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Just much ado about nothing? // MRS. CLINTON

Hillary Rodham Clinton said her imaginary conversations with Eleanor Roosevelt were merely an "intellectual exercise" and wondered wryly what Mrs. Roosevelt "might think of all this."

Trying to douse what she called sensational speculation, the first lady rejected suggestions that psychic researcher Jean Houston, who coached her in several White House sessions, was her spiritual adviser.

Mrs. Clinton opened her appearance Monday at a Nashville conference on family issues by joking that she had just had an imaginary talk with Mrs. Roosevelt and "she thinks this is a terrific idea." The audience laughed appreciatively.

In a written statement, Mrs. Clinton was firm in her denial that there were any psychic overtones to the sessions.

"The bottom line is: I have no spiritual advisers or any other alternatives to my deeply held Methodist faith and traditions upon which I have relied since childhood," she said.

Then she added, "And I do wonder what Eleanor Roosevelt might think of all this."

Mrs. Clinton said she had publicly noted that she had held imaginary talks with Mrs. Roosevelt even before Houston suggested the idea, and described the conversations "as a way of discussing what Mrs. Roosevelt would think about the problems of contemporary society and how she would approach her role as first lady."

"Imagine my surprise," said Mrs. Clinton, "when what I have been doing since 1993 in front of large audiences was now being reported as a sensational revelation."