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Kathleen E. Willey leaves court on Tuesday. (Reuters)

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Willey Testifies, Seems to Cooperate With Starr

By Peter Baker and Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 11, 1998; Page A01

Kathleen E. Willey, a former White House aide who has alleged that President Clinton kissed and groped her near the Oval Office, spent yesterday testifying before a grand jury amid signs that she is closely cooperating with prosecutors investigating whether a prominent Democrat tried to persuade her to change her story.

In a departure from previous witnesses, Willey arrived at the federal courthouse here yesterday morning in the van used by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's office and was accompanied inside by his prosecutors. Through six weeks of grand jury proceedings, there has been no similarly visible sign that a witness was closely cooperating with the investigation into whether the president had a sexual relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky and then urged her to lie about it.

Willey also agreed to be interviewed by investigators last week, allowing them to learn what she would say before they took her before the grand jury, according to sources familiar with the matter. Starr subpoenaed Willey in February but withdrew the subpoena as she negotiated terms of yesterday's testimony.

Willey said in a sworn statement in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case last month that Democratic fund-raiser Nathan Landow tried to influence her testimony, according to sources informed about the case.

In an interview this month, Landow denied discussing the Jones case with Willey. He said he socialized with Willey on a handful of occasions and offered to help her recently when she was recovering from neck surgery. Landow said he knew Willey through his daughter, Harolyn Cardozo, a White House volunteer, and his son-in-law Michael Cardozo, trustee of the president's first legal defense fund.

In a January deposition, sources have said, Willey alleged Clinton kissed her, put his his hand on her breast and placed her hand on his crotch in a hallway adjacent to the Oval Office in November 1993 when she went to see him seeking a paying job. Clinton vigorously denied her allegation in his own January deposition in the Jones case, according to a detailed account of his testimony, and his lawyers have tried to discredit her by obtaining an affidavit from a friend who said Willey asked her to lie about key details of the alleged sexual advance.

Yesterday's testimony by Willey indicates that Starr has widened his investigation of the president beyond the Lewinsky allegations to determine whether Clinton testified truthfully in his Jones deposition when questioned about his relationships with other women.

The White House gave no public sign of concern yesterday about Willey's apparent cooperation with Starr. "When people tell the truth, they tell the truth," said White House spokesman Joe Lockhart. "It doesn't matter who drove you there."

The Clinton camp yesterday declined to elaborate on the president's dealings with Willey. Among other things, White House officials said they would not explain how a volunteer in the social office came to get a one-on-one appointment with the president about her financial problems or how she later received a part-time paid clerk's position in the counsel's office. The White House said it could not provide dates for her employment or details of the three political appointments she was later given, although that information was collected months ago as part of the Clinton defense in the Jones case.

Despite her allegations of an advance, Willey until this week seemed an unlikely witness against Clinton. She kept quiet about her story for nearly four years and resisted when the Jones legal team subpoenaed her, saying through her lawyer that she had a "very good relationship with the president." In fact, in her house outside Richmond she displays photographs of President Clinton and other campaign paraphernalia, according to a person who has visited.

Willey's story first came to light last summer when Linda R. Tripp -- a White House colleague who later set Starr's Lewinsky investigation in motion -- told Newsweek that she ran into a disheveled Willey with her lipstick smeared and blouse untucked after she left the Oval Office Nov. 29, 1993. Willey, Tripp said, seemed happy as she recounted a sexual encounter with the president.

Willey's account has been challenged by a friend, Julie Hiatt Steele. In an affidavit given to Clinton's lawyers, Steele said Willey asked her to lie to the Newsweek reporter about what and when Willey first told her about the alleged incident. But in interviews with news organizations, Steele also has changed her story at times.

Starr's investigators first focused on Willey after Lewinsky allegedly gave Tripp a set of talking points urging Tripp to change her testimony regarding Willey.

Willey became a more significant witness with her allegation that Landow, the Maryland Democratic fund-raiser, talked with her about her testimony in the Jones case.

In her January deposition, Willey was asked by Jones's lawyers if anyone other than her attorneys tried to influence her testimony and she said no, according to sources familiar with the session. The next month, she sent a corrected version of the transcript to the Jones team mentioning Landow for the first time but providing no details, the sources said.

Jones's lawyers have issued a subpoena to Landow and are seeking to re-interview Willey as well, although they must get permission from a federal judge in Little Rock to talk with either one of them because the deadline for pretrial evidence-gathering has expired. Starr's office apparently learned of the Landow allegation when it subpoenaed Jones's lawyers for documents about Willey and other women purportedly linked to Clinton. The lawyers turned over a copy of the corrected portion of Willey's deposition mentioning Landow.

Landow, a wealthy Montgomery County developer, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Democratic Party and been a financial backer of Vice President Gore. A White House spokesman said officials there have no knowledge of any interaction between Landow and Willey.

Willey spent the day at the courthouse and about four hours before the grand jury. Asked how she was as she departed, she said, "Fine," but declined to comment further and walked briskly past reporters waiting outside. Willey may be back for more testimony; presidential secretary Betty Currie, who was scheduled to testify today, was told last night that her appearance would be postponed, a friend said.

When Willey arrived at the courthouse yesterday morning, accompanied by her lawyer and 25-year-old son, Patrick Willey, she appeared apprehensive and clutched her son's hand. An FBI agent, followed quickly by a pair of prosecutors, accompanied her on the elevator and kept reporters from joining them.

While his mother kept mum, Patrick Willey toyed with reporters. Asked to identify himself, the young man wearing an earring in each ear, a short haircut and long sideburns said, "I'm Abe Froman, the sausage king of Chicago." He was referring to a line in the 1986 movie, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," when actor Matthew Broderick tries to fake his way into an upscale restaurant by telling a snooty maitre d' that he is Froman.

Willey, 51, is the widow of Edward Willey Jr., a zoning and real estate lawyer. A former flight attendant and secretary, Kathleen Willey became prominent in the Richmond social scene, did volunteer work and helped out on political campaigns, including the 1989 race of successful gubernatorial candidate L. Douglas Wilder (D).

But the family's fortunes faltered as the real estate industry dried up in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Nevertheless, the Willeys worked as Clinton fund-raisers in 1992 and traveled to Little Rock for the election night celebration. His debts and his legal troubles mounting, Edward Willey committed suicide Nov. 29, 1993, the day his wife -- unaware of her husband's death -- met with Clinton to ask for a job.

Willey met Tripp while she was volunteering at the White House, commuting from her home outside Richmond to perform clerical work. Tripp rapidly became friends with her new colleague. "Linda was so taken by her," said a former co-worker who knew them both. "You could tell [Willey] had money, the way she was dressed. Linda was, 'Oh, she knows the president.' Linda was very taken by that."

The women had become close enough that, in March 1994, after White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum resigned, they jointly implored the incoming counsel Lloyd N. Cutler to retain them, according to former White House aides.

During one workday that month, the two women visited Cutler in the law firm where he was still working and "tried to sell it as a package deal," a co-worker said.

In the end, Cutler did not keep Tripp on his staff, and she was later transferred to the Pentagon. Willey, however, remained until her temporary job elapsed.

Staff writers Toni Locy and Amy Goldstein contributed to this report.


© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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