WHITEWATER, schmitewater. The real issue: can you take seriously a president after picturing him in your mind unzipping his fly, dropping his boxer shorts in front of a virtual stranger and issuing a gubernatorial directive for a special ''type of sex''? So far, the US public has been able to answer ''yes''. Not only did they vote for Bill Clinton in resounding numbers despite the Gennifer Flowers bimbo factor during the election, but they have continued to support him despite more sexual allegations than an entire French cabinet. Don't get me wrong. Mr Clinton is a remarkable, courageous politician, and his latest victory - pressuring Congress to pass an extremely tricky assault weapons ban - was one of his finest hours yet. But I just can't rid myself of this horrific image of the world's most powerful man standing there, trousers round his loafers, a cheesy grin stretched across his purple cheeks, demanding some particular kind of Arkansas hospitality. Do you reckon Chinese Vice-Premier Zou Jiahua, in the White House to talk MFN, was thinking the same thing? Or Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin, putting pen to paper on the Arab-Israeli peace accord? I wouldn't bet against it. No wonder the President is having a spot of bother with his foreign policy. The problem with the allegations made by one Paula Jones, newly resurfaced, is that they will surely not dissipate as quickly as the previous set of ''Troopergate'' tales. Ms Jones has filed a US$700,000 (HK$5.4 million) lawsuit against the President, which must make Bill Clinton the first holder of the office to be sued for sexual harassment. Lawsuits in the United States are as thick on the ground as spittoons in the Great Hall of the People. But Mr Clinton is not taking it lightly. He has already hired one of the top troubleshooting lawyers in Washington, Robert Bennett, who has helped out several congressmen in past corruption inquiries. Of course, Mr Bennett is under no illusion that the issue will come down to a simple matter of whether a judge believes Ms Jones or Mr Clinton. Already, the saga is unfolding against a seedy backdrop of money and politics. Ms Jones' story is simple. She claims that when working as an Arkansas state employee in 1991, the then governor spotted her at a convention, had a quick chat, then directed one of his faithful troopers to invite her up to a room in the hotel. It was here, she alleged, that he fondled her, exposed his penchant for boxers over briefs, and invited her (in her own quaint Southern-style euphemistic language) to perform a ''type of sex''. The only type that comes to mind under these particular circumstances clearly did not appeal, and she says she immediately left. ''I will never forget the look on his face. It was just red, beet red,'' she said. Even if Ms Jones is telling the truth - and it does not sound implausible - her story is overshadowed by some mammoth question marks. When she originally went public with the story two months ago, it was at a press conference organised by a right-wing conservative group, in conjunction with lawyer Cliff Jackson - an old Arkansas foe of the Clintons. Her story also contrasted with the way it was told by the trooper in question, Danny Ferguson, to the American Spectator a few weeks before. In that now infamous expose, the author quoted Mr Ferguson as having said that when Ms Jones walked out of the room, she said she was available to be Mr Clinton's regular girlfriend. Mystery also surrounds why, following the original press conference, the Washington Post sat for weeks on an investigative feature it had prepared about the case. INEVITABLE allegations are surfacing that Ms Jones is gold-digging. Her lawyer is already said to have tried to pressurise the Clinton camp to settle out of court, while her own sister went on television last week to claim Ms Jones had actually been ''thrilled'' about the hotel encounter and ''smelled money'' in exposing Mr Clinton's conduct. But even if the sister will not back up her claims, Ms Jones has several people who will. She has several sworn affidavits from friends and colleagues, testifying that she recounted the incident to them just after it occurred, and seemed distressed. Mr Bennett has already gone into heavy PR mode to discredit Mr Clinton's detractors. He has issued some crafted statements, the latest describing the allegations as ''tabloid trash''. Even if the American public shows a healthy disregard for the bedroom (and hotel room) antics of its politicians, things are not looking good for Mr Clinton. The situation is a classic Catch 22: he cannot settle out of court, since that would be an implicit admission of guilt, but neither does he want the case to come to court. Whether he is guilty or not, the prospect of Ms Jones on the witness stand testifying to distinguishing marks on his bodily parts, or the trusty troopers giving the full rundown on their procurement activities, would be an embarrassment of the highest order. He could walk out of court exonerated, and still all the world would remember is that image that I can't get out of my head. And I'm not even eligible to vote.