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.