Fearing impeachment, criminal probe, Willey letters were released

Monday, June 12th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Clinton's advisers urged the release of letters from presidential accuser Kathleen Willey because they feared her allegations might fuel impeachment and widen Ken Starr's criminal probe, according to court papers filed on behalf of the White House.

In a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, Clinton's closest adviser, Bruce Lindsey, provided a written account of internal deliberations in March, 1998, that led to Clinton's release of Willey's friendly exchange of letters with the president.

On CBS's "60 Minutes," Willey accused Clinton of making an unwelcome sexual advance in 1993. The correspondence that Clinton
subsequently authorized his aides to release was written after the alleged incident.

Lindsey, White House counsel Chuck Ruff and deputy counsel Cheryl Mills "concluded that Ms. Willey's allegations, without any context, might bias the public and Congress and thereby increase the potential for the expansion of the Independent Counsel's
jurisdiction and the likelihood of impeachment proceeedings against the president," the court papers stated.

The Justice Department papers, which Lindsey swore to "under penalty of perjury," stated that the advisers also took "general public confidence in the president's credibility" into account in publicizing Willey's letters.

Finally, Clinton's advisers "discussed whether the use of Ms. Willey's letters would be, or would appear to the public to be, inconsistent with the White House's commitment not to attack any of the president's accusers personally."

The advisers "determined that because these letters were Ms. Willey's own words, the use of them would not be inconsistent with that commitment."

The written explanation came in a lawsuit filed against the Executive Office of the President by former appointees in the Reagan and Bush administration's whose FBI background files were gathered by the Clinton White House. A conservative group, Judicial
Watch, is representing the former appointees.

Lindsey stated that before Willey's TV appearance, he telephoned Clinton at Camp David and that the president agreed with the
recommendation to release the letters and to decide on the exact timing after the "60 Minutes" program. The letters were released
the day after the show aired.

Lindsey had resisted providing the explanation in the lawsuit, but U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ordered him to do so in a decision which found Clinton engaged in a criminal violation of the Privacy Act by releasing the Willey letters. An appeals court
rejected the Clinton administration's effort seeking an emergency review of Lamberth's ruling.

Lawyers for Paula Jones, who accused the president of sexual harassment, subpoenaed materials from the Executive Office of the
President, a step that should have led to the Willey letters being turned over to Jones.

Lindsey stated, however, that Jones's first set of lawyers withdrew the subpoena and that it was not renewed by her second set of lawyers.