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Testimony to begin in Jones' lawsuit against Clinton

Sworn testimony in the sexual harassment suit against President Clinton begins this week with all sides scurrying for damaging evidence and digging in for a protracted standoff. Talk of an out-of-court settlement is dead for now.

The depositions start off simply enough. Today in Little Rock, Ark., Paula Jones' mother and sister will testify to what she told them of the alleged 1991 hotel-room encounter. Next week, former co-worker Pamela Blackard and friend Debra Ballentine, both confidantes of Jones at the time, are to give depositions.From there, scheduled testimony veers from the principals. Subpoenas betray strategies: his to prove her a profit-driven liar, hers to prove him a chronic adulterer.

It is Clinton's often-ignored codefendant who will peer into Jones' sexual past - a defense the president's team was forced to forswear months ago after an uproar by women's groups.

Some half-dozen witnesses to Jones' sexual reputation, including past boyfriends and a former employer, have been subpoenaed by Bill Bristow, attorney for Arkansas state trooper Danny Ferguson. They will testify in depositions beginning Oct. 17.

Both Clinton and Ferguson are named in the $700,000 suit, which U.S. District Court Judge Susan Wright Webber scheduled for trial next May.

Susan Carpenter McMillan, a Los Angeles public-relations woman who acts as Jones' spokeswoman, accused Bristow of doing the president's dirty work.

"It disgusts me, and Mr. Clinton's lawyers are letting it happen. These are the same tired old tactics that have been used against rape victims and molested children," she said.

Clinton, who was Arkansas governor when he allegedly propositioned the former state employee, stands accused of sexual harassment. Jones sued Ferguson for defamation, saying he was the source of a published account that depicted her as eager to be Clinton's mistress.

Bristow said he is not influenced by the president's lawyers. "I'm doing what is best for my client. If one files a defamation case, one puts one's personal reputation at issue," said the attorney, who once defended one of Clinton's major political foes in an Arkansas criminal matter.

The president's defense team, led by Washington powerhouse Robert Bennett, served subpoenas in the past two weeks on groups with ties to Carpenter McMillan or Jones' legal fund.

The fund's former director, Cindy Hays, will ask Judge Wright this week to protect donor records for fear of harassment.

But Bennett and his partner, Mitchell Ettinger, say the fund-raising documents will lay bare Jones' motives. Their longstanding theory that she is bank-rolled by Clinton's political enemies - a charge she vigorously disputes - seemed to gain some credence Oct. 1 when The Rutherford Institute, a Virginia conservative group, enlisted as her official fund-raising arm.

"We believe she is being controlled by people who are extreme right-wing political Clinton-haters, and that's relevant to issues of motive and bias," Bennett said.