Clinton Deposition Raises Career-Old Questions
By Peter Baker and Lorraine Adams
One after another came the names from the past from as far back as 1977 and as recently as 1997. And one by one, President Clinton was forced to account for his actions and the many rumors that have swirled around him from the beginning of his political career.
During that one grueling January day, the phantoms of Clinton's history came back to haunt him as the president was interrogated about his relationships with various women. And while he denied having sex with nearly all of them, Clinton was pressed to explain why he repeatedly visited one woman at her home during the day when her husband was not there, or why he met with another in the basement of the governor's mansion in the early morning hours.
One thing from the deposition was clear this is an issue that has so persistently dogged Clinton that he has had to confront it in settings as disparate as campaign stops, meetings with aides, and even a high school reunion. And by his own characterization, according to a detailed account of the Jan. 17 deposition, Clinton has become so paranoid about the matter that he felt compelled to scribble down notes about a conversation he had with an old friend who claims to be an ex-lover, and then store the notes under his desk in the White House for his own protection.
More broadly, the essential questions raised by his deposition in the Paula Jones case are the same ones that the American public has struggled with for six years now: Why have all these charges of womanizing cascaded down on the president? Has he brought it on himself through reckless behavior? Or has he been victimized by a series of conspirators spreading false tales and women fantasizing about sexual encounters that never happened?
During five hours of questioning under oath, Jones's attorneys asked Clinton about six "Jane Does" in addition to their client, including one woman he made a judge and another whose husband he made an ambassador. The only dalliance he acknowledged, though, was a single sexual encounter with Gennifer Flowers, who became the symbol of Clinton's problems during the 1992 presidential campaign.
Along the way, he was forced to respond to numerous reports, real or imagined, about the way he interacts with women to whom he is not married. Yes, he gave gifts to Monica S. Lewinsky, perhaps even a book of poetry. Yes, he sometimes describes attractive women as having a "come-hither look." No, he did not ask an Arkansas state trooper to find out the names of women he spotted from the podium during speeches.
According to the account of the deposition, Clinton said Gary Hart's experiences with a sex scandal that ruined his presidential ambitions came into play as the then-governor of Arkansas decided to abandon his own hopes of running in 1988. Clinton testified that he discussed the matter with Betsey Wright, then his top aide.
But the president minimized the importance of that issue as a factor in his decision not to run. Biographer David Maraniss has written that during a meeting in Wright's home, she listed the names of women with whom Clinton allegedly had affairs as they deliberated about a possible campaign. Asked about that, Clinton denied discussing such a list.
Instead, he attributed his decision to his fears about the effects on his daughter, Chelsea, who turned 8 in 1988, and his own assessment that he was not yet mature enough to be president. In addition, he testified, Hillary Rodham Clinton believed 1992 would be a better year for Democrats.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing episodes related during the deposition, according to the account, involved a woman who was not among those Clinton was directly asked about by Jones's lawyers.
Dolly Kyle Browning, a friend from childhood, said she had a long-running, off-and-on affair with Clinton over three decades in a deposition in the Jones case. But U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright restricted the questioning at Clinton's deposition to instances where there were allegations of harassment similar to Jones's or where there was some report that he used his governmental power to secure sexual favors.
Browning came up indirectly anyway, and Clinton recalled an incident when he ran into her at a Hot Springs High School reunion in Arkansas in July 1994, just two months after Jones filed her lawsuit. Mingling with schoolmates at the Arlington Hotel, Clinton testified, he encountered Browning and she began berating him for reportedly having an affair with Flowers.
Browning was angry that he had not called her back in 1992 when she was concerned that a tabloid was going to run a story about her, Clinton recalled. And he said she launched into a jealous tirade about how unhappy she was that she had never slept with Clinton and threatened to sell a book claiming they did. Alarmed at her tone, Clinton grabbed an aide, Marsha Scott, to have her listen as a witness.
Clinton testified that during the conversation with Browning he denied Flowers's story of a 12-year affair and emphasized to Browning that their relationship was not sexual, either. She told him she had loved him for years, he said, and that she needed money as much as Flowers did when she sold her story to a tabloid. Browning suggested her novel would be about a woman's affair with a southern governor who becomes president and that she intended to tell people it was a barely fictionalized account of her relationship with Clinton.
After he returned to Washington, Clinton was still worried about the encounter, so he wrote out two pages of notes longhand about his memory of the confrontation and then asked Scott to read it and write her recollections, which generally concurred with his. He testified that he then put the notes in a file folder, put that in a briefcase and stored it under his desk.
Browning has a different memory of the event. A Dallas real estate attorney and counsel for a group she formed called Lawyers for Affordable Housing, Browning, 49, said in a telephone interview yesterday that she had heard about Clinton's deposition version of their meeting and was outraged by it. "He is lying and has committed perjury," she said.
Browning said she did not seek out the president at the reunion he sought her out while she was dancing with a classmate. She said he placed his hand on hers during the dance and, after she pulled away, he followed her.
Browning said that she was angry with the president for his persistence, and that a Secret Service agent was alarmed when she swore at Clinton, but that he waved the agent off and they sat in a corner of the ballroom together and spoke quietly for about 45 minutes. At no time, she said, was Scott listening to the conversation, although a woman with blond hair did interrupt their conversation twice to entreat Clinton to end the conversation, which he did not do.
Browning said she and the president discussed a variety of things, including his relationship with Flowers, which he denied to Browning during the conversation. Browning said she expressed her distress at getting a call from her brother in 1992, warning her that the Clinton campaign would "destroy" her if she spoke to the Star tabloid, which had contacted her, about her relationship with the president. Browning did not grant the Star an interview.
As it turns out, Browning has written an autobiographical novel called "Purposes of the Heart," which her husband published as a vanity book last year and is offered for sale on a Web site.
The novel is about a woman named Kelly who grows up in Mississippi, and much of the it has nothing to do with Clinton. But the book describes a romantic relationship between Kelly and a man named Cameron Coulter who is first governor of Mississippi, then president. The scene at the reunion, in Browning's version, is the prologue.
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