Grand Jury Hears From Steele, Hernreich
Hyde doesn't want an interim report from Starr
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, June 11) -- Independent Counsel Ken Starr's grand jury investigating the Monica Lewinsky matter heard Thursday from Julie Hiatt Steele, a former friend of Kathleen Willey.
In an affidavit released in February, Steele says she lied to a Newsweek reporter at Willey's request to bolster Willey's allegations against President Bill Clinton that in 1993 he fondled her in a room off the Oval Office. It was also revealed that Steele is suing the reporter.
"Over a year ago, I made two mistakes: I did a favor for a person I thought was my friend, and I trusted a reporter," Steele said after her testimony. "As a result, my good name has been damaged, my health has deteriorated, I have had to hide myself and my child from news media in my driveway, and I have been called here today. I have testified truthfully and completely about those mistakes."
The independent counsel's prosecutors were expected to concentrate their questioning on whether Steele had been pressured to contradict Willey.
"Although I did not vote for Mr. Clinton, I want to apologize to the president and to his family," Steele said. "I deeply regret that my mistakes were used to cause them harm and I assure you, these are my words. I have not been asked to say this or anything else on this matter."
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The Julie Steele Affidavit
In an affidavit dated Feb. 13, Steele said that last year Willey asked her to lie to Newsweek magazine reporter Michael Isikoff about what Willey said and did right after the alleged encounter with Clinton. She said Willey wanted her to say she had confided details of the incident right after it happened and felt upset and harassed. Steele now says that never happened.
It was also revealed Thursday that Steele is suing Isikoff, Newsweek and the parent Washington Post company for breach of contract. The contract, according to Steele's complaint, was an agreement to keep her statements about Willey "off the record."
"Before Ms. Steele spoke to Isikoff about Willey's alleged encounter with the President," the complaint says, "Ms. Steele and Isikoff explicitly and verbally agreed that Ms. Steele's statements about Willey's accusations were 'off the record.' "
That conversation, Steele charges, occurred in "late winter" in which Willey asked her to tell Isikoff that "Willey seemed upset and humiliated by this alleged encounter with the president."
By publishing several articles naming Steele and telling her story and by naming her in TV interviews, the defendants broke "an express oral contract," the complaint says.
The complaint also charges Isikoff engaged in fraud, negligent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Steele is demanding unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
In Willey's "60 Minutes" interview, she said she believes Steele was pressured into making the statement. "I think that the White House wanted to try to discredit me, and they found a pawn in her," Willey said.
Thursday was Steele's first time before the grand jury.
Starr's office is investigating whether Clinton had a sexual affair with Lewinsky and asked her to lie about it. The president has denied the allegations.
A face very familiar to the grand jury put in another appearance Thursday, as chief of White House Oval Office operations Nancy Hernreich testified for the fifth time.
Starr is particularly interested in Lewinsky's visits to the Oval Office and what efforts may, or may not, have been made to cover up whatever did, or did not, happen there.
Earlier in the day, Deputy White House Chief of Staff John Podesta also appeared at the federal courthouse, but left without testifying due to a "scheduling problem."
Podesta was among those who tried to find Lewinsky a job.
He last testified early in February. Plans to call him back had been caught up in the fight over executive privilege. He was not expected to make any claim of privilege this time.
Hyde: Starr should not send interim report to the House
The man who would lead any impeachment proceedings against the president says Starr should not send Congress an interim report on the Lewinsky investigation.
"We prefer dealing with a complete report," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde told Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper.
Hyde left himself a little wiggle room, telling the newspaper, "It depends on what he means by interim, but I would assume it means an incomplete report. We prefer dealing with a complete report."
His public comments back up private accounts from House GOP leaders, who are worried that Democrats could make it an election-year issue if Congress were to act on preliminary findings of Starr's investigation.
But it is significant for Hyde to speak his mind and send a public signal to Starr. A source close to House Speaker Newt Gingrich said the speaker was dismayed to see Hyde's comments, not that he disagrees with them. But Gingrich wants the focus on Clinton, not on GOP tactics in dealing with the investigation.
The independent counsel law requires the prosecutor to notify Congress if he believes he has obtained credible information that impeachable offenses have taken place. It does not say what form that report must take.
CNN's Bob Franken and John King contributed to this report.