President Increases Offer in Jones Suit
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, October 2, 1998; Page A01
President Clinton's lawyers have increased their offer to settle the Paula Jones lawsuit, but negotiations are foundering in part because the president became infuriated when her lawyers claimed that any payment would amount to an implicit admission of his wrongdoing, sources close to the case said yesterday.
The Clinton camp bumped up its proposal from $500,000 to $700,000, the same amount the two sides once tentatively agreed to before settlement talks broke down a year ago, the sources said. But Jones's lawyers have not accepted it, holding out instead for the $1 million they demanded last month when they opened the latest round of discussions.
The standoff has soured once-high hopes that they could finally end four years of often-ugly legal warfare that generated the Monica S. Lewinsky investigation and a likely impeachment inquiry in Congress. Both sides have grown increasingly pessimistic that they will be able to find an amicable deal, with the next few days considered critical, according to people monitoring the talks.
White House advisers believe a settlement with Jones could be an important step in defusing congressional efforts to turn Clinton out of office, but the impeachment drive moved inexorably forward on Capitol Hill yesterday as House Democrats crafted a rival proposal for a limited, seven-week process to counter the open-ended, Watergate-style inquiry planned by Republicans.
Most Clinton advisers privately have abandoned any hopes of preventing the House from approving an inquiry in a floor vote scheduled for next week and are focused mainly on setting up the public argument that the move is partisan and unfair.
As members struggled with how to proceed, the House prepared to release another wave of documents today detailing the evidence collected by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr during the eight-month investigation he concluded by arguing that Clinton committed perjury, obstructed justice, tampered with witnesses and abused power during the course of the Jones civil lawsuit.
The three-volume set will contain more than 4,000 pages of material, including grand jury testimony from scores of witnesses called by Starr, such as Clinton's friend Vernon E. Jordan Jr. and his secretary Betty Currie. Also to be made public will be edited transcripts of Linda R. Tripp's secretly recorded telephone conversations with Lewinsky discussing her affair with Clinton and efforts to hide it from Jones's lawyers, from the tapes that started the Starr probe in the first place.
Selected portions of those transcripts began emerging last night, including parts of their Jan. 13 discussion at the Ritz-Carlton when the FBI wired Tripp with a recording device. During that talk, according to a source, Lewinsky was clearly worried about the Jones suit and even offered to give her share of an Australian condominium to Tripp if her friend helped cover up the affair during her own testimony in the Jones suit.
The new settlement negotiations in the Jones case seemed promising at first, as both sides exhibited an eagerness to put the matter behind them. Jones's sexual harassment lawsuit was dismissed by a federal judge April 1, but she has appealed and lawyers on both sides believe her chances for reinstating the case improved when Clinton admitted he gave misleading answers about Lewinsky during his Jan. 17 deposition.
Clinton agreed to come back to the bargaining table after Jones dropped her longstanding demand for an apology, but a source said he was enraged when her lawyers went on television talk shows Sunday asserting that any financial settlement would be the same as acknowledging her claims that he exposed himself to Jones and asked for sex.
"You cannot underestimate the personal feelings about this," the source said. "They've just really overplayed their hand."
The president made clear during his Aug. 17 grand jury testimony, broadcast to the nation last week, just how much the Jones case rankles him. He repeatedly referred to it as a "bogus lawsuit" financed by his political enemies whose "real goal was to hurt me" and who "set me up" during the deposition.
Just as Clinton's anger makes him disinclined to make bigger concessions, Jones too is emotional about the situation. Her husband, Stephen, particularly harbors great animus toward the president and is unwilling to yield much, according to sources.
Both camps also have financial difficulties with any settlement. Jones would have to share any payment not only with her current legal team but also with her previous lawyers, who quit the case when she refused to settle without an apology last year and then placed an $800,000 lien against any proceeds.
On the other side, lawyers affiliated with the president have concluded that there could be legal problems that would have to be ironed out before Clinton could use his legal defense fund to pay a settlement. Still, he received an unsolicited offer of help yesterday from New York millionaire Abe Hirschfeld, who told reporters he would personally give $1 million to settle the Jones case as a service to the country.
During a telephone call Wednesday night, Clinton's chief attorney, Robert S. Bennett, told Jones's Dallas-based lawyers that the president might pay $700,000, but the new offer was not met with any enthusiasm. The Jones camp plans to file a motion next week asking a federal judge to hold Clinton in contempt for his deceptive answers in his deposition.
"Negotiations are continuing, but nothing significant seems to be happening," said John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, which is financing Jones's case.
On Capitol Hill, House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) and other Democratic leaders yesterday formulated an alternative resolution to present Monday to the Judiciary Committee to restrict impeachment proceedings. Under the proposal, according to sources informed about it, the panel would postpone a vote on whether to open a formal inquiry until after determining whether the allegations against Clinton are serious enough to warrant impeachment.
The committee would then decide in mid-November whether to write articles of impeachment, recommend some kind of censure or end the probe altogether, with a full House vote to follow by Nov. 25, the sources said. That deadline was described as tentative and could be changed before the Democratic proposal is announced this morning.
"This cannot be a never-ending fishing expedition," Rep. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.), the senior Judiciary Democrat, said before the meeting. "They are committing the country to a process that could last months or years -- who knows?"
In an indication that Democrats plan a battle on each allegation in Starr's report, Democratic lawyers yesterday circulated an eight-page rebuttal to the charge that Clinton tried to help Lewinsky find a job to influence her testimony, arguing that he offered only minimal help and could have done much more.
Republicans, who announced their plans for an open-ended inquiry on Wednesday, scoffed at Democratic attempts to limit a probe, saying Democrats embraced Watergate-style rules when it suited them and now balk at the same unrestricted procedures used to investigate Richard M. Nixon.
Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a Judiciary member, said he wanted to know whether "there was an organized effort by the president and his operatives to deny somebody their day in court," referring to the Jones case. "We should go where the evidence takes us."
While campaigning in Ohio, Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) denied partisanship, saying the GOP leadership would not press its members on how to vote on an inquiry. "I believe it has to be approached not as Republicans, not as Democrats, not as liberals and not as conservatives," he said. "It has to be approached as a constitutional issue, which is a matter of conscience."
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), who excoriated the president in a widely noted floor speech last month, said yesterday that a lengthy impeachment inquiry must be balanced against the need to keep from "undermining the presidency" at a time when the United States may engage in military action in Kosovo and Iraq.
"There is no quick end in sight," he said. But "the American people simply won't tolerate a multi-month mud fight over the presidency," so Congress and the media must rise above partisan mudslinging. "We have to learn . . . to live with this [political crisis] and to govern with it."
Staff writers Guy Gugliotta, Robert G. Kaiser, Ruth Marcus, Dan Morgan and Jackie Spinner and staff researcher Nathan Abse contributed to this report.
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