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Clinton Payment Ends Jones Suit

Jones Paula Jones. (AP file photo)

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  • By Peter Baker
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, January 13, 1999; Page A1

    President Clinton sent an $850,000 check to Paula Jones yesterday, finally closing out the sexual harassment lawsuit that continues to imperil his presidency, and in a surprise move, financed nearly half the settlement with his own money.

    To come up with the funds he agreed to pay two months ago, the president had to take $375,000 out of a blind trust containing investments for him and Hillary Rodham Clinton. The other $475,000 came from a separate deal with an insurance company that funded part of his legal defense and agreed to buy out the president's personal liability policy.

    The decision to use personal money most of it made by the first lady, who has been the family's major breadwinner during his 25-year political career was a painful reversal for the president, who agreed to settle the case after being told by advisers that they would be able to come up with the cash independently. "When all is said and done, not a penny will come out of his pocket," one such adviser vowed the day the deal was sealed in November.

    But in the intervening weeks, Clinton's lawyers discovered that they could not tap his legal defense fund because it was restricted to paying attorney fees and expenses. They also failed in efforts to pressure another insurance company into a separate buyout.

    With opening arguments starting tomorrow in his impeachment trial on perjury and obstruction of justice charges stemming from his conduct in the Jones case, Clinton concluded in the last two weeks that he faced enough political trouble without provoking new criticism by accepting loans or outside donations from wealthy friends.

    "It would raise a lot of issues," said a Clinton confidant who asked not to be named. "In the present environment, it's just better to go ahead and pay it and be done with it."

    Clinton settled the case after 4 years of legal battling that went all the way to the Supreme Court and ultimately led to the evidence-gathering process that uncovered his affair with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky and the subsequent chain of events culminating now in the Senate.

    Jones accused Clinton of luring her to a Little Rock hotel suite during a state conference on May 8, 1991, when she was a $4.93-an-hour state clerk and he was governor of Arkansas. Clinton, she alleged, flattered and kissed her, dropped his pants and asked for oral sex, an advance she said she rebuffed. The president adamantly denied doing so and persuaded a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit last April on the grounds that, even if it were true, Jones was not harmed seriously enough to justify a sexual harassment claim.

    Jones appealed and after independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr accused Clinton of lying under oath and tampering with witnesses during her case, the president decided to settle rather than take a chance on the suit's being reinstated and sent to trial. Still, he admitted no wrongdoing as part of the settlement and Jones dropped her longstanding demand for a confession and apology.

    Some White House advisers once hoped that a Jones settlement would help in cutting a plea bargain-style deal with Congress to avert impeachment because it would allow the president more leeway in admitting that he lied under oath during the case. But the president has continued to insist he did not lie and the Jones settlement did nothing to head off the December House vote to make him only the second president ever impeached.

    As the House Republican "managers," or prosecutors, continued preparing to make their case to the Senate beginning tomorrow, they indicated that all 13 members of the team would speak during 24 hours of presentations likely to last until 5 p.m. Saturday.

    "You know politicians," quipped Rep. James E. Rogan (R-Calif.). "You give us 24 hours to talk, that's just too much of a temptation."

    The latest lineup called for Rogan and three colleagues to detail the allegations against the president, after which Reps. Christopher Cannon (R-Utah) and Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) will join Reps. Robert L. Barr Jr. (R-Ga.) and George W. Gekas (R-Pa.) in discussing the laws of perjury and obstruction of justice.

    White House press secretary Joe Lockhart dismissed the trial memorandum submitted by the prosecutors Monday as nothing more than a "cheap mystery." He chided Republicans for what he called "a hallmark of what is a weak factual and constitutional case that the allegations continue to shift and that the rhetoric continues to be overblown."

    Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), the lead prosecutor, shot back later in the day, "I'll leave the invective to Mr. Lockhart."

    The settlement check sent by overnight mail to Jones's attorney yesterday will sap a decent share of the first family's savings. The Clintons reported assets ranging from $1,262,018 to $5,756,000 on their most recent disclosure forms filed last May using broad and imprecise reporting categories. But a White House official said at the time that the actual figure was closer to the low end of that range.

    A blind trust set up in July 1993 and managed by Pell Rudman Trust Co. contains most of those assets and it sent the $375,000 to Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, the law firm representing the president in the Jones case. A separate $475,000 check came from Chubb Group Insurance, which bought out Clinton's policy. However, the president's lawyers were unsuccessful in seeking a similar arrangement with his other insurer, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. The payment sent to Jones yesterday was written on a Skadden, Arps check.

    Presidential advisers originally hoped to use the Clinton Legal Expense Trust to foot much of the bill. But the organization's charter specifically reserves the money it raises from supporters "for the personal legal fees and expenses" incurred by the president or first lady and likewise bars any amendments changing that.

    Advisers expect the first couple's total legal bills stemming the Lewinsky and Jones matters, as well as Whitewater and other investigations, to reach $10 million. As of August, the trust, its predecessor and the insurers had paid roughly $3.5 million on the Clintons' behalf.

    The check sent yesterday to Jones attorney William N. McMillan III will not end the matter for her. Engaged in a bitter fight with her former lawyers over how much they are owed, Jones will not be able to cash it right away because the check was made out jointly to her; McMillan; her Dallas-based law firm, Rader, Campbell, Fisher & Pyke; and her previous attorneys, Joseph Cammarata and Gilbert K. Davis.

    Cammarata and Davis claim a lien on the settlement and last month filed a motion in federal court seeking $874,000. While McMillan did not return a call yesterday, his side has argued that Cammarata and Davis did not deserve the money because they billed for television appearances and because other conservative lawyers ghost-wrote their briefs.

    Cammarata disputed that assessment and said he went to court only after Jones made a $25,000, take-it-or-leave-it offer. "Let 'em take their best shot," Cammarata said. "They can go to hell."

    Staff writer Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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