By Peter Baker and Lorraine Adams
In a sealed deposition last fall, Paula Jones added several new details to her account of being propositioned by then-Gov. Bill Clinton in 1991, including an assertion that he briefly prevented her from leaving the Arkansas hotel suite where they met, according to a partial transcript filed in court this week.
Interviewed under oath as part of her sexual harassment lawsuit, Jones said Clinton momentarily stopped her from opening a door when she tried to flee, something she had never alleged publicly. She also revised her original description of his advance to say that he tried to kiss her twice and that when he put his hand under her culottes he tried to reach her crotch.
The variations in Jones's account are subtle, but their accumulated effect is to present a more menacing impression of Clinton as the accused aggressor in Little Rock's Excelsior Hotel on May 8, 1991. As the president's lawyers try to convince a judge to throw out her suit -- arguing that even if the incident did take place contrary to Clinton's denial, Jones was not seriously harmed emotionally or professionally -- the severity of the alleged encounter takes on more importance. Courts have ruled that a single incident is enough to prove sexual harassment, but it must be particularly outrageous.
Jones has offered other new details before during her long legal battle. When she filed her lawsuit in May 1994, she said she could identify "distinguishing characteristics" on Clinton's anatomy. Her first lawyer, Daniel Traylor, who had represented her for four months by that point, said later that she had never mentioned that to him.
Joseph Cammarata, one of the lawyers who took over the case from Traylor but has since been replaced, sounded surprised yesterday when the deposition was described to him and acknowledged he could not recall Jones ever saying publicly that Clinton had stopped her from opening the door or tried to fondle her crotch. But he would not disclose whether she ever told him that privately, and he added that recollections often are fleshed out from the time a lawsuit is filed to actual testimony.
"It's just filling in the details," said Cammarata, who left the case last September in a dispute with Jones over a tentative settlement offer. "That's what always happens in a case. Because a complaint, its purpose is to provide notice and to provide sufficient facts to state a claim against the defendant. The details are filled in as the case progresses."
The allegation about the door is particularly significant because, according to lawyers, even a momentary act of restraint could be used to bolster Jones's claim that her civil rights were violated. In her original suit, in fact, Jones's lawyers alleged she was "personally restrained and imprisoned," citing the "armed police guard outside the door," a complaint later tossed out by a judge. Asked if he would have referred to Clinton blocking the door to back up false imprisonment had he known about it, Cammarata paused a long time before finally saying, "I can't answer that question."
Her current chief lawyer, Donovan Campbell Jr., said he did not believe Jones had made any changes of consequence in her story. "Are there any significant differences between her deposition testimony and her complaints?" he said. "The answer in my opinion is no, there aren't."
Campbell added that memories often are fluid when events took place so far in the past. "If you went to your parents or grandparents tonight and asked them to remember something that occurred three years ago, you would probably get slightly different accounts," he said. "That's normal."
Jones's latest description of the sensational allegations that rocked the presidency was given during two days of interrogation by lawyers for Clinton and his co-defendant, State Trooper Danny Ferguson, in a Little Rock law office on Nov. 12-13. Her deposition was sealed on orders of U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright, but Clinton's lawyers included lengthy excerpts as an attachment to a motion for summary judgment filed on Tuesday.
Most of the testimony recalled facts and allegations that have long existed in the public record. But Clinton's lawyers seemed surprised when Jones described her attempts to leave the room after rebuffing a crude request for oral sex.
"I proceeded to go on to the door and he rushed up behind me," Jones said, according to the transcript. "I started to open up the door, he put his hand on the door to where I could not open it up any further and he stopped me and he says, 'You're a smart girl, let's keep this between ourselves.' "
"Are you saying that the governor did not let you go out the door?" Clinton attorney Robert S. Bennett asked.
"Not for a split second, yeah," she answered. "He confined me for a moment to let me know that I'm a smart girl and let's just keep this between ourselves."
Bennett: "And the governor had his hand on -- "
Jones: "On the door. When I opened the door, he stopped it, the back of the door, long enough to let me know what he wanted to tell me."
Bennett: "Now have you ever said that before?"
Jones: "Yes, I have."
Campbell objected at that point, but Bennett pressed ahead. "In any of the many press conferences you gave, did you say that before?" he asked.
"I don't recall if I have or not," Jones replied.
In her original 1994 lawsuit and in her public statements, Jones repeatedly has quoted Clinton urging her to "keep this between ourselves," but she did not assert that he physically stopped her from opening the door to leave.
In the deposition, Jones also offered a more extensive account of the passes she said Clinton made. After being brought to the room by Ferguson, Clinton's bodyguard, Jones said, the governor sat on a windowsill while they talked and suddenly he "grabs me and pulls me over to him to the windowsill and tries to kiss me and just didn't ask me or nothing."
She said she pulled away but did not leave the room out of fear, believing that Ferguson was outside with a gun. (Ferguson has testified that he brought her to the floor and directed her to the governor's suite, then went back down an elevator to a different floor, according to sources familiar with his deposition; Jones testified that he was still outside the room when she eventually did leave.)
While she tried to change the subject with Clinton, Jones said in her deposition, he complimented her hair and "your curves," pulling her over to him while leaning against a wingback chair.
"He took his hands and was running them up my culottes," she said. "He had his hand up, going up to my middle pelvic area and he was kissing me on the neck, you know, and trying to kiss me on the lips and I wouldn't let him."
Asked to elaborate on Clinton's hands, Jones said, "He was trying to touch my private area." Did he succeed? "Well, he was on his way to trying," she said. "If I hadn't have stopped him, he would have."
In the original 1994 lawsuit and in extensive interviews with The Washington Post that year, Jones never mentioned that Clinton tried to kiss her while at the windowsill and said he tried to kiss her on the neck, not the lips, while at the wingback chair. She told The Post he reached under her culottes and touched her thigh. In the initial complaint, Jones said Clinton put his hand on her leg "and started sliding it toward the hem." Last December, a month after her deposition, her new lawyers filed an amended complaint that said Clinton "started sliding it toward the hem . . . apparently attempting to reach [Jones's] pelvic area."
In all of Jones's descriptions, the portrayal of the most shocking allegation has remained generally the same: After she pulled away at the wingback chair, she retreated to the couch. Clinton followed, lowered his pants and sat down, exposing his penis and asking her to "kiss it." It was at that point she said she headed for the door.
Whether the shifting details will be important at trial remains uncertain. The "distinguishing characteristics" claim, for example, is rarely mentioned anymore since Bennett obtained medical testimony that he said disputes her description. Jones's current lawyers have said that is not a principal part of their case.
Bennett, who was out of town yesterday and did not respond to a request for comment, did not raise the latest variations of Jones's account in his motion, and her lawyer, Campbell, said that lawsuits as originally filed are not normally admitted as evidence at trial.
As they try to respond to Bennett's motion for summary judgment, Campbell and his partners yesterday asked Wright for more time, citing family emergencies and a heavy workload. The Jones team requested that the deadline for a response be extended from March 3 to March 17.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company