A Sudden Restoration of Willey’s Memory

The presentation on national television of Kathleen Willey as a pure victim of Clintonian lechery, unsullied by financial or political motivations, now must be filed in the ever-growing archive of scandal mythology, along with the semen-stained dress and the tattletale steward. No doubt the producers of 60 Minutes wish they had known before Ed Bradley interviewed Ms. Willey that she was using their broadcast to promote the sale of a book about her alleged experiences in the White House.

On March 13, the Friday before Ms. Willey’s 60 Minutes appearance, her attorney, Daniel Gecker, called Michael Viner, the president of New Millennium book publishers, to inform the publisher of his client’s impending fame. Mr. Gecker’s phone call was merely the latest of a series of discussions with executives at New Millennium that began last January.

The asking price for Ms. Willey’s memoir, according to sources at New Millennium, was $300,000, a price Mr. Viner considered excessive-at least up until Sunday evening, March 16. An advance of that magnitude would at least begin to relieve the burden of liabilities thrust upon Ms. Willey by the embezzlements of her late husband.

But talk about a possible book continued anyway, with conversations between Mr. Gecker and Mr. Viner taking place on an almost weekly basis. Despite his doubts about the book’s viability and his personal support for the President, Mr. Viner was sufficiently intrigued to invite Mr. Gecker to visit New Millennium, which is based in Beverly Hills, so they could explore the project further. He had expected Mr. Gecker to show up on his doorstep over the coming weekend of March 20. (An earlier planned visit by Mr. Gecker in late January or early February was canceled, said sources at New Millennium, because Mr. Viner had to be hospitalized for surgery.)

Mr. Viner declined comment on the matter, and Mr. Gecker failed to return a phone message from The Observer .

Ms. Willey was particularly attracted to working with Mr. Viner, explained a New Millennium executive, because “she really liked the Faye Resnick book”-a reference to the tell-all best seller about the late Nicole Brown Simpson by Ms. Resnick, Brown’s closest friend. In addition to the Resnick tome, Mr. Viner has published a number of other titles on the O.J. Simpson case, as well as the 1995 Hollywood prostitution exposé, You’ll Never Make Love in This Town Again.

None of this means that Ms. Willey is lying about Bill Clinton, of course. But as Mr. Bennett observed, her literary ambitions should be considered in arriving at any final judgment about her disturbing claims.

Already there is a tendency to award credibility to Ms. Willey because she married into a prominent Virginia family and possesses certain social graces. She is, as one tabloid columnist gushed, “very dignified.” Just as Paula Jones was disbelieved due to class prejudice (and benefited later from guilt over gibes about her “trailer park” origins), Ms. Willey is apparently deemed believable, in part, because she knows how to dress for success. It is the same fallacy of perception, only in reverse.

Leaving aside impressions about her demeanor, however, there are questions about Ms. Willey’s story that arise from the small amount of evidence on the record. For example, it seems clear that she was never paid off with a job of any substance after the alleged sexual incident, despite a barrage of friendly letters to Mr. Clinton seeking employment and declaring herself his “No. 1 fan.” Her low-paid temporary position working for former White House counsel Lloyd Cutler was an act of compassion by him and his staff, not a payoff from the President.

In contesting Ms. Willey’s changes, Mr. Bennett and the other attorneys representing President Clinton are severely disadvantaged by a gag order in the Jones case, which they have honored and their adversaries have mocked. But even the heavily edited version of Ms. Willey’s deposition made available by Ms. Jones’ lawyers offers reasons for doubt about their witness.

Certainly, Ms. Willey’s memory has improved markedly. “He kissed me on the mouth,” she told Mr. Bradley the other day. Asked back in January by Jones lawyer Donovan Campbell Jr., about whether she allowed Mr. Clinton to kiss her in the Oval Office on Nov. 29, 1993, she replied, “I don’t think so.”

“Was he successful in kissing you?” Mr. Campbell asked. “I can’t remember,” answered Ms. Willey.

She told Mr. Bradley bluntly that “he touched my breasts,” but when asked about that gesture by Mr. Campbell, she seemed considerably less certain. “Did Mr. Clinton attempt to touch your breasts?” the Jones lawyer asked. “I think so … I have a recollection of that.” With one hand or both, inquired Mr. Campbell. “I don’t recall.”

Her deposition includes no recollection of an urge to “slap” the President, as she recounted to Mr. Bradley, nor did she recall in January that she had said, “Aren’t you afraid that somebody’s going to walk in here?” But her oddest responses involved whom she had told about the alleged incident in its aftermath. “Do you recall whether you mentioned that [incident] to Linda Tripp?” Mr. Campbell asked. Ms. Willey insisted twice that she didn’t recall, although now she says she did talk to her former colleague.

Prodded by Mr. Campbell, she also remembered telling her adult daughter about a Newsweek article that appeared last summer: “I said, after she read the article, if she had any questions to ask me.” When her daughter wanted to know if the allegations in the story by reporter Michael Isikoff were true, Ms. Willey recalled, “I just basically told her it was just a lot of garbage.” Trying to “clarify’ that startling answer, Mr. Campbell asked, “Did you ever tell your daughter that the report of just the sexual incident itself in the Newsweek article was false?”

“I don’t remember,” Ms. Willey said. She could not remember whether this conversation with her daughter (and a similar chat with her son) were in person or on the telephone. More significantly, her deposition contains no mention of Nathan Landow, a friendly acquaintance and Democratic contributor whom she now says tried to talk her out of testifying-a fresh accusation that fits neatly with independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s theory of obstruction.

Ms. Willey also failed to mention her nine letters and 12 phone calls to Mr. Clinton-asking for jobs, including an ambassadorship!-in the years since the incident occurred. “Other than the physical meetings and the one telephone call,” asked Mr. Campbell, “have you ever communicated with Mr. Clinton other than as you have described to us?”

“To the best of my recollection, no,” she replied.

“Have you asked [the White House] to keep you in mind concerning possible Federal employment?” he persisted.

“No,” she said.

A few pages after that false answer, Mr. Bennett’s cross-examination begins. Until it is unsealed, a fair assessment is impossible.

A Sudden Restoration of Willey’s Memory