The group bankrolling Paula Jones’ sexual harassment lawsuit against President Clinton is accusing his lawyers of conducting a “witch hunt” aimed at revoking its tax-exempt status.
The Rutherford Institute is challenging a subpoena from Clinton’s lawyers for documents on the institute’s tax-exempt status, its purpose, and its basis for eligibility as a tax-exempt organization.
The institute filed a motion Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Charlottesville, where it is based, asking that hearings on its challenge be conducted in open court. Jones’ lawsuit is under a gag order issued by U.S. District Judge Susan Wright in Little Rock, Ark., who is presiding over the case.
The motion called that confidentiality order “inapplicable and overbroad.”
In early December, Wright ruled that institute documents involving fund raising, public relations strategy and tax returns must be turned over to the president’s lawyers.
The group “will not voluntarily open itself up to any fishing expedition by a legal adversary when the purpose or effect of the examination is to intimidate, injure and harass it,” said an affidavit filed with the motion on Wednesday and released Friday.
“This is a deliberate attempt to bring the (Internal Revenue Service) down on the Rutherford Institute,” said Thomas S. Neuberger, the institute’s lawyer, in a Saturday telephone interview.
“This purported discovery attempt should be identified for what it is - a witch hunt for having the audacity to challenge the president of the United States,” said a statement filed with the motion by Rutherford board member A. Eric Johnston.
Clinton’s lawyer, Robert S. Bennett, issued a statement calling the institute’s allegations “false and preposterous.” He said its court filing violated Wright’s gag order and was “obviously a gimmick to raise funds for the Paula Jones lawsuit by making up a story that they are under attack.”
“This extremist organization is financing this litigation for the purpose of trying to humiliate the president and to interfere with his very successful presidency,” said Bennett.
Clinton’s attorneys want the fund-raising records to back their claim that Jones is suing only for personal financial gain.
Neuberger said the gag order does not apply to the institute because it was intended to silence only the lawyers, agents and spokesmen involved in the Jones case.
If Bennett “wants to play hardball, we can play hardball. I’m no wussy,” Neuberger said.
Established in 1982, the Rutherford Institute generally handles cases involving religious freedom and has only taken one other sexual harassment suit, Neuberger said.
It helped with the Jones lawsuit “because the case involves the paramount principle that a sitting president is subject to the rule of law,” Johnston said.
Jones claims Clinton, while Arkansas governor, exposed himself to her in a Little Rock hotel room in May 1991. At the time, she worked for an Arkansas state economic office.
Clinton denies her allegations. Trial is set for May.