WASHINGTON (AP) -- Julie Hiatt Steele, the friend whose testimony undermined Kathleen Willey's claim that President Clinton made an unwanted sexual advance, has been indicted on charges of lying and obstructing justice.
Ms. Steele was charged Thursday with three counts of obstruction
of justice and one count of false statements by a grand jury in
Alexandria, Va., working with Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr.
“I'm just shocked,” Ms. Steele was quoted as saying in today's editions of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “I can't believe it's all come to this.”
Reached at home today, Mrs. Willey said, “I regret that she brought this upon herself.”
Nancy Luque, a lawyer for Ms. Steele, called the indictment reckless and said it “is a glaring example of Mr. Starr's gross abuse of his prosecutorial power.”
“Mr. Starr has clearly timed this baseless accusation in a transparent attempt to unfairly influence the pending impeachment proceeding,” Luque said in a statement.
Luque said she began receiving phone calls from reporters three days ago indicating that Ms. Steele was to be indicted and accused Starr of “unlawfully leaking confidential grand jury information to the media.”
The president's lawyers had used Ms. Steele's testimony in an effort to cast doubt on the credibility of Mrs. Willey, a former White House volunteer who alleges Clinton made an unwanted sexual advance toward her in the Oval Office in 1993.
Clinton denies Mrs. Willey's accusation, which became a focus of Mrs. Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit. In his testimony in the Jones lawsuit, the president said Mrs. Willey “was not telling the truth” and that her credibility had been “pretty well shattered.”
The indictment notes that a lawyer for Clinton approached Ms. Steele in January 1998 to get her to file the affidavit and that she initially refused, then changed her mind. Ms. Steele eventually filed an affidavit in the Jones lawsuit alleging that Mrs. Willey never told her about the alleged advance as she had claimed.
But Starr alleged Thursday that the affidavit and Ms. Steele's subsequent testimony before two federal grand juries were false.
Ms. Steele “well knew and believed” Mrs. Willey had told her about the alleged sexual advance shortly after it happened and ``even related information about Mrs. Willey's account of the incident to several of defendant Steele's friends” as early as 1993, the indictment charged.
Prosecutors also contend that Ms. Steele lied to FBI agents working for Starr and “attempted in the Eastern District of Virginia to influence the testimony of one or more witnesses in the grand jury investigation.”
The indictment charges that Ms. Steele “repeatedly attempted” to convince two friends that she had not told them about the Willey incident. At the time, one of the friends was being sought by FBI agents for questioning.
Mrs. Willey's nationally televised accusations of an unwanted sexual advance eventually became part of Starr's investigation into Clinton's affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky and allegations that the Jones lawsuit was obstructed by supporters of the president.
Ms. Steele and Mrs. Willey testified before the grand jury in Washington that Starr used during the Lewinsky investigation. Starr's office then used a separate grand jury in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington to further investigate Ms. Steele and other allegations that Mrs. Willey may have been threatened and intimidated by unknown persons after her story became public.
Each obstruction charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines. The false statement charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and $250,000 in fines.
Ms. Steele came to public attention when she was quoted in a Newsweek article in August 1997 that first brought Mrs. Willey's allegation to light. Ms. Steele contended she lied to the Newsweek reporter at Mrs. Willey's request, and told the reporter that Mrs. Willey had confided to her about the alleged episode with Clinton. She later told the reporter she had lied. The magazine noted the allegation and the switch in the same story.
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