Washington (CNSNews.com) - Trustees of the Bill and Hillary Clinton legal defense fund said on Wednesday that they are uncertain they will be able to cover all $4.3 million in legal bills the president and first lady still owe.
Clinton lawyers told reporters that Donations to the Clinton Legal Expense Trust slowed to $800,000 in the last six months of 1999, down from $2.4 million in the first six months of the year.
Wire service reports say that the Clintons still managed to get some five-figure help from several celebrities, including $10,000 each from film mogul Lew Wasserman and Miramax Films co-chairman Harvey Weinstein. Actor Chevy Chase donated $1,000.
At a news conference, the trustees suggested that the decline may be because the president's legal problems receded with the end of the Senate impeachment trial in the Monica Lewinsky scandal in February 1999.
One person connected to the Lewinsky scandal, wealthy New York businessman Walter Kaye, was among the 17 people who each donated $10,000.
Befriended by Mrs. Clinton in the president's first term, Kaye became a major Democratic contributor and subsequently helped place Ms. Lewinsky in the White House intern program.
Defense fund donations so far this year are $400,000, giving the trustees some reason to believe the Clintons will not have to deal with the bills, said Anthony Essaye, the fund's executive director.
"We will continue to ask Americans to contribute to the Trust in the hopes that the president and first lady can leave the White House ... largely free of ... debt," Essaye said.
Essaye said that, if the Clintons still have substantial legal bills next January, the trustees will have to decide whether the fund should stay in business but that "in all probability it will not" continue.
Clinton has said he might be entitled to government reimbursement for his legal expenses, but "his instinct" is not to seek it.
The Clintons have $10.7 million in legal bills since the Whitewater investigation began in 1993. Lawyers for the president and first lady have been paid $5.9 million, with $500,000 more collected and reportedly available soon.
Trustee Roger Johnson, Clinton's former head of the General Services Administration, said "$6.4 million is really good news. The bad news is the $10.7 million total."
The Clintons' legal bills stem from various criminal investigations of their activities as well as the sexual harassment suit against the president by former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones.
Under the Independent Counsel statute, subjects of criminal investigations who are not indicted may seek reimbursement of reasonable attorney fees from the special panel of judges that appoints the prosecutors.
However, the reimbursement question regarding Clinton is murky because he was impeached by the House on perjury and obstruction charges and subsequently acquitted by the Senate.