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Files Detail Bitter Fight in Jones Lawsuit

Judge Susan Webber Wright Judge Susan Webber Wright (AP file)

Related Links
  • Full Text of Newly Unsealed Documents (Oct. 19)

  • Clinton Rejects $2 Million Jones Proposal (Washington Post, Oct. 19)

  • Full Coverage: Clinton Accused

  • By Peter Baker
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, October 20, 1998; Page A2

    Lawyers for President Clinton and Paula Jones waged a stop-at-nothing series of legal battles under the cloak of court-ordered secrecy last winter that delved into everything from medical records about his private parts to testimony about her sex life, according to documents unsealed yesterday.

    The papers released on the eve of an appeals court clash in the Jones case demonstrated that the president mounted a vigorous counteroffensive to her lawyers' much-publicized attempts to uncover any Clinton sexual misconduct, examining Jones's fund-raising solicitations, efforts to secure a book contract and alleged barroom encounters with men.

    Clinton's legal team raised the issue of Jones's sexual history in a brief filed Jan. 7 -- as it turned out, the same day Monica S. Lewinsky signed an affidavit falsely denying any sexual relationship with Clinton. The president's lawyers wrote that their research proved Jones was no "innocent minister's daughter" who would be traumatized at being propositioned by their client. Indeed, they cited a deposition from a man who testified she engaged in oral sex with him in the parking lot of a bar the same night they met, just months before the alleged May 8, 1991, incident with Clinton.

    The filings included little new information about Clinton's alleged relations with other women, much of which was made public last spring before the case was dismissed. But they revealed that Jones's lawyers tried unsuccessfully to subpoena two Clinton doctors to testify about the condition of his anatomy to determine whether it matched the "distinguishing characteristics" Jones had described and whether he had surgery that would alter its appearance.

    The 724 pages of motions, briefs and affidavits were unsealed in Little Rock and posted on the Internet by U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright one day before an appeals court in St. Paul, Minn., will hear arguments about whether to overturn Wright's April 1 decision to throw out the sexual harassment lawsuit.

    Representatives of the two sides resumed fitful negotiations yesterday intended to settle the case before today's scheduled 3 p.m. EST courtroom appearance, but the chances of a last-minute deal appeared remote. Although Jones attorney James A. Fisher and Clinton attorney Robert S. Bennett conferred by telephone, no formal new offer was put on the table, according to sources.

    "As of right now, we're still talking, which is a good sign and that makes it a possibility for settlement," said John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, the Charlottesville-based foundation backing Jones's suit. "It might even be possible after the oral argument."

    "I'm still hopeful," agreed Bill McMillan, a California lawyer helping Jones deal with settlement talks. "But at the moment nothing is happening."

    Bennett on Sunday flatly rejected an offer by Jones to withdraw her appeal in exchange for a $1 million payment from the president and $1 million from Abe Hirschfeld, a real estate developer who already has set aside a check for that amount in a unilateral attempt to end the case.

    While Bennett previously has offered $700,000, the president's confidants insist Clinton will not agree to pay $1 million because it would look too much like an admission that he solicited Jones for sex, which he has adamantly denied. Moreover, White House advisers have ruled out endorsing any involvement by Hirschfeld because it would appear unseemly and would invite political attacks, given that the New York millionaire faces 123 counts of tax evasion.

    Hirschfeld said yesterday that his offer remains active and under consideration by the Jones team, adding that his tax case prosecution is unfair and insisting he is not seeking any quid pro quo from the president. "I don't want nothing," he said. His only motivation, he added, is "so the nation can start functioning again."

    The newly released court papers document how all-consuming the case became for lawyers on both sides late last year and early this year. While some of the filings dealt with substantive matters, many of them were back-and-forth procedural fights over who failed to answer which question or turn over what documents. Included in the file were various motions filed by subpoenaed witnesses trying to get out of testifying, including Lewinsky.

    Along with her affidavit denying the affair, Lewinsky's lawyer, Francis D. Carter, filed a brief complaining that forcing her to testify would subject her to "the spectre of oppressively harassing questions about her personal life" that would turn her White House experience "into a blight on her resume."

    In the end, the motion was never acted on because it was entered into the court record on Jan. 20, the day before the first story broke about independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's investigation into whether Clinton tried to obstruct justice during the Jones lawsuit by covering up his affair with Lewinsky. Wright then excluded the Lewinsky evidence from the case.

    The records provide a glimpse into Clinton's mostly failed attempts to limit the questioning of women linked to him. His attorneys succeeded in persuading Wright to narrow the scope of research to no further back than 1986 and only to women who worked for state or federal government or who were approached by state troopers on Clinton's behalf when he was governor.

    Neither Clinton's full deposition nor Jones's was among the papers released -- only portions have been filed publicly -- but co-defendant Danny Ferguson, the state trooper who escorted Jones to meet Clinton at the Excelsior Hotel, said in a sworn statement that it was Jones's idea, contrary to her assertions.

    Clinton's legal team engaged in a wide-ranging search for evidence that would call Jones's motives into question. According to the papers, the president's side obtained testimony from book publisher Judith Regan, who said she was approached by Jones adviser Susan Carpenter-McMillan seeking a contract for her friend. The Clinton lawyers also complained during a conference call that a Rutherford Institute fund-raising solicitation would pollute the jury pool in Arkansas. And they waged a protracted battle to force a fund-raising company working for Jones to open its records.

    Perhaps the most salacious testimony cited by the Clinton team was a deposition from a man named Michael King, who testified that he engaged in sexual activity with Jones on two occasions after they met in a bar. King's deposition was not released, but the Clinton lawyers said it countered Jones's claim that she suffered emotional distress because the then-governor allegedly dropped his pants and asked for oral sex.

    King's story, the brief said, "would certainly be relevant as potential rebuttal testimony should plaintiff assert at any trial that she was an innocent minister's daughter, or that she was unfamiliar with oral sex, or that she was emotionally traumatized by a suggestion that she perform oral sex."

    Bennett flirted several times with making such allegations public during the case, but backed off after complaints from feminists, conservatives and others. Jones lawyers have said whatever she did in her private life was irrelevant to the case.

    Staff researchers Nathan Abse, Ben White and Heming Nelson contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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