Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 26, 1998; Page A19 President Clinton was the most anticipated speaker at last night's White House Correspondents' Association dinner, but the center of attention was in the back of the room, where Paula Jones dined and drew stares and conversation from a steady stream of curious bigwigs.
Jones, a guest of Insight magazine, had last been in the same room with Clinton on Jan. 17 when she spent six hours in the office of Clinton's lawyer, Robert S. Bennett, for Clinton's deposition in her lawsuit. Her sexual harassment case against Clinton was dismissed in Arkansas on April 1, but she plans to appeal.
Last night, in the Washington Hilton, the paths of Clinton and Jones did not cross. But at the dinner and parties before and after it, Jones was discussed by the 2,600 guests.
When she arrived around 7 p.m., she was greeted by a screaming mob of both invited guests and the general public gathered outside the hotel and in the lobby. There was some booing. Wearing a tight, navy blue dress with a beaded bodice, she was accompanied by her husband Stephen, spokeswoman Susan Carpenter-McMillan and uniformed police officers. She was whisked to Vanity Fair's party on an outdoor terrace, where she signed autographs and posed for photos. During dinner, she chatted with her tablemate, convicted Watergate burglar and talk show host G. Gordon Liddy. ABC correspondent Sam Donaldson, among others, came by to have his picture taken with her.
"People have been treating her wonderfully," said Carpenter-McMillan. "I'm amazed at how many people have come up and said things like, 'I'm proud of you. You go girl.' "
Paul Rodriguez, who invited Jones as a guest of Insight, said he told her when they arrived: "Don't get out of the car unless you're prepared to laugh at yourself and them. That's just what this is all about."
Clinton did not directly mention Jones in his humorous speech, referring instead to his frequent trips aboard this year. He also said he was blissfully unaware of the events of the last few months.
"This year I've been so busy I haven't read a newspaper or magazine or watched the evening news since the pope went to Cuba. What have you been writing about?" The papal visit was overshadowed by the breaking Monica S. Lewinsky story.
Jones's presence had caused at least one cancellation: Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said through a spokesman that "her presence is designed to humiliate and demean the president, and they don't need me there for that."
Jones had plenty of high-powered company. The political end of the guest list included Oval Office secretary Betty Currie, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, Vice President Gore and Tipper Gore and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who looked relaxed in a black and silver gown after having spent nearly five hours yesterday afternoon giving videotaped testimony to prosecutors. When the first lady was introduced by the association's president, Laurence McQuillan of Reuters, she received a standing ovation from some of the guests.
Guests from Hollywood included actors Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Michael Douglas, Al Franken and Sharon Stone. Also in attendance were on-line scribe Matt Drudge and Lucianne Goldberg, the literary agent who urged Linda R. Tripp to tape Lewinsky's claims of having sex with the president.
The dinner, perhaps Washington's biggest annual party and now in its 84th year, began as a way for journalists to get together with their sources in a relaxed atmosphere. Recently, though, the centers of attention at the parties have been celebrity guests -- and controversial women like Jones. In 1987, New Republic editor Michael Kelly, then a reporter at the Baltimore Sun, invited Fawn Hall, Oliver L. North's former secretary and a key figure in the Iran-contra scandal. The next year, he brought Donna Rice, the Miami model whose affair with Gary Hart ended Hart's presidential aspirations. Last year, actresses Ellen DeGeneres and Anne Heche, who had recently begun dating, were Vanity Fair's guests.
Staff writer Annie Groer contributed to this report.
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