Sworn testimony in the sexual harassment suit against President Clinton begins this week with all sides scurrying for damaging evidence and digging in for a protracted standoff. Talk of an out-of-court settlement is dead for now.
The depositions start off simply enough, today in Little Rock, Ark.: Paula Jones’ mother and sister will testify to what she told them of the alleged 1991 hotel-room encounter. Next week, former co-worker Pamela Blackard and friend Debra Ballentine, both confidantes of Jones at the time, are to give depositions.
From there, scheduled testimony veers from the principals. Subpoenas betray strategies: his to prove her a profit-driven liar, hers to prove him a chronic adulterer.
It is Clinton’s often-ignored codefendant who will peer into Jones’ sexual past - a defense the president’s team was forced to forswear months ago after an uproar by women’s groups.
Some half-dozen witnesses to Jones’ sexual reputation, including past boyfriends and a former employer, have been subpoenaed by Bill Bristow, attorney for Arkansas state trooper Danny Ferguson. They will testify in depositions beginning Oct. 17.
Both Clinton and Ferguson are named in the $700,000 suit, which U.S. District Court Judge Susan Wright Webber scheduled for trial next May.
Susan Carpenter McMillan, a Los Angeles public-relations woman who acts as spokeswoman for Jones, accused Bristow of doing the president’s dirty work.
“It disgusts me, and Mr. Clinton’s lawyers are letting it happen. These are the same tired old tactics that have been used against rape victims and molested children,” she said.
Clinton, who was Arkansas governor when he allegedly propositioned the former state employee, stands accused of sexual harassment. Jones sued Ferguson for defamation, fingering him as the source of a published account that depicted her as eager to be Clinton’s mistress.
Bristow said he is not influenced by the president’s lawyers. “I’m doing what is best for my client. If one files a defamation case, one puts one’s personal reputation at issue,” said the attorney, who once defended one of Clinton’s major political foes in an Arkansas criminal matter.
The president’s defense team, led by Washington powerhouse lawyer Robert Bennett, served subpoenas in the past two weeks on groups with ties to Carpenter McMillan or Jones’ legal fund.
The fund’s former director, Cindy Hays, will ask Judge Wright this week to protect donor records for fear of harassment.
But Bennett and his partner, Mitchell Ettinger, say the fund-raising documents will lay bare Jones’ motives. Their long-standing theory that she is bankrolled by Clinton’s political enemies - a charge she vigorously disputes - seemed to gain some credence Oct. 1 when The Rutherford Institute, a Virginia conservative group, enlisted as her official fund-raising arm.
“We believe she is being controlled by people who are extreme right-wing political Clinton-haters, and that’s relevant to issues of motive and bias,” Bennett said.
As for an out-of-court settlement, he said there have been no negotiations since Jones’ Dallas firm, Rader, Campbell, Fisher & Pyke, came on board this month. Other sources close to the case didn’t expect talks to resume until closer to the judge’s mid-April decision on summary judgment, if at all.
White House sources say first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton believes her husband’s denials of misconduct but wants a settlement in order to avoid an embarrassing trial.
Calls to Jones’ attorneys were not returned.
Facing the judge’s Jan. 30 deadline for depositions, Jones’ attorneys dished out their own discovery requests last week. They included, Bennett said, one that would compel the president to list “every woman that he ever kissed outside of marriage.”
Bennett has until next month to respond, and he vowed to object.
As if the subpoenas were not testimony enough to how uncomfortable the case could become for all parties, Bennett appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday and discussed Clinton’s genitals.
Armed with a urologist’s report from the president’s annual physical, Bennett once again rejected Jones’ assertion that Clinton has “distinguishing characteristics” on his sexual organ.
“The president is a normal man,” Bennett said.