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Jeffrey H. Birnbaum/Washington

Ross Perot said it out loud last week, but the idea has been circulating among bitter Republicans and even some triumphant Democrats. If Bill Clinton is re-elected, Perot warned, his second term will be a nightmare of legal problems that will compare with Watergate. That’s a stretch. There are no signs now that Clinton faces anything like the obstruction-of-justice scandal that brought down Richard Nixon. But special prosecutor Kenneth Starr keeps nipping at the heels of people around him. And around the First Lady.

According to lawyers familiar with Starr’s activities, last summer FBI agents armed with a search warrant scoured the home of Patsy Thomasson, deputy director of presidential personnel. They were looking for documents related to the 1993 firings in the White House travel office. It was Thomasson’s files that contained a memo portraying Mrs. Clinton as a central figure in the firings, a role the First Lady has denied.

Clinton aides see the incident as a harbinger of a no-holds-barred effort to attack Mrs. Clinton after the election. Last week a federal appeals court gave Starr permission to investigate whether former White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum lied to Congress about Mrs. Clinton’s involvement in hiring Craig Livingstone, the aide who obtained hundreds of FBI personnel files, including many on former G.O.P. White House figures. At a congressional hearing in June, Nussbaum denied talking about Livingstone with Mrs. Clinton. But the committee found an FBI report in which Nussbaum is quoted as saying she “highly recommended” Livingstone. Says Washington lawyer Stanley Brand: “What we face is going to be what the French faced under Robespierre, a succession of torture sessions.”

–By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum/Washington

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