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Starr and Willey: The Untold Story | The Nation

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Starr and Willey: The Untold Story

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Amanda Elk, Rachel Margolis and David Schaenman provided research assistance. This article was supported in part by a Goldsmith Research Award from Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy and the Fund for Investigative Journalism in Washington, DC.

Pursuing A President

About the Author

Jacqueline E. Sharkey
Jacqueline E. Sharkey is an investigative reporter and University of Arizona journalism professor.
Florence Graves
Florence Graves, a Resident Scholar at Brandeis University, is one of the reporters who broke the Senator Bob Packwood...

Kathleen Willey got a taste of presidential politics working as a volunteer fundraiser for Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign. She had been married since 1971 to Edward Willey Jr., son of a legendary Virginia politician, whom she had met when her first marriage was floundering. Ed Jr. was a lawyer who prospered during the early eighties real estate boom. Kathy, a high school graduate, was a onetime flight attendant who had also worked for an insurance company.

After they married, Kathy threw herself into Democratic politics, working many hours as a volunteer. She also gave fundraising parties and helped answer constituents' letters in Lieutenant Governor Doug Wilder's office in the late eighties. Wilder, who later became the state's governor, says he marveled--as did others--at the Willeys' "very extravagant lifestyle." They skied in Vail, where they had a condominium, and sent their children to private schools. Kathy wore designer clothes and a Rolex watch and drove expensive cars. P.T. Hastings, a friend of Ed's, says Ed was "obsessed" with Kathy but having trouble maintaining their lifestyle.

Court records show that in 1993--the year he died--Ed Willey was hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. The IRS had issued more than $630,000 in liens against him and his professional corporation between 1987 and 1993. As Clinton's run for President gained momentum in 1992, the Willeys contributed $1,000 each to his campaign. Kathy also gave $2,000 to the Democratic National Committee. After Clinton was elected, Kathy began commuting to Washington, where she volunteered in the White House several days a week, eventually working in the Social Office. Several friends say the White House became the center of her life and that she talked often of getting a paid job and moving to Washington. Hastings says Ed Willey was "devoted" to his wife but "wasn't happy" about all the time Kathy was spending in Washington.

On November 18, 1993, Ed told her he had "illegally borrowed" more than $274,000 from two clients, Anthony Lanasa and his sister Josephine Abbott, and that he needed her to cosign a note promising to repay the money by November 30, according to a ten-page chronology of events preceding her husband's death that she submitted to the court during a lawsuit over the unpaid debt. "'If you don't sign it, we are all down the tubes,'" Kathy says Ed told her. Willey says in the document that on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, "the family became embroiled in a huge fight" over the money and that the next day "Edward Willey packed a bag and left the house" to stay at the home of one of his clients.

On Monday, November 29, Kathy took the train to Washington and met with Clinton--the meeting where she says she told him she desperately needed a job and he made an unwelcome sexual advance. She returned to her home in a Richmond suburb that evening. Ed was not home, and the next morning his body was found in a rural wooded area; he apparently had shot himself.

During the ensuing five years, in legal proceedings and media interviews, Kathleen Willey has given differing accounts of what happened the day she went to the White House and later that night. In the chronology submitted in court, Willey says she "did not talk with anyone at the White House" about her serious financial problems. She also did not mention seeing the President that day, but she testified in her Jones deposition that she did see Clinton and told him about her financial problems.

She said in the chronology that she returned home, raced to her husband's office and then called his assistant but couldn't find Ed. She was "very scared" but then "went to bed." Willey did not mention Steele in the chronology, but she told Jones's lawyers she returned home panicked about her "missing" husband and recalls going to Steele's house. She says she told Steele about the President's unwelcome advance then. Steele has sworn Willey didn't come by or tell her about an advance.

Although she did not mention her friends Linda Tripp or Harolyn Cardozo in the chronology, both told Starr that Willey telephoned them that evening and talked at length about how she might advance a sexual relationship with President Clinton. Cardozo, whose testimony is still secret, testified that Willey did not mention that her husband was missing. Cardozo had become friends with Willey when they worked together as volunteers in the White House Social Office. She is married to Michael Cardozo, who once ran Clinton's legal defense fund. Her father, Nathan Landow, is a prominent Maryland real estate developer and Democratic fundraiser who socialized occasionally with Willey. Cardozo testified that Willey was gushing about her meeting with the President, saying he had given her a big kiss and hug. Cardozo testified that Willey said something like, "If I play my cards right, I could be the next Judith Exner," a reference to one of President John F. Kennedy's paramours. Cardozo testified that Willey was speculating about ways she might be able to advance a relationship with Clinton, even wondering whether she could get Hillary Clinton's schedule so she could ascertain when the First Lady would be away from the White House. Cardozo testified that Willey said in a half-joking way, "We've got to get Hillary out of town!"

An FBI summary of Tripp's interviews states that the women "discussed the significance of the encounter and whether Willey would be a girlfriend of the President.... To Willey, it was not a matter of if another encounter with the President would happen, but when the event would happen."

Tripp is a controversial figure in Starr's probe, but he seems to have found her very reliable. She talks extensively about Willey and her motives in her grand jury testimony, but much of it has never been quoted, perhaps because her testimony was difficult to read--it was reproduced in type smaller than a classified ad. Although Tripp confuses the timing of a number of events and conversations in her testimony, her most serious allegations--such as those about the President's relationship with Lewinsky--have generally proven true.

Tripp told the grand jury that in the days after Ed Willey's body was found Willey called her "many, many, many times." Tripp thought Willey "was in some sort of shock.... she didn't cry, she didn't dwell or even speak much about Ed. It was more about the President, that, you know, we discussed the fact that this would be enough to spook him for at least a year, that, you know, she can pretty much understand that he would not have anything to do with her on a personal level after this because of the tragedy."

Willey spent the five years after her husband's death focusing on several goals. One involved not paying the $274,000 note she had signed promising to reimburse Lanasa and Abbott. Another was shielding her assets from them and other creditors. A third involved pursuing a well-paying job at the White House or with Clinton's re-election campaign.

When Kathy failed to honor the note, Lanasa and Abbott sued to recover their money. Willey filed numerous motions saying she wasn't responsible for repaying the debt. Her other strategy was to shift responsibility for the debt. She sued her dead husband's estate and corporation, alleging malpractice, saying he used "fraud and deceit" to induce her to sign the note, so his insurance carrier should pay it. She sued Lanasa's attorney, saying he was responsible for her husband's "conversion" of the $274,000 and was bound by "every moral and legal obligation" to relieve her of any duty to pay the debt. Willey also engaged in delaying tactics--for example, she claimed that her husband had given her no checks in the five months before he died (even though almost $50,000 in checks was sent directly to her account) and that she did not know whether there was a mortgage on the house (even though she signed the monthly check for it). After she repeatedly responded, "I don't know," "I don't recall" or "I don't remember" during a 1997 legal proceeding, she was warned that she could be held in contempt for withholding information.

As these kinds of tactics dragged out the proceedings, Willey disposed of assets that Lanasa and other creditors might have persuaded the court to confiscate for payment. For example, although she had been named as a beneficiary of her husband's life insurance policy, Willey went all the way to the Virginia Supreme Court in a successful effort to disclaim her more than $350,000 in benefits, which meant the money did not have to be used to pay her debts. The money then went to her two children, who began to "lend" her money every month for her living expenses.

During these years, Willey kept pushing for employment at the White House. In the spring of 1994 she was given a position as a staff assistant in the White House Counsel's Office, but it paid only $20,000 and lasted less than a year. Tripp testified that Willey "felt she had earned a political appointment" because she had been a campaign donor and volunteer. Correspondence released by the White House shows that Willey repeatedly pressed Clinton for a paying job. In an October 18, 1994, note, she wrote, "I have invested almost three years with your campaign and administration and am not very willing to depart yet. I would like to be considered for an ambassadorship or a position in an embassy overseas." Willey later conveyed her ambition to Tom Siebert, the former ambassador to Sweden. Several friends say she saw herself as another Pamela Harriman, the Democratic fundraiser Clinton named ambassador to France. The following year, 1995, Willey kept seeking a paid job in the White House or with the re-election campaign. While she waited, she worked for $7 an hour as a receptionist at a Richmond hair salon and continued her legal fight to avoid paying her debts.

If Clinton thought he needed or wanted to buy Willey's silence (or reward her for something), there is no question he could have arranged a good job for her. Instead, in 1995 she received nonpaying appointments as a public member of delegations to an international conference for social development in Copenhagen and a biological diversity conference in Jakarta.

In early 1996 she interviewed at the Democratic National Committee for a fundraising job. An e-mail obtained by federal investigators shows that on March 6 Willey sent her attorney, Dan Gecker, a message that said, "I got the job!!!!!!!!!!!! Still not settled on salary. President has to sign off on new budget next week." She writes that she probably won't start for a month. "This way I can still say I don't have a job at the depositions on the 18th," an apparent reference to her ongoing legal battle over her failure to pay the $274,000 note. But the final salary offer reportedly was only $30,000. She turned it down. Two people who knew her well at the time say Willey was insulted and enraged. A few months later, in July 1996, she wrote Clinton aide Nancy Hernreich to express her anger and disappointment. "I am appalled at the way in which I have been trifled with," she wrote.

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