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Kathleen Willey. (AP)

Willey's Career Path Had a Sharp Upturn

By Amy Goldstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 15, 1998; Page A01

She had traveled to Little Rock on election night and spent a full week in Washington celebrating Bill Clinton's first inauguration, so it was not entirely surprising that Kathleen E. Willey took the train from Richmond three days a week to share in the excitement of the fledgling Clinton White House.

At first, she seemed content answering the telephones in the White House social office. But Willey, who is now 51, was older, more sophisticated and – as she delighted in telling people – closer to the first couple than most of that office's large cadre of volunteers. And as 1993 wore on, the meniality, indeed the obscurity of her role made her restless, White House workers noticed.

Willey asked for a coveted pass that would allow her to venture from the second floor of the East Wing, where she spent her days, into the West Wing, which is the White House's crucible of power. She was denied it, a co-worker in the social office recalled.

At another point, Willey told a White House aide that she wanted to meet with the president to ask him for a paying job. The aide remembers regarding Willey as a "clutch, just someone who wanted to be near the president." So she told her, "If you want to get a job, go talk to the personnel office."

But with her marriage and her family finances in tatters, Willey had remained determined to seek the president's help and ultimately succeeded on the now-infamous day – Nov. 29, 1993 – when Clinton led her into a hallway off the Oval Office and – according to her sworn deposition – made an unsolicited sexual advance.

In the vortex of the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit against the president and the investigation of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, Willey is a pivotal figure. Of the women whose names have surfaced as the two cases seek to establish that Clinton engaged in a pattern of sexual indiscretions, then sought to cover them up, Willey is the only person known to have testified that Clinton touched her sexually inside the White House.

In that respect, she is unlike Monica S. Lewinsky, whose affidavit denies the existence of an 18-month affair with Clinton that she had described vividly to a friend, Linda R. Tripp, who was secretly recording the conversations. And Willey is unlike Jones and other women linked to Clinton, whose accounts of sexual interactions with him date to his years as Arkansas governor.

Her deposition in the Jones case, taken in January and released publicly Friday, reveals her to have been reluctant to answer lawyers' questions, but her reticence appears to be fading. Last week, she appeared to be a cooperating witness for Starr, arriving for her grand jury testimony in a car with his prosecutors. And tonight, she is to give her first public accounting of her fateful meeting with Clinton, and the events that followed it, in an interview on CBS's "60 Minutes."

Fortunes Improve

In the two years after the November 1993 meeting, the White House helped her at several points as she emerged from the darkest period of her life, a period in which her husband committed suicide and she became entangled in the legal and financial morass he left behind. She was given a sought-after, although short-lived, paying job at the White House. She was sent to two prestigious international meetings at government expense. And she was appointed to the governing board of a military service organization whose members typically include more prominent citizens.

It remains murky whether Willey received these things as a result of her own ambition and acquaintances with powerful people; from Clinton's desire to help the widow of a longtime friend of Vice President Gore; or – as Starr and Jones's lawyers see it – as some kind of reward for her discretion after the president allegedly groped her.

Whatever the reason, the White House provided this help even though Willey is a woman without remarkable credentials or skills.

This account is based on interviews with White House officials and co-workers, family friends, Willey's and Clinton's depositions in the Jones case, and other court records related to Willey and her late husband's finances.

A Richmond native, Willey, attended a year of college there before holding a succession of jobs over the next few years, including stints with an insurance company, a metals manufacturer and Trans World Airlines, for which she worked as a flight attendant.

Her husband, Edward E. Willey Jr., was a zoning lawyer, the son of a prominent Virginia politician and a man who, according to a family friend, plied his wife with fine cars and other trappings of the affluence he attained during the real estate heyday of the 1980s.

Kathleen Willey raised their two children and did volunteer work, which included two years handling constituent affairs for then-Lt. Gov. L. Douglas Wilder. "She's bright as she can be – perky," said another family friend.

In describing her, men often mention Willey's appearance. Brian Jones, a Richmond lawyer who met her during the 1992 Clinton campaign, said, "She was a beautiful woman and had a real flair for dressing."

And she was drawn to power. "Kathy liked to rub shoulders with the big wheels," said P.T. Hastings, a longtime friend of her husband's who runs a seafood business in downtown Richmond. For years, Gore often would stop to see his old friend Ed Willey when he was passing through Richmond, according to Hastings, who said that was the connection that led Willey to become one of Clinton's earliest active supporters in Virginia during the 1992 campaign.

The couple contributed $1,000 each to his campaign, and she gave $2,000 to the Democratic National Committee, according to federal election records. Although this level of donation did not rank them among the campaign's big contributors, she appeared to have connections. When other Virginia workers on Clinton's 1992 campaign had trouble getting calls returned from the headquarters in Little Rock, Willey always could get through, Brian Jones recalled.

On Oct. 15, the night the second presidential debate was held at the University of Richmond, Jones remembers that Willey escorted Clinton around the room, introducing him to local supporters. In his own deposition in the Paula Jones case, Clinton said he met her during his 1992 campaign but "never really had a conversation with her" and that he recalled her doing more work that year for Wilder, then Virginia governor, than for him.

A few weeks after Clinton took office, Willey was recommended to the social office as a potential volunteer by Nancy Hernreich, the director of Oval Office Operations, according to a social office co-worker. Once she arrived, "She gave the impression she and her husband were very close to the president. . . . She had a way of dropping hints," the co-worker said.

And after a brief period, "she wasn't content to do the job that needed to be done," said the co-worker. She wanted to "get around the White House more."

"She was someone who had a fascination with the president," said the former White House aide to whom Willey once said she wanted to ask Clinton for a job.

This apparent desire to be near Clinton is, in certain ways, reminiscent of the portrayal of Lewinsky, the former White House intern and aide with whom the president is alleged to have had an affair. But Willey's efforts did not appear to be nearly as flagrant. In fact, it is unclear whether she was drawn to Clinton personally or merely to the power that he represented.

Trouble in the Family

In any case, on the day of her Oval Office meeting, her family seems to have been uppermost in her mind. Based on court documents in Richmond, associated with her ongoing legal and financial troubles, an image emerges that portrays Willey in a far darker and more frantic frame of mind than previously has been reported.

Earlier that month, the documents show, Willey had been late for volunteer work with Meals on Wheels when she got a call in her car from her husband, who told her he needed to meet her at home at once, according to the Richmond documents. When she arrived home, he told her that he had taken money from clients and that he had received a threat that he and and his family would be in danger unless she signed a note with him promising to repay $274,000 within two weeks.

Kathleen Willey was "desperate about the situation. She had never been threatened before and did not know what to do," according to the documents, which relate to claims of her husbands' clients that she should pay them the money he owed. Willey suggested she give up her White House volunteer work and find a paying job, the documents show.

The Saturday morning before she met with Clinton, the Willeys gathered with their children – home from school for Thanksgiving – for a family discussion about their predicament that degenerated into "a huge fight," according to one document. Their son, Patrick, "told his mother not to accuse Edward Willey of being a criminal. Kathleen . . . stated that, as she saw it, Edward Willey may very well be guilty of some sort of criminal behavior," according to her response to one interrogatory.

The next morning, Sunday, her husband packed a suitcase and left. By the time of her 3 p.m. meeting with Clinton on Monday, Willey had been trying, repeatedly and without success to reach her husband and concluded that he was "missing," according to her deposition in the Jones case.

Early the next morning, she learned that his body had been found; he apparently had shot himself in the head. But shortly after his death, her financial troubles appeared to be lifting as the family began to receive the proceeds of her husband's $1 million life insurance policy – some of which his creditors were able to claim.

And within a few months, she had a temporary but paying job in the White House counsel's office.

How Willey got that part-time job – and the series of White House appointments that would follow – is of central importance as Starr and Jones's lawyers try to establish that Clinton granted favors to women with whom he had improper sexual interactions to persuade them not to speak out. Lloyd N. Cutler – who became White House counsel on April 1, 1994 – said last week that his secretary had recommended that Willey be put on the payroll. Two other members of the office at the time she arrived said they do not recall how she got the position.

Willey said in the deposition released Friday that she had started in March, before Cutler arrived. The White House says she began on April 20.

In her deposition, Clinton said that after his November meeting with Willey, because she had been "clearly quite agitated" about her financial circumstances, he had told Hernreich or someone else in his office that "we ought to see if we could do something for her." He said he was not informed when she was given the job in the counsel's office. Willey said in her deposition that Clinton had told her, "they would try to help me."

In the counsel's office, Willey answered the phones and typed simple correspondence, Cutler said. One former White House official said she was regarded as "untouchable and needed to be handled carefully" because she "was a friend of the president." The official said she did not appear to have a regular schedule or clear responsibilities and that some in the office mistook her for a volunteer.

Cutler said that his deputy, Joel Klein, eventually told Willey she could not remain because "the office had a growing amount of work to do, and she did not have the secretarial skills they needed."

There is contradictory information about when she left. The White House said she departed Oct. 23, 1994; she said in her deposition that she stayed until November. Willey also testified that, on her last day of work, she again visited with Clinton alone in the Oval Office to thank him "for what he and the administration had done for me and that, even though I was leaving then, that I hoped to come back in some way."

Although she left the White House, the White House did not forget her.

In March 1995, she was included in the U.S. delegation to the first of two prestigious international meetings she would attend. The first, on social issues, took place in Copenhagen, and was attended by Gore, the first lady and former representative Bella Abzug (D-N.Y.), among others.

Willey said in her deposition that she was invited to attend by Robert Nash, the White House's personnel director. She testified that he made the offer in a telephone conversation during a period in which Nash had been "asked by the president to help me find employment."

The second international meeting was a conference on biodiversity in Indonesia, the following November. Willey, who said in her deposition that her higher education had consisted of a year of pre-medical studies, found herself in the company of high-powered scientific and policy experts.

One government official in the delegation recalled that "she stood out only to the extent she was the only one that I didn't know why she was there."

Timothy E. Wirth, a former Democratic senator from Colorado who led both the Danish and Indonesian delegations as undersecretary of state for global affairs, said that he understood Willey to be "a friend of the Clintons." He said it was common for the White House to add delegation members, although they usually had "a particular expertise" or were invited as political favors to members of Congress.

Nearly a year later, the White House appointed Willey to the governing board of the United Service Organization (USO), which provides entertainment and various kinds of help to U.S. military members around the world. She was appointed the same day as Melvin Clark Jr., president and chief executive of Metroplex Corp., a local railroad construction firm, who has made far greater political contributions than Willey and and her late husband. Federal election records show that he has donated more than $100,000 to the Democratic National Committee during the last five years.

Clinton's only other appointees to the USO board are more prominent than Willey. Barry Gordon is former president of the Screen Actors Guild. Linda Walker Bynoe, who has since left the board, is a major arts patron in Chicago who runs a consulting firm with her husband, a former owner of the Denver Nuggets basketball team.

Even though the USO board meets twice a year, Willey said in her deposition that she had not attended any meetings since she joined in September 1996.

Despite these three White House assignments, Willey's life now appears to have fewer intersections with Washington.

According to court documents, she lives outside Richmond and pays $450 a month to rent a three-bedroom house owned by a limited liability corporation controlled by her children. She said in the documents she has worked at a bread company for four months, at a salon for about a year, and that she draws money monthly from a fund provided by her children. In responding to one interrogatory last spring, she said her most recent monthly withdrawal from that fund was $4,500.

Friends say she has been less visible since her husband died – until she emerged from a limousine one morning last week to appear before Starr's grand jury.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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