was a top official in the administrations of Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

He was appointed by a three-judge panel led by a jurist close to conservative North Carolina Senators Lauch Faircloth and Jesse Helms. He has openly courted conservative preacher Pat Robertson, another Clinton critic, and last year considered accepting a law school professorship at California's Pepperdine University funded in part by another harsh Clinton critic, Richard Mellon Scaife.

Only time will tell

Will the American public buy the right-wing conspiracy theory?

America is the country that brought the world the X Files, not to mention great conspiracy theories like the CIA's role in the death of John F Kennedy and the military downing of TWA Flight 800.

And analysts say that some Americans believe the theories because there have been so many failed attempts to blacken Mr Clinton's reputation.

But there is one thing about which Mrs Clinton undoubtedly is right. It will take "some considerable time" before the full truth is known.

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