By Susan Schmidt and Amy Goldstein
Now, with her national television debut Sunday night, Kathleen E. Willey has emerged as the latest sensation in the Clinton investigation. And yesterday everyone from the White House to her friends labored to bolster or undermine her -- and her tale of having been sexually accosted by the president near the Oval Office.
Was Willey the aggrieved victim, as she presented herself on "60 Minutes"? Or was she a devoted admirer of Clinton's who sought every opportunity to be near him and praised him long after he allegedly made his unwanted advance on her?
Some former White House colleagues yesterday supported the self-described "good friend" of Clinton who went to him on Nov. 29, 1993, in search of a paying job and claimed to have been kissed and groped by the president. And people who knew her in Richmond and later at the White House corroborated certain basic facts about some of the events she described.
But the White House produced a raft of correspondence and telephone logs yesterday in an effort to document that Willey continued to seek out contact with Clinton for years after their meeting and gave every appearance of warm feelings toward him, even signing some letters, "fondly, Kathleen."
Several former White House colleagues also cast doubt on her statement on "60 Minutes" that she was shocked and embarrassed by her encounter with Clinton. And sources close to Democratic fund-raiser Nathan Landow disputed Willey's allegation in her amended Jones deposition that he tried to influence her testimony in the case, instead depicting Willey as seeking him out.
Yet none of the jockeying yesterday over Willey's veracity resolved the basic question of what happened between her and the president in that private hallway next to the Oval Office. Willey has testified that Clinton gave her a long hug, felt her breasts and placed her hand over his genitals; Clinton testified flatly that no sexual advance occurred. They also disagree on several less central points.
Their differing accounts, more than four years after the meeting in question, were cast in stark relief last week with the release of their depositions in the Jones case and Willey's emergence as an apparently cooperating witness in independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's investigation of the president.
In her television interview and her deposition, Willey differs with the president on whether he ever had spoken with her more than in passing before that 1993 meeting. Their versions also diverge on when she saw him alone again in the Oval Office -- although they both say they met there a total of three times.
Yesterday, several people who knew Willey at various points confirmed the outlines of some events she described, although they did not know crucial details. For instance, they said when Clinton went to Virginia for a debate during his 1992 campaign -- a visit when Willey said he asked for her phone number and called her twice -- he did have a hoarse voice and sore throat. That matches Willey's televised account, in which she said Clinton called her and asked her to bring him some chicken soup; she demurred because, she said, "my instincts told me he wasn't interested in chicken soup."
Donald S. Beyer Jr., then Virginia's Democratic lieutenant governor, recalled Clinton asking for Willey's name when he saw her at the Richmond airport. Beyer had been sent to greet the presidential candidate and said about six to eight Democrats were there for his arrival.
"As he was getting in the car, he turned to me and said something like, 'I met that woman at some political event or fund-raiser and I can't remember her name,' " Beyer said. "And I said, 'That's Kathy Willey.' " Beyer said he did not know that the future president ultimately called Willey until he saw her say so on "60 Minutes."
Similarly, several former co-workers said that Linda R. Tripp was, as Willey described, embittered when she lost her job at the White House counsel's office around the same time Willey was hired for a part-time paying position.
But Tripp's lawyer, James Moody, yesterday denied Willey's assertion that Tripp told her she would "get you . . . and everyone in this place, before this is all over." Moody noted that Tripp went on to a much higher paying job at the Pentagon. It was Tripp who later would describe the alleged Willey encounter to Newsweek magazine and would secretly record conversations in which Monica S. Lewinsky spoke of an alleged affair with the president.
Sources close to Landow were among those who questioned Willey's version of events yesterday. The sources said Landow's contacts with Willey were social calls initiated by her, not efforts by him to get her to lie in her Jones deposition.
Landow's lawyers called allegations that he had obstructed justice "categorically false," even as they scotched plans to submit to a voluntary interview yesterday with lawyers and FBI agents assigned to Starr's office. Willey gave Landow's name when asked in her Jones deposition whether anyone had tried to influence her testimony but did not elaborate. In the interview, she also refused to spell out how he may have done so except to say they discussed "extensively" her alleged encounter with Clinton.
"Nathan Landow has made no attempt whatsoever to influence Ms. Kathleen Willey concerning her testimony with respect to President Clinton," said attorney Joseph Caldwell in a prepared statement. "Nor did anyone at the White House or on behalf of the White House ever contact Mr. Landow to ask him to attempt to include Ms. Willey's testimony, or to do anything in support of the President in conjunction with the Paula Jones case or the independent counsel's investigation."
Willey called Landow on dozens of occasions last year, said a source close to the wealthy Montgomery County developer. Landow returned some of the calls and spent about $1,000 to fly Willey to his estate on the Eastern Shore for a weekend visit in early October, the source said.
At the time of her Clinton meeting, Willey, now 51, was a volunteer in the White House social office. She was distraught about a family and financial crisis; her husband, unaware of his wife's session with the president, committed suicide later that day.
One of Willey's former co-workers, Barbara McConagha, remembered the events of Nov. 29, 1993, vividly in an interview yesterday. It was memorable, she said, because it was the same day she made up her mind to quit her volunteer job in the social office. She said she felt the volunteers were mistreated.
McConagha said Willey was clearly on friendly terms with Clinton arising from her days as a fund-raiser for Clinton's presidential campaign in Virginia. Clinton would give Willey a companionable hug when he encountered her around the White House, said McConagha. "She could have made an appointment to see him any time," said McConagha, but she was "no groupie" infatuated with the president, as some in the White House have suggested.
On Nov. 29, McConagha recalled, Willey was "very upset" about her family's crisis. Willey was gone longer than expected, McConagha said, and when she returned she seemed composed
"She didn't tell me anything about any sexual thing that happened, but I doubt she would have told anybody," said McConagha. "I have never doubted that it was the truth."
That sentiment was echoed yesterday by Ruth Eisen, another former volunteer in the social office who was close to Willey.
The records released by the White House yesterday included notes, cards, telephone messages and a four-page index cataloguing all of her contacts with the president. According to the White House, Willey sent Clinton nine generally cheery notes or letters after the November 1993 meeting, sent another five to his aides seeking to pass along messages and telephoned for him eight times.
Several of the messages were gushing testimonials about Clinton speeches or his reelection, while others sought jobs, including an ambassadorship she never was given. On Dec. 1, 1993, two days after their meeting, Clinton aide Nancy Hernreich logged a call from Willey: "Kathleen Willey -- she called this morning and said you could call her anytime." A week later, Hernreich said in another memo to Clinton that Willey "wants to see you."
Willey has testified that she did see Clinton on Dec. 8, the day she returned to the White House following her discovery of her husband's suicide. At that meeting, she said, he expressed condolences and asked after her children, but there was no sexual contact.
The job search was also a recurrent theme. On Dec. 20, 1993, about three weeks after their disputed meeting, Willey sent a Christmas card. "After this bittersweet year, my first resolution for 1994 will be the pursuit of a meaningful job," she wrote. "I hope it will be here. Merry Christmas, Kathleen."
Staff writer Peter Baker contributed to this report.
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