Discrepancies Emerging on Both Sides of Willey Story
By Amy Goldstein
A chasm of difference separates the descriptions that President Clinton and Kathleen E. Willey have given of their meeting that November afternoon four years ago.
Because only the two of them were there, it is impossible to know who is telling the truth. But there is evidence that both the White House and Willey have on occasion either changed their stories about their contacts with each other, or offered new accounts that contradict statements they have made in the past.
Neither has revised their basic description of what took place that afternoon. But if either offered up as evidence of their veracity the public record of what they have said or what has been said on their behalf thus far, both would have to explain nagging inconsistencies. Among several examples, Clinton and his lawyer have given two different versions of whether he remembers meeting Willey that day, while there are discrepancies surrounding what Willey has said about the range of her communications with the president.
Now that more information -- much of it in their own words -- has become available about their contacts -- particularly the day in question -- there is an opportunity to sift through the credibility of both Clinton and Willey.
It has been nearly a week since large portions of the president's 218-page deposition and Willey's 150-page deposition were made public by Jones's lawyers. And Willey has granted a prime-time television interview to "60 Minutes."
Snippets come too from lawyers, other current and former White House officials and court records in Richmond, where Willey lives, that relate to her efforts to fend off a large monetary claim against her by former clients of her late husband. Edward E. Willey, a lawyer mired in legal and financial troubles, committed suicide the same day Kathleen Willey has alleged she was groped by Clinton. Her husband had not known of her meeting.
In her deposition and her television interview, Willey gave consistent accounts of the incident -- citing the same date and place, and the same elements of the alleged sexual advance. In both recountings, she said she reacted by pushing him away -- although in the deposition she was more reticent in relating the encounter.
But Willey has given different accounts of what she told Clinton that day about her family's financial and legal predicament. Just days beforehand, Willey has said, her husband told her he had taken money from two clients and demanded that she co-sign a written promise to repay the $274,000 quickly. In her deposition and her television interview, Willey said she had shared those problems with the president during the Oval Office meeting. She told the president, she said in her deposition, that she and her husband "were having a family crisis and my husband had asked me to sign a note for a large amount of money two weeks prior to this."
But in a 1995 court document related to her husband's clients' ongoing efforts to claim the money from her after his death, Willey's lawyer said that on the day Edward Willey died, she "rode the train to Washington. She did not talk with anyone at the White House about the money, the paper or the threats."
Perhaps the starkest discrepancies involve what Willey has said under oath about how often and for what purposes she had been in touch with Clinton. During the deposition, she was asked whether she had "ever communicated" with him at any time starting with his 1992 presidential campaign, aside from the three Oval Office meetings and a single telephone call she described.
"To the best of my recollection, no," she replied. In fact, letters and phone logs released by the White House this week show that Willey placed two calls to Clinton before the alleged incident and eight afterward, and that she sent him 15 letters over the years, nine of them after the incident and the most recent in November 1996. Moreover, Willey told "60 Minutes" that she had received two telephone calls from Clinton in October 1992, when he was in Virginia for a campaign debate.
In the deposition, Jones's lawyers also asked her whether she "asked [the White House] to keep you in mind concerning possible federal employment." She replied that she had not. But the correspondence shows that she asked the president to consider her for various jobs, including an ambassadorship and positions with his reelection campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
As for discrepancies in Clinton's version of events, his lawyer, Robert S. Bennett, last August told Newsweek magazine, where allegations about the Nov. 29, 1993, meeting with Willey first surfaced publicly, that the president may have been consoling her around the time of her husband's death. In fact, Willey would not learn her husband had killed himself until the morning after her Oval Office meeting, so she could not have mentioned that to Clinton.
In the same Newsweek article, Bennett said his client had "no specific recollection" of the meeting with Willey and that there was no record of her entering the Oval Office. Yet in his deposition Clinton said he remembered all three meetings Willey has testified she had with him there. He testified he recalled the meeting the day of the alleged incident "vividly," because "she was quite agitated" that day; that he recalled a meeting when she returned to work in December after mourning the death of her husband; and said she may have visited him when she left White House employment in late 1994.
Others involved in the matter also have provided conflicting information, most significantly a friend once cited by Willey as a corroborating witness who now maintains Willey asked her to lie about what she knew of the alleged incident.
Julie Hiatt Steele yesterday released an affidavit, dated Feb. 13 and signed at the request of the Clinton legal team, in which she said "Ms. Willey never said anything to suggest that President Clinton made sexual advances towards her or otherwise acted inappropriately in her presence."
In the affidavit, Steele said Willey called her in March or April of 1997 and asked her to tell Newsweek magazine that Willey had visited her house and related the story of a sexual encounter the night of the Clinton meeting. Steele said Willey instructed her to say that Willey was "upset" and "humiliated" at being "groped" by the president. Steele did so, but later recanted before Newsweek printed its story in August.
Newsweek, however, has reported that Steele told the magazine as recently as February that Willey did describe to her a sexual "overture" by Clinton, though not necessarily an unwelcome one, and not on the same day of the incident.
On the other side, current and former White House aides also have given varying accounts as to when Willey changed positions in the White House and how she landed a part-time paying job. Former White House counsel Lloyd N. Cutler said last week that she arrived in the counsel's office in November 1993 but that she did not start to get paid until the following spring. Cutler's account would mean that Willey's move out of the social office took place before she met with Clinton.
Willey has testified, and several former colleagues said they recalled, however, that she still was working in the White House social office when she met with Clinton. Cutler said his office had received no outside recommendation to hire Willey. Clinton testified that after his meeting with Willey he instructed an aide to "see if we could do something for her."
Staff writer Peter Baker contributed to this report.
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