Clinton voices relief at sex case collapse

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PRESIDENT Bill Clinton said the dismissal of Paula Jones's sexual misconduct lawsuit against him was in the country's best interests.

But in remarks released yesterday he said he would have preferred to have his day in court, had he not been in office, because he was innocent of Ms Jones's charge that he crudely sought oral sex from her during in 1991, when he was governor of Arkansas. "If I were just a private citizen, Joe Six-Pack, I would have mixed feelings about not getting a chance to disprove these allegations in court." he told Time magazine.

"After having been through what I've been through, I would have wanted to put all my evidence before 12 of my fellow citizens. But I don't have mixed feelings as president, because having the case dismissed and putting this behind us is plainly in the best interests of the country."

Mr Clinton made his remarks last week on Air Force One on his way home from a 12-day, six-nation trip to Africa. On Wednesday a judge threw out Ms Jones's suit on the grounds that there was no tangible evidence of damage to her.

Mr Clinton said the summary judgment by Susan Webber Wright of Little Rock, Arkansas, left him feeling "freer" to concentrate on "what I'm supposed to be doing." It also "exposed the raw political nature of this whole situation. It removes whatever obstacle this case would have been to my giving everything to this job for the next two years. The charges are not true."

Mr Clinton declined to comment on independent counsel Kenneth Starr's investigation of whether he lied under oath or obstructed justice in matters related to the Jones suit. On whether the summary judgment in the Jones case should cause Mr Starr to steer clear of his private life, the President said: "That's a question others have to ask and answer."

Ms Jones's adviser, Susan Carpenter-McMillan, said she thought Ms Jones was "very much looking toward an appeal [of her civil suit] but nothing is definitive as of yet."

Mr Clinton appeared to criticise the Supreme Court's unanimous ruling of May 1997 that a sitting president could be sued for actions outside official duties. "I tried as hard ... to put this and Whitewater in the smallest possible box and to let it be handled by others and to respond only when required."

- Reuters, Washington