What Twists Lie Ahead
In Paula Jones' Case
Analysis: Several options remain for Clinton, but few of them are pleasant
By Thomas H. Moore/AllPolitics
WASHINGTON (May 27) -- The White House, surprised by this morning's unanimous Supreme Court decision in the Paula Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit, has to weigh carefully the next steps for President Bill Clinton, who is no longer protected from the legal proceedings.
But remember that the high court's ruling had nothing to do with the merits of the case; it simply dealt with whether the Constitution barred the case from proceeding while Clinton was in office.
Based on questions from the justices during oral arguments, many in the administration thought that the Jones matter would be put off until Clinton left office.
No such luck. And while Clinton is hardly out of options, he does seem to be short on painless ones. So what happens next?
Here are the four most likely paths this matter will take:
Delay By The Trial Judge
Susan Wright, the federal judge who first heard the case and initially ruled that the president should enjoy immunity from civil suits while in office, is likely to get the case back. She still has a tremendous amount of leeway to delay the case. Justice John Paul Stevens' opinion noted that there might be perfectly good reasons to put off the trial that have nothing to do with constitutional immunity and separation of powers.
Clinton's personal attorney, Robert Bennett, says the high court "basically asked the district court to pay great deference to the unique position of the presidency," which is a bit of a stretch. Stevens asked the district court in Arkansas to allow "the high respect that is owed to the office of the chief executive" to "inform the conduct of the entire proceeding."
Wright has shown limited deference to the presidency in the past. She is the same Arkansas federal judge who ordered Clinton last year to testify in a Whitewater-related criminal trial, which he did by videotape.
Delay By Clinton Lawyers
Clinton's lawyer is considered one of Washington's best. Should the case proceed, Bennett will certainly throw as many roadblocks in its way as is legally possible.
That's his job, and there's nothing unexpected about those tactics. "If we prevail on some of the motions, the case will be dismissed," Bennett told CNN. "If we don't, then that would not be the case. But I can't fully predict how much time it would take."
It's not clear what the prospects for a settlement are. Jones' lawyers say that settlement talks between the two sides were very close a few years ago, but fell apart over whether Clinton would issue an apology. Clinton's camp claims Jones wanted money; her attorneys deny that.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer, on the road with the president in Europe, reported that White House officials are beginning to sense that the pressure is on for a deal, and that the price has probably just gone up.
But they may want to check with a lawyer: Bennett says a settlement is "most unlikely" and calls it "the wrong thing to do." "The president did nothing wrong and will not take any actions or say anything to suggest that the false allegations of the complaint are true," he told CNN.
For their part, Jones' lawyers say that Clinton has to come across with an apology that would restore Jones' good name and reputation. Jones lawyer Gilbert Davis said some sort of apology is "essential to any settlement."
A trial is likely to be messy for the president, and many would be surprised if the matter gets to that point before he leaves office in January 2001.
Here's an example of what a trial could include: Jones alleges that she can identify Clinton by certain "distinguishing characteristics" in his "genital area." If the case goes to trial, Clinton could be compelled to have himself examined and photographed to shed light on that particular claim.
Clinton could conceivably find himself answering some very embarrassing questions in depositions taken before any trial begins. Even if his answer under oath is, "I didn't do it," the questions are likely to be ugly.