'I Want Him to Admit What He Did.' (Paula Jones's Sexual Harassment Complaint against President Clinton; Includes Excerpts from Legal Documents Filed in the case)(Cover Story)

By Isikoff, Michael; Thomas, Evan | Newsweek, June 9, 1997 | Go to article overview

'I Want Him to Admit What He Did.' (Paula Jones's Sexual Harassment Complaint against President Clinton; Includes Excerpts from Legal Documents Filed in the case)(Cover Story)


Isikoff, Michael, Thomas, Evan, Newsweek


The Supreme Court rules that Paula Jones can have her day in court. The president desperately wants the case to go away but it won't be easy. BY MICHAEL ISIKOFF AND EVAN THOMAS

PAULA JONES SCREAMED WHEN SHE heard the news. "Are you kidding me?" she asked one of her lawyers, Joe Cammarata. "Come on. Really?" She had been drifting off to sleep in her modest Long Beach, Calif., apartment after putting her 9-month-old boy into his playpen when her phone rang last Tuesday morning at 7:15. The U.S. Supreme Court had just ruled that Jones's sexual-harassment suit against President Bill Clinton could go forward. By a 9-0 vote, the justices had rejected the president's argument that chief executives are constitutionally protected from lawsuits resulting from their private actions. Jones began to cry. "I couldn't believe they actually ruled for me," she told NEWSWEEK. "You know, I feel like I've been done so dirty, and now this. I got my faith back in the system."

Bill Clinton was playing the role of world leader when the decision was announced. He had been bantering with European prime ministers at a NATO meeting under the ornate chandeliers of the Elysee Palace in Paris, and was preparing for a private meeting with Russian leader Boris Yeltsin, when his aide Bruce Lindsey delivered the bad news. For the cameras, the president kept smiling. Privately, Clinton, who is obsessed with his place in history, may have felt the weight of his own past. Clinton has always been skillful at staying a step ahead of his demons, and the president's lawyer, Robert Bennett, dutifully went on TV to vow to crush Jones in court. But there can be little doubt that Clinton's real goal is to make the case of Paula Corbin Jones v. William Jefferson Clinton go away, as quickly and quietly as possible. It may be difficult. "I'm not giving up," Jones vowed to NEWSWEEK. "I want him [President Clinton] to admit what he did."

Of all the scandals that have dogged Clinton through his first term, this is the one that haunts him the most. It is hard to know what is in Clinton's mind, just as it is hard to know exactly what happened in an upstairs suite at the Excelsior Hotel on the afternoon of May 8, 1991. Clinton has to be wondering about the potential testimony of a state trooper named Danny Ferguson, who has already told news organizations that he escorted Paula Jones to Clinton's suite that day, and that she later emerged, saying. according to Ferguson, that she was available to be the governor's "girlfriend." In one sense, Ferguson's account undercuts Jones, who claims that Clinton made what the Supreme Court chose to refer to as "abhorrent" sexual advances, dropping his pants and asking for oral sex. But Ferguson is a first-person witness who can place Jones--at the time a 24-year-old, $6.35-an-hour low-level state employee--alone in the room with the governor. Ferguson, who worked for Clinton for years, could be a dangerous witness. His lawyer, Bill Bristow, told NEWSWEEK that his client is "going to tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may."

Only Clinton knows how damaging the whole truth would be if it ever emerged. It is perhaps a measure of Clinton's reputation, even among those who know him best, that his political advisers want him to settle the case--quickly. The big exception is the president's former counselor, George Stephanopoulos, who wants Clinton to fight on (page 36). Just about everyone else close to the president has the opposite instinct. The politics are obvious: the Democrats control the White House in part because of the gender gap. Female voters may begin to turn on Clinton's party if they are subjected to endless news stories that pit a randy president against a 30-year-old mother. Money and respect for the office are also strong considerations. Michael Bragg, associate general counsel of State Farm insurance company, which is paying for part of Clinton's legal defense, told NEWSWEEK: "At this stage it just makes sense to everyone that the parties should sit down and talk to see if this case can be settled.

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