Woman Who Disputed Willey Is Indicted
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 8, 1999; Page A7
A Richmond woman who disputed former White House volunteer Kathleen E. Willey's account of an unwanted sexual advance by President Clinton was indicted yesterday on charges of making false statements and obstructing justice in independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's investigation.
Julie Hiatt Steele, a tangential figure in the Monica S. Lewinsky saga, is accused of giving false testimony to grand juries in Washington and Alexandria about what Willey told her of a November 1993 incident involving Clinton. Steele also is accused of trying to influence the testimony of two friends to whom she allegedly related details of Willey's Oval Office visit.
Steele is the first person to face indictment in an investigation that began a year ago this month and has led to the presidential impeachment trial that began yesterday in the Senate.
Clinton has categorically denied any sexual advance toward Willey, a Democratic activist from Richmond who served as a part-time volunteer in the White House. The White House last year released a series of friendly notes she wrote to Clinton before and after the alleged incident, and has also relied on Steele's testimony to dispute Willey's account.
Willey's allegation first came to light in an August 1997 article in Newsweek magazine. The account also noted that Willey's friend, Steele, had first confirmed her account to a Newsweek reporter saying a distressed Willey had told her about it at the time it happened but had later told the magazine it wasn't true and that Willey had asked her to falsely confirm it.
The indictment issued yesterday asserts that Willey had conversations with Steele about her purported encounter with Clinton, and that Steele lied about it during grand jury testimony last year. "In fact," the indictment states, "Kathleen Willey did not ask defendant Steele to lie to a Newsweek reporter." The indictment does not address the truth of Willey's charge against Clinton.
Steele's lawyer, Nancy Luque, did not return telephone calls from The Washington Post yesterday. But in the past she has suggested that Starr's agents were harassing her client questioning friends and relatives about her private life in an effort to pressure her into testifying falsely against Clinton.
"I'm just shocked," the Richmond Times-Dispatch quoted Steele as saying. "I can't believe it's all come to this."
Willey told the newspaper, "I regret Julie brought this on herself."
Lawyers in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case against Clinton originally had called Willey as a witness in their efforts to prove a pattern of Clinton behavior toward women. In an affidavit in that case last February and before Starr's grand jury last year, Steele repeated her revised Newsweek account.
In support of yesterday's charges, the indictment says that Steele told two friends, identified only as "John Doe No. 1" and "Jane Doe No. 1," of Willey's account of an unwanted advance by Clinton. The indictment alleges that during the course of Starr's investigation, Steele tried to persuade the friends that she had not, in fact, discussed the issue with them.
Bill Poveromo, a television news producer in Richmond and a friend of Steele, has told reporters Steele told him in 1997 that Willey said Clinton made a pass at her, and that he tried to get Willey to talk about it on television.
In addition to accusing Steele of trying to obstruct justice through her friends, the indictment accuses Steele of making false statements in her Jones affidavit, to the FBI and to grand juries. Among those false statements, it says, were those concerning her dealings with the National Enquirer newspaper.
The indictment states that Steele sold a photograph of Willey and Clinton to the Enquirer in August 1997, and gave a reporter an accompanying interview, for which she was paid a total of $9,000. She denied to the grand jury, however, that she'd even given such an interview.
Willey first told her story publicly on "60 Minutes" last year, a presentation that brought the release of her letters from the White House. She said during that interview, and during grand jury testimony, that she had visited Clinton in the Oval Office during a time of financial stress in her family to ask for a paid job, he kissed her and touched her intimately against her will.
But a second witness, Linda R. Tripp, has testified that Willey told her Clinton made a pass at her that day, but that it was not an unwanted advance that Willey in fact was happy about it.
Tripp, the one-time Lewinsky friend who launched the investigation with her secret tape recordings of Lewinsky discussing her affair with Clinton, was working in the White House counsel's office when the Nov. 29, 1993, incident occurred. She said she encountered Willey in a hallway after she emerged from the Oval Office, her blouse untucked and her makeup smeared. Willey told her, Tripp has testified, that the president had made a pass at her but seemed excited rather than upset.
Tripp told the grand jury last summer that Willey had flirted with Clinton in previous encounters, and the Nov. 29 event seemed to have occurred between "consenting adults." Willey, Tripp testified, "was very excited, very flustered" as she told Tripp what happened and "she smiled from ear to ear the entire time. She seemed almost shocked, but happy shocked."
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