Starr and Willey: The Untold Story
The 'Reluctant' Witness
But 1997 would prove to be much more eventful for Willey. This is the year her story about the President's alleged unwanted sexual advance was revealed to the public. 60 Minutes would later report that Willey was dragged unwillingly into the national spotlight. Willey told correspondent Ed Bradley "it was just horrible behavior on the part of the President. And I did not think it was my place to make it public knowledge."
But the truth is more complicated. Although Willey publicly presented herself as a highly reluctant witness, she and her attorney spent time in 1997 and early 1998 secretly relating differing versions of her alleged sexual encounter with the President to Paula Jones's attorneys, Newsweek's Isikoff, a top literary agency, a book publisher and a supermarket tabloid reporter. She appears to have been engaging in a strategy of public reticence and private deal-making that was successful for several reasons: It allowed Willey to distance herself from Paula Jones's "cashing in" image and other women--such as Gennifer Flowers--who had publicly declared they had sexual encounters with Clinton and had been dismissed as "bimbos." It also kept the White House from immediately mounting a counteroffensive to challenge Willey's credibility. And it enabled her to be identified with another reluctant witness in a high-profile sexual harassment case, Anita Hill, who had won widespread public support and an estimated $1 million book deal after her agonized Congressional testimony about Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.
The stage was set for Willey's dramatic revelations by an anonymous phone call made to Joseph Cammarata, one of Paula Jones's attorneys, on January 10, 1997. Cammarata was preparing for the historic Supreme Court argument that her case should go forward while Clinton was in office when his secretary told him an insistent woman was on the phone. Cammarata said in an interview that the woman would not give her name, but told him a story similar to the one Willey later recounted on 60 Minutes. Her story was extremely important because--like Paula Jones--she claimed Clinton had made an unwanted sexual advance in the workplace, Cammarata says. The mystery caller's story was perfect. It was not only a case of an unwelcome advance but also was recent and had occurred in the White House.
Willey later said in a sworn affidavit that she did not make the call. Cammarata swore he is convinced she did. The woman gave him many obvious leads. She told him she had worked in the White House Social Office and later in the Counsel's Office and had attended world summits in Indonesia and Copenhagen. She said her husband committed suicide after misappropriating escrow funds and that his death had been discussed in far-right literature as a suspicious Clinton-related death. To save time and money, Cammarata decided to let Newsweek's Isikoff "be our investigator." He gave him the lead because Isikoff had been reporting aggressively on Jones's case for several years. Isikoff identified the woman as Kathleen Willey, and wrote her on January 31, 1997, saying he would like to meet "for a brief chat." He reported that she later told him, "The moment I got your letter, I said, 'Oh, shit.'" But several days later she called him, and "a journalistic dance between aggressive reporter and reluctant source began," Isikoff says in his new book, Uncovering Clinton.
When they met in February, Willey was "totally noncommittal," Isikoff said at the convention last June of Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. "She wouldn't confirm that she is the person I was talking about, but the more I pressed and the more vibes I got, I pretty much figured out that she was." He "pressed her real hard." She said, "Listen, if you really want to talk to me, you are going to have to do so with my lawyer." On March 19, Isikoff says, they met at the office of her Richmond attorney, Daniel Gecker, and she told him her story "off the record." "It was a pretty amazing story," Isikoff told the investigative reporters. "I mean, this was the first woman I had encountered who could tell me something that Clinton was doing as President, not as the governor of Arkansas." Even though her account was off the record, she said Steele and Tripp could corroborate her story.
Steele says Willey called her from Gecker's office, asked her to meet with Isikoff and said she would call in a few minutes to explain why. Steele says Willey later called on her cell phone and asked Steele to back her claim that she had told Steele about the alleged unwelcome advance from the President the day it occurred. A knowledgeable source says that when Willey was interviewed by Starr's investigators, she denied calling Steele. But when investigators confronted her with her cell-phone records, which showed calls placed to Steele at 4:21 pm and later at 5:21 pm, Willey said she didn't remember making them. Steele says Willey quickly dictated the details she should tell Isikoff, who was on his way to Steele's home. Steele says she reluctantly agreed after being assured by Willey and then Isikoff that no story would be published using her remarks.
Several months later, Isikoff called. Because Willey had been subpoenaed, he was writing an article. Steele says she quickly recanted before Newsweek published anything, but Isikoff used her name in his article, reporting that she had told two different stories about Willey. (Isikoff says in his book that perhaps Steele thought her remarks were off the record because Willey's were.)
Isikoff also visited Tripp a few days after his March 19 interview with Willey. Tripp told Starr's grand jury she was taken aback when Isikoff came to her Pentagon office in late March 1997 and said Willey claimed she had been sexually harassed by the President and had named Tripp as a contemporaneous corroborator "who can verify everything she says." She told Isikoff, "That's absolutely completely inaccurate," warning him "you'll be printing something that a source is telling you is completely wrong." It's not clear why Willey, who later claimed Tripp is vindictive, thought Tripp would substantiate her story, but the most obvious explanation is that she knew Tripp disliked Clinton.
Tripp testified that she called Willey that night and said, "'Kathleen, what are you doing?'... She said, 'You must be mis-remembering, Linda.... Of course it was sexual harassment. I don't know why you're now saying that I wanted it.' I said, 'Kathleen, because we talked about it for months before it happened, because you chose your outfits, because you positioned yourself, because you flirted, because you looked for every reason to get in. Why are you now saying that this came as a huge surprise, and he assaulted you?'" Tripp testified that in the four years since the alleged incident, Willey seemed to have convinced herself that Clinton had sexually harassed her.
Tripp testified that she told Isikoff "it seems odd to me that you are pursuing this with such vigor," because Willey's claim was four years old, and "she didn't call it sexual harassment at the time." She told the reporter there was a far "more egregious" situation he could pursue, but she did not give him Monica Lewinsky's name "until much, much later."