Settling Jones Lawsuit Could Bolster Clinton

It would let the president move on to other business and make it 'unlikely' that judge would hold him in contempt of court.

An out-of-court settlement between Paula Jones and President Clinton would plunge the chief executive deeper into debt - but it may well be worth the cost.

Even though Ms. Jones's sexual-harassment suit was dismissed in April, Mr. Clinton's lawyers are considering a cash settlement offer in light of the possibility - however remote - that the case will be revived on appeal.

Such a move is seen as advantageous to the president on two fronts. Legally, it would remove what analysts see as Clinton's greatest risk with the law: the possibility that the judge who dismissed Jones's sexual-harassment suit, Susan Webber Wright, would hold him in contempt for lying in his Jones deposition.

Politically, a settlement might strengthen the president's position with Congress. Four of the 11 grounds for impeachment in Kenneth Starr's report relate to the president lying under oath in his Jones deposition.

With the case out of the way, the relevance of those instances fades, say legal and political analysts. Additionally, settling the case removes the distraction and any surprises from waging a legal battle that could go as far as the US Supreme Court.

It would be an "enormous advantage" to the president to settle, says Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University here.

For now, the two sides are talking but seem far apart on a dollar amount. The Jones camp recently offered to settle the case for $1 million. The offer omitted a long-standing demand that the president apologize for his alleged sexual overture to Jones when she was an Arkansas state employee and he was governor. The president's lawyers, according to news reports, have countered with a $500,000 offer, but no agreement has been reached.

In all its confrontations so far, the first family has amassed at least $6.5 million in legal expenses, with $2 million paid off by a now-defunct legal defense fund and a newly created trust fund, according to Peter Lavellee, administrator for the Clinton Legal Expense Trust here. Not yet added to the tally are the expenses Clinton has incurred since David Kendall started defending him in the Lewinsky investigation, which are estimated to be at least $500,000.

The president has reportedly been in touch with his former chief campaign fund-raiser, Terrance McAuliffe, about raising the money needed to close the Jones case. They are said to feel confident that Mr. McAuliffe could do it, either by setting up a separate trust fund or increasing the limit in the current fund beyond the $10,000-per-person ceiling.

Mr. Lavellee says raising the Jones money is possible. "We've seen that sort of broad support for the president and I don't think that would be an insurmountable hurdle." The Clintons' insurers, meanwhile, have indicated they would not participate in a Jones settlement.

Even if the two longtime adversaries strike a deal, the president faces other legal threats. They include Mr. Starr's charge that Clinton lied before the Lewinsky grand jury and any future criminal indictment that might stem from that.

Thus, it's unlikely the president will do as so many in Congress wish: fully admit to lying under oath.

Unless Congress were to grant the president immunity as part of a confessional deal, this master parser of words would not drop his defenses, say legal analysts.

"He's been put on notice that he's under suspicion of committing a federal crime, and no lawyer can say: 'Without immunity, walk out there and incriminate yourself,' " says Susan Fain, professor of law at American University here.

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