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Starr Threatens to Charge Minor Witness With Perjury

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 1, 1998; Page A04

Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr has threatened to indict a minor player in the White House sex scandal for allegedly lying to a grand jury in what would be the first criminal charges to emerge from the 10-month Monica S. Lewinsky investigation.

Julie Hiatt Steele, who disputed former White House volunteer Kathleen E. Willey's account of an unwelcome sexual encounter with President Clinton, faces possible federal counts of perjury, making false statements and obstruction of justice in connection with her testimony in the Lewinsky case.

Starr deputy David Barger outlined the potential indictment in a Nov. 20 letter to Steele's lawyer, inviting her to explain why she should not be charged. Steele's attorney, Nancy Luque, said prosecutors gave her until today to come in and address their allegations, but that will not happen because Luque is traveling out of the country.

Steele would be the first, though not necessarily the only, secondary character in the Lewinsky saga to be charged. Beyond his impeachment referral to Congress, Starr has signaled no interest in targeting other central figures, such as Lewinsky or Linda R. Tripp, both of whom were granted immunity, or Vernon E. Jordan Jr., the Clinton confidant initially considered a possible accomplice in an illegal scheme to keep Lewinsky quiet about her affair with the president.

Starr's office did not return a call seeking comment on the possible Steele indictment, which was first reported in Time magazine. But Luque called from Asia to complain that the independent counsel was targeting her client because Steele's testimony tended to help Clinton.

"She's done nothing wrong, so of course she'll fight it," said Luque. "What possible motive does Julie Hiatt Steele have to lie? It's just nonsensical."

Willey alleged that Clinton groped her against her will during an Oval Office visit in November 1993. Steele, a longtime friend, originally told Newsweek last year that Willey had recounted such an incident to her, but later recanted her story and accused Willey of asking her to lie. Steele has repeated that under oath, appearing before a Washington grand jury on June 11 and an Alexandria grand jury Aug. 18.

Starr may use the recollections of other people to try to prove Steele lied under oath. A Richmond television producer has said Steele told him the same story she originally told Newsweek, although Steele has said she does not remember talking with him about it.

Luque suggested the Starr indictment threat came in reaction to the criticism he absorbed the day before at the House Judiciary Committee when Democrats accused him of mistreating Steele by, among other things, examining her adoption of a Romanian child and forcing her brother, grown daughter and accountant to appear before the grand jury.

In a separate development, a special master appointed to investigate whether Starr's office has illegally leaked grand jury material has been granted an extension until the end of the year. The special master, U.S. Appeals Court Senior Judge John W. Kern III, originally was supposed to report back yesterday to Chief U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson.

© Copyright The Washington Post Company

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