Credibility has become the battleground after a weeklong furor over allegations that President Clinton, as governor of Arkansas, used state troopers to conceal and carry out extramarital affairs and then offered federal jobs to discourage the troopers from speaking out.

Those charges by some of Clinton's former Arkansas bodyguards first were met with strong denials by the president and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. The Clinton camp has since shifted to an intensive effort to discredit the accusers.Early last week, Betsey Wright, a longtime Clinton aide and confidante who is now a Washington lobbyist, returned to Little Rock, Ark., to manage efforts to persuade one trooper to approve an affidavit contradicting elements of his own story. She also acknowledged a role in helping to make public potentially damaging details about two other troopers' private lives. Wright, who served for years as Clinton's chief of staff when he was governor, said she took those actions as a private citizen and at her own expense. She said she was in contact with the White House but was not sent by the administration.

"I did it as a friend and because I couldn't stand it, knowing that so many falsehoods were afoot," she said in an interview.

In Little Rock, where subsequent criticism of troopers Roger Perry and Larry Patterson has ranged from accusations of lying to insurance investigators and collaborating in an alleged insurance scam to claims of sex harassment, the troopers have found their pasts under the same kind of scrutiny that their charges have subjected the president to.

In an interview, Perry denied lying to investigators or engaging in insurance fraud, and said the sex harassment claim was brought by a former police association employee after Perry forced her to resign. The woman's claim was rejected by a state hearing officer. But Perry is already living with the effects of the story he set in motion. Last week he was transferred from the governor's security detail to narcotics investigation, and his suddenly controversial status led him to resign as president of the Arkansas State Police Association.

The troopers' Little Rock attorney, longtime Clinton critic Cliff Jackson, called the growing laundry list of criticism "a bunch of red herrings, a Clinton diversion. Sure, these guys (the troopers) have their shortcomings. They are no saints. But the issue isn't whether in their whole lives they've never told a lie. The issue is whether they are telling the truth now about Bill Clinton."

Indeed, that is the central issue to the White House, as well.

"People have begun to question the veracity of the men and their story," Mark Gearan, the White House communications director, said Friday.

White House officials have been most concerned about allegations that Clinton tried to use an offer of federal jobs to discourage the troopers from speaking out. Last Sunday, senior Clinton aide Bruce Lindsey confirmed that the president had made phone calls this fall to trooper Danny Ferguson, but Lindsey denied that the president was offering jobs for silence.

Meanwhile, Wright drove to the governor's mansion in Little Rock to find Ferguson. She took with her a copy of the American Spectator magazine that contained the allegations that Clinton had explicitly offered Ferguson a job for his help in thwarting publication of any stories.

She asked Ferguson to hold a news conference, but he refused. He also refused a suggestion to let Little Rock attorney Stephen Engstrom draft an affidavit for him.

In the end, the trooper agreed to have his own attorney, Robert Batton, issue an affidavit speaking on his behalf in which the lawyer said that "President Clinton never offered or indicated a willingness to offer any trooper a job in exchange for silence or help in shaping their stories."

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The troopers suffered more damage Thursday when it was disclosed that Patterson had lied to his superiors about the circumstances surrounding a serious car accident in 1990.

Finally, on Friday, a lawyer for Patterson's insurance company - which has refused to pay Perry's medical bills and is fighting Perry's still-pending lawsuit from the accident - accused both troopers of lying on their insurance claims.

"They lied as bad as anyone I've ever known," attorney Roy Sanders told the New York Times Friday.

The White House believes the intense scrutiny of the troopers is helping defuse the controversy. Gearan called the latest allegations surrounding the car accident "another example of people questioning their veracity."

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