Bill Clinton dismissed Paula Jones in the 1990s as a “floozy” and a “nobody” who was only suing him for sexual harassment in order to have her “moment in the sun,” according to an audio diary recorded at the time by one of his closest confidantes.
Clinton’s friend and biographer, Taylor Branch, took notes on a late-night conversation he had with the president on Oct. 2, 1997, and immediately recorded them into an audio diary. The recordings were recently obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
According to Branch’s diary, Clinton discussed the pending sexual harassment lawsuit brought against him by former Arkansas government employee Paula Jones, who claimed he unzipped his pants and asked her to perform a sex act on him in a Little Rock hotel room in 1991.
“[Clinton] said they had now changed Paula Jones’s hair style, made her look less like a floozy, and that she didn’t seem to have any visible income but was always driving a new car,” said Branch, a historian who drew from many of his diary entries to write his 2010 Clinton biography The Clinton Tapes.
“[Clinton] said … these political lawyers are going to tell her that there’s not much likelihood that she would get any money out of this,” continued Branch. “That it’s just about [Jones] ‘being somebody’ because, if she settles the case, she goes back to being ‘nobody,’ and the trial is going to be her moment in the sun.”
Clinton also said he believed the IRS had good reason to audit Jones, although he said he did not order the agency to target her. Jones was audited in 1997 during her lawsuit against Clinton, and her supporters claim she was singled out for political reasons.
“[Clinton] said ‘I didn’t have anything to do with it, and I know nobody around here had to do with her getting audited by the IRS.’ But, he said, ‘independently, it stands to some reason,’” recounted Branch. “She doesn’t have any visible means of support and is always traveling around and driving a new car, no job, so forth.”
Clinton’s allies at the time panned Jones in the media as “trailer trash” who was looking for a payout.
A judge dismissed the lawsuit in 1998, saying Jones could not demonstrate what damages were caused by Clinton’s alleged harassment. After Jones appealed the dismissal, Clinton paid her a settlement of $850,000 to drop the lawsuit.
But at the time of Clinton’s conversation with Branch, the president told his friend that, “there is no way there’ll be a settlement, because I’m not going to pay a dime. I would rather have the trial.”
And while Clinton publicly apologized for his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, he expressed little contrition at the time during private conversation with his friend Branch.
“What contrition there was had to be coached out of him, because I sure didn’t feel it tonight. I mean, there wasn’t even a glimmer of ‘I’m sorry, I let you down’—meaning me, not that I asked for it or anything. ‘I see the hurt in people’s eyes who believed in me.’ I didn’t sense any of that on a personal level,” recalled Branch in a Sept. 30, 1998 recording after a conversation with Clinton at the White House.
“My overall impression tonight was that whereas [Clinton] said that he had sinned and this was very difficult, and he needed to work on his private relations, and so forth, I was amazed by how impersonal he seemed to be dealing with it,” said Branch. “He had a number of conversations about impeachment with people on the phone that I’ll try to recount later, but it seemed like another interesting political problem that he was going into from every angle.”
Clinton also said that his dalliance with Lewinsky “paled in comparison” to the behavior of Republicans and the media.
“[Clinton] said several times, whatever he did, it, as he put it, ‘pales in comparison with what they’ve done to the country in the process of pursuing [these allegations]’—that is, the press and the Republicans,” said Branch.
The president took issue with the perjury charges against him, arguing that the special prosecutor had gone after individuals who refused to testify in order to avoid self-incrimination.
“[Clinton] said if you perjure for the home team, you’re in good shape, but if you refuse to perjure for the home team, they’re going to find some way to go after you, to charge you with perjury,” said Branch. “This whole business was about perjury, he said.”
Although Clinton was indignant about the impeachment, he said his wife was even angrier about it.
“[I asked], ‘How are you and Hillary? How have you come through this personally?’” said Branch in a Dec. 29, 1998, recording.
“[Clinton’s] answer was not about the relationship. His answer was ‘Hillary was more upset about the impeachment than I was,’” Branch added.
Branch recorded dozens of wide-ranging, late-night conversations with Clinton for the president’s personal oral history project during the 1990s and early 2000s. While Bill Clinton kept the sole copies of the tapes, Branch would take notes on the discussions and recall them into an audio diary. Branch later donated the recordings to the University of North Carolina.
Branch acknowledged in his tapes that he was shocked when news of the president’s affair with Lewinsky hit the media.
The historian said he had established “an incredible conviction of the warmth of [Bill and Hillary Clinton’s] marriage, from first-hand observation being around them.”
After the Lewinsky story broke, Branch said he struggled against “horrible feelings that [the Clintons] might have a hollow marriage, and that he might have hardened into nothing but a skirt-chaser.”
“At the same time, I really see no corrupt agenda that had taken possession of [Bill Clinton],” said Branch. “He never acted like somebody that was doing all this stuff with a 21-year-old, which was really, as I put it, Woody Allen territory.”
Branch also said it was “very upsetting” that Vernon Jordan, another member of Clinton’s inner circle, was advising the president on the Lewinsky matter.
“At any rate it’s very tawdry, very upsetting, to me, upsetting that Vernon Jordan is the president’s defender,” said Branch. “Not because I think [Jordan] would commit or encourage perjury, but because I know he has an extremely recreational view of sex, and would probably be diddling Monica Lewinsky with the president if he could.”
In other conversations, Clinton seemed almost cavalier about the Lewinsky scandal. According to Branch, the president burst out laughing after the historian used the phrase “oral history” during the height of the Lewinsky scandal.
“I said ‘This is the 54th session of President Clinton’s oral history.’ As soon as I said ‘oral history,’ he started laughing,” recalled Branch in an April 6, 1998 recording. “And, um, it was kind of awkward. So I looked at him, and said the date, and so forth. And he was still kind of chuckling.”
“So I said, finally, ‘Well, I guess it’s awkward to say oral history,’ but then didn’t say anything else about it,” said Branch. “It was because of the whole Monica Lewinsky sex scandal. But I thought it was interesting that he laughed about it, right from the beginning.”
In recent days, the history of sexual allegations against Bill Clinton has emerged as an issue in his wife Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. After Hillary Clinton accused Republican candidate Donald Trump of targeting women, Trump slammed her husband as “one of the great woman abusers of all time.”
Bill Clinton has admitted to having affairs outside of his marriage, including with Lewinsky and Gennifer Flowers. He has been accused of sexual harassment and misconduct by a number of women, including Jones and former White House aide Kathleen Willey. At least one woman, former nursing home worker Juanita Broaddrick, has said Clinton raped her.
The former president appeared flustered when asked about Trump’s comments by ABC News on Monday, as he stumped for his wife on the campaign trail.
“Republicans have to decide … I’m trying to tell, and now the Democrats in this country, they think Hillary would be the best president. And I think there’s always attempts to take the election away from the people, so I’m just gonna give it to them,” he said.
Bill Clinton’s office did not return a request for comment. Hillary Clinton’s campaign did not return a request for comment.