For four years after what she has described as an unwanted sexual advance by President Clinton, former White House volunteer Kathleen Willey wrote and called him, often admiringly, asking for jobs and calling herself his “No. 1 fan.”
The White House released letters and phone logs Monday to try to undermine Willey’s credibility. In an explosive “60 Minutes” interview Sunday, Willey said the president had hugged, kissed and fondled her when she went to the Oval Office on Nov. 29, 1993, to ask him for a paid job.
Clinton himself publicly denied Willey’s accusation and said he stands by the version he gave in his deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit.
“I am mystified and disappointed by this turn of events,” Clinton told reporters during an education event at a Maryland school. “I can just tell you that I have done everything I could do to clarify the situation. I have a very clear memory of the meeting. And I told the truth.”
In his Jan. 17 deposition, Clinton said he met with Willey at her request and hugged her in a supporting way. He said he kissed her on the forehead, but he denied any sexual impropriety.
Willey’s accusation is a significant development in both the Jones lawsuit and independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s criminal investigation into alleged sex and lies at the White House, according to legal experts.
“Willey is a nightmare witness for the Clinton defense team in both the civil and criminal cases,” said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University.
“The Clinton administration’s attack on Willey is a continuation of the scorched-earth policy for witnesses in the case. If you cooperate with the president, the White House helps secure a lawyer and a joint defense agreement. If you testify against the White House, you find yourself at Ground Zero in a comprehensive attack on your character.”
The White House attempt to discredit Willey began with appearances by White House communications director Ann Lewis on the morning news shows. On NBC’s “Today” show, Lewis said Willey came to see her several times in 1996 and called her several times to say how much she wanted to work for the president’s re-election.
“She made a point of telling me then very positively how much she admired the president, how proud she was to have been part of his campaign in 1992,” Lewis said.
The White House later released the letters and phone logs to buttress Lewis’ televised remarks.
In one letter, written less than a month after the encounter, Willey wrote Clinton to wish him “a wonderful” first Christmas in the White House. “Thank you for the opportunity to work in this great house,” she wrote.
Bruce Yannett, a former federal prosecutor in the Iran-Contra case, said the letters and telephone calls by Willey raise questions but don’t destroy her credibility as a witness. There is a distinction, he said, between Willey and Jones, who is suing the president for millions of dollars.
“Kathleen Willey has not brought such a suit and is not claiming long-term emotional damage,” Yannett said. “It seems those letters would be relevant as to what her state of mind was after the incident, but don’t cast light one way or another as to whether the incident took place.”
In the Jones case, Willey is a sympathetic witness who would describe a pattern similar to that of Paula Jones - both women describe actual physical contact between Clinton and a subordinate employee.
“Willey’s testimony is clearly relevant to the issue of whether the president has used his office and position to engage in sexual harassment,” Turley said. “The Willey testimony would not prove the case for Jones, but it certainly would damage the president’s credibility. She would put a sharp choice before any jury. If a jury found her testimony credible, it would be difficult not to discount the president’s.”
Jane Aiken, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis and an expert on sexual harassment evidence, said the Willey information increases the probability that the Jones camp will survive the president’s motion to dismiss the case because there is a question of facts that need to be aired in a trial.
But Aiken said Jones still has problems connecting her circumstances to Willey’s because they are very different.
“Paula Jones still has to show that her job circumstance was affected,” she said. “She still has to focus on the alleged acts in her case, and she hasn’t shown enough causation. She may be able to show this is a man with a sexual acting-out problem, but not directly that it is tied to employment benefits.”
Willey might be even more helpful in Starr’s criminal investigation of whether Clinton had an affair with former intern Monica Lewinsky and urged her to lie about it.
“Obviously, the Kathleen Willey testimony opens up a whole, new line of inquiry for the Starr office,” Yannett said. “Starr has more homework to do. Based on what is publicly known, it doesn’t bolster their case. But it is an allegation worthy of investigation.”