Willey says Clinton lied in affidavit In televised interview, she tells of him kissing, groping her

President reaffirms denial

Former aide says she was pressured by his lawyer Bennett

March 16, 1998|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Telling her story publicly for the first time, former White House aide Kathleen Willey stated last night on national television that President Clinton committed perjury when he denied making an unwanted sexual advance in his White House study.

In a riveting narrative delivered in a halting and subdued voice, Willey described feeling "overwhelmed" and "betrayed" by the president. She also recalls that her first reaction wasn't anger -- that came later -- but amazement that she seemed more worried about Clinton getting caught than he was.

"I just could not believe that that had happened in that office," Willey told CBS correspondent Ed Bradley on "60 Minutes." "I just could not believe the recklessness of that act."

Clinton has adamantly denied any sexual contact with Willey and repeated that denial through a spokesman last night. "As the president emphatically stated under oath and reaffirms today, Ms. Willey's allegation is simply not true," White House special adviser James E. Kennedy said in a written statement.

In the far-ranging interview awaited with trepidation at the White House, Willey declined to discuss only one aspect of the incident: whether she was later pressured by wealthy Bethesda developer Nathan Landow, a large Democratic donor, to keep quiet.

Willey said she had discussed the alleged episode "extensively" with Landow but indicated that because Landow's role is under investigation by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, she should not talk about it. Last night, Landow, the former chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party, confirmed a Newsweek report that he had paid for Willey to take a charter plane from her home in Richmond, Va., to his Eastern Shore estate in October, but he characterized as "totally false" any suggestion that he tried to get her to change her story.

Landow said that Willey, a friend of his daughter Harolyn, had been invited because she was distraught and needed a break and that he agreed to pay for the flight because Willey's car had broken down. Landow also said that he has not been notified that he's a target of Starr's investigation but that he is scheduled to be interviewed today by FBI agents attached to Starr's office.

But Willey identified someone else whom she said "pressured" her: Clinton lawyer Robert S. Bennett. Willey said that Bennett tried to get her to hire an "inside-the-loop" Washington lawyer and insinuated that she could become the target of a perjury investigation. Bennett denied saying this.

Willey becomes the fourth woman -- that does not count Monica Lewinsky -- who has said under oath that she had sexual encounters with Clinton, episodes that the president has testified either never happened or were far more limited in scope than claimed.

'In for a few rocky days'

Nonetheless, there appeared to be a sense at the White House that the account given by Willey, a loyal Democrat who never came forward until she was compelled to testify, poses heightened problems.

"The facts of this story have already emerged, but now there's a human face to it," said one former White House official, who requested anonymity. "We're going to be in for a few rocky days."

Or perhaps more. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican, said yesterday that if Willey's account proves true, "then I have to tell you, I think this presidency would be over."

It wasn't only Republican leaders who were taking this particular allegation more seriously than some of the others leveled against Clinton.

"If true, I think that the president has a much bigger problem than he did with something that may have happened earlier with Gennifer Flowers or anyone where he could say that is his private life," said Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women. "This is a public policy question of whether the president shows respect for -- or just dismisses -- the sexual harassment and discrimination laws."

Ireland has received harsh criticism -- some of it within her own organization -- for ignoring alleged behavior by Clinton, a political ally, that she has condemned in others. But she wasn't reluctant yesterday.

"This is not just sexual harassment; if it's true, it's sexual )R assault," Ireland said.

In his Jan. 12 deposition in the Paula Corbin Jones' sexual misconduct case, Clinton says that he recalls his White House meeting with Willey in November 1993, but said he comforted her only by hugging her and perhaps kissing her on the forehead.

At the time, Willey, who had married into a prominent family of Virginia Democrats, worked in the White House as a volunteer. She told of going to see Clinton, whom she considered a close friend. Her husband was in deep financial trouble -- he killed himself the same day -- and she told Clinton that she needed a paying job in the administration.

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