When William Jefferson Clinton vs. Paula Corbin Jones comes before the U.S. Supreme Court–as expected–in January, all eyes will be on Justice Clarence Thomas. Will a flicker of emotion crease his usually impassive glare as he ponders a she-said, he-said fact pattern so hauntingly reminiscent of his own ordeal five years ago?
Millions of Clinton supporters still disdain Clarence Thomas as a sexual harasser. But a comparison of the Paula Jones and Anita Hill episodes suggests that the evidence against the president is far stronger than the media has let on–and far stronger than the evidence against Thomas.
Jones’ evidence, which I detail in a 15,000-word article in the current issue of the American Lawyer, includes clear proof, scattered through the public record, that then-governor Clinton’s state trooper-bodyguard interrupted the then-24-year-old state employee on the job on May 8, 1991, and took her to meet Clinton–the boss of Jones’ boss–alone in an upstairs suite in a Little Rock hotel, for the apparent purpose of sexual dalliance.
The evidence also includes strongly corroborative statements made to me by two of Jones’ friends, complete with tellingly detailed, seamy specifics remarkably consistent with Jones’ allegations.
Pamela Blackard and Debra Ballentine first told their stories in February 1994 in exclusive interviews with reporter Michael Isikoff, then of the Washington Post. But to Isikoff’s chagrin, the Post printed only sketchy fragments of their accounts, 11 weeks later.
Other evidence, of course, warrants skepticism about Jones’ account, including the claim by Jones’ trooper escort that she happily volunteered to be Clinton’s “girlfriend” just after leaving his hotel room. Yet a careful review of the evidence makes clear that there 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 all four later conspired with Jones to concoct a monstrous lie; or that Jones’ allegations are substantially true. And after conducting interviews and studying other evidence, I’m all but convinced that–even if Jones embellished somewhat–whatever Clinton did was worse than anything Thomas was even accused of doing.
Meanwhile, not one of the feminist groups that clamored first for a Senate hearing for Anita Hill, and then for Clarence Thomas’ head, has lifted a finger on behalf of Paula Jones. What the Hill-Thomas and Jones-Clinton episodes have in common is that each prompted a rush to judgment by people on both sides of the ideological divide. And most striking, in my view, is the hypocrisy (or ignorance) and class bias of feminists and liberals–who proclaimed during the Hill-Thomas uproar that “women don’t make these things up,” and that “you just don’t get it” if you presumed Thomas innocent until proven guilty–only to spurn Jones’ allegations of far more serious (indeed, criminal) conduct as unworthy of belief and legally frivolous.
She Said: The Proposition
The May 8, 1991, encounter began in the conference-room area of Little Rock’s Excelsior Hotel, where a “Governor’s Quality Management Conference” was in progress at which Clinton made a speech. Jones claims, and Blackard confirms, that both noticed Clinton staring intently at Jones while fielding questions from television reporters. A few minutes later, according to Jones, trooper Danny Lee Ferguson–who had previously introduced himself as a member of the governor’s security detail–approached Jones and said, “The governor said you make his knees knock.”
According to Jones’ complaint, Ferguson later returned to the registration desk, handed Jones a piece of paper with a suite number on it, and said the governor would like to meet with her there. According to the complaint, “Ferguson stated during the conversation: ‘It’s OK, we do this all the time for the governor.’ ” Blackard told me, as she told Isikoff, she generally recalls such a conversation. Ferguson’s carefully lawyered answer to Jones’ complaint, in which she seeks damages from him as well as Clinton, confirms that he then escorted Jones to the upstairs floor and pointed out Clinton’s suite.
All this amounts to clear and convincing proof of Jones’ allegation–which has never been specifically denied by the president personally or by his lawyer Robert Bennett–that then-governor Clinton sent a state trooper to interrupt a state employee’s performance of her job and bring her to his hotel room.
And that seems pretty shabby no matter what, exactly, happened in that hotel room–shabbier than anything Clarence Thomas was ever even accused of doing by Anita Hill. Hill said that Thomas, as her boss, had persistently pestered her in late 1981 and 1982 to date him and talked dirty to her about pornographic movies and his own sexual prowess. Hill did not accuse Thomas of a single overt request for sex or a single unwelcome touching. And Hill was not too horrified to follow Thomas’ rising star from the Department of Education to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), nor to keep in touch with Thomas in subsequent years–getting him to write a letter of recommendation that helped her land a law teaching job, phoning him repeatedly, inviting him to make an appearance at the law school, and more.
“I Know He Grabbed Her”
The most impressive evidence supporting Paula Jones’ allegations comes from six witnesses, including Pamela Blackard and Debra Ballentine, whom I interviewed separately by phone, as well as Jones’ two sisters, her husband, and her mother. All six–including a sister who has impugned Jones’ motives–have said they believe her account of Clinton’s conduct.
As an eyewitness to some of the events, Blackard provides especially strong corroboration. “I could see her shaking” as she came walking back to the registration desk, Blackard says. After “five or 10 minutes,” Blackard recalls, Jones related what had happened. Blackard says she has difficulty remembering the details offhand but that “I know he grabbed her. She said he just kept on moving close to her and putting his hand on her knee, and every time she stopped him he did something else.” I asked Blackard if she recalled Jones describing something dramatic. “He dropped his pants,” she responded, “and I don’t remember his exact words, but you knew what he wanted.” Blackard added, “… and she said, ‘I don’t want you ever to tell anybody.’ ” Why not, I asked? “He’s a governor,” Blackard responded. “He’s powerful. And we both had state jobs.”
In her February 1994 affidavit, Debra Ballentine swore that Jones had come to her office around 4 p.m. that day and, after describing the circumstances, told her “she rebuffed three separate unwelcomed sexual advances by the governor. Ms. Jones described in detail the nature of the sexual advances which I will not now recount.”
In a fuller recounting to me on Oct. 1, Ballentine confirmed Jones’ essential allegations: “She said he was putting his hands on her legs and he was trying to put his hands up her dress. … She said, ‘Debbie, he pulled his pants down to his knees and he asked me to [perform oral sex] right then.’ ” Ballentine adds: “He also told her he knew she was a smart girl and her boss–what’s his name? Dave Harrington?–‘is a good friend of mine,’ and he told her, ‘I know you’re a smart girl and you’re going to do the right thing.’ “
Ballentine recalls that Jones also told her that day about the mysterious so-called “distinguishing mark” that Jones’ complaint says she saw on Clinton, and on which Jones’ lawyers say they are relying to corroborate her account.
Paula Jones’ two older sisters say she also gave detailed accounts of Clinton’s conduct to them. In an Oct. 9 telephone interview, I asked one of them, Lydia Cathey, if Jones described what Clinton had done. “Down to the very last detail,” says Cathey. “Dropped his drawers and tell [sic] her to ‘kiss it.’ “
The other sister, Charlotte Brown, has drawn more publicity than the other five witnesses combined, because she has trashed Jones’ motives in going public. Nonetheless, in a February 1994 interview, Isikoff noted, “Asked if she believed her sister’s story, [Charlotte Brown] said she did because she had never known Jones to lie.”
Taken together, these six contemporaneous witnesses provide far stronger corroboration than has ever been mustered on behalf of Anita Hill. While four witnesses testified that Hill had told them in vague, general terms of being sexually harassed, only one of them (Hill’s friend Susan Hoerchner) said Hill had identified Thomas as the harasser. The other three said Hill had complained of harassment by an unnamed “supervisor.”
A Question of Character
It’s reasonable, and legally relevant, to speculate that Jones’ appearance, demeanor, and willingness to meet with Clinton alone may have emboldened him to think that sexual overtures would be welcome. But it’s odd to hear such traits held against Jones by feminists who would ordinarily go ballistic at any suggestion that a flashy-looking woman was “asking for it.”
It’s true that Paula Jones’ legal, as distinct from her factual, claims have their weaknesses. But her legal theories are hardly frivolous. A single, extremely outrageous act of sexual harassment, without much more, can arguably support a “hostile working environment” claim under federal law.
Given that Paula Jones’ claims against Bill Clinton are both more serious by far than Anita Hill’s against Clarence Thomas, and supported by much stronger corroborating evidence, why have the media and a lot of other people acted as though the opposite were true?
Part of the explanation is class bias against what one Washington bureau chief called “some sleazy woman with big hair coming out of the trailer parks.” But that’s not all of it. Not, that is, unless you believe that the press would have given similar coverage to a similar accuser, making similar allegations, supported by similar evidence, against Newt Gingrich, or Jesse Helms, or George Bush, or Steve Forbes.