The Lives Of Kathleen Willey
On TV the widow had seemed unassailable. But it now appears she is tangled in untruths
By Ginia Bellafante
(TIME, March 30) -- When she appeared on 60 Minutes in all her high-cheekboned, Virginia gentry poise, Kathleen Willey looked like a woman whose most egregious lie might have been a fib about her dress size. But whether or not the former White House volunteer was telling the truth about her encounter with Bill Clinton, it seems that she has not been above baroque acts of deception.
In the summer of 1995, sources have told TIME, Willey was in the midst of a brief relationship with a British-born soccer coach whom she made the target of a bizarre ruse almost straight out of an Aaron Spelling production. In an interview with the FBI, Willey's former confidant Julie Steele has claimed that the onetime socialite told her lover, Shaun Docking, she was pregnant with his twins--even though Willey had told Steele she was not pregnant. Willey's motive? She wanted to get back at him for Fourth of July plans gone awry, Steele told the FBI. The plot grew more serpentine. Shortly after her announcement, Willey told Docking, who at 30 was 18 years her junior, that she would have an abortion. Then, on the morning of the "scheduled" procedure, she informed him she had changed her mind. Not long after, Willey had Steele call Docking and tell him she had suffered a miscarriage. According to two sources in close contact with her at the time, Willey never confessed to Docking that the pregnancy had been invented. Willey's lawyer did not return TIME's calls last week.
If there are no perfect Presidents, there are also no perfect witnesses. It is a measure of Clinton's good fortune--or careful targeting--that the women who have come forward to accuse him over the years have records just as mottled as his. But the disturbing story of twins both unborn and unconceived is the most damaging yet to a witness described as pivotal in Kenneth Starr's investigation of Clinton. For, as with Docking, Willey again asked Steele to engage in an elaborate deception, this time at the President's expense.
Steele claims Willey asked her to lie to Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff about her alleged encounter with Clinton. Last spring Willey called Steele and asked her if Isikoff could come over to interview her. While Isikoff was on his way, Steele says, Willey called back and "told me exactly what to say." The directive: tell Isikoff the President had groped her on Nov. 29, 1993, and that Willey had rushed to Steele's house in the aftermath quite distraught. "I went along with it," Steele told TIME. "It was terrible, but Kathy and I were friends for 20 years, and she told me it wouldn't matter, that the whole thing was off the record anyway." Steele says that Willey never rushed over to see her on the day of the encounter, that she wasn't told of Willey's Oval Office visit until weeks after it occurred, that she was simply left with the impression that there might have been "mutual affection" between Clinton and Willey but nothing sexual. And Willey was not upset. Steele told her friend that Isikoff said Willey was tearful when relating the tale of the alleged groping to him. In response, Steele says, Willey laughed.
Kathleen Willey's life has not been a simple one. In high school, Kathleen Matzuk became pregnant and was sent away to Ohio for the birth. The child was put up for adoption, and Kathleen returned to school, explaining her absence as the result of having been in a car crash. She married a medical student named Richard Dolsey, with whom she had a daughter, but the couple split in 1970. Three years later, Kathleen married Ed Willey, a real estate lawyer with whom she had a son. Around 1990, moved at least in part by the death of the newborn son of her friend Julie Steele, Kathleen Willey sought the help of an agency to find the child she had given up years before. She discovered him in Pennsylvania, and when he came to visit the Willeys, they threw a party for him. She refers to his kids as her grandchildren.
The daughter of a Richmond, Va., machine salesman, Kathleen had married into the old money and Virginia politics of the Willey clan. Her father-in-law, one of the state's most powerful legislators, did not approve of the match, but her husband Ed loved her. Willey spent many of her married years working on Democratic campaigns, including Chuck Robb's senatorial bid and several of Governor Douglas Wilder's campaigns. As part of the constant round of political giving and receiving, Kathleen Willey met Clinton, then Governor of Arkansas, at a 1989 Charlottesville fund raiser. At a party following the 1992 presidential debate in Richmond, Willey was excitedly introducing the candidate to other prominent Democrats. "I don't think she missed an opportunity to be around Bill Clinton," says Michael Morchower, a Richmond criminal attorney who was once close to the Willeys.
While the family's political cachet ascended with Clinton's fortunes, its finances were caving in. In November 1993, Kathleen Willey became aware of just how bad things were--her husband owed the IRS $400,000, and he had stolen $275,000 from a client. Ed, who was also being threatened with disbarment, begged Kathleen to sign a note for the stolen amount to stave off his creditors. She reluctantly agreed but over the next two weeks hounded her husband for a plan to rescue the family. He had none. A meeting the Sunday after Thanksgiving with their children dissolved into a shouting match, and Ed moved out of their home. The next day Kathleen sought out her friend the President in the Oval Office. As she raced home from that controversial meeting, Ed Willey pulled his blue Isuzu Trooper off a country road and, after blowing a tire, walked into the woods and shot himself. "I deserve your eternal scorn," Willey wrote his wife in a suicide note in which he apologized for his financial misdeeds and enclosed a lottery ticket and a $100 bill.
He also left huge debts, chief among them a settlement he owed former clients, Anthony Lanasa and his sister Josephine Abbott, from whom he had embezzled the $275,000. After her husband's death, Willey lashed out at Lanasa. "She called me at 3 in the morning and said I killed her husband," he says. "She called two or three times until we got the warrant saying that she couldn't call us." Still, Willey's famous temper (her nickname "Irish" was on her license plate) would not be aimed at the President. Just days after he had allegedly groped her, the widow bragged to friends that he would attend Ed's funeral. He did not.
Through legal maneuvering, Willey has avoided having to assume her husband's debts. According to information Willey provided her creditors, her children "loan" her a monthly stipend of roughly $4,500, and she pays a considerably below-market rent to her husband's best friend for the home on six acres in which she now lives.
Since leaving the White House in 1994, Kathleen Willey's day-to-day life has become hand-to-mouth. She has worked as a receptionist at a Richmond hair salon. During the 1996 presidential campaign, Willey was in the middle of a four-month stint at the city's Montana Gold Bread Co., a place she used to patronize. With a T shirt, an apron and a bandanna, she was responsible for the cinnamon rolls early in the day and later for muffins, kneading bread and waiting on the clientele. "I thought she might be a snob at first when she was a customer," recalls Jason Lord, one of her many college-age co-workers, "but she was a very good person." Kenneth Starr certainly considers her an asset, granting her immunity before her grand-jury testimony. That will insulate her from perjury charges for any lies she may have told in her deposition to Paula Jones' lawyers and may help protect her from prosecution in connection with any financial or tax improprieties. All she has to worry about now is making ends meet.
--Reported by Melissa August and John F. Dickerson/Richmond and Viveca Novak/Washington