On January 17, 1994, William Jefferson Clinton made history. He became the first sitting president in U.S. history to testify as a defendant in a civil suit brought against him.
Specifically, President Clinton swore to tell the truth and provided a four-hour deposition in which he categorically denied any and all sexual-harassment claims made by former Arkansas state clerical worker, Paula Corbin Jones.
Jones alleged in her lawsuit that on May 8, 1991, Clinton, who was then governor of Arkansas, asked her up to a hotel room in Little Rock. Once there, he exposed his genitals to her and asked for oral sex.
Jones said she refused and left the hotel. Thereafter, she stated, her job transformed into a “hostile work environment.”
Submitting her paperwork in 1994, just three days before the statute of limitations expired, Jones sought $750,000 in damages.
Initially, a judge granted the president’s legal team a summary judgment and overturned the case, ruling that Jones could not sufficiently prove she had suffered any damages or experienced any emotional distress. Upon challenging the ruling in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, however, Jones persuaded a majority of judges to allow the case to proceed.
The Clinton legal team then fought to postpone any related legal proceedings until after Clinton had left office. They argued that President of the United States was a unique job, and that their client simply couldn’t just take time off to deal with a personal lawsuit.
Lawyers volleyed the case back and forth for the next several years, eventually reaching the Supreme Court. On May 27, 1997, the highest court in the country ruled unanimously against the sitting president.
Bill Clinton settled out of court with Jones on November 13, 1998. He paid her $850,000, without admitting guilt or offering an apology, in exchange for her dropping the case. Jones took the deal.
Even before his successful 1992 run for president, Bill Clinton’s reputation as a womanizer and a philanderer preceded him. Clinton’s supposed extra-marital proclivities provided endless material for comedians and cartoonists to send up, but also raised seemingly serious-minded questions of “character” among the president’s critics.
While on the campaign trail, Clinton even appeared alongside his wife, Hillary Clinton, on 60 Minutes to deny claims of infidelity made by “actress and model” Gennifer Flowers.
The scandal peaked when Flowers held a press conference and played private tapes of conversations she’d had with the candidate. Shortly thereafter, she posed nude for a spread in Penthouse magazine.
Paula Jones also appeared naked in Penthouse — eventually. First, though, in December 1994, a court ordered Penthouse owner Bob Guccione not to print or in any other way distribute semi-nude photos of Jones that he’d purchased from her ex-boyfriend. Fourteen years later, however, Jones bared all for a layout in the December 2000 issue titled “The Perils of Paula Jones.”
As for Clinton, he would have to continue testifying under oath in regard to sexual misadventures.
While being grilled in 1998 over an alleged affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, Clinton famously responded to a question by stating, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”
In 1999, Bill Clinton became the second U.S. president to face an impeachment trial (Andrew Johnson, in 1868, was the first). He beat the rap.
Jones last made headlines in October 2016, when she appeared at a St. Louis press conference alongside Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who was running against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Also seated with Trump were two other women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct, Juanita Broderick and Kathleen Willey.
Trump went on to be elected president.
Main photo: Paula Jones, ABC Primetime Live, [1994 video/screenshot]