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Starr Probing Willey Allegations

Willey Kathleen Willey. (Reuters)

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  • By Susan Schmidt
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Sunday, November 1, 1998; Page A8

    As congressional investigators pore over reams of materials in preparation for impeachment hearings, one segment of the Monica S. Lewinsky probe remains under active investigation by the independent counsel: allegations by former White House volunteer Kathleen E. Willey that she was subjected to an unwanted sexual advance by President Clinton during a 1993 Oval Office meeting.

    Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr told Congress in September he is still investigating Willey's charges, which Clinton has "emphatically" denied under oath. In response to a query from the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month, Starr said without elaboration he could not rule out referring more evidence of possible impeachable offenses to Congress.

    Starr's prosecutors have been bringing witnesses before a grand jury in Alexandria to examine some of Willey's assertions, including what she has alleged were efforts last year to intimidate her and influence her testimony as a prospective witness in Paula Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit against Clinton.

    But what is already a confusing story by Willey is further muddied by a former close friend, Julie Hiatt Steele, who has testified that Willey asked her to lie in confirming that Willey told her about the alleged incident on the day it occurred, and by then-White House employee Linda R. Tripp. Tripp, who ran into Willey as she left the Oval Office that day, has contradicted Willey's account of what happened with Clinton in grand jury testimony and interviews with FBI investigators.

    Willey, who stumped for Clinton in her native Richmond during his 1992 presidential campaign and then joined the White House social office as a volunteer, contends he made an unwanted sexual advance toward her when she went to see him about a landing a paid postion on Nov. 29, 1993.

    She has testified she was upset during the meeting: Her husband was accused of embezzling money and her family was in financial crisis. She desperately needed money and a job, she said. (Edward Willey disappeared that day, in fact, and was soon discovered to have committed suicide.)

    Willey said Clinton listened sympathetically, then abruptly made a pass at her, grabbing her breast and putting her hand on his genitals. "He whispered, 'I've wanted to do this ever since I laid eyes on you.'. . . I just felt overpowered. . . . I pushed him away and I said 'I think I'd better go.' " She gave the same account in her Jones case deposition.

    Clinton flatly denied the claims during his Aug. 17 grand jury testimony. "I didn't do any of that," he said. "She was not telling the truth."

    By all accounts, Willey and Clinton were in contact during the 1992 presidential campaign; television footage shows them greeting each other. Willey has testified that Clinton telephoned her one evening from a hotel room in Williamsburg, where a presidential debate was being held. In his August testimony, Clinton said: "I won't deny calling her. I don't know if I did call her. I don't know if she tried to call me first." Telephone records confirm calls from the hotel were made.

    Willey testified Clinton invited her to his room -- he said he had a sore throat and asked for some chicken soup, she said. But, she said, she demurred. Clinton testified he recalled a conversation with her about "what she thought would be good" for his throat at some point, but had no recollection of asking her to visit him.

    After the election, Willey began her volunteer work at the White House, a period that included the incident under investigation.

    Tripp's account is at odds in part with both Clinton and Willey. In essence, she contradicted Clinton's claims that nothing at all happened, and contradicted Willey's claim that Clinton sexually harassed her.

    Tripp -- who later became a principal witness in Starr's inquiry into Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky -- testified that Willey had confided that she harbored romantic feelings for Clinton and had been sending him notes and flirting with him. When the alleged encounter occurred, Tripp told the grand jury, Willey was excited and pleased, though it "almost took her breath away, it was so forceful."

    In addition to investigating who has lied about the incident, Starr is looking into whether the failure of Clinton and his lawyers to turn over correspondence from Willey in response to a Jones subpoena in January constituted an attempt to obstruct justice.

    The White House withheld the chatty and friendly notes then, but made them public two months later to undercut Willey's harassment claim in a "60 Minutes" television interview. In his grand jury testimony, Clinton justified not giving the letters to Jones because they were in White House files, not the personal files that had been requested.

    But the 15 notes -- nine of them sent after the incident -- also cause some difficulty for Willey, who testified in her Jones deposition that she had had no such communication with the White House.

    While Willey initially denied in her Jones deposition that anyone had tried to influence her testimony, she later amended her statement to say that Nathan Landow, a major Democratic Party fund-raiser with ties to the White House, "discussed my upcoming deposition with me."

    Willey contends that Landow, whom she knew socially through his daughter, urged her last year to conceal the alleged encounter with Clinton as she prepared for questioning about it by Jones's lawyers who were then trying to establish a pattern of sexual harassment by Clinton.

    Landow cited his Fifth Amendment right and refused to testify when he was called to the grand jury this summer to be questioned about Willey. He has said he was willing to testify with a grant of immunity, but prosecutors refused, leading him to conclude, he said, that they really did not want his testimony because it would undermine Willey's story.

    "There is no wrongdoing on my part. The allegation that I tried to influence her testimony -- it never happened," Landow said.

    Sources close to the wealthy Montgomery County developer contend Willey initiated a social relationship with him. Meanwhile, prosecutors have called witnesses tied to unrelated business and political dealings by Landow in an effort to find previous incidents of intimidation or witness-tampering.

    Willey has also told Starr's investigators she was accosted menacingly by a stranger outside her Richmond home Jan. 8, two days before she was scheduled to testify in the Jones case, according to sources familiar with her account. The man somehow knew her car had been vandalized Oct. 27, Willey has told investigators, and asked whether she'd had the tires -- which had had nails driven into them -- repaired. He asked about her family's missing cat, she said, which had disappeared a few days after the car was damaged. And he inquired about her children by name, Willey told investigators.

    The owner of the tire store where Willey's car was repaired has confirmed in media accounts that her tires were studded with "masses" of nails, and a source close to the investigation said Starr's office has questioned at least one Willey neighbor who may have seen the strange man who accosted Willey.

    If Starr substantiates Willey's intimidation claims, and determines who was responsible, he could bring charges. But he would have to tie those alleged actions to the White House to refer such material to Congress, and at this point there is no known evidence of any White House involvement.

    Prosecutors also have been examining the account of Willey's onetime friend, Steele -- an examination her attorney, Nancy Luque, charged has included unwarranted intrusion into Steele's private life that amounts to "torture." Over the past three weeks since the Judiciary Committee requested an update from Starr, Luque said, Starr's team has subpoenaed Steele's financial and telephone records, as well as testimony from close relatives, and has canvassed her neighborhood "door to door" for information about her.

    In a February affidavit signed at the request of the Clinton legal team, and in grand jury testimony last summer, Steele said that Willey "never said anything to suggest that President Clinton made sexual advances toward her or otherwise acted inappropriately in her presence." She said that at Willey's urging, she falsely told Newsweek magazine early in 1997 that Willey had informed her about the alleged Clinton pass on the day it occurred and that Willey was "upset" and "humiliated." Before any article was published, however, Steele said she called back Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff and told him the story was a lie. Steele has sued Isikoff -- who published both versions -- for breach of contract, charging he reported remarks she had made "off the record."

    Newsweek subsequently reported that Steele said Willey did describe to her a sexual "overture" by Clinton -- although not necessarily an unwelcome one, and not on the same day of the incident. But Luque said that the reference was only to the "chicken soup" request, told to Steele by Willey when it occurred in 1992.

    Materials submitted by Starr to Congress and recently released include grand jury testimony that touches on Willey from numerous witnesses, including Tripp, White House deputy counsel Bruce Lindsey, and Oval Office operations director Nancy Hernreich. The testimony of some others who have been questioned has not yet been released by Starr, among them Willey, Steele and Harolyn Cardozo, Landow's daughter, who worked as a White House volunteer with Willey and whose husband, Michael Cardozo, served as trustee of the president's first legal defense fund.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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