April 1, 1998
Saying Paula Jones had failed to build a sufficiently strong case, a judge dismissed the sexual harassment lawsuit against President Clinton. Is the case closed? Two legal experts offer their analysis.
MARGARET WARNER: In dismissing the civil lawsuit Federal Judge Susan Weber Wright said Paula Jones hadn't met the legal standard for proving sexual harassment, nor the other charges she'd alleged. In a 39-page ruling the judge said, "Although the governor's alleged conduct is true, it may certainly be characterized as boorish and offensive, even a most charitable reading of the record in this case fails to reveal a basis for a claim of criminal sexual assault, as there is no alleged conduct that could be characterized as forcible compulsion." White House Spokesman Mike McCurry, traveling with the president in Senegal was asked how the president received the news.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
March 20, 1998:
Dan Balz of The Washington Post discusses the latest efforts to dismiss Paula Jones' case against the president.
March 18, 1998:
A debate about how women and women's organizations have reacted to allegations against the president.
March 13, 1998:
Paula Jones's lawyers release 700 pages of accusations.
January 22, 1998:
A report into the legal implications of the accusations against the president.
May 27, 1997:
The Supreme Court rules that the Paula Jones case will go to trial.
January 13, 1997:
Paula Jones's case goes before the Supreme Court.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the White House and legal issues.
Court TV's coverage of the Paula Jones' case [Includes text of Judge Wright's dismissal]
The Washington Post's library of legal documents concerning the Paula Jones case.
MIKE McCURRY: I can tell you the president got a message to call Mr. Bennett, his lawyer, which he did. He called him a little bit after 9 o'clock. The president got the news from Mr. Bennett. He asked if it was, in fact, an April Fool's joke that Mr. Bennett was playing on him, and assured that it was not, the president thanked Mr. Bennett for his fine work, said he appreciated everything that the attorneys had done in this case, and obviously, the president was pleased that the judge agreed with the very detailed arguments that the president's attorneys have put forward in this case, and I think he believes that the court's ruling speaks more eloquently than he could have.
The reaction from Africa: relief.
REPORTER: But he must be relieved by this, don't you think? Was he relieved?
MIKE McCURRY: The president was pleased to hear the news.
REPORTER: How is Mrs. Clinton handling this right now?
MIKE McCURRY: The president shared the news with the First Lady after he got it from Mr. Bennett. And I think both of them were pleased to get the news, and at the moment they're doing some shopping. I think the president is pleased to receive the vindication he's been waiting a long time for.
MARGARET WARNER: Paula Jones Spokesman Susan Carpenter-McMillan spoke to reporters this afternoon in Los Angeles.
SUSAN CARPENTER-McMILLAN: I'm shocked. I'd be less than honest if I didn't tell you I was completely blown away by this decision. I think Judge Wright made a wrong decision. But, in all due respect, it hasn't been the first time she's made a wrong decision in this case. We had to go all the way to the Supreme Court just to make sure that we got it tried, and I have not spoken at length with the lawyers. They are reading the decision, trying to find out what's going on, and I dare say that we'll more than likely be back before the Supreme Court again. I don't know how long this procedure is going to be, but it looks like there's a very strong, a strong possibility that we will appeal.
MARGARET WARNER: For analysis of all this we turn to two lawyers: Lanny Davis is a former special counsel to President Clinton, he is not speaking officially for the White House tonight; George Terwilliger was the deputy attorney general during the Bush administration. They both are in private practice. Explain from what you can gather, from what we've read, what was the judge's reasoning in throwing out this whole case?
Jones' lawyers could not prove that the alleged incident damaged her work conditions or emotionally distressed her.
LANNY DAVIS: First, understand that a summary judgment assumes all allegations made by the plaintiff are literally true and then decides whether there is a legal cause of action assuming them to be true. And the president denied the charges made by Ms. Jones. Those factual disputes would have been decided by a jury. Judge Wright, assuming the charges that President Clinton has denied were true, found that, Number One, there was absolutely no evidence in the record before her that any of the alleged incidents that occurred caused Ms. Jones any harm in the work place, caused her any hostile environment. Indeed, there was uncontradicted sworn testimony that she received pay raises, both cost of living, as well as merit. There was no testimony contradicting that. There was also uncontradicted testimony contemporaneous with the incident. She had expressed joy, even pride, in having met President Clinton. That was never contradicted. There were three supervisors and individuals under oath who testified to that. So lacking any dispute of fact on the essential elements of the issue of sexual harassment or hostile work environment or traumatic harm, the judge found that as a matter of law there could be no case here.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree with that analysis?
Still unresolved: conflicting testimony from Jones and the president.
GEORGE TERWILLIGER: It's a very good analysis, and, in fact, the analysis in a way, Margaret, is one of the reasons why this is one of the reasons why this is not a complete win for the White House. It is certainly a big political win. I'm not sure against whom precisely. But the fact of the matter is, there's no resolution of the difference in the contest about the facts. Paula Jones says the president did certain things. The president says he didn't. That's not resolved because, as Lanny correctly pointed out, it was assumed that Ms. Jones' allegations were true, but as a matter of law, she didn't have a case. So that--that remains lingering.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, there were three counts. Two of them involve the civil rights claim that was based on sexual harassment. But there was another one that she suffered emotional distress because of an outrageous--his outrageous conduct. Explain what she failed to prove there.
LANNY DAVIS: Well, first of all, the judge has to take the record before her and assume it to be true, and look for disputes of fact. If she finds a dispute of fact, she must deny the summary judgment motion and go to trial. On the emotional distress argument the record showed uncontradicted, sworn testimony that immediately on the day of and shortly after the day of the alleged incident Ms. Jones told co-workers that she had a wonderful time with Governor Clinton; that she was proud of her meeting. She expressed interest to a receptionist, who under oath said she wanted to continue to meet Governor--then Governor Clinton. So, with that uncontradicted testimony, the issue before the judge would be if that were so, I cannot hold that there was any emotional distress, because there's no contrary evidence that suggests there was other than a last-minute, just recently sworn statement by an individual who allegedly was expert, saying that there was post traumatic syndrome, and I believe that there was enough in the record that that could not possibly be so years later, when she never went to a doctor at the time, and the judge disregarded that.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree with that analysis of what she failed to prove in the outrage area?
GEORGE TERWILLIGER: Yes.
MARGARET WARNER: Because I mean, a lot of people and there's a lot of commentary already on other networks saying, well, how could you not say this conduct, if true, was an outrage? Explain why legally the judge finds otherwise.
GEORGE TERWILLIGER: Well, that's where the judge has to do some interpretation of the law, look to prior cases, what does constitute an outrage, and of course, nothing in plain English means the same as it does in the law. And that really in a concise sort of way, Margaret, is the explanation there. I was very surprised to hear the judge use the term in her opinion even under a charitable reading of Ms. Jones' allegations--she can't state a case. The judge's job, of course, is not to read it charitably but to read it legally. I think what she was trying to say was that extending every benefit of the doubt. And what that means is that Paula Jones did not have a case as a matter of law, as Judge Wright saw it. If there's an appeal, this will be argued about, cases are sometimes overturned with some frequency on summary judgment motions.
MARGARET WARNER: Is that true? You mean, often a judge may do this, and it is overturned?
GEORGE TERWILLIGER: Right. Because lawyers can sit around and disagree on a regular basis about the facts involved means, and in this case we have one lawyer, who happens to be a judge, and a respected judge, make that decision. If it goes up to the circuit court of appeals, three judges, who are also lawyers, will sit there and look at it, and who knows where it goes from there.
LANNY DAVIS: Well, one thing I just wanted to add, and I agree with George, is that it is extremely difficult to win a summary judgment motion. You have to assume everything the plaintiff says is true in the complaint. And there were a lot of people surprised by this decision simply because the burden is so high to win a summary judgment motion. To me, it demonstrates--and really the word vindicates is the appropriate word that Mike McCurry used--the absolute speciousness of the Jones case. And I think the last week may have pushed the judge over the line in showing how specious it is that the Jones' attorneys would dredge up a 20-year-old accusation based upon an unsworn, hearsay statement, denied by the individual involved, of an alleged rape. I suspect that that decision by the Jones' attorneys to air those scurrilous charges may have pushed the judge over the line on at least the last element here, which is the traumatic distress element.
MARGARET WARNER: Would that be something the judge would take into account in this?
GEORGE TERWILLIGER: I tend to doubt it. I think that's an interesting point of view on the matter, but I think the judge basically decided the case on what the law is in her assessment of whether the evidence could meet it or not, not really on the factual strength of the evidence. But I really think, Margaret, that these distinctions between making factual determinations and determining whether you can shoehorn those facts into the particular legal theory that this lawsuit required is a distinction that'll be lost on the public.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree with Lanny Davis that it's highly unusual? Would you say it's highly unusual for a judge to dismiss a case in such a high profile case?
GEORGE TERWILLIGER: I don't think the fact that it was high profile makes any difference. I mean, I suppose to some judges it might, but I don't think it made a big difference here. This was a case where I think even by Paula Jones' attorneys own admissions they had a pretty steep hill to climb in terms of making this particular legal case on the facts. And this judge decided that the case wasn't there. And I'm not taking anything away from Mr. Bennett's success and whatnot. Whether or not the public will see the president as vindicated, where the case is decided really on a legal issue as opposed to a factual determination, I think remains to be seen.
A vindication for the president?
MARGARET WARNER: But is it a vindication in legal terms?
GEORGE TERWILLIGER: Well, I mean, any win is a win. I don't think vindication is really a term that applies in the legal sense.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me shift gears slightly here. Ken Starr has just put out a statement saying this won't affect his investigation. Again, as a legal matter, if this case is thrown out and successfully thrown out, do you agree Ken Starr still has plenty of grounds to continue with an investigation?
LANNY DAVIS: Well, let me make two points about that. First of all, we have seen Mr. Starr in parallel tracks, if not in apparent collusion with the Jones' attorneys. He's piggybacked on their witnesses. He's subpoenaed individuals who have indicated at least through this decision not to be worth taking credibly; yet, he is continuing to go down the same path that the Jones' attorneys went down. And I believe, as a second point, that Mr. Starr should at least re-think the theory of his case. After all, he's investigating an alleged false statement in a deposition in a civil case that has not only been thrown out as a matter of law, but the judge earlier ruled that very same deposition as inadmissible because it wasn't essential to the core issues of the case. Surely, Mr. Starr should re-think devoting all this money, all this time to proving this particular case under these circumstances.
MARGARET WARNER: What do you think it does to the Starr case?
What does the dismissal do to Ken Starr's case?
GEORGE TERWILLIGER: Well, I think this is someplace where Lanny and I are going to have to disagree. The fact of the matter is that I don't think it makes any difference legally to what Mr. Starr is doing. I don't have the insight that Lanny does to know precisely what the independent counsel's office is investigating. But the fact of the matter is if the president lied under oath, or tried to get someone else to lie under oath, that's a serious matter. It needs to be investigated, and, if determined to be true, then there are likely some legal consequences to it. I will say this, though, Margaret: as a practical matter and perhaps as a political matter, even though I don't think the independent counsel is looking at this as a political matter, the pressure on him to bring this to a close more quickly I think is increased as a result of today's developments.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree that as a legal matter it still matters whether the president had a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, and, if true, whether he encouraged her to lie about it? As a legal matter, there's still a case there?
LANNY DAVIS: I believe that in this circumstance the case is not warranted to be continued as a criminal prosecution, given the fact that an alleged statement is made in a civil deposition before a judgment, and now the case has been thrown out. But I would agree with George, that if Mr. Starr is where he is today, he ought to focus his case, stop calling people to say what they said to the press, stop calling mothers to testify against daughters, lawyers to breach attorney-client privilege, get to the heart of the case, and let's at least see what he has. He should take stock. That's all I'm saying. The ramifications of this judge's decision is that so much of what he's investigating has been rendered by Judge Wright as being irrelevant as a matter of law in a civil case. Surely, it suggests it might be irrelevant as a matter of law in a criminal case.
GEORGE TERWILLIGER: While we're taking stock, Margaret, I think one of the things that perhaps the White House ought to take stock of at this point is its insistence on trying to discredit Starr personally and professionally and thereby discredit any product that comes out of his office. Regardless of where you come out on all of the issues that sort of surround this business of the president, it seems to me that whatever it is perceived that Starr might be doing that's weakening the presidency, the White House's actions--and I'll even absolve the president of responsibility for this personally--but the White House's actions in attacking another public official who has been appointed to do a job that is required by the law is unseemly, unnecessary, and not good for the Congress.
LANNY DAVIS: Can I have a quick response?
MARGARET WARNER: I think he was responding to you. Let me ask you a quick factual question or at least prediction. If Paula Jones' lawyers do appeal, how long does that process--one, could it end up in the Supreme Court again, and how long does that process take?
Case closed or an appeal?
LANNY DAVIS: It could take months and months and months. But I have to say there is no personal attack intended on Mr. Starr. It is possible to question Mr. Starr's professional judgment without saying it's a personal attack. It is certainly possible to react to Mr. Starr's decision to use his subpoena power that shows poor judgment without being accused of launching a personal attack.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree, it could be months and months?
GEORGE TERWILLIGER: It could be months--
MARGARET WARNER: Before we really know if this is over?
GEORGE TERWILLIGER: Yes. It could be months and months. And, you know, one of the things I think that as this evolves and people think about it a little bit, that they will look at is if there was obstruction, would it have changed the outcome of today's decision.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thank you both very much.
LANNY DAVIS: Thank you.
GEORGE TERWILLIGER: Thank you.