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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.

Selling Her Story

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...

What the White House apparently didn't know was that Willey had been working behind the scenes to capitalize on public interest in the Jones case. In early June 1997--just weeks after she met with Isikoff and "reluctantly" told her story "off the record"--Willey telephoned two of the country's premier New York literary agencies, records obtained by federal investigators show. Lynn Nesbit of Janklow & Nesbit says Willey wanted the firm to represent her on a memoir that would focus in part on what led to her husband's tragic death and Clinton's unwelcome grope. Willey said she had never intended to go public with her story, but knew that Newsweek was going to break it, and thought she should explore selling it herself. Willey seemed "desperate" for money, but the agency didn't think her story warranted a book.

Steele says Willey told her at the time she might write a novel about a White House volunteer who has an affair with the President, who eventually has her husband murdered. Steele says Willey planned to include news articles about Ed's death in the package she sent to agents.

After the Drudge leak but before Isikoff's article appeared, Richard Gooding, senior editor for the tabloid Star--which had paid about $150,000 for Gennifer Flowers's story in 1992--headed for Richmond to pursue the Drudge leak. He says he began talking to Gecker about the financial potential of Willey's personal story. Gooding says they talked several times during the fall and winter of 1997 and that he had the impression that if Willey decided to sell her story, Star would be in the running.

Meanwhile, Gecker continued working with the President's attorneys. Their correspondence during several months--obtained by federal investigators--suggests Willey and Clinton are on the same team desperately fighting to keep her out of the Jones case. Bennett's office even faxed Gecker legal cases he could cite in briefs arguing that Willey should not be part of the case. However, Tripp told the grand jury "Willey really wanted to testify," and a November 21, 1997, telephone conversation Tripp taped with David Pyke, one of Jones's new lawyers, suggests that he, too, thought Willey's reluctance was a ruse. Pyke called Tripp because her adviser, literary agent Lucianne Goldberg, had told him Tripp had information about "a woman that's having a relationship with Clinton currently." In the taped conversation, Tripp discusses but does not name Lewinsky. Tripp wants to cooperate, she tells Pyke, but she doesn't want to appear to be cooperating with the Jones team. Pyke understands. "It could go into a Willey-type theory," although "that's drug on two months," says Pyke, who did not return phone calls seeking comment. Tripp didn't think her lawyer "would carry it that far."

About a month earlier, Willey had apparently felt besieged by the press attention and called Nathan Landow, the Democratic insider and father of her friend Harolyn Cardozo. According to one source familiar with Landow's account, she told him she was distraught about being dragged into the Jones case, invited herself for the weekend, said she was having car trouble and asked him to pay for a charter plane. During her visit at Landow's Maryland estate, Landow reportedly said something like, "You don't have to say anything"--but the source says that Landow, who is not close to the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party, was trying to console, not pressure, her. Landow would later regret Willey's visit, which led Starr to begin investigating whether he had tried to influence her Jones testimony. Willey declined to answer questions about Landow on 60 Minutes, but Newsweek reported that she told the grand jury he repeatedly pressed her about her version of the encounter, a claim Landow has vehemently denied.

During the late summer and fall of 1997, Willey continued submitting documents to the court asking that the Jones subpoena be quashed because she had no relevant information. An analysis of documents that have been made public shows that Willey submitted statements that appear to be less than forthcoming to two federal judges, US District Court Judge Susan Webber Wright, who was overseeing the Jones case in Little Rock, and US District Court Judge Robert Merhige Jr., who oversaw Willey's arguments to quash the subpoena, and later her deposition, in Richmond. For example, Willey says in an affidavit that she has "never communicated with Ms. Jones" about the lawsuit. But she does not reveal that her attorney had secret discussions with Jones's lawyer about how she might cooperate. She accuses Paula Jones of being on a "fishing expedition" and also tells the court "Jones' effort to manufacture a lawsuit and force a deposition based upon tabloid reports and innuendo should go no further." Referring to Isikoff's Newsweek article, which was based largely on Willey's off-the-record interview in her attorney's office, Willey says the article is "founded upon 'gossip.'" One of Willey's briefs states, "Mrs. Willey's position is straightforward: She has no knowledge and she possesses no information relevant to the issues" in the Jones case. She argues that to allow her "private life to be destroyed because of a single 'anonymous' telephone call placed to Ms. Jones' former counsel by an unidentified stranger is nothing short of outrageous." Court documents filed by Willey and Jones suggest there's a question about whether Willey is even the person referred to in the phone call to Cammarata. But there really was no doubt, because through her attorney, Willey had already told the Jones lawyers months earlier that she had a story to tell, and Cammarata says they had discussed ways to "preserve her testimony."

Willey finally gave her deposition on January 11, 1998. This was just six days before Clinton was deposed in the Jones case, saying he had never made an improper advance to Willey, and ten days before the Monica Lewinsky story broke in major news media. Willey's attorney had successfully petitioned the court to keep her testimony sealed to preserve her "privacy," which also preserved her story's marketability. During her videotaped deposition, Willey's account of what allegedly happened between her and the President was terse, unemotional and punctuated with "I don't recall"s and "I don't remember"s. She seemed tentative, with only a vague recollection of the encounter. For example, she said she couldn't remember whether Clinton was successful in kissing her. The tone and level of detail differed considerably from the "gripping and microscopic detail" Isikoff says she gave him months before, and the seamy details she would provide to 60 Minutes two months later.

However, there was one moment of high drama. Before Willey testified about Clinton allegedly placing her hand on his genitals, her attorney indicated the information was too sensitive for her to reveal in front of the judge's law clerks. Judge Merhige deferentially said, "There's no need for me to be in here," either. The President's attorney, Bob Bennett, quickly interjected, "I think Your Honor should be here." Newsweek reported that during a break, Willey said to Gecker, "It looks like the tango is over." Gecker asked, "Are you ready to do this?" "I guess so," she replied. "Now is the time."

Five days later, on January 16, 1998, a three-judge federal panel gave Starr permission to expand his jurisdiction to investigate whether anyone had suborned perjury, obstructed justice or intimidated witnesses in the Jones case.

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