In the wake of the discussion of the smears of Bill Clinton and Jessica Valenti I allude to below, debate about Clinton has resumed in some comments sections. What drives me crazy is that many liberal commenters seem to take various Clinton Tall Tales at face value, accepting that he’s a “sexual predator” but merely quibbling over the severity of the incidents. Whatever the ethical problems involved, the consensual Lewinsky scandal could not come close to justifying this label. The key to those arguing that Clinton is guilty of some kind of actual assault, then, is Kathleen Willey, and many comments sections have rolled over and played dead when apologists for Althouse and the rest of the Clinton Smear Machine have brought her up.
The problem? Her story was so strikingly lacking in credibility that Ken Starr’s office wouldn’t move forward with it. Josh Marshall:
But Willey didn’t merely hurt Clinton. It was also on her say-so, and to sustain her credibility, that the OIC pursued a merciless prosecution against Julie Hiatt Steele, one of the bit players in the Lewinsky saga, but one of the most damaged. Steele was a onetime friend of Willey’s who first said Willey had confided in her about the groping incident shortly after it happened. Steele later recanted this story and told the grand jury that Willey had put her up to it — testimony that won her an indictment from the OIC for obstruction of justice and a series of bizarre side investigations into matters as far afield as the legality of the adoption of her daughter. (The case ended in a mistrial in May 1999.)
So how credible is Kathleen Willey? Apparently, not very credible at all. And that’s not the word from some Clinton lapdog, but from the OIC itself. Appendix B of Ray’s report analyzes Willey’s accusations and concludes, rather hermetically, that “there was insufficient evidence to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that President Clinton’s testimony regarding Kathleen Willey was false.” But that conclusion is a comic understatement when read in the context of the report’s Appendix B. The OIC lawyers couldn’t even convince themselves that Willey was credible, let alone prove it beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury. They had already concluded that Willey was a liar.
For instance, as Appendix B explains, Willey’s testimony in the Jones suit differed from what she told the Lewinsky grand jury. It was contradicted by the testimony of other witnesses friendly to the OIC. And, most damning, during the period when Willey was cooperating with the OIC under an immunity agreement, the OIC caught her in a lie about her relationship with a former boyfriend. (As the report phrases it, with oblique understatement, “Following Willey’s acknowledgment [of the lie], the Independent Counsel agreed not to prosecute her for false statements in this regard.”)
In other words, the OIC did not opt to forego prosecution of President Clinton on the Willey front because it could not prove Willey’s credibility to a jury: They themselves believed she was not a credible witness. That makes you wonder why the OIC lawyers pursued their case against Julie Hiatt Steele based purely on Willey’s word. And if the OIC now thinks Willey isn’t credible, why didn’t this get a bit more play in the press? (And should we wait around, in Part 2 of the report, for an apology to Julie Hiatt Steele?)
See also Bob Somerby. Can we know, to an absolute certainty, that Clinton didn’t “grope” Willey without her consent? No. But to assert her story as simple fact is ridiculous. I mean, if Ken Starr won’t go forward with it, I think you have to presume Clinton innocent. Same thing with Paula Jones; unlike Lewinsky, that would be a serious case of sexual harassment, except that the case was thrown out of court. The evidence that Bill Clinton is a sexual predator, in other words, is scant at best. Liberals really need to stop accepting right-wing smear narratives as proven fact.