COVER- Kathleen's crusade
There are times when your life plays out as though you're stuck in a dream. But you're awake; you can hear your heartbeat. You're watching yourself.
Kathleen Willey knows the feeling. Last month, in a dingy theater at the edge of Georgetown, she's watching her face projected about eight feet tall and talking about something that happened 10 years ago.
Her memories remain vivid, and they play before her at 24 frames a second, eliciting soft gasps from the audience.
Willey's story is condensed into less than five minutes: her encounter in the Oval Office, where she says Bill Clinton sexually assaulted her. The suicide of her husband and the financial nightmare he left behind. Her forced deposition in the Paula Jones case. The threats she says she endured at the hands of the Clintons.
The next scene: a desolate road where she thought she might die.
Willey watches herself walking with a beloved German shepherd, heading down a path near her tidy, timber-frame home in the woods of Powhatan County, gravel crunching beneath their feet, with an unseen film crew of eight trailing along. This is the spot, Willey says, where on January 8, 1998, she encountered a mysterious jogger sent to deliver a warning.
She'd never met him, she says, but he seemed to know her. And while the stranger talked, Willey realized he knew too much. About her missing cat and the three nail-gunned tires on her Subaru Outback. And then, she recalls, "He said, ‘How are your children doing?' And he named them."
Willey says she managed to blurt out: "Who are you? What do you want?"
"I'll never forget that look in his eyes," Willey says. "He just looked at me and he said, ‘You're just not getting the message, are you?'
Two days after that encounter, Willey was slated to be in federal court to give her deposition in the case of Jones v. Clinton, the subject of the Hook's January 24 cover story.
"I turned around and found every ounce of strength that I could find," she recalls today, "and I ran."
Willey emerges from the theater with her date into a chilling wind on K Street along the Potomac River. People approach her, almost gingerly, gratefully.
"I appreciate your courage," someone says. "Very difficult, very brave," says another.
Now the Clintons are fighting to reclaim the White House, and Willey's not running away anymore.
Since the early days of Bill Clinton's affairs, dalliances, and even an alleged rape, Willey has recoiled from the glare of the media, but she says Hillary Clinton's campaign for the presidency is the driving force behind her emergence from years under the radar.
She was one of those women, yes, but unlike Gennifer Flowers and Paula Jones, who appeared in skin mags, she turned down a $750,000 offer from Playboy. She never filed charges against Clinton, and she fought against talking until a federal judge ordered her to answer the questions of Jones' attorneys.
Although a former friend, Julie Steele, sold pictures and other information to the National Enquirer for $15,000, Willey retreated from the tabloids and talk shows and says she never made a penny from her story.
She even declined a meeting with a group of women in 1999 who were considering filing a class-action lawsuit against Clinton.
With Election '08 approaching, however, a new day has dawned. Willey took part in the documentary, Hillary: The Movie— a Michael Moore-style film for the conservative set. It was its Georgetown premiere in January that recapped her ordeal at the Clintons' hands. Two months earlier, she celebrated the release of her book, Target: Caught in the Crosshairs of Bill and Hillary Clinton (World Ahead Publishing).
Just before sitting down in November with a reporter at her home, she gets off the phone with WBZ NewsRadio in Boston, one of 200 such radio interviews to date. She talks about traveling to primary states to share her story.
At 61, Willey seems to have suddenly embraced her very public saga.
Or perhaps not, suggests her longtime friend and lawyer Dan Gecker.
"I think anytime you go through an experience like this, there are conflicting urges," he says. "One is to say, almost to shout out, ‘This is what happened to me.' And the other is just to keep it as close inside as you can. And I think what you've seen play out over the last 10 years is that conflict in her."
Willey says her book is an attempt to correct misinformation, to counter personal attacks, and she wants to warn the electorate– especially women– about the real Hillary Clinton.
She writes of what she and others consider Bill's sexual psychosis, an addiction Hillary has ignored and enabled. Instead of searching for the truth of the claims of the women who came forward, Hillary demeaned, undermined, and sought to destroy their reputation, Willey says.
And in page after page, she describes a complex web of private investigators and all-out thugs– "secret police" sent to silence the women and others through threats and intimidation, break-ins, and phone taps– and alleges their connection with the Clinton machine. The story lines are so coincidental, strange, and fantastic that they defy reality. Could this really have happened?
Jared K. Stern, a former Marine, has confirmed that he was a private investigator for Prudential Associates in 1998, and Willey was one of his assignments. He says that he once called her at home, without fully explaining his motivations, and left a message on her answering machine.
Willey describes it: "My name is Kirk. And I just want to warn you, there are people out there who want to hurt you. I will call you back tomorrow night." The FBI set up a trap to trace the promised call, Willey says, but it never came.
"Yes, I believe it," Gecker says of the alleged threats against Willey. He has yet to read her book, but he says he has personal, off-the-record reasons as well as experience with her case that convince him of the truth of her claims.
"And it's certainly my belief that the FBI believed it," he says. "At the time we were in fairly close contact with the FBI... and it's certainly my sense that the agents involved fully believed this."
Besides, Gecker says: "How do you make it up? And if you're going to make up threats, do you normally think to make up those kinds of threats?" A mysterious jogger? A family cat that disappeared? An animal skull left on your porch?
Over Labor Day weekend in September of 2007, just after Richmond media reported her wrapping up the forthcoming book, Willey says that while she slept someone broke into her house and stole her purse, tampered with her computer, and stole a copy of her manuscript. She filed a report with the Powhatan County Sheriff's Department.
Willey says she passed an FBI polygraph examination confirming her story, but she realizes people might think she sounds nuts.
"People who've known me for a long time believe me," Willey says. She says perhaps a dozen women who have crossed the Clintons have called her to share their stories, which bear striking similarities to her own: "break-ins at their homes and threats and intimidation," says Willey. "We can't all be lying."
The sounds of a pep rally spill out on Broad Street in Richmond. It's twilight on Saturday, February 9, and Virginia Democrats are giddy. Some are jammed along the sidewalk, holding giant letters that spell O-B-A-M-A. Others chant "Hill-a-ry!"
The buzz continues indoors as the Democratic Party of Virginia celebrates its largest-ever Jefferson Jackson Dinner, welcoming a crowd of 5,000 into a new $30 million pavilion called the Siegel Center. Both of their presidential hopefuls are on the way from Maine for the Virginia primary, three days away.
"Unite us that we might march on to victory," prays the Rev. Dwight Clinton Jones, a state delegate and Richmond pastor, in a pre-dinner blessing.
Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder takes the stage, delivering a welcome and plugging Obama. Former Governor Mark Warner, who is running for U.S. Senate, poses for pictures. Servers elbow their way across the busy floor, balancing plates of sirloin, seared tuna, and garlic mashed potatoes.
This used to be Willey's world.
A life-long Democrat, Willey married into Democratic royalty. Her second husband was the son of powerful state Senator Edward Willey Sr., who held office for three decades before his death in 1986, and whose name now graces a new bridge across the James River.
Kathleen Willey raised money for Wilder during his historic bid for lieutenant governor and then worked as an unpaid staffer when he won. In 1988, she snagged Al Gore as a guest speaker at this very event during his first attempt to win the presidency.
Kathleen Willey was swept up in Bill Clinton's run for president, too. She helped him raise money, and even flew with her husband to Little Rock's Excelsior Hotel for Election Night 1992 as the first George Bush faded away.
Now another Bush is in office, and another Clinton wants to replace him, and Hillary's motorcade is on its way to the dinner. But Willey is nowhere to be seen.
She's spent part of her weekend in Washington, D.C., at the Conservative Political Action Conference. McCain spoke. President Bush appeared to an enthusiastic crowd. And Willey signed copies of her new book.
Tonight, though, she's at home watching a movie with her boyfriend. She hasn't become a Republican, she says; she still holds on to her liberal beliefs. But she's conflicted, betrayed by her party. Returning to the Jefferson Jackson Dinner, she says, "would be walking into a hornets' nest."
Just inside the Siegel Center, Mary Sue Terry is shaking hands. In 1986, Terry became Virginia's first female attorney general– thanks in part to volunteer work by Kathleen Willey.
Tonight, Terry wears a Hillary campaign button on the lapel of her sparkling black jacket. Until a reporter mentions it, she says she hasn't heard about Willey's book.
"Kathleen Willey was a ... is a friend," Terry says. "As far as I'm concerned, whatever happened then was– how many years ago was that?" (Fifteen)
When told of Willey's concerns that Hillary Clinton would be a disaster for the country and a blow to the feminist movement, Terry replies: "I think that's pretty absurd. I'm really sorry she finds the need to make those assertions in 2008. That's very sad."
Before heading off to mingle, Terry adds, "I would hope that she isn't doing it for financial reasons."
Virginia Secretary of Administration Viola O. Baskerville, active in several women's groups, says she's voting for Clinton. "I'm not discussing Kathleen Willey," she says. "I'm discussing the candidate I'm supporting right now. This is 2008."
That doesn't stop a discussion at Table 153, where three women question Willey's motives and relevance, not to mention her psychological state.
"I think she's histrionic, and I'm very sorry for her," says Sherry Baldwin, a semi-retired scientist and adjunct professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.
A Clinton supporter, Baldwin calls Willey a "better-looking, more upscale Paula Jones" who's "obsessed" with the Clintons. "She's kind of paranoid at the very least," Baldwin says. "She's either opportunistic or mentally ill."
But Richmond resident Sophie Ann Salley chimes in, saying the former president's "zipper problem" is one of the reasons she supports Obama. If Hillary wins, Salley says, "All the bad things that happened during the '90s will float up."
Obama has said as much, warning at a news conference earlier in the week that Republicans were likely to unload a "dump truck" of dirt onto a Clinton campaign.
But this is not a night for attacks. Wine is flowing, and a little after 8:30, Delegate Jennifer McClellan approaches the podium to recall her days at the University of Richmond, where she first met Hillary Clinton.
As McClellan begins to introduce the former First Lady, the room is energized, and Clinton's face is projected larger than life on five screens around the arena. A boisterous roar rises.
"You sound so good!" says Clinton. "Let me ask you something: Are you ready to take back the White House and take back our country?"
Willey's passion for the political process began at 14, when John F. Kennedy became the country's first Catholic president. An Irish Catholic herself, Willey was ecstatic.
She lived in Henrico County on the West End of Richmond with her brother and sister. Their mother worked at home; their father, a Russian Ukranian, sold NCR cash registers. Although her parents later divorced, Willey describes them as a "typical middle-class family."
By ninth grade, Willey convinced her mother to let her leave a Catholic girls' academy for public school.
Life took a dramatic turn when she discovered, shortly before graduation from Douglas Freeman High School, that she was pregnant.
"Imagine my mother's anger and shame," writes Willey. Deemed a sinner and sent to a home for unwed mothers run by nuns in Ohio, she was forced to give her son up for adoption.
(Devastated and heartbroken, she says, she mourned her loss for years and happily reunited with her son in 1993.)
After moving to New York to become a flight attendant for TWA, she flew for two years, commuting part of the time from Richmond.
She married, a union that lasted only a brief two years and ended before the birth to her daughter, Shannon. When she later met Ed Willey, a divorced lawyer 13 years her senior, they fell in love quickly, Willey says, and three months after they met, they married. They had a son together, and Ed adopted Shannon.
While her husband built his law practice, Willey stayed home with the children. She volunteered at school, coached soccer, was a "Martha Stewart-type homemaker." Her husband ran his father's state senate campaigns, and she began volunteering in political circles.
By 1989, Wilder was running for governor, and Willey was on the bandwagon. ("I never have made any statement," he says when asked about Willey today.)
Two Charlottesville-area events that September led to what happened years later in the Oval Office.
Willey and her husband were thrilled to be attending a Wilder fundraiser at Albemarle House, the palatial estate of John and Patricia Kluge.
"Their mansion was like nothing I had ever seen in my life," Willey recounts. "With Roman pillars and every extravagance, it was beyond grandiose."
Meanwhile, President George H.W. Bush was holding an education summit for the nation's governors at the University of Virginia. The Kluge fundraiser was sure to draw glitterati. And that's how Willey met the rising star, Bill Clinton.
He seemed charming, she says, down to earth and yet charismatic. He also made her a little uneasy.
Clinton, Willey writes, "zeroed in on us and continued to make eye contact with me throughout dinner. He was being flirty and assertive, and I felt uncomfortable, for myself and also for my husband."
Two years later, when Clinton announced he was running for president, Willey signed on as a supporter. She formed "Virginians for Clinton" with a blue-ribbon list of lawyers and business leaders.
It didn't take long before whispers of Clinton's womanizing began to circulate publicly. The most direct were allegations of the affair with Gennifer Flowers. "I was so angry I ripped the bumper sticker off my car," Willey recalls.
But Clinton denied the charges, and Willey and her husband maintained their support. And in October 1992 it was announced that the third presidential debate– with Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Ross Perot– would be held at the University of Richmond.
Lt. Gov. Don Beyer invited Willey to join a small delegation welcoming Clinton at the airport the day before the debate. There, a Clinton assistant came over to request the Willeys' phone number. And later that night, Willey says, Clinton called her at home from his suite in a Williamsburg hotel. (Phone records later showed that two phone calls had been made to the Willey home.)
Willey says the candidate was hoarse and asked her to bring him some chicken soup.
Is this what I think it is? Willey recalls thinking.
She called her husband: "You're not going to believe this!"
"Did you get tickets?" he asked, hoping they'd be able to attend the debate.
They tried to figure out Clinton's soup request.
"I don't think I should go," she said.
"Well, er, I think that's a good idea," he replied.
After the debate the following night, the Willeys spearheaded a fundraiser, drawing about 150 people to the Richmond Marriott where the Clintons, John Kerry, even actor Pierce Brosnan showed up. They raised $25,000.
Clinton was inaugurated January 20, 1993, and about a month later Willey, commuting from Richmond, volunteered to work in the White House Office of Presidential Correspondence. She met staffer Linda Tripp. She helped with the White House Easter Egg Roll.
In the fall, her husband revealed a shocking secret– and her life fell apart.
She knew he'd "played fast and loose" with the Internal Revenue Service to help pay bills. What she didn't know was that he'd embezzled from Josephine Abbott and Anthony Lanasa, brother and sister clients he'd helped in a condo deal. Now they wanted their $274,500.
Lanasa, along with his lawyer, Bubba Marshall, met with Ed Willey and threatened to turn him in unless he paid them back. Both Willeys signed a note for the amount, due November 29.
Meanwhile, Lanasa and Marshall reported Ed Willey to the Virginia State Bar.
The Saturday after Thanksgiving, Ed Willey gathered his family to tell them what happened, and warn them of the trouble that was sure to come. It was an ugly scene, Kathleen Willey says, and her husband packed a bag and left that afternoon to stay with a friend.
It was the last time she saw him alive.
That Monday, the due date of the $274,500 note, Kathleen Willey left Richmond to see the president.
Panicked and troubled, she knew her family was sinking financially. She needed full-time work, and considering her years of support for Bill Clinton, she felt sure he could help.
In the Oval Office that afternoon, Willey told Clinton about the family troubles. He offered a cup of coffee and escorted her into a private area where he hugged her, she says, expressing regret for her situation. But the hug lasted too long, an event Willey has described as an "out-of-body experience."
She writes: "All of a sudden, he was running his hands in my hair and around the back of my neck.
"He kissed me on my mouth and, before I knew it, I was backed up into the corner, against the closed bathroom door and the wall behind the Oval Office. The president's hands were all over me, just all over me. And all I could think was, What the hell is he doing?
"I tried to twist away. He was too powerful. President Clinton is almost a foot taller than I am and nearly double my weight. I couldn't get away and could barely think. And he was the president of the United States.
"I finally managed to say, ‘What are you doing?'
"‘I've wanted to do this,' he said, ‘since the first time I laid eyes on you.'
"I was terrified for my husband, for my family, for our future...
"Then he took my hand. I didn't understand what he was doing. The president put my hand on his genitals, on his erect penis. I was shocked! I yanked my hand away, but he was forceful. He ran his hands all over me, touching me everywhere, up my skirt, over my blouse, my breasts. He pressed up against me and kissed me. I didn't know what to do. I could slap him or yell for help. My mind raced. And the only thing I noticed was that his face had turned red, literally beet red."
Willey says she dove for the door from the private area into the Oval Office, and rushed out. People were waiting for him, she says– Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen among them. Clinton took a seat behind his desk. (In his deposition during the Jones case, Clinton denied Willey's account.)
Willey took the train back to Richmond, trying in vain to reach her husband. His office was closed, and he hadn't come home. She went to bed.
The next morning, she was awakened by a call demanding the money owed to Abbott and Lanasa. She hung up the phone and kept trying to reach Ed.
Soon, a call from the sheriff of King and Queen County, about 60 miles away, announced he'd found a car registered to her daughter, Shannon, on the side of the road. But Shannon was fine. Kathleen's brother arrived at her house to break the news: police had found a body, and they thought it was Ed.
Apparently humiliated and defeated by his dire financial situation and the prospect of being disbarred, Ed Willey had shot himself.
Kathleen Willey says she doesn't know why, but she walked outside in her bare feet and filled the bird feeders in her yard. She doesn't remember much about the days that followed, describing them as a kind of gauzy reality. She was in a fog at the December 3 funeral. The next day she was served papers demanding $500,000.
"That was just one creditor," says her lawyer, Dan Gecker. "We were concerned others might come out."
Now a member of the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors and an advisor to Charlottesville's Jefferson School project, Gecker sought ways of preserving the family's assets, and through years of legal wrangling, he guided Willey through the mess.
She declined to take Ed's $700,000 life insurance, giving it to her children. She faced two cases in the Virginia Supreme Court, which ruled in her favor. She declared bankruptcy. In the end, Kathleen Willey was without assets the creditors could claim. She says the sibling clients turned down her offer to repay her half of what was owed, and never collected anything.
Willey didn't make an issue of what happened in the Oval Office. There were other things to worry about. Besides, she needed to make a living and figured her best bet might come from the White House. She had shared her story with her lawyer, but few others. She told Linda Tripp at the time it happened. But the information, in the wake of Paula Jones' lawsuit against Bill Clinton, was seeping out.
Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff was trying to track Willey down. In July 1997, the Drudge Report named Willey one of Clinton's women. A story ran in the National Enquirer. And in December of that year, Judge Robert Merhige Jr. ruled that, despite Willey's and Gecker's protestations, Willey could be deposed in the Jones case.
Willey says the time leading up to the deposition in Richmond was madness. Media swarmed the area, lurking by her mailbox at her new residence in remote Powhatan. People such as NBC's Jane Pauley visited Gecker's law office. That's when Willey experienced the threats, the jogger, the nails in her tires.
Eventually, after Monica Lewinsky became a household name, Clinton was charged with a federal misdemeanor and impeached by the House of Representatives.
For Willey, life went on. Still living in the house where so many unsettling experiences occurred, she says she has "a really good security system and a big gun." And she feels at peace. As for charges that she's profiting from her story today, she asks what's wrong with making money on a book about her life. Bill did; so did Hillary.
Still, she can't help but be hurt by harsh criticism from fellow Democrats, like those at the Jefferson Jackson dinner– especially from Terry, a friend she supported. Before she made those statements, Willey says of the former Attorney General, "It might have been nice to talk with me or read my book."
The new man in her life, Hunter Hanback, says Willey sometimes jumps to conclusions, understandably, when things happen to her these days. But "she's feeling more comfortable," he says. She's easy to get along with, "not very dramatic, very even-keeled." And he admires her.
"She's a stubborn, strong-willed Irish woman," he says, "and very courageous."
On a late November afternoon, Willey lets her dogs out the side door and walks around behind the house, pointing to an expansive backyard, 10 acres of quiet woods. When she found this place, she says, she knew it was where she was meant to be. "Hopefully, I'll be able to stay here," she says, "and hold everything together."
In an interview on February 11, a day before she lost the Virginia primary to Obama, Clinton sits for an interview with Politico.com and ABC affiliate WJLA in Washington, D.C. A reporter asks about the scandals of the '90s.
"One thing you know about me is that I have been vetted," Clinton says. "I've been through this. I understand exactly what's coming at me. And there isn't any new information. It's just more of the same; it's been recycled over and over again."
A Politico reader asks: "How can we be sure that some new business or personal scandal involving Bill Clinton won't erupt, which the Republicans will use to blow your agenda and your administration right out of the water?"
Clinton replies: "Well, I just can assure this reader that's not going to happen. You know, none of us can predict the future no matter who we are and what we're running for, but I'm very confident that that will not happen."
At Richmond's Siegel Center, Clinton offers little more than her prepared remarks. Afterward, she sweeps down a line of admirers crushed against a barrier. "Lovely Day" plays over the sound system. She stops in front of this reporter, offering a wide smile and raised eyebrows, exclaiming "Hi, how are you?"
But when she sees a recorder and hears the beginning of a question, she stops talking and abruptly moves away.
This story originally appeared in Richmond's Style Weekly, of which author Jason Roop is the editor.
The Willeys moved from a Midlothian subdivision to Powhatan County in 1997. Reporters lurked at her mailbox, and she says several prowlers were sent to her home, including one she encountered lurking beneath her backyard deck early one morning before sunrise. She found the silence from Democratic leaders over Clinton's women scandals deafening.
Stills from Hillary: The Movie depict Kathleen at the site of the infamous jogger incident and in a 1990s photo with Bill Clinton. While some Clinton accusers were afraid to be in the movie, director Alan Peterson says, Willey "had the courage to come out and do something about it."
After the Hillary: The Movie premiere in Georgetown Jan. 14, conservative group Citizens United throws a reception at the Sequoia restaurant. Willey posess with Matthew A. Taylor, the movie's editor and photography director, and Alan Peterson, the director.
Among the guests at the post-premiere reception for Hillary: The Movie is journalist Christopher Hitchens, author of No One Left To Lie To: The Values of the Worst Family. He brought along a copy of Willey's book to be autographed.
"She's dangerous," Willey says of Hillary Clinton, whom she blames for enabling her husband's misbehavior. "These secret police have been working for her for over 30 years. I don't think we need secret police operating out of the Oval Office."