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The 'What If?' Settlement

November 15, 1998

Paula Jones' decision to settle her sexual harassment suit against Bill Clinton no doubt means she will soon fade from public view and pass from public interest. But that does not mean she will be forgotten. Jones' name is now permanently entered in the nation's political annals, thanks to the precipitating role she played in events that once threatened the downfall of the Clinton presidency. So far as anyone knows--in fact, so far as Jones has alleged--Clinton and Jones spent no more than a few minutes in each other's company in 1991, when he was governor of Arkansas and she was a minor state employee. But whatever if anything happened in a Little Rock hotel room in those few minutes has haunted Clinton for the last four years.

Jones claimed in a suit filed in 1994 that Clinton had made an indecent proposal to her. Clinton denied doing so under oath. Under questioning by Jones' lawyers last January he also denied having a sexual relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky, a White House intern. That led independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr to allege that Clinton committed perjury and otherwise obstructed justice in an effort to hide his affair with Lewinsky. These allegations led to the pending impeachment hearings.

Jones won't get the apology she sought from Clinton, but she will collect $850,000 to drop her suit. That's not a paltry sum, though it doesn't come close to the millions in legal bills she and Clinton both have run up. But what if Clinton had offered a similar settlement years ago, with the usual understanding that Jones would say no more about whatever happened?

In that case he would not have been deposed, and so he would not have been asked about other alleged sexual affairs he may have had. His close associates would not have been grilled by a grand jury about what if anything they did to try to keep the Lewin-sky matter secret. In all probability, the world would never have heard of Lewinsky or Linda Tripp or Lucianne Goldberg.

Think of it: No all-Monica, all-the-time cable television shows. No awkward explanations to the children or, as one astute New Yorker writer noted, to befuddled elderly parents. We all could have been spared.

Instead, the whole mess certainly has been great for the careers of heretofore obscure television pundits in Washington and for Jay Leno. But for the rest of us who didn't have an angle to play, it's too bad the settlement didn't happen a whole lot sooner.

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