About Jones Deal
By Peter Baker
Terence R. McAuliffe, a lawyer and business executive who headed up finances for Clinton's 1996 reelection campaign, told the president he will not let him leave office bankrupt from the various legal issues that have dogged him throughout his tenure, sources said.
"He and McAuliffe have talked and feel confident they can handle the issue," said a person familiar with the situation. "If we can take one issue off the table, the better off we are."
While the two sides haggle over a mutually acceptable payment, people close to both camps appear more confident than ever that a deal can be reached despite more than four years of bitter legal warfare and repeated failures to settle out of court. Jones's decision to drop her longstanding demand for an apology from Clinton was critical to getting the president back to the table, even though a judge dismissed her lawsuit in April. Some sources predicted yesterday that a settlement could come as early as Monday.
If Jones were to drop her appeal, Clinton would be free to try to strike a separate deal with Congress to avert impeachment that could include a candid admission that he lied in his Jan. 17 deposition when he denied having a sexual relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky.
The only serious issue separating the two sides appears to be finding an agreement on how much Clinton will pay. Jones's lawyers proposed $1 million earlier this month. Clinton's attorney, Robert S. Bennett, countered last week with a $500,000 offer. Each side was sticking to its position over the weekend, but sources indicated that neither team believed the gap was insurmountable.
Each camp believes it has certain chips in the negotiating. Clinton strategists maintain that the dismissed Jones case itself is only a minor political threat now, given the much more significant fight over impeachment stemming from the Lewinsky probe. The Jones side believes it has leverage because of Clinton's admission before the grand jury and a national television audience on Aug. 17 that his answers in the civil deposition were misleading, though "legally accurate."
Without help from McAuliffe or other wealthy benefactors, Clinton would be hard-pressed to come up with enough money to reach an accord with Jones. The Jones litigation and the Whitewater and Lewinsky investigations have resulted in more than $8 million in legal bills, more than half still unpaid. First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, in particular, has chafed at the prospect of leaving office with so much debt, but both Clintons have signed off on the latest effort to pay Jones.
"He wants to get on," a Clinton adviser said. "He is so sick of it."
When Clinton and Jones appeared close to a $700,000 settlement a year ago, the president's lawyers believed it would be paid by insurance companies financing his defense. But the insurers have since withdrawn from the case and are sure to refuse to pay any settlement now that the case has been thrown out, sources said.
That leaves Clinton's political friends to come to his rescue again. McAuliffe, a confidant who speaks with the president by telephone most days, has helped raise millions for him in a variety of capacities. In addition to the 1996 campaign, McAuliffe served as co-chairman of the 1997 inauguration, signed on to find financing for a Clinton presidential library in Arkansas and helped create a far more successful legal defense fund after the first one collapsed at the end of last year.
Thanks in part to McAuliffe, the new defense fund raised $2.2 million in its first six months, more than was collected during the entire four-year life of the previous trust. Operating with looser rules governing solicitations and the size of gifts, the new fund relied heavily on Hollywood celebrities, such as Steven Spielberg, Barbra Streisand and Tom Hanks.
In their discussions, McAuliffe and other Clinton advisers assume they will raise money for a Jones settlement through the same organization. But there is some talk of either increasing the $10,000 maximum limit on contributions or starting a separate fund with higher limits.
Clinton advisers say generating the money would not be easy, but do not want the president to let that stand in the way of resolving the Jones suit.
A more important issue for the president's camp is whether the final payment would appear to be a tacit confession that he exposed himself to Jones and asked for sex in 1991, as she claims and he denies.
Giving $1 million or more would be seen as an apology, in the view of some in the Clinton circle, while some lesser amount could be portrayed as a pragmatic way of making an expensive case go away.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company