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Steele Testifies Against Starr for McDougal

Susan McDougal (left) with Julie Hiatt Steele during a recess in her trial in Little Rock, Ark., Friday. (AP)

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  • By Michael Haddigan
    Special to The Washington Post
    Saturday, April 3, 1999; Page A2

    LITTLE ROCK, April 2 – Julie Hiatt Steele testified today that prosecutors for independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr pressured her to support allegations that President Clinton made unwanted sexual advances toward her friend, Kathleen E. Willey, and then indicted her when she refused to provide the account they wanted.

    Steele, who is also facing prosecution by Starr's office, took the unusual step of testifying at the criminal contempt trial of Susan McDougal here. Her testimony was designed to bolster McDougal's claim that Starr's prosecutors were bent on obtaining testimony damaging to Clinton and that McDougal understandably feared their reaction if she agreed to answer their questions.

    Steele, the sole person indicted in the Monica S. Lewinsky phase of Starr's investigation, is scheduled to stand trial in federal court in Alexandria next month on charges of obstruction of justice and lying to grand juries about her knowledge of the alleged encounter. She left the courthouse today arm in arm with McDougal.

    "I came here today because Susan and I have both been relentlessly pursued by the independent counsel," Steele told reporters after her testimony. "I believe everybody in America needs to know about this. And they also need to know it could happen to any of us. It happened to Susan, and it happened to me."

    Steele was the last of several defense witnesses who described what they characterized as mistreatment by Starr's prosecutors. Prosecutors opposed Steele's appearance in the trial, saying her testimony was irrelevant. But U.S. District Judge George W. Howard Jr. told jurors today he was allowing Steele to appear as a defense witness to show the motives and methods of the independent counsel's office.

    Willey, a former White House volunteer, alleges that Clinton groped her near the Oval Office in November 1993, an encounter Clinton denies. Steele backed Willey's account in an interview with a Newsweek reporter in 1997. Steele later recanted, saying she lied to the reporter as "a favor" to Willey.

    When Starr's prosecutors questioned her last year, Steele said, they were interested in anything she could give them to help buttress Willey's account. "But facts are facts. I couldn't change them," Steele said.

    "I left the meeting in tears. I didn't have anything to tell," she said.

    McDougal's defense attorney, Mark Geragos, contended prosecutors aggressively pursued Steele even after she passed a lie-detector test and Willey failed one.

    "There's no question that she passed a polygraph test, and there's no question that Kathleen Willey failed a polygraph test," Geragos said outside the courtroom.

    McDougal, a former partner with the Clintons in the failed Whitewater land development, is charged with criminal contempt and obstruction of justice for her refusal to answer questions before a Whitewater grand jury. McDougal contends she refused to testify because she feared Starr's prosecutors would indict her for perjury if they did not like her answers.

    The defense rested after Steele's testimony today. The case could go the jury early next week.

    Associate independent counsel Julie Myers hammered at Steele's credibility, repeatedly referring to her recantation as a "flip-flop." Myers said that at least three others have contradicted Steele's testimony.

    Steele, who lives in Richmond, acknowledged under questioning that she reaped thousands of dollars from the sale to news outlets of a photograph of Willey with Clinton. She said she sold rights to the photograph to CNN, Time magazine and the National Enquirer tabloid to pay special school tuition for her son.

    Steele, who said she had racked up $500,000 in legal bills and is about to lose her house, said prosecutors have questioned her accountant, her daughter, her daughter's boyfriend, Steele's brother and her former attorney. She said the grand jury asked her daughter's boyfriend if he'd had sex with Steele. Family and friends were also asked about the circumstances of her adoption in Romania of her son Adam, Steele said.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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