Clinton's wife says he was `scarred by abuse' as child

A claim by Mrs Hillary Clinton that her husband was "scarred by abuse" as a small child and that this may have affected his behaviour…

A claim by Mrs Hillary Clinton that her husband was "scarred by abuse" as a small child and that this may have affected his behaviour as president has been called a "startling revelation" by a former adviser to Mr Clinton.

It is the first time Mrs Clinton has spoken publicly in detail about the effect of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, when he was impeached but found not guilty last February of giving false evidence under oath, witness-tampering and abuse of power.

Mr George Stephanopoulos, who was political adviser to Mr Clinton until 1997, said Mrs Clinton's claim had caused "a lot of surprise in the White House".

Mrs Clinton's revelation about the "abuse" Mr Clinton suffered in childhood emerged in an interview she gave to the new magazine, Talk, to be published tomorrow. Asked about his philandering during his marriage, Mrs Clinton said that until the scandal broke about his affair with Ms Lewinsky, she thought he had "conquered" his unfaithfulness.

"You have to be alert to it, vigilant in helping. I thought this was resolved 10 years ago. I thought he had conquered it. I thought he understood it but he didn't go deep enough or work hard enough," Mrs Clinton said.

"Yes, he has weaknesses, yes, he needs to be more disciplined, but it is remarkable given his background that he turned out to be the kind of person he is, capable of such leadership.

"He was so young, barely four, when he was scarred by abuse. There was terrible conflict between his mother and grandmother. A psychologist once told me that for a boy being in the middle of a conflict between two women is the worst possible situation. There is always a desire to please each one."

Asked whether their marriage would survive the strain of her standing for the Senate in New York, Mrs Clinton answered: "He is responsible for his own behaviour whether I'm there or 100 miles away. You have the confrontation with the person and then it is their responsibility, whether it's gambling, drinking or whatever. Nobody can do it for you."

She said her husband "has been working on himself very hard in the past year. He has become more aware of his past and what was causing this behaviour." She said: "I don't believe in denying things. I believe in working through it. Is he ashamed? Yes. Is he sorry? Yes. But does this negate everything he has done as a husband, a father, a president? There has been enormous pain, enormous anger but I have been with him half my life and he is a very, very good man."

Mr Stephanopoulos, speaking on the This Week TV discussion programme, said at first there were suggestions that Mrs Clinton might have been misquoted in the interview but her aides now admit that this was not so. "The suggestion that the President was somehow the victim of child abuse is a pretty startling revelation."

The President's spokesman, Mr Joe Lockhart, was going to have to explain what was meant by "child abuse," Mr Stephanopoulos said.

The period to which Mrs Clinton refers as when her husband was "scarred by abuse" was in 1950 and there were furious quarrels between his mother, Virginia, and his grandmother, Edith Cassidy, over what would happen to the four-year-old child.

Virginia, who was widowed, was preparing to marry a feckless car-dealer, Roger Clinton, but Edith, a formidable woman feared by her daughter, told her she would seek custody of young Billy Blythe, as he was known then, whom she was virtually rearing while Virginia was away in New Orleans studying to be a nurse anaesthetist.

One biographer, Roger Morris, says the custody row "ignited yet another searing quarrel in the Hervey Street bungalow, Virginia screaming and frantically clutching at her son, the grandmother unusually and frighteningly reticent and composed".

When Edith, whom the young Bill Clinton called "Mawmaw", died in 1967 - two months after his stepfather, Roger Clinton - he was a student in Georgetown University.

The former White House intern, Ms Monica Lewinsky, was treated at a hospital and released yesterday after what police called the "solo-vehicle rollover" of her Ford Explorer on a southern Californian highway.