March 19, 1998 in Nation/World

Friend Swears Willey Asked Her To Lie Woman Says Ex-White House Volunteer Wanted Corroboration Of Allegations Against Clinton

John M. Broder New York Times

Julie Hiatt Steele, a friend of Kathleen Willey, released a sworn affidavit on Wednesday night, accusing the former White House aide of asking her to lie to corroborate Willey’s account of being sexually groped by President Clinton in the Oval Office.

The affidavit repeats Steele’s earlier contention that in conversations shortly after Willey’s meeting at the White House in 1993, Willey “never said anything to suggest that President Clinton made sexual advances towards her or otherwise acted inappropriately in her presence.”

The timing of the release of Steele’s affidavit coincides with this week’s concerted effort by the White House to control the damage from Willey’s graphic account on the CBS news program “60 Minutes” on Sunday evening of the alleged sexual encounter with the president.

The White House earlier this week released a series of letters from Willey to the president that portrayed a warm relationship and gave no hint that anything untoward had occurred between them.

Steele’s conflicting account had been generally disclosed previously. But Willey’s characterization of her friend on the “60 Minutes” program appears to have been the catalyst for Steele’s decision to release the affadavit, which had been given on Feb. 13 in the Paula Jones sexual misconduct case against Clinton.

In the television interview, Willey was asked about Steele’s version of events, and said: “The White House wanted to try to discredit me and they found a pawn in her.”

A short statement attached to the affidavit on Wednesday night calls Steele “nobody’s pawn.”

Her lawyer, Nancy Luque, said on Wednesday night that Steele “felt no pressure” when the president’s lawyers initially sought her affidavit as part of their attempt to question Willey’s credibility in the Jones case.

Likewise, Luque said, the White House did not influence Steele’s decision to release her affidavit. “It’s my view that Julie’s story was not adequately represented on 60 Minutes,” she said. “That’s why I wanted to release the affidavit. That decision was solely mine and Julie’s. We took no direction from the White House and won’t in the future.”

Steele and Willey have known each other for 20 years, but they are now pitted against each other. Steele’s affidavit could also be used to undercut the assertions by the Jones legal team that Willey’s encounter with the president confirms a pattern of sexually harassing female subordinates.

Willey’s account of her meeting with Clinton first surfaced publicly in Newsweek magazine last summer, a few months after Willey had approached Steele for corroboration, according to Steele’s affidavit. It said Willey had called her to tell her that she had just told Michael Isikoff, a reporter for Newsweek, that the president “had ‘groped’ her and pulled at her clothing.”

Willey wanted Isikoff to hear that Steele had learned of these events four years earlier, and asked Steele to say that Willey went to her home shortly after the meeting with Clinton on Nov. 29, 1993, the affidavit states. She said Willey asked her to “describe her demeanor as ‘upset,’ ‘humiliated,’ ‘disappointed,’ and ‘harassed,’ ” according to the affidavit.

“I told Ms. Willey that I could not make such statements because she had not come to my house that day and had never told me of any sexual advances by President Clinton,” Steele says in her affidavit. “She repeatedly assured me that any discussion with Isikoff would be ‘off the record’ and that it would be all right if I lied to him. She told me she needed me to do this for her and that she would explain later.”

Isikoff arrived later that day and Steele told the story as Willey had requested. Three months later, in July, Steele told Isikoff that “Ms. Willey had asked me to lie to support her version of the event and that I had, in fact, done so.”

Willey’s attorney, Daniel Gecker of Richmond, did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

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