A grand jury has voted to indict former president Donald Trump on charges related in part to hush money payments made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in 2016. He pleaded not guilty on April 4 to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.
Since Trump’s indictment was announced, some people on social media have made comparisons to former president Bill Clinton. The claims say Clinton made hush money payments to Paula Jones, who accused the then-president of sexual harassment. Several VERIFY readers also asked us whether Clinton made hush money payments to Jones.
Did Bill Clinton make hush money payments to Paula Jones?
No, Bill Clinton did not make hush money payments to Paula Jones.
WHAT WE FOUND
Then-president Bill Clinton settled a years-long lawsuit with former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones for $850,000 in 1998. The settlement was public and did not constitute “hush money.”
The case began with a lawsuit filed by Jones against Clinton in 1994. She alleged Clinton sexually harassed her in a hotel three years prior, and sought $700,000 in damages from the president, Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) Encyclopedia of Arkansas says. Clinton denied the allegations.
The lawsuit was public, and Clinton’s deposition during one of its proceedings directly led to his impeachment. Independent Counsel Ken Starr wrote in his 1998 referral to the U.S. House of Representatives that Clinton had lied under oath during one of the lawsuit’s depositions.
Clinton attempted to have the court dismiss the suit on the grounds of presidential immunity, according to Oyez, an archive of Supreme Court cases. In 1997, Clinton’s dismissal request rose to the Supreme Court, which unanimously ruled that the president did not have immunity from civil litigation except under highly unusual circumstances.
“The historic ruling was generally well received by the press, the public, and the legal community, all of whom supported a ruling that was generally seen as reinforcing the idea that the president is not above the law,” the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas says.
That sent the suit back to district court. Rather than continue to fight the lawsuit, Clinton agreed to an out-of-court settlement with Jones in November 1998, according to court documents.
Under the terms of the settlement, Clinton paid Jones $850,000 to dismiss the case, CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas says. Those terms stipulated that Clinton did not acknowledge any wrongdoing on his part, despite his payment to Jones. Press reports from the time said Clinton paid $375,000 from his personal funds and $475,000 from an insurance policy. These types of settlements are legal.
In 1999, Clinton was found in contempt of court for his failure to obey the court’s discovery orders during the lawsuit, court documents show. As punishment, he was fined and his law license was suspended for five years.
This settlement did not constitute “hush money.” By definition, “hush money” is money paid to someone to keep something secret. This is the definition used by the Merriam-Webster and Cambridge dictionaries, while the Collins and Oxford dictionaries specify that the money is paid to keep something “damaging or embarrassing” secret.
But Jones’ accusation was already public by the time she received the money. And she maintained her accusations against Clinton when she made public comments in opposition of his wife Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president in 2015 and 2016.
“He does not have a right to be in the White House to serve the people the way he treated women, sexually harassing women,” she told the Daily Mail in 2015. Later in the interview, she said she “told truth so there are no regrets at all” in regard to her sexual harassment allegations.