Too many lies are being told. Too many lives are being ruined. And, I–I think it’s time for the truth to come out. –Kathleen Willey to Ed Bradley on 60 Minutes, March 15, 1998, in response to his question about why she decided to go public
On May 3 Julie Hiatt Steele goes on trial on federal charges that could result in her spending thirty-five years in jail. What’s at the heart of her alleged crime? Telling a journalist and independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s grand juries that Kathleen Willey–the Virginia woman who claims she was a victim of an unwanted advance from President Clinton, and who became a key element in Starr’s effort to impeach the President–is a liar.
Since Willey’s allegations came to light in July 1997–when the Internet gossip column Drudge Report said Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff was “hot on the trail of a woman who claims to have been sexually propositioned by the President on federal property”–Willey, 52, has taken center stage at strategic times in the Clinton drama. Her account has advanced the narrative, heightened the tension and increased suspicion that Clinton’s behavior was worse than the public suspected.
Steele, who says Willey asked her to lie to Newsweek and say Willey had told her about an unwelcome encounter, has been indicted for obstruction of justice and making false statements. She is the only person ever to be indicted in connection with the Monica Lewinsky affair. During the past year Steele, her daughter, her brother, her accountant and her attorney have been summoned before one of Starr’s grand juries. Her telephone records, bank records, tax records and credit history have been subpoenaed. Her friends and neighbors have been questioned by Starr’s investigators. Starr’s staff has gathered so much information that a room in the independent counsel’s office has been labeled the Steele Discovery Room. Steele, 52, says she lost her job because of the publicity, her health has deteriorated and she may lose her home. Even the circumstances of her legal adoption of an infant Romanian orphan have been questioned.
But the story of Kathleen Willey, a former White House volunteer, and her erstwhile friend Julie Hiatt Steele is much more than the story of two women drawn into a political scandal. The story of how these women became crucial players in the independent counsel’s investigation provides graphic detail about the lengths to which Starr and his staff were willing to go in their efforts to find evidence that could impeach the President. It reveals the pressures Starr has brought to bear against ordinary citizens such as Steele, a Virginia woman who has never been involved in politics and whose only connection to his investigation is her consistent refusal under oath to back Willey’s story.
Throughout his investigation to determine whether the President or others lied or obstructed justice in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit, Starr has handled Willey like an important witness–a Clinton supporter with a dignified demeanor and no apparent ax to grind, who could be brought forward, if necessary, to make the case against the President. Willey is the only person other than Jones who has ever publicly claimed Clinton made an unwanted advance in the workplace, a claim Clinton has emphatically denied. Starr’s prosecutors took time from Clinton’s four-hour grand jury testimony last August to ask Clinton about Willey’s allegations. After sending his impeachment referral to the House last fall, Starr–who has said he never even met Monica Lewinsky–conferred privately with Willey. Shortly before Clinton was impeached, Starr asked House leaders to keep information about Willey secret because disclosure “would jeopardize several ongoing matters.” In January Starr’s prosecutors asked the judge in Steele’s case to require her attorneys to keep much discovery information about Willey confidential to protect their “ongoing investigations.” These investigations include looking into whether anyone–including people connected with the White House–tried to influence Willey’s testimony in the Jones case or to obstruct justice in Starr’s probe.
Willey’s credibility is at the heart of Steele’s indictment and Starr’s related investigations. In court papers filed in Steele’s case, Starr’s prosecutors say Kathleen Willey is a truth-teller. But a Nation investigation, based on well-placed confidential sources, dozens of interviews and a review of thousands of pages of documents, has found evidence–which Starr either knew about or should have known about–that raises serious doubts about Willey’s credibility. This, in turn, raises grave concerns about the integrity of Starr’s probe and whether he abused his power by indicting Steele.
Although a distraught Willey said on 60 Minutes that she considered giving Clinton “a good slap across the face” after the alleged advance, the evidence suggests she was not the victim of an unwanted advance, as she has claimed publicly and under oath, and that she was actively seeking a sexual relationship with the President. The Nation has learned of six people who say Willey told them she was thrilled by an alleged encounter with the President. Starr is aware of at least five of these people. In fact, a knowledgeable source believes Starr’s investigators found only one person, a close friend of Willey’s, who generally supports Willey’s claim that she was upset by an alleged advance. Starr’s key witness, Linda Tripp–who became friends with Willey when they both worked at the White House–told Starr’s grand jury that Willey plotted for months about how to start an affair with Clinton. Willey’s former friend Harolyn Cardozo told the grand jury that Willey speculated she might become the President’s mistress. Another person who knew Willey at the White House, Marlene MacDonald, a former press-office employee, told Starr’s investigators that Willey was attracted to the President and that she had mentioned a welcomed encounter long after the incident allegedly occurred. Given Willey’s statements to her, MacDonald said she found Willey’s 60 Minutes claims unbelievable.
Despite claiming to be a reluctant witness in the Jones case, Willey may have choreographed some events that made her story both public and marketable. Although Willey told 60 Minutes‘s Ed Bradley that she had planned to take her story to her grave, Lynn Nesbit, a top New York agent, confirms that Willey tried to sell her story before it had ever been made public. Records show that Willey called the agency at least two months before the first Newsweek article about her was published.
Furthermore, Willey also appears to have made a number of misleading, evasive or possibly false statements under oath in her January 11, 1998, deposition in the Jones case. A review of papers filed in that case indicates that Willey was not forthcoming in some dealings with two federal judges, repeatedly saying in court documents that she had no relevant information when in fact she had secretly cooperated, through her attorney, with Jones’s lawyers before any aspect of her story had become public. If Starr’s investigators had carefully reviewed documents they had relating to extensive legal actions involving Willey’s efforts to avoid paying a $274,000 debt, they could have seen red flags. The evidence suggests she made a number of misleading and evasive statements under oath during those proceedings.
Despite questions about Willey’s veracity, Starr chose to indict Steele for making false statements and obstructing justice in the Jones case. Starr contends that Steele lied when, at the request of Clinton’s legal team, she signed an affidavit for the Jones case–never actually filed–saying Willey had never told her about an unwelcome advance by the President and that Willey asked her to lie and support this allegation.
The evidence suggests that Starr decided soon after the Lewinsky story broke on January 21, 1998, to believe Willey’s allegations about the President, and that he was so anxious to get her testimony that he gave her an unusual transactional immunity agreement in exchange for her cooperation. Several former prosecutors, including Lawrence Barcella, an assistant US Attorney for sixteen years, say transactional immunity, which grants complete immunity from prosecution, is given rarely and only after establishing a witness is crucial and very credible.
Starr said Willey would not be prosecuted “for any offense arising out of” his investigation, including her deposition in the Jones lawsuit. Willey’s agreement says she was given immunity at her lawyer’s request “out of an abundance of caution and not because you believe you intentionally answered any question incorrectly nor committed any offense.” Starr also promised not to give any incriminating information that might be found to any other jurisdiction. Former federal prosecutors say it is unusual to grant such sweeping immunity unless the witness acknowledges a crime that warrants it.
What Starr Knew
Willey was given this agreement even though Starr should have known she made what appear to be a number of misleading or evasive statements in the Jones case and even though Starr’s investigators had interviewed Linda Tripp–who undercut Willey’s claims–five times before the agreement was signed on March 6, 1998.
According to FBI interviews, Tripp said Willey not only was lying about an unwanted advance from the President but also had been trying to entice him into a sexual relationship. Tripp said, “Willey described several ways she would pursue the President. Willey would arrange to cover evening social functions where the President would be present” and tried to attract his attention with outfits such as “a particular black dress which accentuated” her cleavage. Tripp says Willey discussed places she and the President might rendezvous. Tripp testified that she saw Willey after her meeting with the President and that Willey “smiled from ear to ear the entire time. She seemed almost shocked, but happy shocked.”
Despite grand jury testimony from Tripp and others who raised doubts about Willey’s credibility, Starr continued to rely on her. Willey’s allegations on 60 Minutes shocked the country, and many members of Congress and the media assumed she would be part of any impeachment referral he might make. But Starr had several problems. Only Clinton and Willey know for sure what happened the afternoon they met, but Starr had evidence damaging to both. Some evidence suggested Clinton may have lied in his Jones deposition and grand jury testimony when he said he had never made a sexual advance to Willey. But Starr also had evidence indicating that Willey–like Monica Lewinsky–was trying to entice the President into an affair, and that if anything happened, she welcomed it. Starr also had another big problem, according to information pieced together by The Nation. He was preparing an impeachment referral on Clinton for lying about a sexual affair, but his investigators had learned Willey lied to them about one of her sexual relationships–an affair reported by Time that suggested Willey could be deceptive and vindictive.
A well-placed source says that last September, Starr’s investigators confronted Willey, who had told them that the March 30, 1998, Time article–which reported that Willey had concocted a scheme to punish her lover by claiming she was pregnant when she wasn’t–was completely false. On September 4 the investigators told Willey that they had interviewed Shaun Docking, the man she had been involved with, and knew Willey had been untruthful with them. Willey acknowledged she had lied to them, but insisted she had been truthful about everything else, including her allegations about Clinton, and offered to take a polygraph test.
On September 9 Willey took a lie detector test, which focused on her allegations about Clinton and Steele. She had serious problems with that test but reportedly passed a second one on September 15. However, experts say that to understand a test’s significance, it is important to know how questions were phrased, their relevance to the investigation and whether the same questions were asked in both tests–information Starr has not made public. In court, one of Steele’s attorneys, Eric Dubelier, a former Starr prosecutor, characterized the polygraph results of one of Starr’s key witnesses as a “substantial” problem. The Nation has learned he was referring to Willey. The magazine has also learned that Willey was never asked the question that would have gotten at the truth of her core allegation: Did the President make an unwelcome sexual advance?
Despite these serious questions about Willey’s veracity, Starr continued to press Steele. Steele’s lead attorney, Nancy Luque, says that in a private meeting on November 9, Starr’s prosecutor David Barger repeatedly pressured Steele to change her story, suggesting she could avoid prosecution if she would simply say Willey had told her something about a sexual advance from Clinton. Any form of corroboration would have satisfied him, Luque believes, as long as Steele would stop saying Willey asked her to lie. (When Steele testified on April 2 of this year about Starr’s tactics at Whitewater defendant Susan McDougal’s trial, she told the jury she felt she could have avoided indictment “by changing my story.”) Steele “left the meeting in tears.”
Four days after that meeting, as House Judiciary Committee Republicans were seeking as much evidence as possible to impeach Clinton, Starr responded to their request to forward his investigative files on Willey, who had not been part of his referral.
One source knowledgeable about Starr’s investigation says Republicans discovered that Starr’s own evidence includes “many witnesses” who found Willey’s 60 Minutes claims of an unwelcome advance “highly dubious given her previous statements to them.” Starr could never have used Willey in an impeachment referral, the source says, because his files paint “a picture that raises enormous questions about Kathleen Willey’s credibility.” But Starr asked the House to keep the files secret, so the public was never told this. Instead, Starr, aided by the press, helped maintain the impression that–after the Lewinsky referral–Willey might be the next shoe to drop.
During this period David Schippers, the chief Republican impeachment investigator, interviewed Willey, acccording to press reports. But plans to call her to testify were reportedly scrapped after strong objections by Starr, who said her appearance could jeopardize his continuing investigation.
During this time, Steele says, Starr’s prosecutors continued pressuring her. When Starr testified during the impeachment hearings on November 19 and was asked by the President’s attorney, David Kendall, whether his investigators had raised questions about Steele’s adoption of a Romanian orphan, Starr became visibly angry. The following day Barger wrote Luque giving her four days to provide reasons why Steele should not be indicted.
On January 7, the day Clinton’s impeachment trial began, Julie Hiatt Steele was indicted. The next day the Associated Press reported that “House Republican officials said consideration was being given to trying to have Kathleen Willey summoned as a witness” in Clinton’s trial. Three days later two House managers, Representatives Asa Hutchinson and Lindsey Graham, met privately with Willey and her attorney. Because Willey had not been part of Starr’s referral, Hutchinson said they decided her allegations “were not clearly related” to the articles of impeachment approved by the House.
Starr’s zealous pursuit of a peripheral figure like Steele has left Washington lawyers mystified. Steele insists she is telling the truth about Willey, but even if she is dissembling, Starr’s own files contain extensive evidence Willey may not have been truthful about many aspects of her story, including her claims about Steele. For example, Steele says Willey called her after a meeting with Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff and asked Steele to support her story. A knowledgeable source says Willey initially denied making that call, but when Starr’s investigators confronted her with cell-phone records showing she had called Steele, Willey said she didn’t remember.
Although Starr has never stated what Steele’s motive to lie might be, the indictment suggests he’s convinced she was pressured by the White House to contradict Willey. A Washington Post editorial noted the prosecutor’s “impeccable timing,” suggesting the indictment was actually intended to telegraph a message to the senators acting as jurors, as well as to the court of public opinion: If not for Julie Hiatt Steele, Kathleen Willey would be one more reason to convict Clinton.
Starr hasn’t said whether he will call Willey to testify at Steele’s trial. Deputy independent counsel Edward Page says that because of Virginia court and grand jury secrecy rules, Starr’s office will not comment on any aspect of the case. Willey’s attorney, Daniel Gecker, said neither he nor Willey could comment for the record. However, Starr’s prosecutors have indicated they will call at least two witnesses to try to prove that Steele lied when she said Willey never told her Clinton had groped her. But Michael Morchower, a former FBI agent and federal prosecutor who represents one of Starr’s key witnesses, “Jane Doe #1,” said in a recent interview that the case is “about a bunch of gossip among a group of women” whose “chitchat” got twisted.
Pursuing A President
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Selling Her Story
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.
The public learned Monica Lewinsky’s name on January 21 in news reports of Starr’s probe. Gecker moved quickly to see whether Willey could capitalize on the news. Michael Viner, president of New Millennium Media, has said Gecker called that day to explore a book deal for Willey. Viner said in an interview that they talked almost every week until Willey appeared on 60 Minutes in March. Viner says Gecker told him Willey’s story was about a close, personal, affectionate relationship with the President, a man she would never hurt.
Richard Gooding of Star says Gecker also called him on January 21 and said that if Star wanted Willey’s story and personal pictures, his offer would have to be well over $300,000 so that Willey would have money left over after paying her debts. Gooding says he told Gecker that Willey would have to tell “a hell of a story” for that kind of money. On February 6 Gooding says he faxed Gecker an agreement promising to keep her story confidential and suggesting the three of them meet so he could assess her story’s value, but he never received a response.
On February 16 Willey amended her deposition in the Jones case, four days after the deadline. During her deposition, a Jones attorney had asked Willey whether she had discussed her testimony with anyone. After clarifying the question, Willey replied that except for her lawyer, “no.” In her amendment, Willey said, “Nate Landow discussed my testimony with me.” The last-minute change apparently led Starr to begin investigating whether Landow had pressured Willey to change her story. Landow’s attorneys have said the allegation is “categorically false.”
On February 18 the press reported that Starr had subpoenaed Willey. On March 6, Willey was given the unusual immunity agreement. On March 10 she testified before the grand jury, after making a dramatic entrance in a van with members of Starr’s team. On March 15 she presented her explosive story on 60 Minutes, giving the show its highest ratings in three years. Many commentators described her interview as sincere and convincing.
Michael Viner says Gecker called him two days before Willey’s television debut and said she hoped doing 60 Minutes would make her a more valuable commodity. Gecker told one reporter that Willey did 60 Minutes to affirm her credibility, and he told USA Today he hoped to get her millions. Viner made it clear in media interviews after the program aired that Gecker had related a substantially different story about Willey’s involvement with the President than the one Willey had just told the country. Viner assumed he would be contacted by Starr’s investigators to discuss these differences, but says no one ever called.
A comparison of statements Willey made on 60 Minutes with statements she gave in the Jones case and in civil suits in Virginia reveals more than a dozen discrepancies. Many may not seem significant in themselves, but together they suggest she was engaging in repeated evasions or deceptions.For example, in her Jones deposition, Willey said she worked as a legal assistant from about 1984 to 1993. However, in legal documents involving her debts, Willey acknowledged that even though she had received significant sums of money and W-2s from her husband’s law practice, she had never worked in a law office and had never been a paralegal.
Asked during her Jones deposition whether she had asked the White House to keep her “in mind concerning possible federal employment,” Willey answered, “No.” However, letters released by the White House show that she asked Clinton to consider her for various jobs, including an ambassadorship and a position with his re-election campaign. White House records show that after the alleged sexual incident, she called Clinton’s office several times asking to meet with him, and she sent him nine friendly letters, the most recent in November 1996. In one letter she said she was his “number one fan.” Willey also said in her deposition and on 60 Minutes that she had told Clinton about her family financial crisis the day of the alleged advance. But in a 1995 legal document regarding her debts, she said she “did not talk with anyone at the White House” that day about her financial problems.
Willey told the Jones attorneys she couldn’t recall whether she had talked to Tripp about the alleged sexual encounter. But she told Isikoff and 60 Minutes that she had, and Tripp told FBI agents they talked extensively moments after the incident allegedly occurred, again that night and many times in the days that followed.
Willey dismissed Tripp’s statements on 60 Minutes. She countered Tripp’s comment to Newsweek that she looked “joyful” after her meeting with Clinton by saying she uses humor in tense situations. Willey said Tripp was “very upset, very bitter” after Willey was given a job in the White House Counsel’s Office while Tripp was moved to the Pentagon.
Even though Willey had arranged her off-the-record interview that was the basis of the Newsweek story first revealing her allegation, she told Jones’s attorneys that she had told her grown daughter she “did not participate” in the article and that it was “just a lot of garbage.” After the March 15 60 Minutes interview, questions about Willey’s credibility surfaced when the White House released a stack of effusive letters she had sent Clinton. Time reported in its March 30 issue that in 1995 Willey devised a scheme to punish a lover, a soccer coach, for spoiling her Fourth of July plans. Willey reportedly told Shaun Docking that she was pregnant with his twins when she was not, and eventually agreed to an “abortion.” The day the procedure was scheduled, Steele has said, Willey feigned an emotional crisis, telling him she could not terminate her “pregnancy.” A well-placed source says Willey told Starr’s office she had never had a sexual relationship with the coach and acknowledged it only after federal agents interviewed Docking and confronted Willey the first week in September as Starr was preparing his impeachment referral. The source says Willey told investigators she had not been forthcoming because she was embarrassed about the age difference (eighteen years, according to Time) between her and Docking. Willey denied Steele’s claim that Willey had asked Steele to tell Docking she had a miscarriage. Willey then offered to take the controversial polygraph.
In the days after Willey’s appearances before the grand jury and on 60 Minutes, Starr’s focus on Steele intensified. In late January 1998, one of the President’s lawyers had asked Steele whether she would be willing to prepare an affidavit for the Jones case. In the affidavit–which was never submitted to the court–Steele explained that she had lied to Newsweek at Willey’s behest, but that she recanted her statements to the magazine before the first article about the alleged incident was published. A few weeks later, on March 9, 1998, Newsweek ran an article by Isikoff and Evan Thomas challenging Steele’s credibility because she had sold a snapshot of Willey and Clinton to the National Enquirer months earlier. What the story didn’t say is that Isikoff had asked her to give Newsweek the photo. The day after the Newsweek article appeared, Willey testified before the grand jury, and FBI agents interviewed Steele for the independent counsel. They talked to her about why she had changed her story about Willey, why she had signed an affidavit for the President’s attorneys and why she had contacted the National Enquirer.
A week later Willey said on 60 Minutes that she thought Steele changed her story because she had been “pressured.” “I think the White House wanted to try to discredit me, and they found a pawn in her.” Steele says that’s ridiculous–she had recanted seven months earlier, before Newsweek published its first Willey article and Steele’s name became public.
Because Steele and her lawyer believed 60 Minutes and Willey falsely suggested Steele had caved in to White House pressure to change her story, Nancy Luque released Steele’s full affidavit–which had never been public–to correct the record. Luque says Starr’s office was furious and suggested she and Steele were tools of the White House.
In May 1998 Steele received a grand jury subpoena from Starr to testify and produce documents. The independent counsel’s office assured her she was a “witness,” not a “target or a subject of this grand jury investigation.” On June 11 Steele told the grand jury what she had told Newsweek and the FBI: Willey asked her to lie and say she had told her about an unwelcome advance from the President. Steele also testified that she had agreed to provide an affidavit to the President’s attorneys because “I had a moral responsibility to tell the truth.” After her testimony, she publicly apologized to Clinton and his family, saying that although she “did not vote for Mr. Clinton,” she deeply regretted that “my mistakes were used” to harm them. During the summer, Steele received two more grand jury subpoenas and a notice that Starr had changed her status from “witness” to “subject” of a grand jury investigation.
On November 1 a New York Times story focused on questions about Starr’s apparent excesses concerning Steele, “a peripheral figure.” Times columnist Anthony Lewis wrote on November 3 that he thought Starr wanted to “break” Steele because she stood in the way of his objective to “send the House Judiciary Committee another reason to impeach President Clinton: that he lied in denying the pass at Kathleen Willey.”
The next day, Luque wrote Starr questioning the scope of his investigation, stating, “Mrs. Steele is simply not relevant to your investigation, except to the extent she sheds light on Ms. Willey’s credibility.” She expressed concern that associate independent counsels David Barger and Darrell Joseph had engaged in “prosecutorial misconduct.” The letter was hand-delivered to Starr’s office. Four hours later, Barger faxed Luque a letter saying Steele was now a “target” of the investigation. He added, “Do not assume that my failure, at this time, to address your recent personal attacks on me suggests, in any way, that I believe those attacks have merit. They do not.” On November 19 Starr testified at Clinton’s impeachment hearing and was angered by questions about Steele. The next day Barger gave Luque four days to provide evidence why Steele shouldn’t be indicted. This past January 7, the day Clinton’s impeachment trial began, Julie Hiatt Steele was indicted. The Washington Post called the indictment “mystifying” and “disturbing.”
Steele said on Larry King Live that she was “stunned” by the indictment, which she learned about while watching CNN. She told King that she “will continue to believe that…if truth and justice matter,” she will not be convicted. But Steele added a warning: The truth, she said, is that “if this could happen to me, it could happen to anyone.”