Penthouse Retrospective

by Joe Conason Originally Published: December, 2000

Paula Jones | 20 Years Ago This Month

It seemed to Jones that the Dallas firm “always wanted to go to trial. Their whole thing was not really to get it settled,” she says. “And I remember in the beginning when Don [Campbell] told me, ‘Well, if we take this case on, we want to let you know that we’re in it for the long haul, and not to get the case settled, but to get it to trial, and to go all the way to trial. And we want to know if you’re on board with us to get this thing to trial.’ And I said yes. But, you know, I didn’t know that that didn’t mean any kind of settlement talks in the middle or whatever.”

Although many conservatives had political motives for backing her, Jones doesn’t feel this was what motivated the Dallas lawyers. “I don’t think they used me, but I just think that they had their own agenda as well… because it would make a big name for themselves, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Looking back on the aborted 1997 settlement deal, Jones seems distressed by the financial and emotional consequences of her decision to reject the advice of Davis and Cammarata. “I think I wasted a lot of time just sitting there worrying, when I could have settled it, if in fact there was a settlement. And I hate that, because I wanted to settle desperately. You don’t know what kind of mental state I was in-wanting to settle, and Steve Jones telling me not to settle, and different ones [opposing a settlement], ‘because you can’t… because there’s no money here on the table, we don’t even know a money figure.’”

Money quickly became a source of tension between Jones and her new-found friends. In what became a bitter and embarrassing public squabble, the Rutherford Institute fought with the Paula Jones Legal Fund, the curious for-profit corporation set up to collect donations on Jones’s behalf in 1994. It Whitehead hoped that the Jones case would provide a golden opportunity for the Rutherford Institute to reap publicity and money, he soon discovered that he had been only half right.

The publicity got Whitehead’s face on every television network, but the anticipated flood of checks never arrived at his office. In fact, between 1997 and 1998 Rutherford nearly went broke sending out unsuccessful direct-mail appeals signed by Jones while continuing to pay expenses for her case. At first, Whitehead assumed that support for Jones among the conservative faithful had simply faded over time.

It might have occurred to him that despite her strict fundamentalist upbringing (or perhaps because of it), Paula Jones wasn’t necessarily an ideal poster girl for the puritanical legions of the religious right. He was not, after all, the first opportunist of that stripe to see the Jones case as a potential bonanza. The Reverend Patrick Mahoney, the antiabortion zealot who ran Operation Rescue, had rushed to her side in 1994 as soon as she revealed her complaint against Clinton. Having denounced the Clinton Administration as “the most un-Christian in American history,” Reverend Mahoney eagerly set up the first “legal defense fund” for Jones.

But when Penthouse published several semi-nude pictures of Paula taken by an old boyfriend in January 1995, Mahoney’s enthusiasm abruptly disappeared. Jones still remembers the incident vividly. “He was a —” She stops herself. “I don’t know what his problem was, but when the Penthouse pictures came out, [Mahoney] called us up, and he told us some harsh words, and I think they just kind of dropped us real quick…. All of a sudden these pictures surface, and then they dumped me like a hot potato. I guess because I was dirty and this and that, because I posed naked — I mean, topless — for my boyfriend.”

Jones was hurt by the judgmental reaction of Mahoney, who had often boasted to reporters of his close ministerial relationship with her entire family.

“Well, it made me feel bad,” she says. “I did a lot of crying and a lot of soul-searching, and I didn’t know what to do. I just felt abandoned again, you know, I just felt like a victim of everything, you know.”

Incidentally, Paula’s spirited participation in the photo shoot for these pages, which may shock some of her former associates and supporters, is a decision she has no trouble explaining. “It’s something that I normally wouldn’t do,” she says. “But I am pleased with the pictures because I don’t think they’re vulgar. I think they’re very tasteful.” Jones mentions important plans for the money she has now earned from Penthouse. “Hopefully, this will secure my children’s future. I definitely want to put them through college. I’m going through a divorce, I know that I will predominantly be supporting my children, and I wanted to put up a college fund for them.”

The stringent fundamentalism of her Dallas attorney, Donovan Campbell Jr., also conflicted with Paula’s outgoing, vivacious personality. According to Jones, Don Campbell immediately imposed his own ideas about proper female appearance, which his client tried to resist.

At her first court appearance after the Dallas lawyers took over her case, says Jones, “I had on, I think, what any businessperson would wear: a short skirt with a long black jacket. It was a business suit, but it was just short tailed, because I’m short. And then [the lawyers] started talking about my legs and stuff like that and, you know, short-tailed skirt and whatever.” She laughs. “So they didn’t like it.”

Jones had already argued with Campbell about her clothes and makeup. “I remember Don telling me, “You know, you don’t want to look too cheap… too attractive or anything like that.” And, hey, you know, I wanted to dress the way I wanted to dress. I wasn’t going to go out in overalls. But, you know, I wanted to be me, too. And he didn’t want me to wear skirts anymore. I needed to buy long pantsuits, and that’s what I had to buy from then on.”

Her lawyers also instructed Jones not to wear bright lipstick. “They just wanted to kind of make me into somebody that I really wasn’t,” she says. “Because I’m not ashamed of who I am. I mean, I like to dress up and look pretty and be attractive. And what’s wrong with that? There is nothing wrong with that. … But I did it [ dressed modestly] anyway, because that’s what they wanted.”

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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