Penthouse Retrospective

by Joe Conason Originally Published: December, 2000

Paula Jones | 20 Years Ago This Month

Davis, a successful attorney of considerable means, went still further to achieve an agreement. He agreed to give up his portion of the settlement to Paula, which would have increased her share to $440,000. As he and Cammarata pointed out, continuing the case inevitably meant running up much larger bills that she would never be able to pay, sharply reducing any net proceeds. From the eventual $850,000 settlement, Jones now says she received only $151,000: “People think I came out with a lot of money, and I didn’t come out with much money at all.”

During a brief hiatus that followed her lawyers’ resignation, Jones says she spoke with Ann Coulter, the ultra-conservative attorney and commentator. Although previously unknown to Jones, Coulter had been in contact with the so-called “elves,” a group of conservative attorneys who had been assisting Cammarata and Davis from the beginning of the case. Jones says that Coulter, too, discouraged her from settling the lawsuit and promised that she would soon have new lawyers. (In 1999, Coulter admitted in an interview with the Hartford Courant that she dreaded the possibility that Jones might settle. The machinations of Coulter and her fellow elves to undermine a settlement during the fall of 1997 are explored in The Hunting of the President.

Within a few weeks, a new legal team had been assembled for Jones by the Rutherford Institute, a religious-right legal foundation based in Charlottesville, Virginia, and headed by a former Jerry Falwell aide named John Whitehead. The lead attorneys were associated with the Dallas law firm of Rader, Campbell, Fisher & Pyke, allies of Whitehead who had agreed to take the Jones case on a contingency basis. Rutherford would cover additional costs of litigation such as copying, travel, transcripts, and fees. Donovan Campbell Jr., the No. 1 attorney on the case, happened to sit on Rutherford’s board of directors, where he also served as the foundation’s treasurer.

While none of them had displayed any previous interest in the issue of sexual harassment, Whitehead and the Dallas attorneys shared an intense ideological interest in ruining Clinton. Soon after taking over the case from Davis and Cammarata, the new group quickly raised their client’s settlement demand to $2.3 million. This unusual move, which tripled the amount she had demanded in her original complaint, effectively scuttled the delicate negotiations with Bennett that had almost resolved the case. The Clinton lawyer saw this vastly increased block-buster as a signal that any further talks with his Dallas adversaries would be fruitless.

According to Jones, however, she approved her lawyers’ insistence upon the $2.3 million because they convinced her that without such an enormous settlement there would be nothing left over for her after paying all the bills. “Yes,” says Jones, “because the way they said it, it was to pay everybody. Everybody would be paid off: Rutherford, all of my attorneys, my former lawyers. Well, I guess they basically told me that, yes. Yes, I guess, because they were saying they would like to get paid, and everybody would be happy this way.”

“I didn’t even know what a conservative or a liberal was,” Paula says, giggling. “Somebody had to explain it to me.”

Meanwhile, the Dallas attorneys were adamant about proceeding with their investigation of Clinton’s private life. “When I got new attorneys,” says Jones, “they said, ‘No, we’re going to go all the way with this, we can win this case, we’re going to go to trial, and you’re going to get your day in court.’ ”

John Whitehead was just as determined. “I felt sometimes that he [White-head] was just a little bit pushy about getting this thing to court and, you know, getting it going,” says Jones. “I really do believe [Rutherford] had a different agenda than what I had. And I think a lot of people did. But I can’t prove that.” She is less certain about the ulterior motives of the Rader, Campbell lawyers themselves.

“I’m sure some of them didn’t like [Clinton] but… I think they just wanted to help me,” says Jones.

She suspects that Whitehead “just [wanted] to make a name for himself and to be heard, and get in the news media and get his 15 minutes of fame and stuff like that.” She also agrees that the Rutherford Institute people and other conservatives, including the elves, “probably ” wanted to keep the lawsuit going regardless of any settlement prospects, either for money or for political reasons or both. “I felt that they did have their own agenda,” says Jones. “I really don’t know if it was to bring Clinton down or what their agenda was.” In any event, she says that “Rutherford, the lawyers, anybody that was involved with me would urge me not to settle.

“But, see, they didn’t tell me that,” she goes on to say. “They wouldn’t tell me that. … None of them would tell me what their agenda was. Do you think they would actually tell me?” With a laugh: “No, they didn’t.”

Jones insists that she often told the Dallas lawyers that she wanted to settle the lawsuit. “Oh, I instructed them many times to try to get the case settled,” she says, “but there was always the comeback: ‘Well, they’re not interested, now is not the time. We’re going to go forward with this, we’re going to go with the depositions.”” The lawyers had composed a long list of alleged Clinton paramours and victims they intended to examine under oath, including Gennifer Flowers, Dolly Kyle Browning, Kathleen Willey, and Monica Lewinsky, along with examining the president himself under oath.

“They wanted to get all the depositions and stuff like that,” says Jones. “I said that numerous times about wanting to get a settlement, because they knew that I would want a settlement if it was a fair settlement.” Campbell and his partners always replied with reasons why no settlement could be achieved just yet, she adds, “and I believed them because they were my attorneys representing me.”

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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