Newsreal: Paula Jones's sleaze finder

The latest member of the Paula Jones legal team is a private detective whose job is to run down the sleaziest recycled rumors about the president's alleged sexual escapades in Arkansas.

Published November 13, 1997 8:00PM (EST)

If the Paula Jones sexual misconduct suit against President Clinton wasn't already unseemly enough, things are about to get a whole lot seamier: Tom Grant, P.I., is on the case.

Grant, whose clients have included actress/singer Courtney Love, has been hired by Ms. Jones' lawyers to dig up dirt on the president's sexual past. Given his track record, who knows what the Beverly Hills private eye may find? Love hired him three years ago to locate her missing husband, Kurt Cobain. The heroin-addicted leader of the rock group, Nirvana, eventually turned up dead, a suicide, Seattle police ruled. Grant, however, believes that Cobain was murdered, and on his Web site he names Love as the prime suspect. For $18, Grant will also send you his 150-page file entitled "Kurt Cobain -- suicide or murder? You decide."

Contacted by Salon in Little Rock, where he's been busy digging for the past two weeks, the 50-year-old former Los Angeles police detective would not reveal what he had uncovered so far, but he insisted that his investigation had been "very productive." Warned Grant: "If Mr. Clinton's lawyers want to play hardball with Paula Jones, that's just fine. We've got the stuff to play hardball too."

Other knowledgeable observers are not so sure. Grant has reportedly linked up with a local private detective named Larry Case, who tried several years ago to prove that Mr. Clinton was a cocaine addict. They believe Case is leading Grant down well-worn and discredited paths of rumor and innuendo.

"There are a bunch of people down here who made a profession out of trying to get sex stories on Clinton," says Gene Lyons, a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat, and author of a book debunking much of the Whitewater scandal. "Some of them are wackos, others are political operatives, who have accused just about every semi-attractive woman who came into Clinton's orbit of being his lover, of carrying his love-child, you name it. They followed these women around, ran down to the health department to see what name was on the birth certificates of their children, quizzed their friends, tried to get them to corroborate these accusations, then leaked these stories to reporters and sent them chasing around too.

"Now this guy Grant is trying to do the same work," adds Lyons. "He's doing the same thing all over again, and he's going to end up with the same thing."

That may not overly concern the people and organizations behind the Paula Jones lawsuit. Grant's $400-a-day fees are being paid for by the Rutherford Foundation, the ultra-conservative organization based in Charlottesville, Va. which is picking up the lawsuit's tab in its entirety. With the discovery phase of the trial still ongoing, and a trial date set for May, Grant says he may need "several more months" to run down all his leads.

In her lawsuit, Jones charges that in 1991, while she was working as a low-level state employee, an Arkansas state trooper named Danny Ferguson brought her to a Little Rock hotel room to meet then-Gov. Clinton. She claims that Clinton dropped his trousers, exposed himself and asked her to perform oral sex. In her complaint, she alleges Clinton's genitals had "distinguishing characteristics."

The Washington Times, owned by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, claims it has seen Jones' affidavit and has printed a supposed description of the notorious "distinguishing characteristics": a unnatural bend in his organ that the paper suggested may have been caused by a disease. Such cheesy innuendo made the leap into the more respectable press when The New Yorker ran its own description of an erect penis, 5 inches in length and the circumference of a quarter, which leaned to the right.

Clinton has forcefully denied Jones' allegations, saying he does not even remember meeting her, while some former associates of Jones have disputed her version of events on the day in question. No matter. With independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr's investigation of the Whitewater affair becoming increasingly discredited, Clinton's old political enemies are working to revive the sexual innuendoes, and are finding a willing audience in Grant.

According to Lyons, who is working on a new book about the campaign of rumors against Clinton, Grant can call upon an entire parade of dubious Arkansas characters to help him fill his notebooks. Lyons mentions Connie Hamsey, a music groupie who has publicly boasted about sleeping with dozens of rock stars and now claims that Clinton sexually molested her. Another alleged Clinton victim, Sally Purdue, once ran for the mayoralty of Pine Bluff and called a news conference where she denied she was a lesbian -- much to the amazement of the media that never reported she was. Dolly Kyle Browning, who went to high school with Clinton, has penned a self-published novel about her alleged 30-year affair with him.

Then there's Larry Nichols, an Arkansas state employee and self-styled secret agent whom Gov. Clinton fired in the 1980s for making 640 long-distance calls to the Nicaraguan contras from his office telephone. Nichols fell further afoul of the Clintons when Mrs. Clinton later represented Nichols' wife in their divorce proceedings and pursued him for failing to keep up with his alimony payments. Nichols has since claimed that Clinton was part of the Iran-contra affair and smuggled drugs from Nicaragua. Nichols also starred in "The Clinton Chronicles," a film sponsored by Moral Majority founder Rev. Jerry Falwell, that claims, among other things, that Clinton embezzled millions from the state government and that he murdered political opponents, including White House lawyer Vince Foster.

In a 1990 unfair dismissal suit, Nichols named five women with whom Clinton allegedly conducted affairs and upon whom the priapic governor illegally lavished state money. All of the women named, including former Miss Americas, denied Nichols' claims. A local TV anchor, Deborah Matthis, was also named. According to Lyons, when reporters asked her if she had slept with Clinton, Matthis, an attractive and irreverent black journalist, replied, "No, but if I had slept with that fat white boy, he'd still be grinnin'."

Nichols later dropped the suit, admitting that Clinton's political enemies had put him up to it. That didn't prevent the original charges from resurfacing in various mainstream national newspapers during the Gennifer Flowers flap in the 1992 presidential primaries.

This, too, says Lyons, should come as no surprise. For his book, Lyons and coauthor Joe Conason, a columnist for the New York Observer, have collected hours of tapes that were inexplicably given to them by Case, the local private detective now working with Grant. The tapes contain dozens of recorded conversations with reporters from Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal and other prestigious media organizations, in which the journalists can be heard pleading for the nastiest details about Clinton's sexual history, which Case gladly provides.

"One would have thought that these reporters would have learned the thing that all reporters should know, and that is that anybody can say anything about anybody," Lyons said.

That doesn't seem to be stopping Tom Grant or Jones' lawyers. They've learned another journalistic maxim that sadly is pushing the older standards aside: Never let the facts stand in the way of an unlikely story, especially if it's sleazy and it's about the President of the United States.

By Jonathan Broder

Jonathan Broder is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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Bill Clinton Courtney Love Hillary Rodham Clinton The Washington Times