Ann Coulter allegedly wrote her legal complaint, then slammed her as ‘trailer trash’—and Paula Jones herself complained to Penthouse in 2000 that conservatives had abused her for their own gain. So what is she doing back with the alt-right?
The women had been assembled by Trump to counter criticism following the leak of a 2005 video in which the GOP candidate bragged about using his star power to sexually assault women. And so he turned to Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey, Kathleen Shelton, and Jones, who all shared a mutual opposition to the Clintons—three, including Jones, had accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault or harassment in the past. The fourth, Kathleen Shelton, was raped when she was 12 years old. Hillary Clinton was her accused rapist’s defense lawyer.
When a reporter asked Trump whether he’d actually groped women as he claimed in the leaked Access Hollywood video, Jones—a plucky 49-year old Arkansan wearing head-to-toe Victoria’s Secret lounge-wear and a bedazzled hat—snapped back in her trademarked drawl, “Why don’t you go ask Bill Clinton that? Why don’t you ask Hillary as well?”
Two days before, Jones had railed against Trump having to apologize for his boorish comments, in effect saying, “Where is my apology?”
Jones’s dive back into the national spotlight via Trump’s campaign feels at once an unexpected and somehow wholly appropriate end to an election that’s laid bare the political truth that truly nothing matters. Trump, who once publicly ridiculed Jones as “a loser” for claiming Bill Clinton had sexually harassed her, was parading her onstage to distract voters from his own growing list sexual-assault accusations. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton—who as first lady dismissed Jones as a pawn of her husband’s political enemies and called her accusations fiction—quietly changed the language in her sexual-assault platform, erasing the notion that professed victims should “be believed.”
Meanwhile, the conservatives who, back in the ’90s, peddled in faux outrage to manipulate and profit from Jones and her claims—then deserted her when she no longer advanced their political agenda—are the same ones who are compromising their professed Christian values in order to embrace their undeniably vulgar, possibly criminal, Republican nominee. What’s most surprising is that 16 years after acknowledging she’d been used by the far-right movement in a crusade to take down the Clintons, Jones is enthusiastically taking her place back on their team.
Paula Jones’s story was, and is, catnip for conservatives: She has consistently claimed that in 1991, when she was a 24-year-old state employee making $6.35 an hour, Bill Clinton, then Arkansas’s governor, made several unwanted sexual advances and exposed himself to her in a Little Rock hotel room. When Jones expressed shock and disgust, she says Clinton stopped, and told her, “Well, I don’t want to make you do anything you don’t want to do.” After the alleged encounter, Jones claimed she was threatened, intimidated, and reassigned—all, she claimed, as retribution for refusing Clinton.
The sexual-harassment lawsuit her allegations spawned dragged on five long years—thanks to a group of anti-Clinton conservatives who saw Jones as a means to take down the president—and ended with Clinton handing over an $850,000 out-of-court settlement but never an apology or acknowledgment of any wrongdoing. The president also survived the impeachment fight her case triggered. Clinton has steadfastly denied Jones’s allegations and maintained he doesn’t remember meeting her.
“I’m glad it’s over with, that’s for sure,” Jones told Joe Conason in a 2000 Penthouse interview—the third, and only voluntary time, Jones appeared in the magazine. “And I wish it could have been over with a lot sooner. I’m not looking for fame or fortune or anything like that.”
Jones had reason to be relieved; the ’90s had been hell.
She had taken a beating from the Clinton camp and the national media, been ostracized or ignored by feminist groups, and used then discarded many times over—by the press and pornographers, as well as politically or financially motivated conservative groups that feigned to help her, while working against her best interests.
Jones first appeared on the public eye in the pages of the American Spectator, the ultra-conservative magazine funded by billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife that acted as the central cog in what Hillary Clinton would famously described as “a vast right-wing conspiracy” out to ruin her husband.
In a December 1993 article, “His Cheatin’ Heart,” by David Brock (a self-described reformed conservative who now supports Hillary Clinton), a former Arkansas state trooper described escorting a “Paula” to Bill Clinton’s hotel room in 1991. When she emerged an hour later, according to the trooper, “Paula told him she was available to be Clinton’s regular girlfriend if he so desired.” (Brock did not respond to requests for comment from The Daily Beast for this article.)
The story only used her first name—an inclusion the Spectator editor in chief would later admit was an “editorial mistake”—but Little Rock was a small place and everyone, Jones thought, knew who the trooper was talking about. She’d never had sex with Clinton, as the article implied; in fact, she told family and friends, when the governor allegedly dropped his pants and asked her to “kiss it,” that she had rejected him. So at a friend’s suggestion, Jones sought legal counsel “to clear her good name.”
Bill Clinton had been president for a year, and amassed plenty of enemies on his way to the White House. And Jones soon found that a horde of Clinton’s adversaries were happy to champion her cause.
Jones and her lawyer held a press conference at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Jones then went on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club, telling the televangelist, “I felt raped. Whether he touched me or not, it was disgusting what he did.” Anti-abortion group Operation Rescue’s leader Patrick Mahoney created a legal defense fund for Jones, because he said, “sexual harassment is wrong.” (Mahoney has not formally endorsed a candidate in 2016, but on Twitter, called Trump’s behavior toward women during the campaign, “troubling and shameful.” Roberston defended Trump on his program last week, dismissing the leaked video as “macho talk.”)