Journalist Florence Graves documented that Willey’s claims about Bill Clinton lacked credibility in 1999 investigation.
Two days after NBC audio of Donald Trump making lewd remarks about women hit the news cycle, and 90 minutes before the second presidential debate, Republican nominee Trump held a news conference with three women who have accused Bill Clinton of past sexual assault. Among them is Kathleen Willey, whose lack of credibility was exposed in a 1999 story reported by investigative journalist Florence Graves.
Graves’s year-long investigation published in The Nation magazine revealed that Willey, who accused President Clinton of sexual harassment, was in fact seeking an affair with the president, and that Willey had lied to Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s own investigators, a fact that Starr tried to keep secret.
The article was based in part on information in hundreds of sealed Independent Counsel documents to which Graves obtained access. It also revealed that not long before President Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives, Starr gave Willey —presumed to be a key witness against the president — an extraordinary second immunity from prosecution agreement after discovering she had lied during the independent counsel investigation about an affair of her own that became relevant during the investigation.
“Starr and Willey: The Untold Story,” reported that “Although a distraught Willey said on ‘60 Minutes’ that she considered giving Clinton ‘a good slap across the face” after the alleged advance, the evidence suggests she may not have been the victim of an unwanted advance, as she has claimed publicly and under oath, and that she was actively seeking a sexual relationship with the President:
Starr’s key witness, Linda Tripp – who became friends with Willey when they both worked at the White House – told Starr’s grand jury that Willey plotted for months about how to start an affair with Clinton....
According to FBI interviews, (Linda) Tripp said Willey not only was lying about an unwanted advance from the President but also had been trying to entice him into a sexual relationship. Tripp said, ‘Willey described several ways she would pursue the President. Willey would arrange to cover evening social functions where the President would be present’ and tried to attract his attention with outfits such as ‘a particular black dress which accentuated’ her cleavage. Tripp says Willey discussed places she and the President might rendezvous....’
Linda Tripp testified that at one point she called Willey and said, ‘Kathleen, what are you doing?’… She said, ‘You must be mis-remembering, Linda…. Of course it was sexual harassment. I don’t know why you’re now saying that I wanted it.’ I said, ‘Kathleen, because we talked about it for months before it happened, because you chose your outfits, because you positioned yourself, because you flirted, because you looked for every reason to get in. Why are you now saying that this came as a huge surprise, and he assaulted you?’
Willey had lied when she denied to prosecutors that she had once tricked a boyfriend by telling him (falsely) that she was pregnant.
The article uncovered other major new evidence that raised questions about Starr’s decisions to rely on Willey and to indict Julie Hiatt Steele, Willey’s former friend who refused to help corroborate Willey’s claims. Steele was the only person indicted in the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, apparently because she undercut the credibility of Willey, a witness Starr reportedly hoped to use to indict President Clinton.
Steele’s trial ended with a hung jury and Starr decided not to re-try her. Both resulted in part, according to Steele’s attorney, because of Graves’s reporting, which gave the most detailed account of the questions about Willey.
The Boston Globe wrote that Graves “helped hand Starr his hat on the only indictment in the Lewinsky matter.” The March 2002 final report of the Independent Counsel (written after Starr resigned) confirmed that prosecutors knew Willey had serious credibility problems.
Schuster Institute first wrote in 2014 in our Huffington Post blog about the possibility of Willey’s false accusations getting resurrected in relation to the 2016 election:
If the media continues to pull old stories from the Clinton presidency as a way to prepare for Hillary Clinton’s possible presidential candidacy, they must also do their homework and highlight the solid investigative reporting done around these controversies.
For more in-depth investigations by Florence Graves, visit brandeis.edu/investigate. Graves is founding director of The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, the first independent investigative reporting center based at a university. During her journalism career, Graves has focused largely on exposing government and corporate abuse as well as social injustice and human rights violations. Her work has led to congressional hearings, government investigations, passage of state and federal laws, and important public and corporate policy reforms. Her groundbreaking Washington Post reporting (with Charles E. Shepard) on Sen. Bob Packwood’s serial sexual misconduct led to the first-ever Senate Ethics Committee investigation of sexual misconduct and Sen. Packwood’s resignation.
The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, the nation’s first investigative reporting center based at a university, was launched in 2004 to help fill the void in high-quality public interest and investigative journalism. As one of the pioneers in nonprofit journalism, our goals are to investigate significant social and political problems and human rights issues, and uncover corporate and government abuses of power.
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