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House GOP Won't Seek Willey's Testimony

Kathleen Willey Kathleen Willey. (Reuters File Photo)

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  • By Susan Schmidt
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, January 15, 1999; Page A21

    House Republicans managing the impeachment trial of President Clinton have decided not to seek public testimony from former White House volunteer Kathleen E. Willey if the Senate decides to call witnesses, Republicans said yesterday.

    House managers have examined several boxes of evidence on Willey's allegations, collected by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, that Clinton made an unwelcome sexual advance toward her during an Oval Office visit in 1993. Two of the 13 Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee serving as prosecutors in the Senate impeachment trial interviewed Willey and her lawyer Monday in Richmond.

    But Republican House lawyers, along with one of those congressmen, characterized the Willey interview as mere due diligence, and said there are no immediate plans to bring Willey or her allegations before the Senate.

    "I do not believe she will be on the witness list we will present to the Senate," said Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.). The facts Willey could testify to, he said, "were not clearly related to the [impeachment] articles we presented." Hutchinson and Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), another House impeachment manager, conducted the Willey interview.

    "We have to have clear and convincing proof of a pattern of obstruction of justice through the use of false affidavits in the Paula Jones case. I don't believe that's the case with Kathleen Willey," said Rep. Edward G. Bryant (R-Tenn.). His reference was to the now-defunct sexual harassment case against the president by Jones, whose lawyers solicited testimony from numerous women – including Willey and Monica S. Lewinsky – they hoped would provide evidence of a pattern of harassing behavior by Clinton. Clinton's alleged efforts to head off that testimony formed the basis of Starr's investigation.

    While Clinton has said that Willey, a Democratic activist in Virginia, visited him in 1993 to ask for a paying job, he has categorically denied her allegation of a sexual incident since it was first made public in August 1997 by Newsweek magazine. After Willey herself discussed the alleged incident on CBS's "60 Minutes" last summer, the White House released a series of friendly notes sent by her to Clinton both before and after she said it took place.

    The House managers plan to present the Senate with a witness list Jan. 25, after the completion of opening arguments that began yesterday. The Senate will then decide whether to hear from any witnesses directly, or to limit evidence in the case to that collected by Starr and sent to Congress last September. The managers are urging the Senate to call witnesses, while the White House has argued they are unnecessary for the Senate to make a decision and would simply prolong the trial.

    In addition to meeting Monday with Willey and her attorney, Daniel Gecker, the House managers this week also sought an interview with Lewinsky but were rebuffed by her lawyers.

    Although Starr provided the House with information he had collected about Willey's allegations, he asked that it not be publicly released because of his ongoing investigation into whether Clinton lied about it. Starr's office is also investigating whether there were efforts to muzzle Willey that amounted to witness intimidation or obstruction of justice. None of the Willey information was included in the two articles of impeachment sent to the Senate.

    Last week, on the first day of the Senate trial, and in the first indictment related to the Lewinsky investigation, Starr accused former Willey friend Julie Hiatt Steele of obstructing justice and making false statements before grand juries in Washington and Alexandria. Steele originally told Newsweek Willey had related the alleged incident to her in 1993, but later recanted and said Willey had asked her to lie in support of her story. Starr has charged that it was the second version, to which Steele has testified under oath, that was a lie.

    Steele is also accused of untruthfully denying that she told at least two other friends details about Willey's Oval Office visit.

    One friend, Richmond television producer Bill Poveromo, said yesterday he has been told by Starr's office he may be called as a trial witness. Poveromo said he told the grand jury that Steele told him over dinner in the spring of 1997 that Willey confided to her she'd been groped by Clinton, and that she seemed flattered by the attention. Steele denied ever making such statements, according to her indictment.

    Steele is to be arraigned in Alexandria on Tuesday. Her attorney, Nancy Luque, has stated that Steele "told the truth and is innocent." She has charged that Starr was seeking to influence the impeachment trial by indicting Steele, a tangential figure who has nonetheless become widely known through television interviews.

    Staff writer Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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