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Arkansas trooper considered demanding money from President Clinton
SOURCE FOR LOS ANGELES TIMES' "TROOPERGATE" STORY DISCUSSED TRADING SILENCE ABOUT CLINTON'S PRIVATE LIFE FOR HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS.
BY MURRAY WAAS | Arkansas Trooper Danny Ferguson, President Clinton's co-defendant in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case, told three other people during the fall of 1993 that he was considering demanding money from the president in exchange for remaining silent about Clinton's alleged extramarital affairs, Salon has learned.
At the time, Ferguson and three other Arkansas state troopers -- Roger Perry, Larry Patterson and Ronnie Anderson -- who served together on Clinton's personal security detail while he was governor, had already begun telling reporters for the Los Angeles Times and the American Spectator salacious stories about the president's private life. Both publications ran articles based on the troopers' allegations shortly before Christmas 1993.
Trooper Perry bluntly recalled in an interview with Salon how he reacted to hearing Ferguson's proposal: "Here's a guy looking into the possibility of extortion and blackmail of the president of the United States."
Cliff Jackson, an attorney for troopers Perry and Patterson, independently corroborated Perry's story. "Roger said [to Ferguson]: 'You can't do that, man. That would be blackmail,'" Jackson recalled. "'That would be blackmail of the president.'"
In addition, Ferguson contemporaneously told a confidant -- during the time that he and three other troopers were first talking about Clinton's personal life to L.A. Times reporters -- that his fellow troopers were exaggerating a portion of what they were claiming to know, Salon has learned.
The new information adds to a mounting body of evidence that casts doubt on the Times' report that Clinton offered Ferguson and Perry federal jobs in exchange for their silence about his personal life.
The troopers' allegations have had a tremendous impact on the Clinton presidency. They became a metaphor of sorts for pundits and Washington insiders in describing the Clinton presidency. Joe Klein, author of "Primary Colors," famously declared following the Troopergate stories that Clinton was engaged in "the politics of promiscuity."
The American Spectator's article by David Brock (which he's since repudiated) also indirectly led to the Paula Jones harassment lawsuit. The Spectator first described an encounter between Clinton and a woman identified only as "Paula" at the Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock, Ark., in May 1991. Angered over the article, Jones sued Clinton and Ferguson.
At the same time that Ferguson and his fellow troopers were talking to the press, Ferguson was confiding to a friend that some of the troopers were greatly exaggerating what they knew about the president's personal life in interviews with reporters. Ferguson said in particular that Patterson was overstating the facts and pressing other troopers to do the same.
Ferguson's confidant secretly taped these conversations, which took place in the summer and fall of 1993. In the summer of 1996, Ferguson's confidant allowed a Salon reporter to listen to the tapes and transcribe them.
In the taped discussions, Ferguson said that he was afraid to blow the whistle on his fellow troopers because he would anger individuals he described as powerful figures in Republican Party circles. He did not identify these individuals.
The New York Observer recently disclosed that Peter W. Smith, a Chicago investment banker and conservative funder, spent at least $80,000 between 1992 and 1994 to investigate President Clinton's sexual conduct. Over the last decade, Smith contributed more than $150,000 to GOPAC, the political action committee once chaired by House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Smith also played a key role in bringing the Troopergate story to light. Among other things, it was Smith who first told the Spectator's Brock about the troopers' allegations. Smith also promised to provide high-paying jobs to Perry and Patterson if they were fired for speaking to the press. And in March 1994, Smith wrote a check for $20,000 to Roger Perry, who split the money with Patterson and Lynn Davis, a lawyer for the two troopers. Perry said that he asked for the payment because he had lost a part-time job because he had spoken to reporters. Smith did not return Salon's calls for comment about the Troopergate affair.
Bill Bristow, a Jonesboro, Ark., attorney for Ferguson, denied allegations that his client ever discussed asking the president for money: "On behalf of Danny Ferguson, we deny the truthfulness of these allegations."
Bristow said that he could not say anything more specific, because even though the Jones case was dismissed last week by federal judge Susan Webber Wright, a gag order regarding the case was still in effect pending a possible appeal.
But Ferguson was said to be expected to argue at the Jones trial that the accusations that he considered soliciting money from the president or those close to him made no sense, given the fact that ultimately he refused to join the other troopers in trying to obtain a lucrative book contract or other financial incentives to tell their story. Ferguson was also expected to testify that Perry and other troopers held a grudge against him for his refusal to go along with their efforts.
Three other sources, however, confirmed the story. Two of those sources, Roger Perry and Cliff Jackson, told their stories in taped, on-the-record interviews. A third individual spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Perry provided the following account to Salon:
On a brisk fall day in 1993, Ferguson telephoned Perry and asked him to meet him meet him early the following morning on the golf course. There was something urgent they needed to discuss, but Ferguson refused to talk about it over the telephone.
"Danny was real paranoid back then," Perry recalled. "When he had something important he wanted to tell me, he would say, 'Let's meet on the golf course.'"
As they played a round of golf, Ferguson told Perry that President Clinton had recently called him from the Oval Office, offering him and Perry federal jobs if they did not talk to the press: "Danny said, 'I've talked to the governor. We still called him the governor even after he was elected president. And [Danny] said, 'He offered you a job if you won't do this.' On of them was a U.S. marshal's job in Kansas City, another was in Memphis and [a third in] Denver."
Then, according to Perry, Ferguson told him that he saw an opportunity for them to make a lot of money. "Let's ask Clinton for money," Perry said Ferguson told him. "I wonder what he would give us not to go forward."
"I said, 'Danny, my gosh.' And he said, 'This would be worth a lot of money to the Democratic Party.'"
According to Perry, Ferguson said he was sure that individuals close to the president would be willing to pay them hundreds of thousands of dollars for their silence.
"I was shocked," Perry recalled. "I said, 'My God, Danny, that's blackmail. Are you trying to blackmail the president?' Here's the president of the United States, and you're going to try something like this on him? My exact words to him were, 'Danny, you try to do this, and you'll end up in prison.' Here's a guy looking into the possibility of extortion and blackmail of the president of the United States."
Perry's account was partly corroborated by Cliff Jackson, the lawyer for Perry and Patterson, who had once been a friend of Clinton's while the two men studied together at Oxford. In recent years, however, Jackson became a vociferous political opponent of the president. An organization headed by Jackson, the Alliance for the Rebirth of the American Spirit, financed print and radio ads attacking Clinton in New Hampshire during that state's 1992 presidential primary.
In the spring of 1993, Jackson agreed to represent Perry and Patterson, assisting them in telling their stories to the press and in trying to obtain a book contract. There was talk of the four troopers making more than $2 million from a potential book deal, Ferguson, Anderson and Jackson have said, although nothing ultimately came of it.
Jackson confirmed in an interview that Perry told him about Ferguson's plan to demand money from the president: "He [Roger] was incredulous that Ferguson proposed such a thing." Jackson also said that Perry "responded I thought very appropriately" by admonishing Ferguson.
Jackson asserted that the matter did not deter him from publicizing the troopers' story: "Ferguson was not my client. What his motives were were irrelevant to me." He added that although he now has "second thoughts" about Ferguson, he still believes that Perry and Patterson told the truth.
Central to the Los Angeles Times story was the newspaper's accusation that the president had offered Ferguson and Perry -- during conversations between the president and Ferguson -- federal jobs in exchange for their silence. The newspaper said the claim was made by Perry and that Ferguson "confirmed the accuracy of what Perry said about the substance of the calls."
The Times article also insinuated that Clinton initiated the telephone contacts with Ferguson, which would lend credence to the charge that the president had offered him and Perry jobs.
Ferguson, however, testified in his deposition in the Paula Jones case that it was he, not Clinton, who initiated all three telephone conversations he had with the president:
"I would call the governor's -- or excuse me, the president's office here in Little Rock and ... [they] would in turn get a message to him," Ferguson testified.
In his own sworn deposition in the Jones case, Clinton also testified that it was Ferguson who had contacted him:
"He [Ferguson] called my secretary in Little Rock, Linda Dixon, and asked me to call him ... I didn't have any idea what he wanted to talk about."
Clinton also said Ferguson warned him about what his fellow troopers were up to: "I remember very well. He said there were basically two kinds of lies in these stories. 'There's stuff we just made up out of whole cloth and ... then there's the stuff that happened that we twisted to make it look as bad as possible.' And he said, 'I'm out of here. I'm not going to do this.'"
Later, Clinton testified, "It was clear to me that he had at least gone to the meeting and in silence gone along with whatever was done in the beginning ... If they got three people to say the same thing, anybody in the world would print it. [It] didn't matter if it was true or not. And there was a lot of money in it ... And then he said he wanted out, wished it had never happened, but didn't feel like he could ever contradict anything."
Clinton contemporaneously made handwritten notes of two of the conversations he had with Ferguson: "He furiously scribbled everything down," said one source. "At least he would have his own record of their conversation."
Ferguson also testified that he had called the president to warn him: "I told him that he had left a lot of mad troopers because he didn't even bother to come and thank them for their duty."
The sworn testimony of Ferguson and the president seem to be partly corroborated by the taped conversations between Ferguson and his close confidant. During their initial conversations, Ferguson told the confidant that he and other troopers had been discussing the possibility of making money from a book contract for publicly discussing the president's private life.
Over time, however, Ferguson told the confidant that he had developed second thoughts about the project. Ferguson said that Patterson was exaggerating some of his claims and encouraging the other troopers to do so.
Indeed, the stories Patterson told about Clinton in published accounts went much further than those of the other three troopers. For example, Patterson claimed to the Los Angeles Times to have used his state police car to block the entrance to an elementary school parking lot while a young woman performed a sex act with Clinton. Patterson also claimed that he watched on a security monitor while Clinton and the same woman engaged in a sex act in the woman's car in the parking lot of the governor's mansion. None of the other troopers corroborated these specific allegations.
Later Ferguson told the confidant that he wanted to warn Clinton, and expressed his regret for having become involved in the first place. There is no mention on the tapes of offers of jobs to any of the troopers in exchange for their silence.
Ferguson also denied in his Jones deposition that he had ever told Perry or the Los Angeles Times that Clinton offered him or Perry jobs in exchange for silence.
In several interviews, Perry said he stands by his story. Patterson declined to comment.
In one of the taped conversations, Ferguson said he feared retaliation from individuals he described as Republican activists if he broke with his fellow troopers. He did not name the individuals.
"They can do things to me," Ferguson told his confidant. "They will do that. That is going to happen."
President Clinton testified in his deposition that Ferguson similarly told him that he was afraid to publicly break with his fellow troopers. "I said, 'Why don't you say it's not true?'" Clinton testified. "He said, 'I can't do that. They'll get to me if I do.' I don't know what he meant by that."
The individual who taped Ferguson did so because of concerns about some of the activities Ferguson described. But the source was also reluctant to make public the tapes out of loyalty to Ferguson.
The source allowed a reporter to listen to the tapes in the late summer of 1996, but only on the condition that he publish nothing about them at that time. Under the agreement, however, the reporter could use information in the tapes to obtain independent corroboration from other sources of what was contained on them.
More recently, the source expressed concern that any public disclosure of the tapes could result in the source being subpoenaed by one or both sides in the Jones case. After the case was dismissed last week, the source gave persmission to disclose some of the tapes' contents.
Days after the Los Angeles Times' Troopergate article appeared, an attorney for Ferguson issued an affidavit on his client's behalf stating: "President Clinton never offered or indicated a willingness to offer any trooper a job in exchange for silence or help in shaping their stories."
Ferguson said he was then telephoned by an upset William Rempel, one of the authors of the Los Angeles Times article. Ferguson said that Rempel complained the affidavit "undermined his article," that Rempel "badgered" him and tried to "put ... words in my mouth [as to] what the president what might have said." When he spoke to Rempel for the original article, Ferguson charged, the reporter also "tried to put words in my mouth that the president had offered me a job in exchange for silence."
In an interview, Rempel said Ferguson's charges were "ludicrous" and stated he had a tape recording of Ferguson telling him that Clinton had offered Ferguson and Perry jobs in exchange for their silence.
The L.A. Times Troopergate article was co-authored by Douglas Frantz, now a reporter with the New York Times. Frantz declined to comment. (Note to reader: This reporter co-authored a series with Frantz about U.S. foreign policy in the Persian Gulf for the Los Angeles Times in 1992.)
Besides Ferguson, Ronnie Anderson, another of the four troopers who originally spoke to the Los Angeles Times and American Spectator, now admits that he corroborated the stories to reporters, even though he had no first-hand knowledge that they were true.
In a sworn affidavit prepared for the Jones case,
Anderson said: "From what I heard the other troopers say and from I ...
read in the American Spectator, the stories that were provided were
nothing more than old fish tales, with little if any basis in fact."
Washington reporter Murray Waas is a regular contributor to Salon. Additional reporting by Gene Lyons.