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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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Two months later, on May 27, 1997, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a sitting President can be sued for actions unrelated to his official duties. The Jones case could proceed. Isikoff recalls in his book that he contacted Willey. "'Do you realize what this means?' I said to her. 'Do you realize you're almost certainly going to get a subpoena?' 'I know,'" she said. But she would not agree to go on the record.

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.

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...

At this time, Cammarata didn't know the name of his mystery caller. He asked Isikoff whether his lead had panned out. Isikoff said yes but that he couldn't reveal the woman's identity because he had spoken to her confidentially. Cammarata says the clues the woman had given him were obvious, and within thirty minutes he had her name. Cammarata said in an interview taped last summer that he called Willey at her home in Virginia. She did not answer the phone, and he did not leave a message. He was very surprised the next day when Willey's attorney, Daniel Gecker, called him back. "I said, 'How did you get my number?'" Gecker said it had been recorded on Willey's caller ID. Gecker said Willey might be willing to provide testimony but would want to do so quietly. They began conversations about how to "preserve her testimony" and use her information without issuing a subpoena.

Meanwhile, Isikoff was facing two problems. First, he felt he couldn't write Willey's story "as long as she was not willing to talk publicly," he later told the investigative reporters convention. Second, a disturbing incident had made him uneasy. In early July Tripp told Isikoff that Willey was "two-timing" him. Tripp said Willey had called presidential aide Nancy Hernreich to warn her that Isikoff was "nosing around" and that Willey had been a "victim" of his investigative reporting. She wanted to reassure the White House that she was a friend of the President's.

Tripp had learned of Willey's call from Monica Lewinsky, who said Clinton had told her about it. Tripp told Starr's grand jury that Willey called Hernreich because "she wanted to continue the subterfuge that she was still a loyal friend of the administration, that she would only cooperate under duress; essentially, that she was not an enemy of the administration. But in fact, Kathleen was the one who started the whole thing by...speaking to Mike Isikoff and naming me." Isikoff reports in his book that he confronted Willey, who admitted making the call. He demanded to know why. "I thought you were angry at the guy because he harassed you," he told her. "Why are you trying to protect him?" Isikoff reports that Willey said she didn't know why she warned Hernreich, but she assured him her story was completely true.

Shortly before Isikoff confronted Willey, her story appeared in the Drudge Report. On July 4, 1997, Drudge wrote that Isikoff was "hot on the trail" of a woman claiming Clinton sexually propositioned her in the White House. On July 28 Drudge named Willey.

Cammarata says he was "astonished" by the leaks and upset because they forced him to subpoena Willey. Following the Supreme Court decision that the Jones case could proceed, Jones's and Clinton's attorneys apparently began talking secretly about settlement terms. Cammarata says he had planned to keep Willey in his "back pocket" and perhaps use her as a negotiating tool with the President's attorneys. The leak's aftermath changed the dynamic of the case, making it more political than legal, Cammarata says. His subpoena gave Newsweek the legitimate news "hook" the magazine needed to publish its first Willey story, in the August 11, 1997, issue. Isikoff finessed his off-the-record agreement with Willey by reporting the contours of her story without quoting her. It was a curious piece of journalism. Two people who Willey said could corroborate her account--Steele and Tripp--undercut it. Willey's attorney, Gecker, was quoted saying she had "no information relevant to the Paula Jones case," and that she was "outraged" to be drawn into it--even though Willey had told Isikoff her story in Gecker's office a few months earlier, and Cammarata says he and Gecker had been talking about Willey's possible cooperation in the case. Gecker also was quoted saying Willey "had and continues to have a very good relationship with the President." In the months that followed, Gecker and Willey repeatedly advanced the idea--widely adopted by news media--that Willey was a "reluctant witness." They began a highly publicized effort to quash the subpoena.

Willey also continued to convey the impression that she wanted to protect the President. Gecker had contacted Bob Bennett, the attorney representing Clinton in the Jones case, before Newsweek published its August 11 article. Bennett provided Gecker with fax numbers of Newsweek editors. On August 1 Gecker wrote Isikoff. He didn't mention Willey's interview. He simply said Willey "has made every attempt to eschew publicity," and he threatened legal action for "invasion of her privacy" if Newsweek published a story about her.

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