Clinton allies up attack on Willey

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The Independent Online
THE CAMPAIGN to discredit Kathleen Willey, the former White House volunteer who gave a television interview accusing President Bill Clinton of groping her, was ratcheted up further yesterday with the publication of counter-accusations from a former friend of hers and more suggestions that one of her motives was money.

The one-time friend, Julie Steele, released a sworn statement in which she accused Ms Willey of asking her to lie on her behalf to back up her story about what happened in the Oval Office on 29 November 1998. Ms Willey says Mr Clinton kissed and fondled her against her will when she went to ask him for a paid job.

According to Ms Steele, Ms Willey telephoned her last April after she had been approached by a reporter from Newsweek magazine. She said she had told him about her encounter in the White House and wanted Ms Steele to corroborate her story.

As well as telling the reporter, Michael Isikoff, that she had told her of the incident immediately afterwards, Ms Steele was to say that she should describe her demeanour as "upset", "humiliated", "disappointed" and "harassed".

In the statement, Ms Steele says: "I told Ms Willey that I could not make such statements because she ... had never told me of any sexual advances made by President Clinton. She repeatedly assured me that any discussion with Mr Isikoff would be `off the record' and that it would be all right if I lied to him."

Ms Steele says she did meet Mr Isikoff, and she did lie. But when Mr Isikoff called her a few weeks later to check back and say that the report would be published, she retracted everything.

Ms Steele's contribution to the Willey saga has been problematical ever since. In her television interview, Ms Willey claimed Ms Steele had been nobbled. "The White House", she said, "wanted to try to discredit me and they found a pawn in her". Angered by this, Ms Steele appended a short note to the statement she published yesterday, saying that she was "nobody's pawn".

As a sworn legal statement, the document published yesterday may give Ms Steele's version more credence. But her claims have been known for weeks. It is also clear that she is not in a position to judge whether Ms Willey's allegations against Mr Clinton are true or not, only that she was asked to lie.

Also yesterday, Phil Bunton, the editor of the supermarket tabloid, the Star, said that he had spent six months negotiating with Ms Willey's lawyer for an interview with her, but baulked at the asking price - $300,000 (pounds 184,000). His offer of $50,000 was rejected. Mr Clinton's lawyer, Robert Bennett, charged after Ms Willey's television interview that she had been trying to negotiate a book deal for a similar amount. The sum of $300,000 almost matches a debt inherited by Ms Willey from her late husband.

Today, the Clinton camp is expected to step up the pressure on the President's accusers by releasing transcripts of cross- examinations of Paula Jones and Ms Willey in the Ms Jones sexual-harassment case. Mr Bennett's action is seen as retaliation for the release by Ms Jones's lawyers last week of 700 pages of testimony, including much of Mr Clinton's.