Meteor from the Sexgate cosmos

IN THE NEWS; KATHLEEN WILLEY
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The Independent Online
FOR MONTHS she was the mysterious "other woman" in the Clinton sex chronicles first mentioned by Newsweek last summer, writes David Usborne in New York. What her significance would be, few of us could fathom. Today we know and her Richter rating is high.

With her appearance on the CBS 60 Minutes programme on Sunday, Kathleen Willey, 51, blasted into the consciousness of every American. She is a meteor from the murky Sexgate cosmos. And this is a meteor that did not miss. She is the first woman to testify that the President sexually harassed her since his election to the White House. The Paula Jones "kiss- it" allegations date to his time as governor of Arkansas. Monica Lewinsky, the intern, denied what she is reported to have told a friend: that she had sexual relations with him.

Adjectives are crucial when it comes to accusers of the President. Those applied to Mrs Willey were not good for the White House. Among them were "dignified", "credible" and "reluctant", as in reluctant accuser. They were not those applied to other accusers, Ms Jones, Ms Lewinsky and Gennifer Flowers - "big-haired", "obsessive", "trashy" and so on.

The White House is branding Mrs Willey with a new lexicon. By releasing notes she wrote to the Oval Office after the encounter in question, on 29 November 1993, when she says Mr Clinton fondled her, it is describing a woman emotionally overwrought, verging on fixated, with getting proximity to Mr Clinton.

Friends and former colleagues have mixed testimonials about Mrs Willey. Many speak of her good looks, intelligence and wit. But another characteristic has emerged: a volatility under the calm exterior and a tendency to take offence quickly when faced with perceived slurs.

Mrs Willey and her lawyer husband, Ed, campaigned for Mr Clinton and gave $4,000 to his White House effort. For her loyalty, Mrs Willey got a non-paying secretarial job in the White House social office. On that November day, however, she came to see the President for a paying job, because she needed money. She needed money because her world was falling apart. Days before, Mr Willey, hooked to a high life, told her and their two children he had stolen $274,000 from clients; the couple had two weeks to repay it. On the day Mrs Willey went to see Mr Clinton, and allegedly suffered the humiliating encounter outside the Oval Office, her husband had packed his case and disappeared. As she was only to discover the following day, he had gone to a forest near their Virginia home and shot himself.

The notes being peddled by the White House do not suggest a woman angered by whatever occurred. On the contrary, she apparently fought fiercely to keep her contact with the President alive. She met him again that December. Within a month she wrote wishing him a "wonderful Christmas" and asking again for a "meaningful job". The jobs did come: she worked from April 1994 in the White House legal office as a secretary. After being asked to leave she was sent to two foreign conferences on the administration's behalf.

In recent years Mrs Willey has retreated to her Virginia home and a series of unglamorous secretarial positions, including one in a bakery. Creditors demanding their stolen money back have largely been paid, thanks to her husband's $1m life assurance policy.

WILLEY'S ALLEGATION

Mrs Willey describes Mr Clinton taking hold of her in a corridor outside the Oval Office, kissing her on the lips and asking her to place her hand on his aroused genitals. Her instinct was to slap Mr Clinton but she hesitated, thinking, "I don't think you can slap the President of the United States".

HEADLINES

Mrs Willey opened new vistas for tabloid headline-writers. Yesterday's New York Post front page had "Bill Gets the Willeys". On Monday the same paper had simply "I wanted to Slap Him". The Daily News on the same day was more pithy still: it just screamed "Slap Him".

THE FORUM

Mrs Willey spelled out her allegations in a sworn deposition in the Paula Jones case. Her impact, however, came with her appearance on 60 Minutes on Sunday. In this there was some symmetrical irony. 60 Minutes was the forum chosen by Mr and Mrs Clinton in 1992 to calm the Gennifer Flowers controversy.

THREAT TO CLINTON

Americans apparently found Mrs Willey credible. For the first time there are signs female voters are turning against Mr Clinton. The White House risks being seen as sleazy with its counter-attack on Mrs Willey's credibility. For those who remember the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas stand-off, the strategy seems depressingly familiar.

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