By Amy Goldstein and David Streitfeld
Michael Viner, co-president of New Millennium Entertainment, said yesterday that when Daniel Gecker contacted him in January, he said Willey would require well in excess of $300,000 for a book because she needed at least that much to cover a debt her husband had left behind when he committed suicide four years ago. Ever since his death, two of his former clients have been trying to collect from Willey the $274,000 they claim her husband embezzled from them.
No book deal was ever reached, and Viner -- who made a friend of O.J. Simpson's slain wife into a No. 1 bestselling author -- said yesterday that he is no longer interested. Gecker, while confirming that the book negotiation took place, said if Willey had been concerned primarily with money, she would not have gone ahead with an interview last weekend on "60 Minutes," because he had been told such an appearance would greatly diminish the marketability of a book.
Whether or not Willey ever publishes her own story, her lawyer's efforts form part of an intricate pattern of events and possible motivations involving a woman who has burst forth as perhaps the most worrisome witness Clinton faces in the sexual harassment lawsuit of Paula Jones and the criminal investigation by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr.
In a television interview Sunday night -- her first public discussion of her now-infamous Oval Office meeting with Clinton -- Willey portrayed herself in relatively passive terms.
Willey told "60 Minutes" that she, a White House volunteer at the time, had simply gone to the White House in order to explain her family's financial position to her "friend" Clinton and to ask the president for a paid position.
The program, which gave "60 Minutes" the biggest television audience of the week for the first time in four years, depicted a relatively one-dimensional image of a demure woman who had been appalled by what she considered "reckless" sexual behavior by a president she admired deeply. A CBS poll conducted Monday night showed that 52 percent believed her.
Although Willey and Clinton alone know what transpired between them, her interactions with the White House, and her motivation in coming forward now with her story after four years of silence, appear to be more complex than her prime-time interview conveyed.
At the time of her Oval Office meeting, Willey had been desperate for a job because her husband, Edward E. Willey Jr., had only days earlier forced her to sign a note promising to repay within two weeks the $274,000 he owed a pair of clients. Even earlier, White House officials recall, she had been trying to obtain an appointment with Clinton to discuss a job.
Both before the meeting and afterward, Willey conducted a correspondence with the White House in which she repeatedly asked the president for jobs and appointments -- including an ambassadorship and a "national level" position on his reelection campaign.
In that context, the exploration of a book deal appears to be the most recent in a pattern of efforts to use her interactions with the White House to put herself on more solid financial ground.
There is also evidence that, to a degree, the White House responded. A few months after the meeting with Clinton, she was given a better role in the White House -- trading a volunteer position in the social office for a part-time, paid staff position in the office of the White House counsel.
The job lasted for only a matter of months. But in the year that followed, Willey also was invited to take part at government expense in U.S. delegations to two international conferences. Later, she was appointed by the White House to the governing board of the United Service Organizations (USO).
What motivated this sequence of events remains uncertain. Some say she is a woman in financial trouble, trying to take advantage of friends in high places. Others depict her as an angry victim of sexual harassment, trying to use a presidential indiscretion as leverage. Clinton's lawyer, Robert S. Bennett, has suggested this week she is someone who has fabricated a story with devastating legal and political implications, then used it to try to land a potentially lucrative book deal.
In the days since her interview, parties of all sides have tried to shape Willey's image and her motivations to their advantage -- offering up new details in an attempt to drag public opinion toward their view.
The image-shapers have included the White House, which freely dispensed copies of Willey's correspondence with the president this week in an apparent attempt to suggest that she would not have continued to regard him warmly if she had, in fact, been the victim of an unwanted sexual advance.
The letters -- six before the alleged incident and nine afterward -- include a handwritten note in which Willey sought a position as the U.S. representative to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. "I would like to be considered for this position and would like to meet with the President to discuss this appointment."
At another point, she asked for an even more exalted position: "I would like to be considered for an ambassadorship or a position in an embassy overseas," she wrote.
There is also evidence in the correspondence that Willey at one point thought she would like a position with the Democratic National Committee. Yesterday, a DNC official confirmed that Willey's name had been forwarded by the White House, along with several others, for any positions that became available. Whether she was ever offered a job is unclear, but she never went to work there.
This week, even Ed Willey's former clients have joined in the critique of his widow, as they continue to pursue their financial claim against her.
Yesterday, Anthony Lanasa, one client, said that in the week after Ed Willey had shot himself in the head -- on Nov. 29, 1993, the same day as his wife's meeting with Clinton -- Kathleen Willey called him at home three times between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. "She said I had caused him to kill himself," Lanasa said.
He said he reported the calls to his lawyer, Watson M. Marshall, who said yesterday that he had been getting similar calls himself. Marshall said that he called the Henrico County police, who arrested Willey for making harassing telephone calls. At a hearing in the case, Marshall said, a judge concluded that there was enough evidence to find Willey guilty, but said he would dismiss the case if she made no further calls during the subsequent six months. The case ultimately was dismissed, Marshall said.
Joseph Kaestner, another Richmond lawyer representing Lanasa and his sister in trying to claim the money Ed Willey owed, said yesterday that he interpreted the late-night calls as a "temporary thing" from "a lady who was under enormous stress" at the time.
Gecker, Willey's lawyer, confirmed that she had made the phone calls, but said that Lanasa and his lawyer had been "very aggressive."
He also said Willey had been hospitalized for a few days around that time for emotional distress as a result of the suicide, the financial pressures suddenly bearing on her, and the arrest.
With respect to the book deal, Willey's lawyer and the publisher yesterday both confirmed that they had spoken several times, but gave varying accounts of when those discussions began and how serious they were.
Viner said his telephone logs show that he received the first call from Gecker on the morning of Jan. 21, less than two weeks after Willey had given her deposition in the Jones case about her encounter with Clinton. "Were we interested? Absolutely," Viner said.
The publisher said that he negotiated with Gecker virtually every week since then, but had not been sure a book by Willey had commercial value and was not entirely convinced by the version of events her attorney related to him. "I think something may have happened -- but I believe she was a part of what may have happened," Viner said. "I don't believe this is a girl who had something thrust upon her and was outraged by it."
Gecker, on the other hand, said that he had first telephoned Viner several months earlier and that he had contacted the publisher because he had learned that another book which had been published relating to the O.J. Simpson case had commanded a price of $3 million. He said he had merely been exploring how much money a book by his client might fetch in the market and said that he had been hoping it would bring millions -- enough to settle her debts and secure her financial future.
He said that his client's desire to appear on television was not motivated by money and, in fact, had been told by Viner that such an appearance would ruin her chances for a book. She granted the interview, Gecker said, "because she said there is too much trash being thrown around" about her.
Staff writers Peter Baker and Susan Schmidt contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company