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Judge Webber-Wright May Consider Clinton to be in Contempt of Court

By Lyle Denniston
The Baltimore Sun
WASHINGTON

A federal judge raised the possibility Tuesday that President Clinton might have committed contempt of court for testimony he gave under oath in January, when he denied he had a sexual relationship with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky.

If the judge, U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright of Little Rock, Ark., should ultimately hold Clinton in contempt for that testimony, it could add to the president's possible legal troubles when the House considers whether to pursue impeachment.

Wright, noting that the president recently admitted his January testimony was "misleading," said she has "concerns about the nature" of that testimony, "given his recent public statements."

The judge, who has overseen the Paula Corbin Jones sexual misconduct lawsuit against the president, added in her new ruling that she would make "no finding at this time regarding whether the president may be in contempt."

That appeared to be a hint that the judge would consider a possible contempt citation, on her own or at the request of Jones' attorneys. Donovan Campbell Jr., Jones' attorney, said, "We are continuing to examine all legal avenues of redress in light of the president's admissions" on Aug. 17.

Wright's statements came in an order saying that she would release to the public, perhaps as early as Sept. 28, the written text of the president's January deposition in Jones' lawsuit and other documents in the case that have been kept under seal.

The judge, though, said she would delay the release if either side appeals, and Clinton is almost certain to appeal. His attorneys have said that release of the sealed materials from the Jones case could lead to a "media circus."

Part of the reason the judge gave for deciding now to release the deposition is that most of it already has been made public. Moreover, she said, that document "has been the subject of intense scrutiny in the wake of his public admission that he was misleading' with regard to his relationship with Monica Lewinsky."

The judge said she would delete from the deposition transcript any references to other women who are identified there. And, she said, she would not release the video version of the president's deposition, saying Jones and the news media have no right to disclosure of the videotape.

Clinton's attorney in the Jones case, Robert S. Bennett, could not be reached for comment.