Adviser downplays Hillary Clinton's conversations with Eleanor Roosevelt

CNN | June 24, 1996

NEWARK, New Jersey (CNN) -- The woman described by Bob Woodward as a spiritual adviser to first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton disputed several of Woodward's published assertions Sunday night .

Jean Houston, interviewed at the Newark Airport by CNN, said that Mrs. Clinton did indeed have imaginary conversations with Eleanor Roosevelt at Houston's suggestion.
(153K WAV sound)

"(But) that was maybe four minutes out of hours and hours of conversation," she said. 

In his new book "The Choice," Woodward wrote that Houston, co-director of the Foundation of Mind Research, urged Mrs. Clinton to write "It Takes a Village," and assisted extensively in rewrites. Houston said that she did help edit the book, but that Mrs. Clinton "wrote that book entirely."

Houston said she made the suggestion to hold the imaginary conversations with Mrs. Roosevelt and others "to focus her busy mind on issues that surrounded the book."
(255K WAV sound)

"That was it," Houston said. "No spooks. No seances. Nothing. She's the least psychic person I've known, and I'm a close second. ... I don't have a psychic bone in my body."
(204K WAV sound)

Mrs. Clinton wrote about her imaginary conversations with Eleanor Roosevelt in her June 10 syndicated column. She said she talked to Roosevelt about the role of a first lady. 

"She usually responds by telling me to buck up, or at least to grow skin as thick as a rhinoceros," Mrs. Clinton wrote. 

Houston responded to questions about her comparison to the astrologer who advised Nancy Reagan, saying the difference was "about 180 degrees." 

"We (Houston and Mrs. Clinton) were just friends," she said. "Our friendship was one of ladies of a certain age, with similar experience, trying to see how the world is going." 

"I hope it's just a two-day wonder," Houston added, about the media attention Woodward's book has given her. "I think [journalist H.L.] Mencken said 'today's tragedies are tomorrow's jokes.' I hope I become a joke fast."
(77K WAV sound) 

The White House also defended Mrs. Clinton on Sunday, saying the revelations, which take up only a few pages of Woodward's book, were overblown.

"To describe it as a consultation with psychics, I think, is to try to .. put it in the wrong frame," White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta said Sunday on CBS.
(162K WAV sound)

"This is not a mystic, this is not channeling," said Neel Lattimore, Mrs. Clinton's spokesman. "This is just her talking, especially at a time when she was working on her book."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.