Clinton finally faces Jones Media mob surrounds president's deposition at attorney's D.C. office

'This is a zoo, a circus'

Clinton's accuser sports stylish look and large entourage

January 18, 1998|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON SUN STAFF WRITER TOM BOWMAN CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE. — WASHINGTON -- Paula Corbin Jones wanted to sit across the table from President Clinton and look him straight in the eye.

Yesterday, in a remarkable confrontation that would cause Clinton to make history in a way he never intended, the woman who has accused the president of sexual harassment sat within feet of him as he answered questions under oath about the alleged incident and his sexual past.

The first U.S. president to testify as a defendant in a lawsuit while in office, Clinton, flanked by his lawyer, Robert S. Bennett, sat face-to-face with Jones, 31, as he was questioned by her lawyers for six hours in Bennett's law office 1 1/2 blocks from the White House.

Long dreading and resisting this day, Clinton's lawyers fought unsuccessfully all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to postpone the case until Clinton left office. With settlement negotiations stalled, a trial in this extraordinary "he-said, she-said" spectacle -- scheduled for May 27 in Little Rock, Ark., -- is now likely.

In the early evening drizzle, Clinton and Jones left the daylong session -- Clinton in his eight-car motorcade, Jones in a cab surrounded by cameramen -- without saying a word to the hundreds of reporters, photographers and other onlookers who'd been waiting behind police tape on the city streets.

The White House tried to minimize what was surely one of the most unpresidential days of the Clinton presidency, but to no avail.

The streets surrounding Bennett's law office were filled all day with media and curiosity-seekers intrigued by the Clinton-Jones face-off.

Emerging from a cab yesterday morning, Jones and her entourage were nearly crushed by a mob of photographers and cameramen who filled the street, jumped atop vehicles and banged into parked cars with their equipment.

Accompanied by six lawyers, her husband, Stephen Jones, and her public relations and fashion "adviser," Susan Carpenter-McMillan, Jones smiled meekly and appeared somewhat dazed by the commotion.

Wearing a stylish maize-colored pants suit and looking far more sophisticated than the curly-haired, lip-lined young woman who filed the sexual harassment lawsuit four years ago, she approached a bank of microphones to deliver a prepared statement. But the scramble to photograph her was so chaotic that she skipped the remarks and was hustled inside by her husband and lawyers.

"This is a zoo, a circus," Carpenter-McMillan said, remaining outside to talk to reporters. "I'm so disgusted. I've never seen anything like this in my entire life."

Then, singling out a female reporter she knew, she whispered, "Did you like her outfit today?"

Carpenter-McMillan recited what she said Jones had told her yesterday morning: "The one thing that she said to me [was], 'I feel so proud to be an American, to know that the judicial system works, to know that a little girl from Arkansas is as equal under the law as the president of the United States,' " Jones' spokeswoman said.

A conservative activist who befriended Jones and has transformed her into what she now calls a "Sophia Loren"-type, Carpenter-McMillan said Jones came to Washington accompanied by her new celebrity hairdresser from Los Angeles, Daniel DiCriscio, who was styling Jones' hair "pro bono" and felt "very much a part of the team."

She reported that Jones, who now lives in Long Beach, Calif., with her husband and two children, was not nervous about her encounter with Clinton and had said a prayer yesterday morning before leaving her hotel.

Clinton's arrival was less frenzied. Riding in a black Cadillac limousine with Bennett, his $475-an-hour lawyer, Clinton and his motorcade made the two-minute trip from the White House to Bennett's office on a street closed to traffic and slipped into the building's underground garage.

The omnipresent White House photographer came along for the ride but was not invited up to the 11th floor to document the proceedings.

Clinton, in a dark business suit, had spent the morning preparing for the deposition with his lawyer.

In an unusual move that highlighted the unique nature of the proceedings, the presiding judge in the case, U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright, came from Little Rock to Washington to sit in on the deposition and rule on any disputes over questions.

Wright has imposed a gag order on all participants.

The White House had no comment on yesterday's events and would not confirm whether the deposition had been completed. White House spokesman Joseph Lockhart said, "The judge has ordered everyone not to discuss it and I'm defining 'it' as everything related to it."

Conspicuously absent from the scene yesterday were any of the administration's usually ubiquitous spin specialists.

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