March 16, 1998 in Nation/World

President Deserved ‘Good Slap’ Woman Details Oval Office Groping; Untrue, Clinton Says

Pete Yost Associated Press
 

Calling President Clinton a liar in a compelling television interview, Kathleen Willey said Sunday night that she felt overpowered by his sexual advance against her in the White House and was so startled she wanted “to just give him a good slap across the face.”

“I just could not believe … the recklessness” of Clinton in groping her as she met with him in 1993 at a time when Willey’s husband faced financial ruin, Willey said. Her husband killed himself the same day she went to the Oval Office to tell the president she needed a job, though neither knew it at the time.

Clinton “kissed me on my mouth and pulled me closer to him,” Willey said in a 40-minute interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

“And … I remember thinking … ‘what in the world is he doing?’ He touched my breasts with his hand … and he whispered … ‘I’ve wanted to do this ever since I laid eyes on you,”’ she said.

“I didn’t feel intimidated. I just felt overpowered,” Willey, 51, said of the incident. She noted that Clinton is a big man and said he was holding her tightly in an embrace just off the Oval Office - in a hallway leading to the president’s private study.

Willey said the story she was telling before a nationwide television audience was the same one she swore to before a grand jury last week in Kenneth Starr’s investigation. Clinton, meanwhile, has sworn in a deposition that what Willey says happened did not happen. The conflicts in their stories mean that one of them has committed perjury, in Clinton’s case a potentially impeachable offense.

With Willey’s account now an important element in the Paula Jones lawsuit and Starr’s criminal investigation, Clinton supporters attacked her, saying she and other witnesses have given differing accounts of her 1993 Oval Office meeting with the president. Clinton denies any sexual encounter but says he may have kissed her on the forehead because she was so distressed about her family’s economic situation.

Clinton is lying? Willey was asked.

“Yes,” she replied.

Willey said the president placed one of her hands on his genitals and “that’s when I pushed away from him and … decided it was time to get out of there.”

“It was kind of like I was watching it in slow motion. … And, at the same time … I thought, ‘Well, maybe I ought to just give him a good slap across the face,”’ said Willey. “And then I thought, ‘Well, I don’t think you can slap the President of the United States.”’ Asked why she is now going public with a story she once resisted telling, Willey said that “too many lies are being told, too many lives are being ruined. … I think it’s time for the truth to come out.”

White House spokesman James Kennedy said that “over the last four years, the president and Mrs. Willey continued to have a friendly relationship. … He has no idea why she said what she did or whether she now believes that’s what happened.”

Clinton’s lawyer in the Paula Jones case, Robert Bennett, said “there is substantial material of what she has said which is under seal, which has not been released, which seriously undercuts her claims in the Paula Jones case,” Bennett said on ABC’s “This Week with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts.”

“I think in fairness it’s important … to note that there have been at least five versions of this encounter,” former White House counsel Jack Quinn said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Bennett said the president is “bewildered” by Willey’s accusations.

Two sources close to Clinton’s defense, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that after the alleged incident, Mrs. Willey wrote Clinton and his personal assistant, Nancy Hernreich “several times” and called “on several occasions” seeking to speak or meet with the president.

The tone of her letters was “consistently friendly and admiring,” said one of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. In addition, she asked Hernreich in November 1997, two months before her deposition, for an invitation to a White House Christmas party hosted by the Clintons, both officials said.

In her testimony in the Jones case in January, Willey said that “to the best of my recollection,” she had not communicated with Clinton since leaving the White House.

“I have gone over this so many times,” Willey said. “Did I bring this on? Did I send … the wrong signal? The only signals that I was sending that day was that I was very upset, very distraught, and I needed to help my husband.”

“It’s not just sexual harassment; if it’s true, it’s sexual assault,” Patricia Ireland of the National Organization for Women said on CNN’s “Late Edition.” NOW has been criticized for failing to support Paula Jones in her lawsuit against Clinton, especially after the organization strongly denounced Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, during his 1991 nomination hearings, for alleged sexual harassment of Anita Hill.

Willey’s accusation “if true” is “certainly a much bigger problem than a question of womanizing or a private sex life,” Ireland added.

Newsweek reported Sunday that Willey told the Whitewater grand jury last week that she spent two days at the estate of Democratic fund-raiser Nathan Landow and he repeatedly pressed her not to say anything about her version of the encounter with Clinton. Newsweek also said FBI agents obtained records showing that last Oct. 6, Landow’s real estate firm chartered a plane to fly Willey from her home near Richmond, Va., to Landow’s estate on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Landow says he spoke to Willey about her “mental anguish” over the Jones case but says any suggestions of witness tampering are “absolutely untrue.”

When Willey testified Jan. 11 in the Jones case, she said no one had encouraged her not to talk about the meeting with Clinton. She subsequently filed a written change to her testimony to state instead that “Nate Landow discussed my upcoming deposition with me.”

On “60 Minutes,” Willey declined to talk in detail about Landow, but she described talking to Bennett.

“I felt pressured by Mr. Bennett,” said Willey. “He mentioned that he had just … been at the White House, and … the president asked for me and told him … that he just thought the world of me. And, he said, ‘now, this … was not sexual harassment, was it?’ And, I didn’t answer him. And he said, ‘Well … it wasn’t unwelcome, was it?’ And I said to him, ‘It was unwelcome and unexpected.”’

Willey was a major witness last week in Starr’s grand jury probe of whether the president was involved in a cover-up of an alleged affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Rep. Bob Livingston, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said time is drawing short for the House to consider this year any material from Whitewater prosecutors regarding Clinton. It’s possible the matter could carry over into the next term of Congress, said Livingston, R-La.

“We only have 65 days in the legislative session for this current term,” Livingston said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We have to look at the possibility this may continue into the next term.”

Under the law, if Starr has substantial and credible information that may constitute grounds for impeachment, the prosecutor must inform the House.

The “60 Minutes” interview generated an unusual amount of attention. Competitor ABC referred to “a potentially crippling interview on CBS” in its own Sunday evening news shortly before “60 Minutes” aired, and NBC reported on its own evening news that Willey “tells her story in a television interview this evening” - without naming CBS.

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