Judge to Decide Scope of Clinton Inquiry
By Peter Baker
Much of the research conducted in the last several months has reached far beyond the facts of Jones's allegations, as her attorneys have investigated numerous rumors of dalliances and propositions by the president over the years. Clinton was asked about several of these reported episodes during his deposition Saturday, according to a source familiar with the questioning.
"We think that it would be highly relevant if we were to prove at trial that there were other instances of similar conduct, not only on the part of Mr. Clinton, but the state troopers that guarded him while he was governor," said Jones attorney James A. Fisher on television yesterday. Fisher, who led the questioning of the president, was asked if he believed he could prove such conduct. "I think there is a substantial basis for our contention, yes," he replied.
He and his partners, however, will have to convince a judge first. With the pretrial evidence-gathering phase wrapping up this month, attorneys on both sides are preparing arguments over whether tales of Clinton's past should be revealed to jurors -- and, by extension, to the American public.
How U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright rules may prove pivotal not only to the president's chances of staving off a civil verdict in a Little Rock courtroom in May but also to his desire to prevent a more unsavory portrayal of his private life from being etched into the public consciousness.
On that last point, it may be too late. No sooner had the deposition ended than news reports began detailing sketchy scenarios about alleged Clinton peccadilloes involved in the case. CBS reported that four women had told lawyers of unsolicited sexual advances toward them by Clinton. Newsweek weighed in with details from the account of one such witness, a former White House aide. Commentators on ABC discussed reports that Newsweek killed a more sensational story alleging a long-running tryst involving Clinton while he's been president.
Clinton's attorney, Robert S. Bennett, angrily dismissed the torrent of talk about his client's past life as baseless.
"Absolute nonsense," he said yesterday. "Absolute reckless, irresponsible nonsense."
Sifting through the stories for veracity is complicated by a gag order imposed by Wright. What is known from various sources familiar with the case is that some of the testimony collected so far focuses on Clinton's extramarital relations with women.
Gennifer Flowers, whose public account of an affair with Clinton rocked his 1992 presidential campaign despite his denials, has testified about their relationship. Kathleen Willey, who once worked at the White House, testified against her will about a reported romantic encounter just outside the Oval Office, sources said.
State Trooper Danny Ferguson, according to sources, has testified that he escorted one Arkansas woman to meet with Clinton at least four times after he was elected president in 1992 -- including once at an early morning hour just days before he took his oath. Yet the sources said the woman says the encounters were all innocent.
How Clinton responded to all of this during his deposition is uncertain. As he did in court papers, Clinton denied harassing Jones and maintained he could not recall meeting her, sources said, although he did not dispute Ferguson's memory of bringing her to see him in an office suite he rented at Little Rock's Excelsior Hotel during a state conference on May 8, 1991. Ferguson testified last month that Jones wanted to meet Clinton and later offered to be "the governor's girlfriend," which she denies.
Jones emerged from the six hours behind closed doors on Saturday clearly elated, dining out with champagne at the nearby Old Ebbitt Grill and sitting close enough to the window to be captured by television cameras laughing and chatting. Clinton, on the other hand, canceled plans to go out for the evening with Hillary Rodham Clinton and remained in the White House.
Four Jones lawyers and her media spokeswoman fanned out on the network talk shows yesterday, after what Fisher called a "festive" evening.
Speaking on CBS's "Face the Nation," Fisher said Jones might accept an artfully worded apology in addition to cash to settle the case.
"We are not asking for President Clinton to grovel or to admit every minute detail of our complaint," he said. "But we think there should be some accountability."
Neither Bennett nor other Clinton lawyers appeared on any talk show yesterday, turning them down after Bennett was accused of violating the gag order for his previous television appearances.
The only voice for Clinton on the air was that of James Carville, the president's former political consultant who appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press," even though Bennett requested that he not do so.
In a telephone interview, Bennett responded to the Jones media blitz by saying her lawyers could not prove in court what they suggested on the air.
"One reason we want to go to trial in this case is to show the falsity of statements like that made by Mr. Fisher" on CBS, Bennett said. "The time for truth has come and I think that's why we have to have a trial so these things he says on television -- which he should not be saying -- will be put in the appropriate context."
The liveliest exchange, though, involved Carville and Susan Carpenter-McMillan, Jones's spokeswoman. "People in America see through this," he said. "This is nothing but a big money grab by Paula Jones, a big money grab by this crackpot" organization funding her case, the Charlottesville-based Rutherford Institute.
Carpenter-McMillan cut him off as he used a similar line later. "Can you say `conservative' without putting `crackpot' in front of it every time?" she challenged.
"My wife, Mary Matalin, is a conservative," he replied. "She's not a crackpot.
"Well, maybe she is," said Carpenter-McMillan. "She married you."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company