Clinton and Jones settle suit President agrees to pay his accuser $850,000 to end ordeal

Apology not included

Deal says nothing of $1 million offered by developer Hirschfeld

November 14, 1998|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Ending one of America's most famous and damaging lawsuits, President Clinton agreed yesterday to pay Paula Corbin Jones $850,000 to withdraw her sexual misconduct case. The president made no apology and admitted nothing.

By settling the case that had led to the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal, Clinton put a stop to a legal challenge that threatened to run on for months and might have gone to trial in a flood of more negative publicity.

Jones stands to receive some money -- after her lawyers take an undetermined share -- from a lawsuit that had been dismissed and whose long-term prospects were doubtful, even if it had been revived on appeal and gone to trial.

Her husband, Steven Jones, told reporters outside his Long Beach, Calif., condominium: "Paying a substantial amount of money makes a statement on its own. This is Paula's reputation that we were fighting for."

The legal considerations that drove each side to a final deal were not discussed publicly yesterday. But it appeared that each side had calculated that the cost of going on -- mounting legal bills and the risk of suffering a decisive setback -- made it worthwhile to call a halt.

No president before Clinton had ever been sued over personal conduct, and none had ever faced a lawsuit that threatened to lead to impeachment and removal from office.

"The president has decided he is not prepared to spend one more hour on this matter," said Robert S. Bennett, his attorney in the case. Bennett saidthe president "remains certain" that Jones' claim was "baseless."

"It is clear," his lawyer said, "that the American people want their president and Congress to focus on the problems they were elected to solve. This is a step in that direction."

'It's over, I'm glad'

Jones, upon learning of the settlement, cried and said, "It's over, I'm glad," according to her spokeswoman, Susan Carpenter-McMillan. The spokeswoman's husband, Bill McMillan, one of Jones' attorneys and a negotiator of the settlement, said: "Paula is tickled to death. She's ecstatic, as happy as any one individual can be."

It may be too soon to know whether the deal gives Clinton and his aides more freedom to maneuver in the House impeachment inquiry.

Case led to Lewinsky probe

Jones' lawsuit had led directly to the explosive Lewinsky sex scandal that for months had threatened to end Clinton's presidency, a scandal that still has not been resolved. An impeachment inquiry is to resume next week.

Carpenter-McMillan praised Jones' role in bringing on the scandal that has engulfed Clinton: "This nation owes Paula Jones a real thank-you. I think she exposed him for what he was. There would have been no impeachment, no Monica Lewinsky, no Kathleen Willey -- there would have been nothing without the Paula Jones case."

Jones' lawyers, with help from others, discovered Lewinsky and the sexual relationship she had with Clinton during a search for women with whom Clinton had been intimate. In January, testifying under oath in the case, the president denied having had sexual relations with Lewinsky.

Within days, independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, using tapes that Lewinsky's friend Linda R. Tripp had made of Lewinsky's telephone calls discussing the sexual episodes, launched his investigation of the Lewinsky matter.

Settlement details

The deal accepted yesterday came in the form of a settlement signed by the lawyers, with Clinton and Jones due to sign papers later. Under the deal, Clinton promised to pay the $850,000 within 60 days.

The agreement noted that the sum is "in full satisfaction of all claims" by Jones, and stressed that there were no side deals between them. The agreement says explicitly that it does not amount to "an admission of liability or wrongdoing by any party."

There was no public statement last night about where Clinton would obtain the money to pay to Jones, though the Associated Press quoted an unnamed source involved in the negotiations as saying that about half the money would come from an insurance policy and about half from a legal defense fund that now totals more than $2 million in donations.

The settlement comes 4 1/2 years after Jones sued Clinton over what she said was a crude sexual advance he made toward her in a Little Rock, Ark., hotel room in 1991. At the time, Clinton was the Arkansas governor and Jones was a low-level state employee. She said the incident occurred after she was summoned to Clinton's hotel room by a state trooper.

Clinton steadfastly denied that the incident occurred, and Bennett denounced the lawsuit as "tabloid trash."

The out-of-court settlement will end Jones' effort to have an appeals court revive her case.

U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright in Little Rock dismissed the case on April 1, saying Jones had not shown that she suffered any legal wrong. Jones appealed. At an Oct. 20 hearing, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals appeared to be leaning toward giving Jones another chance to make her case before a jury in federal court in Arkansas.

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