January 17

This Day in History

Presidential

Jan 17, 1994:

Paula Jones accuses Bill Clinton of sexual harassment

Paula Jones, a former Arkansas state clerk, files suit against President Bill Clinton in the federal court in Little Rock, Arkansas, on this day in 1994, asking for $700,000 in damages.

Jones claimed that Clinton, while governor of Arkansas, sexually harassed her and then defamed her after she went public with her accusations. The following August, Clinton's lawyers filed a motion to dismiss Jones' suit citing presidential immunity. The federal district judge ruled that Clinton could not stand trial until leaving office, but that the investigation into Jones' allegations could proceed. Jones appealed and in 1996 won the right to proceed to trial in the Supreme Court; Clinton then filed a request to delay the trial until he left office. The timing of the decision, which coincided with the November 1996 presidential election, bought Clinton a reprieve.

The Paula Jones case was one of four major scandals that coalesced to threaten Clinton's second term. While working on the Paula Jones investigation, independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr uncovered Clinton's alleged affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Starr was also pursuing ongoing investigations into allegedly illegal real-estate deals made by the Clintons (known as the Whitewater scandal) and a dispute concerning allegations of cronyism in the firing of workers at the White House travel agency. When questioned about the Lewinksy affair, the president was decidedly less than forthcoming, leading to charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Though Democratic leaders preferred to censure the president, Congress began the impeachment process against Clinton in 1998; a divided House of Representatives impeached him on December 19. The issue then passed to the Senate, where after a 5-week trial, he was acquitted.

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