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Kathleen Willey: 'I Just Thought It Was Extremely Reckless'

Federal Document Clearing House
Monday, March 16, 1998; Page A08

In her interview with CBS "60 Minutes" correspondent Ed Bradley, Kathleen E. Willey, 51, described visiting President Clinton, whom she said she considered a friend, in November 1993 to ask for a paid White House job because her family needed money.

Q. So, let me ask you to take me through it, step by step, what happened when you went into the Oval Office?

A. I went in, and the president was at his desk, and I sat down in the chair across from him, and I obviously looked very distraught. He asked me what was wrong. I told him I had a really serious problem and that I needed his help. And, he said, "Would you like a cup of coffee?" And I said, "Yes, I would."

So he walked to . . . a door on the other side of the Oval Office, which led into a hallway, into his small galley kitchen, and there was a steward in there, I remember. And the president took a – a coffee cup down out of the pantry, and – a Starbucks coffee cup, I remember – and, he poured me a cup of coffee, poured himself a cup of coffee, and we started walking back down the hall towards the Oval Office and he said, "Why don't you come in here into my study? We can talk better in here."

And, I stood and leaned – I was leaning against the doorjamb. He was in the office. We were standing facing each other, and I told him what had happened [to her family finances]. I didn't give him all the details. I just told him that my husband was in financial difficulty, and that things were at a crisis point, and that my volunteer days were over, that – that I needed a – a regular paying job, and could he help me . . .

He did seem sympathetic. . . . I had the feeling that he was somehow distracted when I was talking to him . . . he was not really listening, but I know that he did. I know he knows how distraught I was and how upset I was, because I . . . was very worried . . . about my husband, and – and – and what was going to happen . . .

He said he would do everything that he could to help, and I turned around . . . out of the office, and he followed me to – I thought he was going to open the door to the – to the Oval Office, and right as we got to the door, he stopped and he gave me a big hug and said that he was very sorry that this was happening to me. And – I had – had no problem with that, because when I saw – every time I saw him, he would hug me.

He use – just does that, is like that. And, I remember I had – still had this coffee cup in my hand, and it was kind of in between us, and I didn't want it to spill on him or me, and – and it just was this – it was just very strange. And took the coffee cup out of my hand and he put it on a bookshelf, and – and – he – this hug lasted a little longer than I thought necessary, but at the same time – I mean, I was not concerned about it. And then he – then he – and then he kissed me on – on my mouth, and pulled me closer to him. And . . . I just remember thinking, "what in the world is he doing?" . . . And, I pushed back away from him, and – he – he – he – he – he's a big man. And he – he had his arms – they were tight around me, and he – he – he touched me.

Touched you how?

Well, he – he – he touched my breasts with his hand, and, I – I . . . I was just startled . . .

This – this wasn't an accidental grazing touch?

No. And – then he – whispered – he – he – said in – in my ears that, "I – I've wanted to do this ever since I laid eyes on you." And . . . I remember saying to him, "Aren't you afraid that somebody's going to walk in here?" The – and, he said – he said, "No. No, I'm – no, I'm not." And – and then – and – and then he took my hand, and he – and he put it on him. And, that's when I pushed away from him and – and decided it was time to get out of there.

When you say he took your hand . . . and put it on him... Where on him?

On – on his genitals.

Was he a – aroused?

Uh-huh

What were you thinking?

Well . . . there were all kinds of things going through my mind. . . . when I think back on it, it was kind of like I was watching it in slow motion, and thinking surely this is not happening. And, at the same time . . . I thought, "Well, maybe I ought to just give him a good slap across the face." And then I thought, "Well, I don't think you can slap the president of the United States like that." And – and I just decided it was just time to get out of there.

Did you say anything to him, or was there anything about your behavior that invited an advance?

I have gone over this so many times, so very many times, because I think that your natural instinct is to wonder, "Did I bring this on? Did I send a – a – the wrong signal?" The only signals that I was sending that day, was that I was very upset, very distraught, and I needed to help my husband.

Did you feel intimidated?

I didn't feel intimidated. I just felt overpowered.

Did you ever say, "Stop. No. Get away from me?"

. . . . I pushed him away, and – and I said, "I think I – I'd better go."

And what did he say?

He – he – he kept looking at his watch, 'cause he told me that he had a meeting, and he said – he said – that he could – he said they could wait. And I said, "Well . . . " I said, "Well, I'm leaving."

When you walked out of there, what – what were you thinking?

I just could not believe that that had happened in that office. I – I just could not believe – the recklessness of that act.

Recklessness? What do you mean "recklessness"?

Of . . . his doing that . . . right outside the Oval Office. I mean, there are Secret Service people around, there are stewards around. . . . His staff is around. I just thought it was extremely reckless. Later on. . . . I was feeling angry. I was feeling that I had been taken advantage of. My circumstances had been taken advantage of.

You think he betrayed your friendship?

Absolutely. Especially since he knew my husband also. I mean, he was my husband, and he was in trouble. And I was there, asking a friend, who also happened to be the president of the United States, for help.


Robert S. Bennett, Clinton's lawyer, said last summer that the president had no recollection of the 1993 meeting. In a January deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case, however, Clinton said he did recall the meeting, because Willey had been so distraught. He testified that while he may have comforted her with a kiss on the forehead, no sexual encounter took place.

If the president said that under oath, is he lying?

Yes.

He is lying?

Yes. . . .

What do you make of the conflict [between Bennett's statement and Clinton's deposition]? . . .

I think that he probably realized that, completely disavowing any meeting was – was just ludicrous. When I came out of the Oval Office, the first person I saw was – was [then-Treasury Secretary] Lloyd Bentsen, and it has since been reported that, yes, indeed, he was there for a three o'clock meeting. I mean, these things can be documented.


Later in the interview, Willey said that Clinton first had shown interest in her long before the Oval Office encounter. She said she received a call from him in 1992, when then-Gov. Clinton made a campaign trip to Richmond, where Willey was a political volunteer.

I was at the airport to welcome him. And, while I was out there meeting him, he – he spotted me, and – and we waved because we had – I had seen him before at previous fund-raisers, and he sent someone over to get my telephone number. . . .

He called me when he got to Williamsburg . . . and he asked me if I could . . . – he had lost his voice, and he was worried about that for the . . . the debate the next evening.

And he asked me how far I was from Williamsburg, and I told him. And I, kiddingly, told him – I just jokingly said, "It sounds like you need some chicken soup." And, he said, "Well, would you bring me some?" And I said – I – I don't really think I answered him because I thought he was just . . . being facetious. And then he told me that he was surrounded by Secret Service agents, and that he would . . . try to get rid of them, and – if I would come down. And he said he would call me back later, which he did. And I declined to go.

You declined to go because . . .

Because my instincts told me he wasn't interested in chicken soup.


Willey was asked about Linda Tripp, a White House co-worker in 1993, who told Newsweek last summer that she had seen an apparently "joyful" Willey exit the Oval Office the day of the encounter with Clinton.

I – I think probably – in defense of her – I think – when I am in – if I get into a very tense – tense situation, I try to – I fall back on my sense of humor. I think when I said, "you are not going to believe this one," maybe she took that as joyful.


Several months later, when she was given a paying job at the White House, Willey said, Tripp was furious at having been transferred to the Pentagon.

She said, "Don't you think for one minute that I don't know what's going on around here." And I said, "I don't know what you mean." And – and she said, "I know you're here because the president wants you here. And – and they want me out of here because I – because I know what happened." And I said, "That's just absolutely, positively, not true."

She was very angry. Very upset. Very bitter. And she – she ended the conversation by saying, "I'm going to get you, and every place – everyone else in this place, before this is all over."


Last year, Tripp secretly taped conversations in which former White House aide Monica S. Lewinsky alleged she had had an 18-month sexual relationship with Clinton. She turned the tapes over to independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, leading to the investigation of whether Clinton lied and obstructed justice. Through her lawyer, Tripp denied to "60 Minutes" making the comments attributed to her by Willey.

Willey told "60 Minutes" that she had never wanted to go public with the story of her Oval Office encounter with Clinton.

I just knew that – it was just a bad story. It was just horrible behavior on the part of the president. And I did not think it was my place to make it public knowledge. . . . I was embarrassed for the president's behavior. And . . . I mean, who do you file a complaint with anyway, when it's the president? Where do you go? . . . I just think that it's time [now] to tell this story. I think that there – too many lies are being told. Too many lives are being ruined. And, I – I think it's time for the truth to come out.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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