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 TIME CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics with Congressional Quarterly

Clinton's crisis: Yet another shoe to drop?

By Michael Weisskopf

TIME magazine

(Time, October 19) -- After 70,000 pages, it's hard to imagine that the office of the independent counsel has anything tantalizing left to deliver. But two weeks after his team dumped 18 boxes of evidence on the doorstep of Congress, Kenneth Starr quietly sent something else--a 44-word letter that has impeachment handicappers all over Capitol Hill buzzing. It is a plea to handle in confidence the investigative materials related to the President's alleged groping in the Oval Office of a volunteer and former Virginia campaign worker, Kathleen Willey. The letter was the first official indication from the independent counsel of what both Republicans and Democrats have been anticipating for weeks: that "another shoe" will drop.

The Democrats have been worried about the other shoe ever since Starr released his report early last month. The evidence against Clinton was ugly, many of them said, but not ugly enough to launch an impeachment inquiry--unless, of course, there was more to come. Republicans, therefore, used the prospect of new charges against the President to justify an open-ended impeachment inquiry and were well served last week when Starr sent a letter the day before the vote saying he could not "foreclose the possibility" of lodging fresh accusations against Clinton.

Starr refuses to say what these might be, but his Sept. 22 letter offers a clue. While Willey isn't mentioned, FBI interviews of her associates are, along with the warning that release of the materials "may compromise an ongoing investigation." What is intriguing about Willey's story is that if corroborated, it would parallel evidence of perjury and witness tampering in the Monica Lewinsky case now undergirding several articles of impeachment. Willey has testified that while working at the White House in 1993, she was groped by Clinton--a charge he denied to Paula Jones' lawyers on Jan. 17 and then to the grand jury eight months later. Starr is also investigating whether Clinton allies tried to keep Willey from testifying truthfully in Jones' sexual-harassment case against the President.

Whether Willey's allegations ever rise to the level of impeachable crimes is far from certain. But the three people whose statements Starr sought to keep confidential may figure in the process of getting there. Two of them--Dan Gecker, Willey's lawyer, and Marlene MacDonald, a Willey friend and co-worker in the White House--were in a position to corroborate her story. They were interviewed by the FBI. The third, major Democratic fund raiser Nathan Landow, is apparently being looked to for other answers. Investigators want to know if Landow, who knew Willey socially, tried to get her to lie. They are also trying to determine if private eyes were used to intimidate her, defense lawyers in the case tell TIME. Landow, who participated in a 1995 golf outing with Clinton in Jackson Hole, Wyo., has denied any wrongdoing. When called before the grand jury by Starr, he took the Fifth Amendment, the lawyers said.

The FBI also interviewed a former friend of Willey's, Julie Steele. But she may not be much help: Steele disputes Willey's story that she came to see Steele in distress the night of the alleged incident. Starr, who called Steele before the grand jury twice last summer, recently asked her to come in for an interview with his prosecutors, but Steele declined. It's still far from clear whether anything coming out of the Willey investigation could help the Republicans in Congress make their case for impeachment. But it appears as if Willey, the woman who had her 15 minutes of fame on CBS's 60 Minutes, may soon be heading for her second 15 minutes.

--With reporting by Viveca Novak/Washington

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Cover Date: October 19, 1998

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