Paula Jones confronted President Clinton eye to eye for six hours Saturday as her lawyers forced him to answer questions under oath about whether he asked her for sexual favors seven years ago.
Jones insists Clinton did. He insists he did not. No one else was present at the time of the alleged sexualharassment incident, so defining the truth of what happened now must be left up to opposing lawyers.
The legal wrangling achieved a tawdry milestone on Saturday as Clinton became the first U.S. president ever grilled as a defendant in a court case while still in office. As Jones watched, Clinton endured questioning from her attorneys in a closed-door session at the office of Clinton’s lawyer, Robert Bennett, two blocks east of the White House.
Originally, the deposition had been scheduled to occur at the White House, but once the news media learned about it, Clinton’s lawyers moved the site to avoid letting Jones be photographed with the executive mansion as her backdrop.
Clinton’s deposition might be the only testimony he gives in a case scheduled for trial in Little Rock, Ark., on May 27, unless his attorneys decide to put him on the stand. A gag order from U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright, who presides over the case, prohibited everyone present Saturday from discussing what Clinton said.
Jones’ spokeswoman, Susan Carpenter-McMillan, said at the end of the day that Jones departed the scene without speaking because of fears for her security after an unruly reception at the site that morning. The spokeswoman was not present at the deposition and had not talked to anyone inside the room, so she said she knew nothing about what happened there.
When Jones and her husband, Stephen, arrived outside Bennett’s law offices by taxi at 10:02 a.m., at least 50 TV cameramen, still photographers, boom-microphone holders and reporters rushed to surround her.
With flashbulbs popping and media members shouting and shoving, the pack moved like a rugby scrum across G Street, funneled between two parked cars and scrambled to the office-building doorway, into which Jones and her husband disappeared.
At 10:20 a.m., Clinton’s long, black Cadillac limousine appeared in a 14-vehicle motorcade, turned onto New York Avenue and disappeared into an underground garage beneath Bennett’s law office.
In a sidewalk interview after the principals had entered the building, Carpenter-McMillan said Jones had told her, “This is a proud day to be an American.”
“She knows the American judicial system works,” Carpenter-McMillan said. “She knows that a little girl from Arkansas is equal under the law to the president of the United States.”
Clinton’s motorcade departed the underground garage at 4:24 p.m., and no comment on his behalf was available from either the White House or Bennett. At 4:43 p.m., Jones left without comment in a taxi from the same garage.
After returning to the White House, Clinton went to the Oval Office, where he was briefed about the Asia financial crisis by Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, according to deputy press secretary Joe Lockhart. Clinton then gathered some papers in preparation for his State of the Union message on Jan. 27 and took them to the residential quarters to study.
Jones claims on May 8, 1991, while she was working as a state government employee at a conference in Little Rock’s Excelsior Hotel, an Arkansas state trooper escorted her to a private room. Inside was Clinton, then the state’s governor. She says he tried to touch and kiss her, exposed himself and asked her for oral sex.
Through his attorney, Clinton has denied the incident. He also recently refused an offer from Jones to settle the case by giving her some $2 million and a public apology.
A report in Saturday’s Washington Post quoted unidentified sources as saying that Clinton’s strategy in his deposition would be to deny that he made any sexual advance to Jones, but to acknowledge that his former bodyguard escorted her to his hotel room.
The former bodyguard, state trooper Danny Ferguson, gave a deposition in the case last month. In it he said Jones had told him before she went to Clinton’s room that she found the governor “good looking,” and that after she returned she sought out the trooper and offered to be “the governor’s girlfriend.”
For months, Jones’ lawyers have sought evidence about Clinton’s past sexual relationships and Clinton’s lawyers have sought evidence about Jones’ sexual history to cite at trial as possibly revealing patterns of their sexual behavior.
xxxx TRIAL DATE The case is scheduled to begin May 27 in Little Rock, Ark.