Did Clinton Harass Paula Jones?

E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
Nov. 15 1996 3:30 AM

Did Clinton Harass Paula Jones?

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Dear Susan:

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       Your Nov. 11 letter reminds me of an old lawyers' saying, which I adapt as follows: "If the law is against you, pound on the facts. If the facts are against you, pound on the law. If both law and facts are against you, pound on the table--or change the subject."
       It seems to me that you are doing what a good lawyer does when the law and facts are against her.
       Specifically, unless I've missed something, you have not challenged any of the factual assertions or logical deductions made in my article.
       Instead, you have taken potshots at Paula Jones' credibility--while lamenting that women who make such accusations are "victimized" because people take potshots at their credibility. You have also said that you like the president and his wife and his attitude toward women and his policies and his appointments; have characterized some of my points erroneously; and have made some general points about the sexes--e.g., that same-sex schools are OK, and that feminism shouldn't mean "that the woman is always right and the man is always wrong"--which I heartily agree with, but which have very little to do with the specific claims made in my article.
       You have also taken a position on the Anita Hill claims that seems to me to be inconsistent with what you said about Hill's claims in 1991, when, for example, you told Ted Koppel that "Anita Hill's charges were very serious"; wrote in the L.A. Times that "Anita F. Hill's story of sexual harassment" involved "abuse of power" by Clarence Thomas, that the challenges to Hill's credibility illustrated "the endurance of sexism in the law," and showed that the senators "still do not get it"; and wrote in the HoustonChronicle that "many women tolerate harassment [because] they need their jobs," and that "if she is telling the truth, he does not deserve a seat on the Supreme Court." You also expressed outrage at the senators' initial decision not to have a public hearing on Hill's complaints.
       Now, on the other hand, you say that "I don't really think of either of these [Hill's or Jones'] as sexual-harassment cases, if you want to know the truth," and that what Thomas allegedly said to Hill "wouldn't [by itself] disqualify him from a seat on the Supreme Court." And you put your name on an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to rule that Paula Jones should not get a hearing until the year 2001 (if ever).
       What you have not done is confront or rebut specifically the evidence that I cited in support of the conclusions and opinions stated in my article.
       I respond to your specific points below, but first, some questions:
       1) My main conclusions (as stated on the cover of the AmericanLawyer) are that "Paula Jones' claims against President Clinton are far stronger than the media has let on--and far stronger than Anita Hill's against Clarence Thomas." Do you disagree, and, if so, why?
       2) Do you mean to suggest--when you impeach Paula Jones' credibility and assert that the president "doesn't abuse people" and "doesn't harass people"--that Paula Jones is a liar and a false accuser?
       3) If so, do you also mean to suggest that Pamela Blackard (who is, by the way, a real "soccer mom," very proud of her 5-year-old son's first goal), and Debra Ballentine, and sisters Lydia Cathey and Charlotte Brown, are all liars too? All four have said that Jones told them contemporaneously, and in considerable detail, that Clinton had exposed himself and asked for oral sex after she had rebuffed his earlier advances. Is this a diabolical conspiracy by five mendacious women to get the president?
       4) Do you disagree with the following analysis (from my article): "[T]here are only three logically possible scenarios: that Jones lied in a most convincing manner, and in stunning, Technicolor detail, to both Blackard and Ballentine, on May 8, 1991, and to her sisters soon thereafter; that Blackard, Ballentine, and both sisters later conspired with Jones to concoct a monstrous lie about the president; or that Jones' allegations are substantially true"? Which scenario seems the most plausible to you?
       5) If the evidence suggests at least a strong possibility that Jones' allegations are substantially true, how does that square with your assertion that the president "doesn't abuse people" and "doesn't harass people"?
       6) You wrote: "The truth is suicide, even if it really isn't so terrible. If Bill Clinton had looked into the television camera, the way you and Paula wanted him to, and said he was sorry, the tape would've been in every Republican ad this fall." Does this mean that it's OK with you if the president has instructed his lawyers and other representatives to make false statements about what happened and what he recalls, and thus to smear Paula Jones as a liar?
       7) Are you confident that the president was telling the truth when he said (through his lawyer Bob Bennett) that he "has no recollection of ever meeting this woman"?
       8) Do you think that Anita Hill told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?
       9) Does your current view that Anita Hill's complaints do not make a real sexual-harassment case mean that every major feminist group in the country was wrong to make such a big fuss about her claims--along with Pat Schroeder, Barbara Boxer, Barbara Mikulski, Carol Moseley Braun, Ted Kennedy, Charles Ogletree Jr., Susan Deller Ross, Judith Resnick, Judith Lichtman, Catharine MacKinnon, Gloria Steinem, Carol Gilligan, Toni Morrison, Barbra Streisand, Donna Shalala, Eleanor Smeal, Patricia Ireland, Anna Quindlen, and many others (including Susan Estrich)?
       10) What about Hillary Rodham Clinton's celebration of Hill at a 1992 ABA award luncheon for having "transformed consciousness and changed history with her courageous testimony" against Thomas?
       11) Don't you see even a teeny-weeny inconsistency between the vociferous advocacy of Anita Hill's cause--and especially her right to a hearing--by all of the groups and people mentioned above, and the fact that not one of them has lifted a finger for Paula Jones, or objected to the president's effort to prevent her from getting any kind of a hearing until the next millennium?
       I'll make you a deal: If you will answer all my questions, without (or before) changing the subject, I will agree to answer any questions you may wish to ask me.
       In response to specific points in your most recent letter:
       I disagree with the seeming implication in your second paragraph that Jones' courting of publicity is devastating to the credibility of her allegations about Clinton's conduct. It has some bearing only on whether she has been entirely candid about her motives for going public. And it is far from clear that she has lied on that score, if you look closely at the vagueness of what she has said about her motives, and at exactly what she did--and when and why she did it.
       The first thing she did was hire a lawyer who tried to contact the White House to seek a settlement--perhaps an apology. He got nowhere. She then followed the lawyer's (and Cliff Jackson's) bad advice to hold a press conference at a right-wing political conference, in the hope of generating publicity that might put pressure on the White House to settle. That flopped--and various Clinton aides publicly dismissed her story as a pack of lies and her, as a liar and a trailer-park tramp. This made her understandably angry. It was at this point that she accepted invitations to appear with the only people interested in listening to her--right-wingers like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. And it was a bit later that she filed suit--after Clinton had spurned her offer to settle for a no-cash apology.
       Some of the assertions in your fifth paragraph--that "women pay the price coming and going," and that "Anita Hill [was] victimized [as] many of the president's defenders have done to Paula Jones," and that "[m]en are spared the burdens of our hypocrisy by destroying women"--fail, in my view, to distinguish between legitimate probing for weaknesses in an accuser's credibility, on the one hand, and deliberately mendacious smear campaigns, on the other.
       In any sexual-harassment (or acquaintance-rape) case involving two people alone in a room, we must either take the accuser on faith (thereby employing a conclusive presumption of guilt) or probe the accuser's credibility, by qualifying our sympathy for the victim she claims to be with skepticism for the liar she might possibly prove to be. Many feminists took the position in the Hill-Thomas case (but not in the Jones-Clinton case) that "women don't make up this sort of thing," and that "you just don't get it" if you adhere to the presumption of innocence. I can't believe that this is your view, even though your fifth paragraph might lend itself to that interpretation.
       Finally, your two hypos: Taking the facts as you posit them, I might give you the answer you're looking for; I like the woman in No. 2 the least--but only because your first hypo diverges radically from the Jones-Clinton allegations.
       A law-firm associate on a business trip with a partner has a pre-existing relationship that might lead the partner to hope that a sexual overture would be welcome, and would lead to more than a purely physical encounter between two complete strangers; in contrast, it is undisputed that Clinton and Jones had never met before his alleged overtures to her. Moreover, the partner-associate relationship, while unequal, is less unequal in terms of power than the relationship between the governor of a state and a low-level clerical employee of the governor's subordinate. And the partner in your hypo did not send a cop to fetch the associate; did not interrupt the associate's performance of his job during working hours; did not make any further advances after being rebuffed; did not expose the portion of her anatomy most analogous to an erect penis; did not tell the associate that this was the portion of her anatomy she wanted kissed; and did not say that "she trusts you'll keep this to yourself" with the same menacing tone that Jones claims Clinton used.
       As for your hypo No. 2, it's closer to the mark, as an analogy to the Hill-Thomas allegations. But the evidence taken as a whole, in my view, suggests that Hill very probably embellished, and may have lied wholesale. I think it improbable that Thomas repeatedly made offensive comments to her knowing that she would be offended.
       So with reference to the facts, rather than your two hypos, I adhere to my view that "the evidence supporting Paula Jones' allegations of predatory, if not depraved, behavior by Bill Clinton is far stronger than the evidence supporting Anita Hill's allegations of far less serious conduct by Clarence Thomas."
       Of course, you may disagree with my view of the evidence, in either or both cases. Do you? Which brings me back to the questions posed above.

With best wishes,
Stuart

Susan Estrich is a law professor at the University of Southern California. Stuart Taylor Jr. is a senior writer with American Lawyer Media, L.P., and author of "Paula Jones vs. Anita Hill" in SLATE.

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