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New Fund Opens for Clinton Legal Bills

February 19, 1998|DAVID G. SAVAGE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — With President Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton facing at least $3.2 million in unpaid legal bills, their supporters Wednesday announced the formation of a new legal defense fund empowered to actively solicit funds on their behalf.

The new fund is seeking contributions from U.S. citizens of up to $10,000 per year. It will not accept money from registered lobbyists or federal employees, but nearly all other donations from individuals are welcome, its sponsors said.

Unless substantial sums are raised, "this couple will leave this White House impoverished," said former Sen. David Pryor of Arkansas, a longtime friend of the Clintons' and chief trustee of the new fund.

When the year began, the Clintons had more than $3 million in unpaid legal bills from the long-running Whitewater investigation and the Paula Corbin Jones sexual-harassment lawsuit.

Since then, a "new situation has arisen," as Pryor delicately put it, which likely will send those bills soaring. He was referring to independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's investigation of the nature of Clinton's relationship with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky.

Leading Clinton's defense is the president's private lawyer, David E. Kendall.

Earlier, the Clintons had a legal defense fund that started strongly in raising money but foundered last year when it had to return suspect contributions raised by Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie. The previous fund paid $766,000 in legal bills for the Clintons, but in 1997 its administrative and legal expenses outpaced its contributions.

The previous fund was also hampered by a $1,000 limit on contributions and a rule that barred it from actively seeking money.

The new fund is authorized to "actively solicit" funds, but Pryor and the other trustees said that they had not decided how to raise money. They stressed, however, that the Clintons themselves will not be involved in soliciting money.

"We want to do it in a dignified and appropriate way," said Washington attorney Anthony Essaye, who will manage the fund.

He revealed that White House Counsel Charles F. C. Ruff, a longtime friend, asked him to organize the trust fund. One of the five trustees is Orange County businessman Roger W. Johnson. During Clinton's first term, he headed the General Services Administration.

The trustees will disclose twice a year who has contributed to the fund and how much. No money will be accepted from corporations and labor unions, and the sponsors said that they would examine the contributions to see that the donors are legally allowed to contribute.

Those seeking to make contributions can send them to Clinton Legal Expense Trust, Department 6007, Washington, D.C. 20042-6007.

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