The surprising dismissal of Paula Jones’ lawsuit leads all around, with the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post going with full banner headlines. Federal judge Susan Webber Wright ruled that although Bill Clinton’s conduct may have been “boorish and offensive,” it was brief, and isolated and didn’t result in physical harm. Therefore, it wasn’t, she concluded, under even the most charitable reading of the record, a sexual assault or workplace harassment. The New York Times notes that Wright gave no credit to Jones’ claim of suffering “sexual aversion” as a result of her run-in with Clinton. The papers all note that the judge dismissed as irrelevant in a few sentences all the Jones allegations of a Clinton pattern of extramarital sex. Jones’ lawyers intend to appeal. Ken Starr responded to the news by promising to soldier on. The ruling, he tells USA Today, “has no effect on our authority.”
The WP makes the point that this is not obvious, observing that any perjury or obstruction of justice charges against Clinton would be based on his conduct in a now-dead case.
The reaction of the other principals is widely reported: Clinton asked if the unexpected good news was an April Fools’ joke. Jones got the news on her car phone and pulled over and cried. The Post says officials at the White House and with the president in Africa maintained a “consciously subdued tone,” but the LAT reports staff cheers and laughter, and the NYT finds President Clinton walking around his Dakar, Senegal hotel suite with a cigar in his mouth and a drum in his hands (to be replaced moments later with a guitar.)
The political impact is also generally viewed as pro-Clinton. House Republicans, says the LAT, may now be wary of moving aggressively against Clinton. The NYT says it even stronger: “It is now politically inconceivable that Congress will consider impeachment.”
But, adds the NYT, despite the trial outcome, “the president and the presidency appear to have been diminished in important and lasting ways.” A front-page WP piece says the Jones lawsuit “has had an indelible impact on the American political system and on other institutions in American life.” And the LAT lead editorial sees the development as a “bittersweet victory for the president.” Perhaps, the editorial continues, “it is possible to envision a time when Social Security reform and other urgent issues might capture the attention of the nation and be at the top of the congressional agenda. When the debate over health care returns to the spotlight. When the details of the tobacco settlement become a matter of wide public discussion. But…the world’s suspicions about his truthfulness in many things will dog his place in history.” The scandal, says the LAT has made the president seem “coated in slime.”
A Wall Street Journal front-page feature reports that the rich have, somewhat surprisingly, not been able to shelter their income from the higher taxes ushered in by George Bush (1990) and Bill Clinton (1993). Indeed, says the Journal, upper income tax revenues are a big reason the federal deficit has vanished. Nowadays the top 5 percent of American families in earnings are paying about 32 percent of their income in taxes, compared to about 26.7 percent ten years ago.
A piece inside the WP (about an article coming out today in the scientific journal Nature) reports that a New York scientist, Stuart Newman, has applied for a patent for a way of mixing human embryo cells with those from a monkey, ape or other animal. His goal: to set off a debate about the morality of patenting life forms, which Newman is opposed to. Currently, explains the Post, patents are not allowed on human beings (based on the 13th Amendment’s proscription of slavery), but the issue of hybrids is unsettled, because patent law has not addressed “how human” an animal would have to be before it fell under the ban.