WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- White House officials are making plans to establish a legal defense fund to help President Clinton pay potentially ruinous attorneys' bills arising from the Whitewater affair and a sexual harassment lawsuit filed last week, officials said yesterday.
While the president has not yet authorized creation of the fund, aides are attempting to determine how it might be structured and exploring ways to insulate the president and Hillary Rodham Clinton from the solicitation of money from potential donors.
Mr. Clinton faces hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills from twoof the nation's most expensive law firms, Williams & Connolly of Washington and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom of New York, which have been hired to represent the couple in the two cases.
Unlike many previous White House occupants, the Clintons do not have extensive private wealth; their only income last year was Mr. Clinton's presidential salary of $200,000 and about $55,000 in interest and investment earnings.
A top White House aide said that turning to private donors to underwrite the Clintons' legal costs was probably unavoidable, even before Paula Jones, a former Arkansas state employee, sued Mr. Clinton on sexual harassment charges last Friday.
Defending that case, and responding to the continuing Whitewater investigation into the Clintons' finances, could push the couple's legal bills as high as $1 million, according to estimates from some legal experts.
"You can add up his salary over the next three years and you'd pretty quickly exhaust that," a top White House adviser said yesterday.
A senior Clinton aide, Bruce Lindsey, said White House lawyers had determined that a sitting president may establish a private defense fund.
"He has the same rights a citizen would or a member of Congress," Mr. Lindsey said.