Penthouse Retrospective

by Joe Conason Originally Published: December, 2000

Paula Jones | 20 Years Ago This Month

Two years after settling the historic lawsuit that almost destroyed the president of the United States and made her an international celebrity, the plaintiff of Jones v. Clinton is unhappy and frustrated with the way things have worked out.

Penthouse Magazine - December 2000The Perils of Paula Jones

For the first time, she is willing to talk about how she was manipulated by Bill Clinton’s conservative enemies in their unrelenting effort to ruin him-and was then abruptly left to fend for herself when she no longer served their purposes. “I was being used by a lot of people to get to him,” she told Penthouse in an exclusive interview.

Perhaps even more significantly, she reveals that she was pressured to reject Clinton’s offer of a settlement that would have spared the nation a year of agony and, ironically, would have been much better for Jones herself. Whatever the merits of her claim that she was sexually harassed by Clinton in 1991, Paula Corbin Jones never received the apology she had demanded to clear her supposedly damaged reputation. More than four fifths of the $850,000 settlement paid out by Clinton in 1998 went to cover the bills of her various lawyers (including an attorney she was forced to hire to resolve disputes over how much each of the other lawyers should receive). The Internal Revenue Service claimed much of what was left over for delinquent taxes. Her marriage to Stephen Jones, strained by the five-year battle with the White House, has ended in divorce and a rancorous custody dispute. The book and movie deals she once contemplated never came to fruition.

She is now an unemployed mother of two young children, living again in her native Arkansas. And, in yet a final ironic twist, she is also a defendant in at least two additional lawsuits arising from the operations of the Paula Jones Legal Fund, which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars on her behalf.

She mentions that she felt “used” by such famed Clinton antagonists as Larry Nichols, Cliff Jackson, and Pat Matrisciana, the last of whom featured an interview with her and her husband Steve in Matrisciana’s scurrilous anti-Clinton videotape, Circle of Power. “I hated it,” she says of her association with the far right. “It’s a shame too, when you get in these kinds of political battles, a lot of people want to start showing up that you don’t really want to have anything to do with,” Jones admits with a rueful laugh— “you know, the people that have their own political gains [at stake], and they want to start trying to pull you into it. And then it makes us look like we’ve got a political motive.”

If Paula had no political motive of her own, she seems to have been oblivious to the manipulation of her lawuit by people with powerful hidden agendas. Top Republican operatives and various longtime enemies of Clinton began a persistent, sometimes coordinated campaign to ruin him even before he had decided to run for president in 1992 (as Gene Lyons and I have explained in The Hunting of the President, our book published this year by St. Martin’s Press).

By the time Jones told her tawdry story, right-wing activists across the nation, from Little Rock and San Diego to Chicago and Charlottesville, Virginia, were spreading every possible kind of scurrilous personal accusation against Clinton. Jerry Falwell distributed hundreds of thousands of videotapes that accused the president of drug smuggling and murder conspiracy; several top Republican lawyers, associated with prestigious firms, spent many hours and thousands of dollars trying to “prove” that Clinton had fathered a baby with a black prostitute.

In the eyes of so many of these fanatical adversaries, Paula Jones looked like the answer to their prayers. They rushed to her side, but-as she now is beginning to suspect-they regarded her mainly as a useful instrument for their own purposes. When those goals had been met, most of her “friends” on the right no longer had any interest in what became of her.

The 34-year-old Jones looks smaller, younger, and so much more vulnerable in person than in countless newspaper photographs. When we meet at the Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas, location of the alleged incident, she is dressed like a summer student in tight overall shorts and sandals. Her perky, cheerful demeanor and high-pitched, girlish drawl don’t entirely conceal her angry sense that she was “done wrong,” not only by the Clintons and their allies but by people who had claimed to be her friends.

“I felt that I should have got more than what I got,” she complains. “I’m not happy about it, I will say that. I’m not happy about it. Because I feel a lot of times that attorneys think about the end and what they’re going to get and the money and stuff, and that’s why they keep going, instead of for their client.” Not wishing to sound ungrateful, she hastens to add, “I appreciate what they did for me. I really do. I’m not saying I don’t. But I feel like I came out with the raw end of the stick, you know?”

How Jones ended up holding “the raw end of the stick” is a rather complicated story with serious political implications. At the time that her lawsuit against Clinton might have been settled, she was persuaded to reject an agreement that was probably in her own best interest.

For Jones, it would have meant a far more lucrative payout and an earlier return to a normal life. For the president and the nation, it would have prevented the humiliating depositions that ultimately led to the exposure of a Monica Lewinsky, the Starr Report, and the ensuing crisis of impeachment.

The story in the Ray Stevens classic song "Along Came Jones" could well fit the real person Paula Jones in some ways. Bill Clinton might not be thrilled, though.

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