Who Is Paula Jones? Annaleigh Ashford on Her 'Impeachment' Character's 'Moment of Trauma'

Paula Jones is introduced in the first episode of Impeachment: American Crime Story.

The series revolves around the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal of the late 1990s, in which U.S. civil servant Paula Jones played a key role.

Actress Annaleigh Ashford, who plays Jones in the series, spoke to Newsweek about how the show explores her "origin story" - and her character's "moment of trauma".

Here's everything you need to know about Paula Jones.

Who is Paula Jones?

Paula Jones is an American civil servant from Lonoke, Arkansas.

Her father was a minister in the Church of Nazarene and Jones was raised in the congregation.

She met her first husband, Steve Jones, in 1989, shortly after attending secretarial school in Little Rock, Arkansas in the late 1980s.

In May 1991, when Jones was working as an Arkansas State Employee at the Annual Governor's Quality Conference at the Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock and Bill Clinton was the Governor of Arkansas, Jones claimed Clinton sexually harassed her by exposing himself to her in a hotel room. Clinton has always dismissed Jones' version of events.

Three years later, after an account was published in The American Spectator by David Brock, whereby a woman named "Paula" had allegedly agreed to become Clinton's mistress, Jones came forward with her story and opted to sue Bill Clinton in a civil lawsuit for sexual harassment. Her suit, known as Jones vs. Clinton, was filed on May 6, 1994, and came just two days before the expiration of the three-year statute of limitations rule.

When we meet Paula Jones in the year 1994 in Impeachment: American Crime Story, actress Annaleigh Ashford describes Jones as "a victim to her circumstances" and to the "male, chauvinist, patriarchal landscapes" that existed.

"Her biggest goal in life, at this moment, is to please her husband. And I sort of think that that sets the stage for every choice that she makes after we meet her, and I also think it gives a context to her motivations and explains why she is a piece of this puzzle," she said.

"I find that I have a great deal of empathy for the way that she was sort of pushed into the public eye in a way that I don't, I personally don't think she wanted, she would have asked for."

It was the Paula Jones case that catalyzed the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, the second U.S. President to ever be impeached.

Jones vs. Clinton led independent counsel Ken Starr to broaden his ongoing investigation into Clinton's pre-presidency financial dealings with Whitewater Land Company, ultimately leading him to the Lewinsky-Clinton scandal.

During the Jones suit, her lawyers presented a pattern of behavior of President Clinton, suggesting he had become allegedly sexually involved with several state and government employees. They subpoenaed the women suspected of being sexually involved with Clinton.

Paula Jones Impeachment
Annaleigh Ashford as Paula Jones in Impeachment Tina Thorpe/FX

Clinton had been asked under oath about his relations with Lewinsky and in his deposition, Clinton denied having "sexual relations" with her. She also denied having any "sexual relations" with Clinton in an affidavit submitted to the Jones case in January 1998.

Clinton was later impeached by the House of Representatives on the grounds of perjury and obstruction of justice, after details and evidence of his sexual relations with Lewinsky came to light in August 1998 - particularly in the form of taped phone conversations between Linda Tripp and Lewinsky that had been handed over to Ken Starr, and a blue dress stained with Clinton's semen. Clinton was acquitted by the Senate on February 12, 1999.

At first, Jones' suit had been dismissed because she was not found to have suffered any damages. However, after the exposure of the Lewinsky-Clinton affair, Jones appealed the ruling against the dismissal of her case, and this time she did not go unheard.

Not only did the details of the Jones case play a key role in the impeachment of Clinton, the Jones lawsuit led to a landmark legal precedent by the U.S. Supreme Court. Against Clinton's wishes, the court unanimously ruled on May 27, 1997, that a sitting U.S. president would not be exempt from civil litigation acts for offenses committed outside of public office.

Before Jones' appeal could be answered by the U.S. Supreme Court, Clinton agreed to an out-of-court settlement, with Jones receiving $850,000 to withdraw the appeal and the suit, according to CNN in November 1998.

The story of Jones as told in Impeachment: American Crime Story also holds a mirror up to society today, Ashford believes, particularly in the shadows of the #MeToo movement, whereby hundreds of women joined a social movement against sexual harassment and abuse, with many going public about their experiences.

"When we look at the mountain that is the patriarchy, we sort of think we are conquering it and we're reminded every day that we're still not at the top of that mountain," she said. "And I think Paula Jones, whether people know it or not, was absolutely one of those mountain climbers trying to be heard, be seen, and have her accusations be acknowledged.

"I do think that she was a piece, an unlikely piece, of the women's rights history she is a part of that we just so often lump her with right-wing causes so we forget that that really, her case against the President was one of the most famous sexual harassment cases to have ever gone through the American court system."

"I would say that the women in this story faced such a moment of trauma in the time period that we are focusing on and they had really a lack of control over their own story over their own voice. And I hope that this revisit gives the audience an opportunity to see their point of view and for the first time really hear, their voice on this moment in history."

Since the lawsuit, Jones has been in and out of the spotlight. Sadly, the attention was not focused on her legal fight, but instead on her appearance and her endorsement of Donald Trump during the 2016 election.

Paula Jones Impeachment
Annaleigh Ashford (L) Paula Jones (R) FX/GETTY

Ashford explained: "I knew about this saga of American history - I like to call it a saga - through late-night comedy. Television shows from the late 90s, that was sort of my window into this moment of history. I sort of find that apropos and also heartbreaking because Paula Jones, specifically, was treated so ruthlessly by the press and by the comedians of that moment, they made fun of not only the way she looked but the way that she talked, where she came from and they were sort of merciless, in their commentary on her and I think that's what, not only drove her to change her physical appearance so much."

The actress continued: "She had multiple makeovers during her time in the public eye, which eventually ended in a very public paid-for nose job. But I also think it's the origin story of where she lives in our culture and society today.

"Right now, our culture, our society, sort of looks at Paula Jones as a right-wing media figure because of her involvement in the 2016 election and I think that this [Impeachment: American Crime Story] will be sort of a fascinating take on her and people will get to see her origin story and have more empathy for Paula Jones than I think they would have imagined."

Impeachment: American Crime Story airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on FX