Women rally in defense of Mrs. Clinton

March 29, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- A group of Democratic women, tied by politics to the White House but purposefully steering clear of direct administration influence, has begun a campaign to defend Hillary Rodham Clinton against attacks arising from her role in the Whitewater affair.

The women, some of whom have expressed frustration among themselves about Mrs. Clinton's choice not to speak out vigorously on her own behalf, have been meeting for a month in Washington to plot ways to strike back at what they consider unfair press coverage and partisan assault.

At meetings among Democrats around the country, they have been distributing lapel stickers that read, "Don't pillory Hillary."

In the weeks ahead, they plan to begin writing letters to newspaper editorial pages, telephoning radio talk programs and appearing on television to assert that Mrs. Clinton has come under attack because she is an untraditional first lady who wields unusual power.

As its first step into the arena of national opinion, the informal group has bought a full-page advertisement in today's New York Times that likens Mrs. Clinton to Eleanor Roosevelt and disputes several accusations central to the Whitewater inquiry.

The advertisement was paid for with $50,000 in donations from individuals around the country.

The defense of Mrs. Clinton has been coordinated by Lynn Cutler and Ann F. Lewis, two consultants in Washington with long ties to the Democratic Party.

Joanne Woodward

The group has grown to include such Clinton supporters as Susan Thomases, a New York lawyer and Clinton campaign expert on damage control; actress Joanne Woodward; writer Letty Cottin Pogrebin; and a few men, including actor Tony Randall and former congressmen Michael D. Barnes and Tony Coelho.

Specifically not included on the list are current elected officials 00 and members of the Clinton administration.

Organizers have taken pains to keep the defense effort officially independent of the White House image-making operation.

Organizers concede that there have been "after hours" conversations about the matter with White House officials. "Running a full-page ad is not exactly a secret strategy," Ms. Lewis says.

But Ms. Lewis, Ms. Cutler and Clinton advisers who say they knew nothing of the campaign played down such influence, saying their participation would only taint an otherwise spontaneous effort. One aide says Mrs. Clinton was unaware of the campaign being conducted in her behalf.

Ms. Cutler says that Mrs. Clinton's defenders had been almost entirely absent in responding to what she and others term "Hillary bashing," particularly on television and radio call-in programs.

"These people have right-wing scripts in their hands when they call," she says of those criticizing Mrs. Clinton. "They're all over this thing like hot butter on toast."

The effort to rescue Mrs. Clinton from the Whitewater whirlpool began as many Washington efforts do -- at a political cocktail party. It continued around a conference table at the Kamber Group, a downtown consulting firm, and flourished in the chatter of daily conversation at various political meetings.

Sacha Milstone, a stockbroker who does not know Mrs. Clinton personally, says she felt it was past time that Mrs. Clinton's admirers spoke up in her behalf.

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