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Clinton Revives Immunity Claim in Lawsuits

By Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 29, 1998; Page A8

President Clinton resurrected his contention that a president should be immune from civil lawsuits while in office yesterday, arguing in response to a new lawsuit lodged against him that the U.S. Supreme Court was wrong when it allowed Paula Jones to pursue her sexual harassment suit.

The president's lawyer said in papers filed in U.S. District Court here that a defamation lawsuit filed by Dolly Kyle Browning, a longtime Clinton friend from his early years in Arkansas, is frivolous and if not dismissed outright should be stayed for the duration of Clinton's term in office.

"It is now apparent that the Supreme Court drastically underestimated the burden that civil litigation can place on a president and on the smooth operation of the executive branch," wrote lawyer David E. Kendall. "As subsequent experience in the Jones case makes very clear, the civil discovery process can unleash events occupying substantial amounts of executive branch time and energy."

"We respectfully suggest the time is ripe for a reconsideration of the court's decision," Kendall wrote in the filing before Judge William B. Bryant.

The Supreme Court last year rejected the president's claim that allowing the Jones case to proceed would "generate a large volume of politically motivated, harassing and frivolous litigation." In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that had the founding fathers "thought it necessary to protect the president from the burdens of private litigation" they would have said so in the Constitution.

Jones's case, in which she alleged Clinton crudely propositioned her while he was governor of Arkansas and she a low-level state employee, set off events that have culminated in an impeachment investigation of Clinton in Congress.

After the Supreme Court cleared the way for her lawsuit, arguing in part that it was not likely to take up an unreasonable amount of the president's time, Jones's search for women who would testify Clinton had made improper sexual overtures to them led her to Monica S. Lewinsky. Congress is weighing a report from independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr alleging that Clinton responded falsely to questions about Lewinsky in his deposition in the Jones case and obstructed justice by trying to get Lewinsky to conceal their sexual relationship with him in her own testimony.

Browning, a friend of Clinton's from high school, contends that Clinton defamed her by denying her public contention that they had once had a sexual relationship. By casting doubt on her credibility, Browning and her lawyer, Larry Klayman of the conservative group Judicial Watch, contend Clinton has hampered her efforts to publish a semi-fictional book about the affair she alleges. Klayman said Kendall's filing shows "a lack of respect for the courts."

Judicial Watch has peppered the Clinton administration with lawsuits and subpoenas on a wide range of issues, including the acquisition of FBI personnel files by the White House and trade missions undertaken by the Commerce Department.

Meanwhile, in a separate development in the Jones suit yesterday, New York real estate mogul Abe Hirschfeld withdrew an offer to give Jones $1 million from his own pocket to try to bring about a settlement of her sexual harassment lawsuit against Clinton.

Negotiations between the Clinton and Jones legal teams over settlement of the case, which is under appeal by Jones to the Eighth Circuit after having been dismissed by a federal judge in Little Rock, are still open, but had been complicated by Hirschfeld's offer.

Hirschfeld said his offer had only seemed to create more demand for money among an ever-growing number of lawyers attached in one way or another to the Jones legal team, the most troublesome being an $800,000 demand for legal fees from two Fairfax lawyers who previously represented Jones.

"Those political lawyers – all they know how to create is chaos," said Hirschfeld. "It's a shame over such a minor issue the whole world should be suffering."

Hirschfeld complained not only about the legal bills submitted by Gilbert K. Davis and Joseph Cammarata, but about being rebuffed by a conservative legal foundation that has helped Jones bankroll her long-running case. Hirschfeld said John C. Whitehead, director of the Charlottesville-based Rutherford Institute, had declined to meet with him.

"One million was ready to go – Rutherford held it up," said Hirschfeld. But, "the money is still in the bank," he added. "If they can settle this case, I'm always available."

Whitehead denied refusing to meet with Hirschfeld, saying Hirschfeld made the request before he publicly announced his $1 million offer and during a week Whitehead was busy.

"Why would we reject $1 million?" said Whitehead. "We just didn't know if it was for real."

Clinton's lawyers had been leery of encouraging Hirschfeld's offer to Jones, in part because the 79-year-old real estate magnate faces 123 counts of income tax evasion. The large amount of his offer, combined with any settlement from Clinton, might have been seen as an admission that Clinton solicited Jones for sex, which he has repeatedly denied.

Jones has offered to drop her lawsuit in exchange for the $1 million from Hirschfeld and $1 million from Clinton. Clinton's lawyers rejected the settlement offer last week, both because of Hirschfeld's involvement and because it required too high a price from the president. Clinton has offered Jones and her lawyers $700,000 to abandon their legal claim.


© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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