Clinton declares end to comment on allegations Aired tapes leave questions dangling


WASHINGTON -- Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton says he intends to have no further comment about charges of marital infidelity, leaving questions unanswered that could damage or even destroy his presidential candidacy.

These questions, increasingly, have more to do with Mr. Clinton's credibility than his morality. Most politicians believe his campaign would be doomed if voters were to conclude that he had attempted to mislead them by denying he had an affair with Gennifer Flowers, a former Arkansas television reporter now employed by a state government agency in Little Rock.

Mr. Clinton has described Ms. Flowers as a "friendly acquaintance," but yesterday she repeated in public her claim that she was his lover for 12 years and that Mr. Clinton had advised her to deny it if asked.

Ms. Flowers also played for reporters heavily edited portions of taped phone conversations between herself and Mr. Clinton.

The governor acknowledges the calls took place but maintains his remarks were misleadingly taken out of context. Ms. Flowers and the tabloid that paid an undetermined amount for her story have refused to release the full tapes.

All three major broadcast networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, featured the Clinton-Flowers story as the lead item on their national newscasts last night and all played potentially damaging snippets of the tapes.

Those taped excerpts, and Ms. Flowers' public statements, have focused new attention on several key questions that go to the heart of the issue of Mr. Clinton's character and credibility. They include:

* What role, if any, did the governor played in helping Ms. Flowers obtain her job as a $17,520-a-year clerk with a state unemployment agency?

On a taped excerpt played yesterday by Ms. Flowers, a voice that sounded like Mr. Clinton's said that "if you're ever asked if you talked to me about it, you can say no."

Clinton aides have acknowledged that Ms. Flowers was referred to the agency by a member of the governor's staff, but they describe the referral as routine.

Mr. Clinton has denied playing a role, but Ms. Flowers said yesterday the governor helped her get the job.

After Ms. Flowers was hired last June, another employee protested the hiring and a state review panel upheld the grievance.

But that decision was overruled by the review board chairman, a Clinton appointee, according to a report in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

* Did Mr. Clinton help her cover up the alleged affair?

On the day Ms. Flowers' allegations first appeared in the Star, the Clinton campaign released a copy of a January 1991 letter from a lawyer representing Ms. Flowers to a Little Rock radio station, threatening legal action for an October 1990 broadcast that alleged an affair between the governor and Ms. Flowers.

Yesterday, Ms. Flowers said she had hired the lawyer "on the advice of Bill Clinton." The attorney, Robert McHenry of Little Rock, has refused to answer news media questions about who retained him, why three months passed between the time of the broadcast and the letter, or how his letter wound up in the hands of the Clinton campaign.

* Did Mr. Clinton instruct Ms. Flowers to lie about their relationship?

Ms. Flowers said she lied to the news media for two years about her alleged involvement with Mr. Clinton, at the governor's request.

Asked yesterday if Mr. Clinton had told her to simply "tell the truth" about their relationship, as he says he did, she replied, "He told me to just deny it."

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