Sparking The Scandal
The spotlight may have shifted, but Kathleen Willey is
at the critical core of the current White House crisis
By David Van Biema
(TIME, February 2) -- Were it not for her choice in prospective employers, Kathleen
Willey's story might have remained merely a small-bore American
tragedy. For decades the vivacious, attractive former flight
attendant enjoyed an enviable life. She was wed to an apparently
successful real estate lawyer named Edward E. Willey Jr., the
son of a powerful Virginia state legislator. The couple, who had
two children, skied Vail, drove luxury cars and plied such
Democratic social circles as befitted their connections and an
occasional $10,000 campaign contribution. For some years,
however, arguments over money had frayed the marriage, and on
Nov. 28, 1993, everything fell to pieces. Edward stood publicly
accused of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars;
Kathleen's name adorned some major promissory notes. They argued
bitterly, and the next morning she traveled to Washington to
interview for a job that might provide her with an independent
income. In her absence, Edward put a bullet through his head.
What made Willey's (the name rhymes with Millie) case singular
was that job interview. An acquaintance says Willey had long
flirted harmlessly with Bill Clinton while she was a White House
volunteer worker. But last August, Linda Tripp, then an
executive assistant in the White House counsel's office, told
Newsweek that on that Nov. 29, things went further. Tripp
recalled that she had encountered Willey wandering the West Wing
"disheveled. Her face was red, and her lipstick was off. She was
flustered, happy and joyful." Willey then allegedly told Tripp
that Clinton had taken her to an office hideaway, kissed and
fondled her. The story was consistent with a tale told to Paula
Jones' lawyer Joseph Cammarata by an anonymous caller claiming
to be the object of Clinton's attentions. The caller may not
have been Willey -- in fact, sources close to Willey believe it
was Tripp -- but Cammarata eventually tracked the Virginia
socialite down and subpoenaed her.
The episode caused a splash, in part because Clinton did help
Willey, if modestly: for 10 months she worked as a secretary in
the White House counsel's office, sitting next to Tripp. (Snipes
a former lawyer with the office: "She did even less than Linda.
She seemed to spend most of her time on the phone.") Later
Willey served, by explicit presidential appointment, as the only
non-expert member of U.S. delegations to Copenhagen and Jakarta,
unsalaried but comfortably accommodated. Her son Patrick was
accepted as a White House intern. Another intriguing point was a
seeming gaffe by presidential attorney Robert Bennett. Having
dubbed the alleged presidential grope "preposterous" and Tripp
"not to be believed," Bennett suggested that Clinton might have
been comforting Willey on her loss, which the media deemed
unlikely in light of the assertion by Tripp and at least one
other acquaintance that the job interview took place before
Willey learned -- a day after the suicide -- of her husband's death.
In early January, after resisting for months, the widow finally
capitulated to the Jones camp's subpoena and (as reported by the
Washington Post) testified under oath that Clinton had kissed
and groped her, saying, "I've always wanted to do that."
According to ABC News, she described Clinton's attentions as
unwanted, although a Willey acquaintance, agreeing with Tripp,
has told TIME that whatever happened in the West Wing that day,
it wasn't "unwelcome."
Willey still lives outside Richmond, Va., and has refused any
comment to the press. Mild public interest in her case was
easily overwhelmed last week by the uproar over Monica Lewinsky.
But the first story has become an integral part of the second.
Among the directives in the mysterious written "talking points"
that Tripp says Lewinsky passed along to her is one that
proposes, "You now find it completely plausible that [Willey]
herself smeared her lipstick, untucked her blouse, etc." If
Kenneth Starr is able to determine that this stage direction was
an inducement to perjury on the President's behalf, Clinton too
could come to recall November 1993 with a shudder.
--Reported by Viveca Novak/Washington