By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Ferguson has his credibility problems--not the least of which appear to be notes and transcripts from interviews he did in '93 and '94, when he told a far less pro-Clinton story to a Los Angeles Times reporter.
Yet the startling thing is not where his testimony contradicts Jones, but how much it bolsters her story. Ferguson admits that on May 8, 1991, he escorted Gov. Clinton to a conference being held by the Arkansas agency for which Paula Jones worked. After the governor delivered a speech to the conference, he stood outside the ballroom chatting with reporters, while Ferguson chatted with two women passing out nametags at the registration table: Paula Jones (her name was Corbin then) and her friend and co-worker Pamela Blackard.
Accounts of who flirted with whom first vary. In depositions both Jones and Blackard insist the governor was leering at Jones and sent Ferguson to tell her the governor wanted to meet her. (According to The Washington Post, Ferguson's message was "[Y]ou make [the governor's] knees knock.") Ferguson, in turn, now claims Jones made the first move. "[S]he said that she thought he was good-looking, had sexy hair, wanted me to tell him that. Also...said she'd like to meet him. And he had come back that she had that come-hither look."
"That's a phrase I have used," the president admitted in deposition. "[I]t wouldn't surprise me if I'd said that to a trooper."
Both Jones and Blackard deny that Jones flirted with Clinton, and Ferguson appears to have told a version far closer to the women's in those Los Angeles Times interviews. Whichever way it went, shortly afterward Clinton told Ferguson he was expecting a "call from the White House" and asked the trooper to get a suite.
Ferguson subsequently approached the table where Jones and Blackard were sitting and handed Jones a slip of paper with a room number written on it. All three agree that Ferguson told Jones the governor wanted to meet her.
According to Jones: "I said, 'What for? What does he want to meet with me for?' And I was excited, though. You know, but I thought why would he want to meet with me? And I asked him that question, and I voiced it to Pam.
"And he [Ferguson] said, 'It's OK. We do this all the time.'
"[I] discussed it with Pam. She said, 'Good, maybe we can find a job. You know, maybe we can get a better job.' And I'm not stupid, yeah, I was going to go up there and see if I could maybe get another job or find a way to put applications to better myself and to get another job, a higher-paying job. And I thought maybe I could help my friend out and stuff. And I was excited to meet the governor."
Ferguson tells what happened next: "It wasn't, oh, three or four minutes she came around the corner...I thought she'd go on up, but she kept staying. I said, 'Do you want me to walk up with you?' And she said, 'Yeah.'"
The president does not deny he may have invited Jones up. Instead, he says he doesn't remember meeting her, but at the same time, knows he never dropped his trousers and asked her to "kiss it," as Jones claims. Yet six witnesses since 1994 have consistently said that Jones told them her story, in detail, within minutes or days of the time it happened.
Still, Jones has her challenges too. For even if the event occurred much as Jones said it did, harassment alone is not enough. Jones has the burden of showing that it was unwelcome harassment. And that is where the ugliest battle will be fought: over the "greedy slut" defense.
"It is 100 percent clear to me that the way they're going to try this case is, number one, 'it never happened', and number two, 'she was asking for it,'" says Holmes. "And if he wasn't the president of the United States, they would jettison the 'it never happened' part, because there's going to be almost irrefutable evidence that Bill Clinton made plans for a hotel room [and] summoned this low-level employee up there with the intent of sex on his mind.
"I think that a lot of the president's defenders basically think that it happened, but that she was asking for it--and so she's not playing fair pool now by making a big deal out of it."
The real test of the lawyers in Jones vs. Clinton will take place early next month, largely out of the public eye. Summonses will go out toregistered voters in the 11 counties that constitute the Eastern District of Arkansas. On a day yet to be announced, those responding will hie themselves to the federal courthouse in Little Rock, where they will fill out a lengthy questionnaire that attorneys and jury consultants for both sides submitted to the judge two weeks ago.
The questionnaire will take the better part of an hour to fill out. It will ask a number of personal questions, including queries about the potential jurors' views on gender roles and how they feel about sexual harassment law. They will be quizzed about authority figures generally, and how they feel about the presidency in particular. They will be examined about their own experience with sexual harassment and sexual assault. Courthouse officials will collect the questionnaires and distribute them to the lawyers on both sides.