Kathleen Willey: Ugly Charges With a Troubling History

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WASHINGTON: It began barely hours after Kathleen Willey came out in the most public forum possible -- a "60 Minutes" interview -- to claim the President had kissed, groped and fondled her, contrary to his sworn statement in the Paula Jones case. It was a stampede to judgment of the kind not seen since the Lewinsky crisis began, and its tracks were marked by those two well-worn words: If true. “If the evidence is true... I think this presidency will be over,” said Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). “If it’s true, it’s sexual assault,” said Patricia Ireland, president of NOW.

Special Report If it’s true, undoubtedly, Clinton is in trouble. He will have committed perjury, and Ken Starr’s investigation -- long mired in arguments over immunity and executive privilege -- will have something to nail him on. But that's a big "if." Where Willey is concerned, questions persist: Why did Linda Tripp describe her as “joyous” after her Oval Office encounter? Why did Willey continue to write Clinton and his personal assistant, Nancy Hernreich, in what sources describe as a “consistently friendly and admiring manner” after he had supposedly assaulted her? Why does her Jones testimony contradict another sworn deposition, in a lawsuit against her late husband -- in which Willey claims she told no one, the President included, of the financial trouble her family was in?

There are questions from the other side, too. Why, as Newsweek reports, did Democratic fund-raiser Nathan Landow fly Willey in to his estate for a two-day visit after she was subpoenaed by Paula Jones' lawyers? Landow, who has raised some $600,000 for Clinton and Al Gore over the years, told TIME his only comment was "she should do what she felt was best for her." All in all, a very tangled set of allegations -- and whether true or not, there's little comfort for a President who professes himself "mystified and disappointed."