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National Perspective | UPDATE

Despite Fund, Clintons Fall Short on Legal Bills

August 24, 2000|ROBERT L. JACKSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — President Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton still owe $4 million in legal bills related to the Whitewater investigation, despite private contributions of $8 million over the last three years, trustees of their legal defense fund reported Wednesday.

In releasing their semiannual accounting, the trustees said that the fund collected about $950,000 during the first six months of this year, up from $800,000 in the last accounting period--but far below the success of the fund's early months.

Even with the impeachment fight well behind him, Clinton can expect more legal bills as he challenges an Arkansas lawsuit to disbar him and faces possible criminal charges after he leaves office for conduct related to the Monica S. Lewinsky matter, the trustees acknowledged.

Anthony F. Essaye, executive director of the trust, said the fund will remain in existence at least through January to try to lighten "the enormous financial burden of a president who has served his country well and hopes to continue to apply his talents to public service after he leaves office."

The Clintons' legal bills from former independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's inquiry, the Paula Corbin Jones sexual harassment lawsuit and the congressional impeachment battle have totaled about $11 million, Essaye told reporters.

Of these expenses, nearly $6.5 million has been paid from donations from 77,000 citizens, some of whom have given more than once, he said. Another $500,000 is on hand to pay more legal bills as they are certified. Of the $8 million in contributions the fund has received, nearly $1 million has been used to cover administrative expenses, direct mail solicitations and legal and vetting costs of the trust, Essaye said.

Officials said none of the funds covered Clinton's $850,000 out-of-court settlement of the Jones suit, which was largely paid by private insurers, or the $90,000 penalty assessed against him for contempt of court by U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright, who ruled last year that the president made "false and misleading" statements in that case.

The bulk of the legal payments has gone to Clinton's two private lawyers, David E. Kendall and Robert S. Bennett.

H. Maurice Mitchell of Little Rock, Ark., a fund trustee, said more than 96% of all donors have given $100 or less; 136 people have given the maximum contribution of $10,000 a year.

Those giving the maximum in the latest six-month period included Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of Miramax Films; television producer Norman Lear; Lew Wasserman, former MCA/Universal Studios chief; Eli Broad, chairman of SunAmerica Inc.; Peter Angelos, owner of the Baltimore Orioles; and Smith Bagley, heir to the R.J. Reynolds tobacco fortune, according to fund records.

Rules of the trust, approved by the White House counsel's office when it was established in February 1998, prohibit donations from those who are not U.S. citizens and from corporations, labor unions, registered lobbyists and employees of the government's executive branch.

Clinton is prohibited by the Ethics in Government Act from soliciting contributions himself.

In the first 18 months of the fund's existence, a period that included the Lewinsky investigation, the Jones lawsuit and the impeachment proceedings, it received more than $6 million in donations. Since June 1999, it has taken in less than $2 million.

The fund gave no breakdown for the first lady's legal bills, long since paid by the trust. Her bills arose from independent and congressional investigations, principally from 1994 to 1996, of her role in Whitewater-related financial and legal transactions, and from Starr's probe of her role in the 1993 White House travel office firings.

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Times researcher Robin Cochran contributed to this story.

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