Federal Judge Wright Finds Clinton in Contempt of CourtBy Roberto Suro and Joan Biskupic
A federal judge yesterday held President Clinton in contempt of court for giving “intentionally false” testimony about his relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky in the Paula Jones lawsuit, marking the first time that a sitting president has been sanctioned for disobeying a court order.
In a biting, 32-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright of Arkansas said Clinton gave “false, misleading and evasive answers that were designed to obstruct the judicial process” in Jones’s sexual harassment lawsuit. She specifically cited Clinton’s assertions that he was never alone with Lewinsky and that he did not have a sexual relationship with the former White House intern.
Wright, who personally presided over Clinton’s January 1998 deposition in the Jones case, acknowledged that no court had ever taken such action against a president but said it was important to act to “protect the integrity” of the judicial process.
“Sanctions must be imposed, not only to redress the president’s misconduct, but to deter others who might themselves consider emulating the president of the United States by engaging in misconduct that undermines the integrity of the judicial system,” she said.
The White House had no comment on the order yesterday, saying it was under review by the president’s private attorneys. Clinton’s lawyer in the Jones case, Robert S. Bennett, did not return telephone calls last night. Clinton could appeal the order if he chooses.
The contempt finding comes two months after the Senate acquitted Clinton on articles of impeachment alleging that he committed perjury in the criminal investigation by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr that grew out of the Jones case and that he sought to obstruct justice in the Jones case by arranging a job for Lewinsky and trying to coach other witnesses to testify falsely.
The conduct targeted by Wright concerns a charge approved by the House Judiciary Committee but defeated by the full House as it voted to impeach Clinton: that the president lied under oath in the civil lawsuit.