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  The Case of the Steele Magnolia

By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 7, 1999; Page C1

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Yesterday the defense abruptly rested its case without calling a single witness in the trial of Julie Hiatt Steele, the only person yet prosecuted in the old and tired, but still doddering, Clinton/Lewinsky/Willey/Jones/Starr scandal. This unexpected development threw the federal court in Alexandria into confusion, including the jury, which now has to make sense of it all.

Of course, the public has been unable to make any sense of this bizarre case. Which is not surprising, considering the amount of conflicting, baffling and downright strange testimony presented.

So, as a public service, we will now clear up this widespread confusion by answering your questions about this unusual case:

Q. Did Julie Steele have sex with the president?

A. Not that we know of.

Q. So what's going on here?

A. Steele used to be friends with Kathleen Willey, who is one of the many unpaid White House workers who claim to have been pawed by the president.

Q. What does the president say about that?

A. He says he did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Willey.

Q. So how did Steele get involved in this thing?

A. Willey claims she told Steele about the alleged Clinton pawing on the day it allegedly occurred, in November 1993, although she also later claimed she didn't remember talking to Steele that day until Steele reminded her of the conversation. And Steele told Newsweek that Willey told her about the pawing that day.

Q. So what's the problem?

A. The problem is that Steele later changed her story, telling Newsweek that she had lied about the Willey story because Willey had asked her to corroborate her lie to Newsweek.

Q. You mean you can be prosecuted for lying to Newsweek?

A. No, lying to Newsweek is perfectly legal. But independent counsel Kenneth Starr brought Steele before a grand jury and asked her about the whole flapdoodle, and she testified under oath that she had lied to Newsweek. So Starr indicted her for obstruction of justice because he believes she was lying when she said she lied to Newsweek.

Q. So this is basically a dispute over who is lying, Willey or Steele?

A. Exactly.

Q. Well, which one is the liar?

A. Both.

Q. Huh?

A. Steele admits lying to Newsweek. And Willey admitted at the trial that she lied to her former boyfriend when she told him she was pregnant. And that she lied to Starr's investigators about her lie to the former boyfriend.

Q. Ah, so we have a former boyfriend in this story?

A. Actually, we have two. Steele's former boyfriend, Richmond TV producer Bill Poveromo, testified against Steele, saying that she repeated Willey's pawing story to him after she made him promise to keep his mouth shut about it.

Q. Did he keep his mouth shut about it?

A. Of course not. He called Willey and asked for an interview.

Q. Did Willey do the interview?

A. No. She wanted to keep this painful alleged incident private. At least until she could tell the story to the millions of people who watch "60 Minutes."

Q. And what did Steele's former best friend, Mary Highsmith, say about all this?

A. Lots of different things.

Q. Like?

A. Well, originally Highsmith told Starr's investigators that the first time she heard from Steele about the Willey allegations was in early 1998. Then she said she'd heard about it in November 1997. Now, she says she heard about it over lunch with Willey and Steele in September of 1996.

Q. Oh. And where did Willey testify that Clinton put his hands?

A. "All over me."

Q. And how did she describe Clinton's kiss?

A. She called it "a big old kiss."

Q. Is this significant?

A. Yes. In her 1998 deposition in the Paula Jones case, Willey testified that she couldn't remember where the president put his hands. Or whether he kissed her. In fact, Willey answered "I don't recall" 63 times during that deposition.

Q. Sixty-three times? Have you ever heard anything so bizarre?

A. I don't recall.

Q. What did Willey say that Clinton's lawyer Robert Bennett suggested she do during the Jones deposition?

A. Take the Fifth Amendment.

Q. What does Bennett say about that?

A. He says it's a "bald-faced lie."

Q. Why are bald-faced lies worse than hairy-faced lies?

A. I don't recall.

Q. So what was the big surprise in court yesterday?

A. The defense rested its case without calling any witnesses. And both sides made their final summations.

Q. And in prosecutor Stephen Binhak's summation, what luncheon meat did he compare Steele's story to?

A. Baloney.

Q. Was he being a ham when he tried to sandwich that in there?

A. I don't recall.

Q. So what lessons can we learn from this judicial proceeding?

A. Never take an unpaid job at the White House. Never talk to your friends about your sex life. And try to steer clear of Kenneth Starr.

Q. Anything else?

A. I don't recall.


© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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