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Mrs. Clinton questioned for five hours

Hillary Rodham Clinton spent five hours Saturday testifying under oath _ and before a video camera _ to independent counsel Kenneth Starr about work she performed on a controversial land deal in Arkansas that federal regulators have called a sham.

Saturday's questioning, in the Yellow Room of the White House, comes as Starr is weighing whether there is reason to believe the First Lady intentionally misled federal prosecutors and regulators when she testified about the land deal during earlier interviews.

Starr is also investigating whether Mrs. Clinton has given accurate sworn statements about how she came to work for former Whitewater partner James McDougal, who ran a Little Rock savings and loan called Madison Guaranty.

White House counsel Charles Ruff issued a statement Saturday saying Mrs. Clinton was "interviewed at the White House this afternoon. The interview lasted approximately five hours, was conducted under oath, and was videotaped for presentation to the grand jury in Little Rock."

Ruff said, "The subjects generally were matters concerning the Rose law firm's legal representation of Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan and Mrs. Clinton's relationship with related individuals."

The interview began about 1 p.m. Starr and a number of his lieutenants attended, as did White House lawyers and Mrs. Clinton's private attorney, David Kendall.

The session and its testimony was negotiated over several days after Starr contacted Kendall, sources familiar with the investigation told the Associated Press. The sources spoke only on condition of anonymity.

The Starr team entered and left the executive mansion without being spotted by the skeleton crew of reporters staffing the White House on Saturday.

President Clinton spent the afternoon playing golf.

Mrs. Clinton's testimony comes as Starr is deciding how to proceed after his Arkansas grand jury expires on May 7.

The twisted story of Hillary Clinton's controversial work for McDougal has led to her being questioned under oath six times now.

Her highest profile testimony came in January 1996, when she testified before a federal grand jury in Washington about how her Rose law firm billing records had mysteriously vanished for nearly two years, then just as mysteriously reappeared in the White House living quarters.

The billing records are a crucial link in the story.

They showed that Mrs. Clinton had performed more than 60 hours of work for Madison _ and McDougal _ in the mid-1980s, including some work on a land deal he put together called Castle Grande _ a 1,050-acre development outside Little Rock.

Before the billing records surfaced, Mrs. Clinton had consistently said _ including in statements made to federal regulators _ that she had done little or no work on Castle Grande and had done limited work for Madison.

The billing records showed Mrs. Clinton spoke with Madison officials about Castle Grande more than a dozen times, and had 28 meetings with Rose firm lawyers on Madison. She also met with state regulators about Madison, the records show.

Madison was shut down in the late 1980s with costs to the taxpayers of $50-million.

After her grand jury testimony Mrs. Clinton denied any knowledge of how the billing records disappeared or reappeared.

Starr also is investigating whether Mrs. Clinton was accurate when she gave sworn statements that she was put on a monthly retainer at Madison because McDougal _ who recently died _ had failed to pay a prior legal bill, sources said.

According to a report this week in the New York Times, that paid bill was recently found in a brief case of one of her Rose law firm partners _ Vincent Foster, who committed suicide in 1993 after coming to Washington as a Clinton White House lawyer.

Mrs. Clinton's billing records were once in the possession of Webster Hubbell, another former Rose law firm partner who served 17 months in prison after being convicted of fraud and tax evasion charges.

Hubbell was once a Clinton appointee to the Justice Department. The Saturday interview session of Mrs. Clinton comes as Hubbell reportedly faces fresh charges linked to his obtaining nearly $700,000 in payments, many from people politically connected to the Clintons, after he resigned from the Justice Department.

Starr has been probing whether the payments to Hubbell could have been designed to buy his silence on matters related to the Clintons' Whitewater dealings, including work Mrs. Clinton did for Madison, and the disappearance of her billing records.