Clinton Defense Fund Grows
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 25, 1999; Page A16
The trustees of President Clinton's legal defense fund said yesterday that they have raised more than $4.5 million to help pay his legal bills and may eventually be able to cover most of the cost of the president's legal defense in the Whitewater investigation, the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit and Congress's impeachment inquiry and trial.
At a news conference, Anthony F. Essaye, a New York lawyer who is a trustee and the executive director of the Clinton Legal Expense Trust, said the trust received 29,500 contributions totaling about $2.2 million from last August through the end of last year. He said that so far in 1999 the trust has taken in another 11,000 contributions totaling more than $800,000.
Essaye said that as of the end of October Clinton's legal bills totaled $9 million. The trust has paid $3 million in legal expenses on top of $800,000 paid by a previous trust, leaving an unpaid balance of $5.2 million, he said.
"I think it's reachable," Essaye said when asked if donations to the trust will be enough to cover all of Clinton's legal bills. He also estimated that since October Clinton has run up about another $1 million in legal bills.
The trustees also released the names of people who have contributed to the Clinton defense and, as with the first wave of donations that were reported last year, the biggest givers included well-known names from the worlds of entertainment and business. The maximum contribution to the trust is $10,000 a year, the most that can be given without having to pay the federal gift tax, and 39 people gave that amount.
They included singer Tony Bennett; New York investment banker Steven Rattner; Hollywood producer Lew R. Wasserman and his wife, Edith; and Robert L. Johnson, president of Black Entertainment Television.
Another 17 people gave $5,000 each, including agri-businessman Dwayne O. Andreas and his wife; actor Robert DeNiro; writer Stephen E. King and New Orleans Saints football player William L. Roaf.
Essaye and former senator David Pryor (D-Ark.), who founded the trust last February, said the vast majority of donors gave small amounts. More than half the donations were for $25 or less and almost 95 percent were for $100 or less, they said.
The trust's fund-raising activities last year included direct-mail appeals to about 600,000 potential contributors that played to widespread public dissatisfaction with the investigation of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr that led to Clinton's impeachment. One such direct-mail appeal began by asserting that "in today's political climate, public service can exact a disturbing price" and concluded by saying:
"If you are disturbed by the way politics is conducted today, then what better response than to offer the First Family your own gesture of support."
Essaye called the response to the direct-mail appeals "exceptional" and said they would continue. But he acknowledged that while "we are very happy everything is cooling down" since Clinton's acquittal in the Senate impeachment trial, the trustees are uncertain how this may affect their fund-raising efforts.
In addition to the $10,000-a-year maximum contribution, the trust requires donors to affirm that they are U.S. citizens and not federal government employees or registered lobbyists. Essaye said the trust has returned more than 200 donations totaling about $40,000 to people who were deemed ineligible to contribute under these restrictions.
He also said the trust had honored six requests for refunds totaling $174 that were made late last August and in early September, after Clinton testified before Starr's grand jury and acknowledged that he had misled the country about his sexual relationship with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky.
Most of the money distributed by the trust has gone to two Washington law firms: Williams & Connolly, whose partners include Clinton's personal lawyer, David E. Kendall; and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, whose partners include Robert S. Bennett, the lead defense lawyer in the Jones lawsuit.
Essaye said the trust's estimate of Clinton's legal bills do not include the $850,000 settlement in the Jones case, part of which was covered by insurance.
Staff researchers Nathan Abse and Margot Williams contributed to this report.
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