Bill to Paula: How Much?

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WASHINGTON: Now he wants to settle? The Washington Post and the New York Times report Friday that lawyers for President Clinton and Paula Jones are in the midst of cutting a deal over her sexual harassment suit -- nearly six months after an Arkansas judge dismissed it, nine months after it sparked off the Monica Lewinsky investigation, and one month after the President angrily denounced the "politically motivated" sex dragnet in his grand jury testimony. Although neither the White House nor pugnacious personal Clinton attorney Bob Bennett would discuss the details, the Times reports that Jones' lawyers have asked for $1 million and that Clinton's have countered with $500,000 -- roughly equal to Paula Jones' legal costs. Mercifully, Jones seems to have dropped her long-standing demand for a Rose Garden apology. Clinton, of course, has already performed more than his share of mea culpas lately.

Special Report It may sound like an extremely expensive way to close the proverbial barn door. But the truth is, not even Clinton knows how many wild horses are left inside. Lewinsky changed everything; Judge Susan Webber Wright is said to be considering holding Clinton in contempt of court, and Jones' newly energized appeal was set to begin next month in Minnesota. And then there's Congress. If the President can settle before the vote on whether to open impeachment hearings, scheduled for October 5 or 6, he may well have done an end run around his conservative enemies on the Judiciary Committee. After all, how would it look if they voted for an inquiry when the original case has not only been dismissed, but settled? At the very least, a settlement would make it hard for the committee to justify releasing the videotape of the President's Jones testimony from January. Clinton may wish he could negotiate Henry Hyde's price as easily as Paula Jones'.