By Peter Baker and Susan Schmidt
The Paula Jones legal team considered "selling" the sworn statement in which she purported to describe "distinguishing characteristics" about President Clinton's private parts, according to newly unsealed documents in Jones's now-dismissed sexual harassment lawsuit.
In a letter urging her to settle the case last summer, Jones's attorneys stressed that pursuing her lawsuit would force Jones to reveal still-secret allegations about the president that would diminish the value of her story for book contracts or personal appearances. In particular, they highlighted the affidavit, which had not yet been turned over to Clinton's legal team.
"You will lose all prospect of financial reward from the selling of your sealed affidavit once that affidavit is disclosed, as it must be, to our opponents," attorneys Joseph Cammarata and Gilbert K. Davis advised Jones in the Aug. 19 letter.
The documents made public in U.S. District Court in Arkansas this week shed new light on the Jones team's calculations at a critical juncture in the lawsuit. Had Jones accepted her lawyers' advice and settled the case last summer, Monica S. Lewinsky never would have been subpoenaed and no allegations of perjury or obstruction of justice stemming from the civil case would have arisen for independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr to investigate.
The aftermath of that decision continued to play out yesterday as Julie Hiatt Steele, a onetime friend of a Jones witness, testified before Starr's grand jury and filed her own lawsuit against Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff. Steele claims he improperly quoted off-the-record remarks she made during his reporting about Clinton's alleged groping of Steele's friend Kathleen E. Willey.
Jones rejected a proposed $700,000 settlement from Clinton last summer, complaining that it did not include an explicit apology from the president or an admission that he summoned her to a Little Rock hotel suite, dropped his pants and requested oral sex in May 1991, as she alleged. A federal judge dismissed the case April 1, ruling that even if Clinton did so, it would not constitute sexual harassment.
The newly disclosed letter from her lawyers indicated that money was a significant factor under consideration as she pondered whether to take the tentative settlement offer, despite repeated denials from the Jones camp that she was contemplating book contracts or any other financial gain.
The 12-page letter argued strongly in favor of the settlement, maintaining it would be the best she could get. "There is a substantial possibility you may lose this case," they wrote, noting that Clinton "has persuaded millions of voters he is credible."
A follow-up letter Aug. 29 predicted that even if she won, the most she was likely to get would be a $50,000 jury verdict. Still, Jones would not have gotten even a majority of the $700,000 had she accepted. The lawyers estimated their unpaid bills at $759,870, but offered to take a cut if she settled, leaving her with $220,000.
The lawyers emphasized the marketability of her story, but only so long as it was not first played out in public court proceedings. The Jones camp had claimed cryptically that she could identify "distinguishing characteristics" on Clinton's genitals, without elaborating publicly. (After the sealed affidavit detailing Jones's claim was provided to Clinton's lawyers, they obtained medical testimony disputing her.)
"You are in the best posture now to increase your financial gain from outside sources," the lawyers wrote. "If you decide not to settle, you will have to eventually turn over the affidavit, and you will have to describe the distinguishing characteristics in discovery. It will be leaked by someone . . . [and] there will be no value left to your revealing this information to any other entity. Likewise, any interest in your writing a book, and appearances, after a settlement for the full amount sued, but before the discovery has been pursued, will be very high."
Jones, though, was unsatisfied with the statement Clinton would sign as part of the settlement, according to the lawyers. The statement would offer the president's "personal regret" for damage caused to Jones's reputation, while stating there was "no admission of liability or wrongdoing."
After Jones rejected the settlement, Cammarata and Davis quit. Cammarata would not comment yesterday and Jones's current lawyers did not return telephone calls.
In Washington, meanwhile, Starr's grand jury heard from Steele, who initially corroborated former White House aide Willey's story of an unwanted sexual advance by Clinton to Newsweek's Isikoff, then recanted, saying Willey had asked her to lie about it.
Steele's lawyer, Nancy Luque, said Starr's prosecutors asked little about Willey, and instead tried to poke holes in Steele's credibility. "A majority of the questions had to do with her interactions with a reporter from Newsweek," said Luque. "I'm shocked that was pursued rather than the underlying facts."
Willey has accused Clinton of groping her on Nov. 29, 1993. Steele has said that Willey called in March or April 1997 and asked her to tell Isikoff that Willey had visited her home the night of her meeting with Clinton and told Steele of the incident. Steele did so, but in August, before anything was published, she told the magazine her story was untrue.
Yesterday, Steele sued Isikoff, Newsweek and The Washington Post Co., which owns Newsweek, charging that the reporter breached an "express oral contract" by publishing her off-the-record comments and seeking at least $75,000 in damages. Newsweek assistant managing editor Evan Thomas said magazine officials had not yet seen the suit and had no comment.
Staff researcher Nathan Abse contributed to this report.
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