Clinton Faces Accuser Paula Jones
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton and Paula Jones were meeting today as the president faced unprecedented questioning by her lawyers, under oath, about her accusation that he asked her for sex seven years ago.
Accompanied by six lawyers, Jones was the first to arrive at the offices of Clinton’s personal attorney, Robert Bennett. She paused briefly for photographers but did not talk to reporters. Clinton arrived shortly afterward, accompanied by Bennett.
``She’s fought four years for this day,″ Jones’ spokeswoman, Susan Carpenter McMillan said. ``Naturally she’s grateful to have this opportunity.″
A crowd of tourists gathered with the news media outside Bennett’s offices. ``Something happened. I don’t think we’ll ever really know (what). But I’m here for a conference to help the homeless _ the stuff the president should be working on,″ said Charmane Wong of New York.
Clinton met with his legal team late into the evening Friday to prepare for the closed-door deposition. A source familiar with his preparation said Clinton did not recall anything about Jones and barely anything about the conference in which he was supposed to have met her.
The Washington Post reported today that Clinton intended to deny that he sexually harassed Jones and to repeat his assertion he does not remember meeting her when he was Arkansas governor. Clinton will not, however, contest a state trooper’s contention that he brought Jones to his suite, the newspaper said, quoting sources familiar with the case.
Asked about the report, McMillan said: ``I find that fascinating. In the past he has said he never met her. If he now admits that the trooper brought her up to the room, obviously he would remember meeting her.″
Mrs. Jones traveled from her Los Angeles-area home to witness Clinton’s testimony _ the first time an American president has had to testify as a defendant in a criminal or civil suit. She ordered room service Friday night and relaxed, McMillan said.
``She’s getting mentally prepared. We laughed and talked about other things,″ McMillan said.
White House spokesman Mike McCurry said Clinton viewed the matter as ``a distraction but ... not a burdensome distraction.″ Nonetheless, Clinton was bracing for an exhausting and potentially embarrassing day.
``It’s safe to assume that there would be other things that he would do on a Saturday, but he will do it and recognizes that he must do it and he will get it done,″ McCurry said Friday.
Previous depositions in the civil rights case have included interviews of Gennifer Flowers and other women claiming extramarital affairs with Clinton, raising the question of how far from Mrs. Jones’ allegations today’s deposition might stray.
Her former attorney, Gil Davis, who spent more than three years on the case, said Clinton could expect a ``detailed and searching inquiry into not only the events of May 8, 1991 but also ... his lustful nature might be something to establish to show that he’s the kind of person who would do what Paula Jones said he did.″
Rules for evidence-gathering at such sessions are more freewheeling than at trials. But two people close to the case said U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright had directed Donovan Campbell, Mrs. Jones’ Dallas-based attorney, to stick to questions on what may have happened between Clinton and the former clerical worker for the Arkansas state government.
However, another source suggested Campbell would be allowed to ask Clinton whether he offered other women favors in exchange for sex. Wright refused to let Mrs. Jones add such allegations to her lawsuit last November, but she left open the possibility that such evidence could be offered to bolster her basic complaint.
As Mrs. Jones flew to Washington on Friday, news cameras caught up with her during a stopover in Memphis, Tenn. ``Why are you all following me every step of the way?″ she asked. ``Makes me nervous.″
Camera crews and reporters also besieged her when she arrived at Washington National Airport on Friday evening. She smiled broadly but declined to answer questions.
Clinton’s videotaped testimony, which would remain under seal by order of Judge Wright, was expected to last at least three hours. Wright, who has shown an unwillingness to let the case stray, arrived in Washington late Friday and was to deal with any disputes that arose during the questioning.
Wright, known to jail those who defy her orders, has banned the parties from discussing the deposition. The sources spoke to The Associated Press only on condition of anonymity.
Mrs. Jones says she rebuffed Clinton’s request for oral sex in a Little Rock, Ark., hotel room in May 1991, when she was a state worker and he was governor, and subsequently suffered a hostile work environment. Clinton denies her charges and says he doesn’t recall ever meeting her.
Bill Bristow, attorney for Danny Ferguson, an Arkansas state trooper also named in Mrs. Jones’ suit, was to sit in on the deposition. Hillary Rodham Clinton had no public schedule for the day and a spokeswoman said she planned her usual weekend ``personal time.″
Clinton, meanwhile, was hoping that the proceedings would register just a blip in the record of his presidency. ``He has read so much presidential history that he knows most histories of presidencies are not really complete until years, if not decades, after the completion of the president’s term,″ spokesman McCurry said.
A public opinion poll released Friday found that 42 percent of Americans believed Clinton’s denials, while 28 percent thought Mrs. Jones was telling the truth. The Time-CNN survey questioned 1,020 adults on Jan. 14-15 and claimed a 4.5 percent margin of error.
Barring an out-of-court settlement or dismissal by the judge, jury selection in the case begins in Little Rock on May 27. Clinton cannot be compelled to testify, but either side can use his videotaped deposition in the trial.