Willey Depicts Steele as Opportunist
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 6, 1999; Page A10
Former White House volunteer Kathleen E. Willey testified yesterday that she and her friend Julie Hiatt Steele talked "many, many times" about Willey's claims that she was fondled by President Clinton and said Steele encouraged her to sell her story to a tabloid.
"Julie very much wanted to be in on this story," said Willey, who took the stand for a second day of questioning in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. "She wanted to make money off of it" and suggested they both could profit if Steele stepped forward to help corroborate the story, Willey said.
Willey is the prosecution's key witness in the case against Steele, who is standing trial on charges that she lied under oath about conversations the two women had about Willey's alleged encounter with the president.
Steele, the only person to face prosecution in the Monica S. Lewinsky matter, maintains that Willey didn't tell her about the incident until 1997, four years after it allegedly happened. Willey, 52, has told prosecutors that she went to Steele's Richmond area home the same day as her Nov. 29, 1993, encounter with the president.
Under direct examination yesterday, Willey portrayed her former friend as an opportunist, who craved money and the spotlight. At one point, Willey told the jury, Steele suggested Willey cash in on her encounter with the president and set up an education fund for her "godson Adam," Steele's 8-year-old son.
"I told her he's not my godson, and I don't think I have a responsibility to educate him," Willey told the jury.
However, during cross-examination, Steele's lawyers appeared to cause some damage to Willey's credibility. They pointed out discrepancies between sworn statements to attorneys for Paula Jones in her sexual harassment lawsuit against Clinton and comments Willey made later to investigators working with independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr.
Willey was granted immunity from prosecution for cooperating with Starr's office. Although Willey testified yesterday that she had sworn to tell Starr's investigators the truth, she conceded that she had been granted a second immunity from prosecution for making false statements to the investigators about a relationship she had with a younger man.
Willey acknowledged that she tried to punish her then-boyfriend by telling him she was pregnant when she wasn't. When initially questioned by Starr's investigators, she denied the story. "I lied to them," Willey said.
Steele originally told a Newsweek reporter that she heard Willey's story in 1993 but then recanted and told a grand jury that Willey asked her to lie. Prosecutors contend, however, that she changed her story because she hoped to profit personally from it and are relying heavily on the testimony of several of Steele's former friends who told the jury that Steele knew about the alleged White House incident earlier than 1997.
Yesterday, Willey testified that she was pursued for weeks by Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff before she agreed to tell him her story and then did so off the record, thinking that if she refused to let him print her name she could "control the story," and prevent it from being published.
Eric Dubelier, one of Steele's attorneys, questioned her reasoning.
"Doesn't it defy common sense to say you don't want the story to run but then you have Julie Steele corroborate it?" Dubelier countered, noting that she also had complained to the White House about Isikoff's overtures without mentioning that she had already talked to the reporter.
Under questioning from prosecutors, Willey said she called on Steele to back up her story because Steele knew she was communicating with Isikoff and wanted to help. "I did not ask her to talk to Isikoff," she said. "She offered."
Trying to explain why she said "I don't recall" on 63 occasions while giving a deposition in the Paula Jones case -- but later remembered some of the details in sworn testimony -- Willey said that she might have been rattled by several incidents. She told of a mysterious man outside her home who made a comment she took as threatening.
And she said that before giving a deposition in the Jones case, she was approached by Clinton attorney Robert Bennett, who suggested she invoke the Fifth Amendment.
"I felt it was a threat coming from the president," Willey said, pausing. "It was a threat coming from the president."
Reached last night, Bennett said he never suggested Willey assert her Fifth Amendment rights or threatened her in any way. "If she said it, it's a bald-faced lie," Bennett said.
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