Justice Dept. Backs Clinton on Immunity
A new brief by the Justice Department supports President Clinton’s contention that he cannot be sued while in office. It urges a federal judge to postpone Paula Corbin Jones’ lawsuit until Clinton once again is a private citizen.
The 25-page brief, dated Thursday, adopted basically the same arguments put forth last week by Clinton’s private attorneys. The department’s lawyers argued the country would suffer if Clinton was forced to defend himself against Jones’ allegation of sexual harassment, while Jones would lose little if the suit was delayed.
“Where the public and constitutional interest in the President’s unimpaired attention to his duties conflicts with the purely private interest of a plaintiff in immediate relief, the private interest must yield,” the brief said.
Although the Justice Department normally would be expected to take a stand on an issue of such importance to the presidency, officials hesitated before weighing in. Atty. Gen. Janet Reno wanted to be convinced that the department needed to voice a position, officials said. Solicitor General Drew S. Days III, whose name is on the brief, had an obligation to the office of the presidency to give the opinion, the officials said.
No court has ever decided whether a sitting President is immune from civil suits arising from acts that allegedly occurred before the President took office.
Attorneys for Jones said the brief “is just as we had expected . . . merely a recap of Bill Clinton’s argument for presidential immunity.”