Clinton rejoices at freedom from the Paula Jones claims

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT Bill Clinton was riding high yesterday following the dismissal by an Arkansas judge of all sexual harassment charges against him. Across the United States, he appeared to have emerged from his ordeal with his political persona totally unscathed, even enhanced.

First opinion polls showed Americans approved of the decision by two to one. Random vox pops on the streets of US cities showed men and women alike welcoming what they saw as the end of a sordid and tiresome succession of allegations. They largely agreed with Judge Susan Webber Wright that even if Paula Jones's accusation - that Mr Clinton had exposed himself to her and asked for oral sex - was true, it was a coarse and offensive act, but did not amount to sexual harassment.

President Clinton, while careful not to appear to gloat, was said to be "overjoyed" - a few notches up from the "pleased" he admitted to through his spokesman the previous evening. Behind the scenes, his delight and relief were caught by Fox News, which filmed him in his hotel room in Dakar with a broad smile, a bongo drum in his hand and a cigar (unlit) in his mouth.

He had cancelled a scheduled dinner and remained in his suite for a private dinner with his wife, Hillary.

Ms Jones was described as "devastated". The conservative Rutherford Institute, which has funded her case, stood by its intention to appeal, but legal specialists united in advising that an appeal stood little chance against the force and clarity of Judge Webber Wright's arguments. Ms Jones's determination to proceed also seemed to be in question. Her public relations adviser, Susan Carpenter McMillan, who insists she is not being paid for her services, said: "I just hope she has the strength to go on."

As well as ruling that Ms Jones's allegations did not constitute a case for sexual harassment, Judge Webber Wright said she had suffered no emotional or professional damage from her rebuttal of Mr Clinton, then state governor.

The judgment from Arkansas does not end Mr Clinton's problems. The four- year criminal investigation instituted over the speculative Whitewater land deal, and allegations of a White House cover-up, continues.

Yesterday the independent prosecutor in the case, Kenneth Starr, called Mr Clinton's chief of staff, Erskine Bowles, to testify in the case, stressing as he went into the courthouse that his investigation was unaffected by the dismissal of the Paula Jones case.

Nor does it put an end to all the sex allegations. The accusation that the President falsely denied an affair with a White House trainee, Monica Lewinsky, and induced her to lie about it under oath, is part of Mr Starr's criminal investigation. Ms Lewinsky could still be compelled to testify; were she to retract her denial of an affair with Mr Clinton, he would be liable to answer charges of perjury and suborning a witness - charges that could be grounds for impeachment.

Whatever Mr Starr says, the Jones ruling is likely to affect his investigation. The whole Lewinsky saga originated when she was summoned to testify in the Jones case. Any perjury committed by her or Mr Clinton derived from a case now dead, so the purpose of proceeding must be in question.

This week's ruling is also likely to confirm Mr Clinton's high approval rating, increase scepticism of Mr Starr's investigation and make any move towards impeachment less likely.

One view expressed yesterday, that Mr Clinton and the presidency had suffered serious "collateral damage" from all the sex allegations (which were in no way disproved by the judgment), also seemed questionable. The public has had its fun; it now seems happy to allow that Mr Clinton's sex life is his private business.