Clinton Lawyer Suggests Way to Settle Jones CaseBy Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 2 1997; Page A01
President Clinton's attorney offered to settle Paula Corbin Jones's sexual harassment lawsuit yesterday with a large payment to charity, but insisted the president would not apologize or admit propositioning her in an Arkansas hotel room.
After conferring with Clinton on Saturday night, attorney Robert S. Bennett said he would agree to pay the $700,000 Jones sought in her original 1994 complaint as long as the money went to charity and "some portion of legal costs." Using a poker analogy, Bennett said he wanted "to call them on that," citing Jones's statements that she sued to repair her reputation and would donate any proceeds after expenses to a worthy cause.
"If she agreed to have us give a six or seven hundred thousand dollar contribution to a charity, I think I might very well recommend that," Bennett said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "But no apology, no admission of misconduct and we're not going to line her pockets or her lawyers' pockets, because this [case] is about money."
The Bennett proposal came five days after the Supreme Court ruled 9 to 0 against Clinton's request for a trial delay until after he leaves office and marked the first time that the president's side has agreed publicly to a financial settlement in the matter.
Yet the idea appeared to be as much a tactical move to put Jones on the defensive as the basis for serious settlement negotiations, and Jones's lawyers quickly rejected it. "The core feature of a settlement is not money. Ten million dollars would not do it," Jones attorney Gilbert K. Davis said later on ABC's "This Week." "What they're trying to do is buy her off so she'll walk away and not be worried about her reputation."
The maneuverings by both sides played out against an extraordinary televised spectacle in which the Sunday network talk shows were dominated by discussion of whether the president dropped his trousers in front of Jones in 1991 and whether she could identify distinguishing characteristics of his anatomy.
As lawyers for both sides raced across Washington, from studio to studio, the media glare on the case drowned out what the White House had hoped would be the major moment of the week, the signing of a historic security charter with Russia in preparation for the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe. Once again, the president's aides were confronted with the distraction and political costs of allowing the dispute with Jones to drag on.
Still, even if Bennett's offer did not yield any immediate resolution, the various interviews yesterday effectively set broad outlines for settlement discussions.
Bennett laid out what he termed three inviolable conditions for any settlement: In addition to refusing to apologize or admit "conduct which did not occur," Clinton would not agree to financial terms that might be seen as a tacit acknowledgment of guilt.
For their part, Jones's attorneys said Clinton would have to acknowledge that he was in the hotel room as she alleged, that she did nothing wrong and that she "was truthful in her account," as lawyer Joseph Cammarata put it on CBS's "Face the Nation."
Although Jones has said she is not interested in money, Davis and Cammarata also said they would recommend that she hold out for a substantial cash penalty because of her considerable expenses and suffering through three years of attacks by Clinton allies.
The dispute stems from Clinton's days as governor of Arkansas. During a conference at the Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock in May 1991, Jones alleges, a Clinton bodyguard solicited the state employee to join the governor in a private room where he asked for oral sex. Clinton denies it, saying he does not recall meeting Jones, though Bennett said yesterday that it is possible she was escorted for an innocent meeting in a room he used to make calls and conduct business.
In October 1994 the two sides came close to a settlement involving no money, when they discussed having the president issue a carefully worded statement that would not deny her account and would attest to her truthfulness and moral character. But the talks broke down.
Bennett acknowledged yesterday that he tried to delay proceedings until after last year's election because conservatives were trying to use the case to hurt Clinton. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that good lawyering would try to get this issue resolved after the election," he said.
But now both sides said they are ready to take the case to court and they engaged in a bit of saber-rattling, threatening to bring up the sexual histories of each other's clients if necessary.
Jones's lawyers suggested they would introduce evidence on everything from Clinton's reported affair with Gennifer Flowers to the alleged use of state troopers to procure extramarital sexual partners for Clinton. And they made clear they intend to seek a physical examination of the president to verify Jones's claim of a distinguishing characteristic in his private region.
In an interview with Newsweek, Jones vowed to pursue her claim aggressively. "I want him to admit what he did," she said. While not expecting him to concede seeking sexual favors, she said she wants Clinton to acknowledge dispatching his trooper to "come and get me and bring me up to that room." She added, "I can't wait till those subpoenas start going out."
Bennett, for his part, said he was equally prepared to explore Jones's sexual past because it would bear on her complaint that her reputation was harmed. With any attempt to influence Clinton's reelection now moot, he said, the case is "all about megabucks" and threatens to tear at the institution of the presidency.
"Paula Jones and her counsel are prepared to try to humiliate the president of the United States and hurt this country for the almighty buck," he said, adding later, "We're the laughingstock of the world when we allow this kind of nonsense to go on."
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company