Clinton questioned in Jones case

By Sandra Sobieraj Associated Press Published:

WASHINGTON - Closeted in an 11th-floor conference room for nearly six hours, President Clinton faced Paula Jones on Saturday and, under oath, gave secret testimony in her sensational sexual harassment lawsuit. Clinton's limousine emerged from an underground parking garage at his attorney's offices at 4:20 p.m. EST, six hours after he arrived for deposition and claimed the inglorious distinction of first American president to testify as a defendant in any criminal or civil suit. At the White House, he waved and, ignoring reporters' questions, ducked inside to pick up a draft of his State of the Union address before heading to the White House residence. There, Hillary Rodham Clinton waited to go to dinner with her husband and chief of staff Erskine Bowles and his wife. Mrs. Jones, who was earlier besieged by news cameras, also left through the garage without comment. At her hotel, she ignored swarming reporters and was only heard murmuring to her husband Stephen: "Great. There's the elevator." There was no word on the substance of the president's testimony _ or even if it was finished _ and attorneys on both sides insisted they would abide by U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright's gag order. Mrs. Jones was deposed for 13 hours over two days last fall. A source familiar with Clinton's preparation for the deposition said in advance of the questioning that the president would not rule out meeting Mrs. Jones at a Little Rock, Ark., hotel. But, the source said, Clinton did not recall "anything about her" and "barely remembered anything about the (May 1991) conference" at which the two allegedly met and where Mrs. Jones says Clinton exposed himself and asked for oral sex. In a dark business suit and accompanied by attorney Robert Bennett, Clinton was whisked by motorcade the 1 1/2 blocks between the White House and Bennett's law offices. Mrs. Jones and her husband had arrived via Highland Cab, car No. 50. Havoc reigned as camera crews jumped atop cars and roughly butted the Jones party. Susan Carpenter McMillan, Mrs. Jones' spokeswoman, called them "real jerks" and aborted plans to have Mrs. Jones make a brief statement. "I feel so proud ... to know this judicial system works, to know that a little girl from Arkansas is equal under the law to the president of the United States," Carpenter McMillan quoted Mrs. Jones as saying that morning before the crush of cameras rendered her speechless. "Go get him! We're with you kid!" shouted a bystander perched on a parking meter. Underscoring the extraordinary nature of Clinton's deposition, Judge Wright traveled from Little Rock to personally referee disputes over allowable questions. Mrs. Jones' attorneys were expected to ask Clinton about other women he may have subjected to unwanted advances _ either as Arkansas governor or as president. At least one woman, former White House employee Kathleen Willey, alleged to have had an encounter with Clinton similar to the one Mrs. Jones accused him of, already has been deposed in the case along with Genifer Flowers and other women claiming extramarital affairs with Clinton. "It sure would have been nice to see him go out shining instead of tarnished," said Clinton supporter Lance Ekas, who stood on a ledge Saturday to glimpse Mrs. Jones. At the White House, top aides put on a show of nonchalance and proceeded with meetings on Clinton's Jan. 27 State of the Union address. While he cannot be compelled to testify at trial, either side can enter his videotaped deposition into the court record. Until then, his testimony was to remain under seal. Since filing her lawsuit in 1994, Mrs. Jones has weathered intense scrutiny of her credibility and image. She traveled to Washington with a Hollywood hairstylist, and Carpenter McMillan conspired with photographers to have Mrs. Jones _ outfitted in a new butter-colored pantsuit _ pictured with her husband. A CBS/New York Times poll released this weekend showed half of Americans say they can't tell whether Clinton is guilty, but 55 percent want the case to settle before its May 27 trial date. The phone survey was conducted Jan. 10-12 among 1,101 adults and had a 3 percent margin of error. "Something happened. I don't think we'll ever really know (what)," Charmane Wong, of New York, said as she waited with the crowd on 15th Street. "But I'm here for a conference to help the homeless - the stuff the president should be working on." Remarked cab driver Abdul R. Kamara, who ferried Mrs. Jones downtown: "She popped into my cab, and I thought, 'Wow! This is history.'"

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