When Christine Blasey Ford and Brett M. Kavanaugh testified before Congress, Kathleen Willey paid close attention.
After all, she too had accused a powerful man of sexual assault: Bill Clinton.
In 1993, Willey had been a White House volunteer when, she told friends and colleagues, President Bill Clinton kissed and groped her against her will. When the allegations were leaked nearly four years later, Willey was thrust into the political scandal of the century. Her story — which she eventually told to “60 Minutes,” the FBI and a grand jury — was emphatically denied by Clinton, who stated he did nothing more than comfort Willey when she was upset.
Ever since, the ordeal has shaped her life. She believes it is why she has problems with trust. Why she struggles to find a good job. Why, at least in part, she is in financial peril, nearly losing her timber-frame cottage to foreclosure. In September, her loan servicer notified her that the house would be auctioned off on Nov. 5. If she couldn’t come up with enough money to satisfy the bank, Willey, at age 72, would lose the home she shares with two dogs and three cats.
As she watched the Ford-Kavanaugh hearing, she opened her laptop to check her GoFundMe page, titled “HELP KATHLEEN WILLEY SAVE HER HOME.”
For 21 years, Willey has lived down a secluded gravel road in the woods of Powhatan, Va., a community west of Richmond. The three-bedroom house on 10 acres is assessed at $279,200, but after two home-equity loans, Willey is more than $350,000 in debt on the property.
She has filed for bankruptcy five times, including earlier this year, to stave off foreclosure.
She had no attorney, no family members coming to her aid, no plan. She’d tried crowdfunding before, without much success. But this time around, her GoFundMe page was getting more traction than usual. In two weeks, she had raised $12,660.
As one of three Clinton accusers who campaigned for Donald Trump, Willey never thought what she calls the “toxic” #MeToo movement would do anything for her. Yet as the appointment of a conservative Supreme Court justice hung in the balance, it seemed people were paying attention to Willey once again. The accusations against Kavanaugh appeared to be driving donors to her page.
“Keep on fighting!” said someone who sent $10.
“Love and admire you for standing up for what is right . . . ” came a note with $50.
“God Bless you Kathleen!” donated $100.
The total kept rising that day, as Ford described being victimized as a teenager. Willey watched her with a mix of partisan skepticism and grudging sympathy, aware of how it feels for a story of assault to become a national spectacle. Maybe the country had started to believe women who accused coaches, comedians or CEOs. But Willey knew when it came to politics, credibility often hinged on the party, not the person.
In the 1990s, she was a victim of that divide — disowned and ridiculed by Clinton’s Democratic defenders. Now, she is a die-hard conservative. And this time, the divide is working in her favor.
She raised hundreds of dollars the day of the hearing, and thousands more came later.
Her history with Clinton
In 1993, Willey thought the president could help fix her problem. She’d raised money for Clinton’s campaign before becoming a White House volunteer. Suddenly, she needed an income. Her lawyer husband, she’d learned, had stolen money from his clients, creating marital and financial turmoil.
On Nov. 29, 1993, the 47-year-old mother of two went to Clinton to ask for a paid job.
Willey alleges that Clinton pushed her against the corner in the private hallway behind the Oval Office, kissed her, forced her hand onto his genitals and reached up her skirt, saying, “I’ve wanted to do this since the first time I laid eyes on you.”
Only when she dove for the door did she get away.
Shaken, she confided in Linda Tripp, a White House staffer who went on to secretly record conversations with an intern named Monica Lewinsky. Then Willey went home to look for her husband, Ed, who after a blowout fight in front of their children wasn’t returning her calls.
She spent hours searching, only to learn Ed had driven to another county, walked into a marsh and shot himself.
The suicide irreparably damaged Willey’s family and left her financially adrift. What she had left was her role at the White House — to which she returned around Christmas.
For more than three years, she told only close friends about what had happened with Clinton.
But in 1997, the legal team of Paula Jones, who was suing Clinton for sexual harassment, received a tip about Willey. That tip was passed onto a Newsweek reporter. The rumor of that tip was published on the Drudge Report.
Jones’s lawyers subpoenaed Willey. Soon, she was a cooperating witness in the case against Clinton, a tangled web of accusations, denials, affidavits, FBI reports and unanswered questions that would ultimately result in the president’s impeachment.
In the process, Willey’s credibility was questioned, and in the eyes of many, destroyed. Along with Clinton’s own denials, Tripp claimed Willey looked delighted when she spoke of her tryst with the president. A friend of Willey’s who at first corroborated her story recanted, saying Willey asked her to lie. When Willey gave an interview to “60 Minutes,” the White House released adoring letters she wrote to the president after the alleged incident.
Even Brett Kavanaugh, who at the time worked for independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, pressed his boss to leave Willey’s allegations out of the report calling for Clinton’s impeachment. The proof in her case was no more than “he-said/she-said,” Kavanaugh wrote in a memo. “Bottom line: We look unhinged to include Willey.”
Intimidation tactics Willey described to the FBI — strangers threatening her children, nails puncturing her tires, the skull of her missing cat appearing on her porch — were mocked. Even prominent feminists scorned her, with Gloria Steinem declaring that her story, if true, was proof only that Clinton “took ‘no’ for an answer.”
‘We didn’t count’
For most of the next decade, Willey kept out of the public eye. She purchased her home in Powhatan with her husband’s life insurance money. She got remarried and divorced. She worked at a bakery, at Saks Fifth Avenue and as a real estate agent, but never landed the higher-paying jobs she wanted. Lack of a college degree and difficulty with computers didn’t help. But neither did her past.
“They knew. You could tell that they knew,” she recalled.
She became deeply conservative — one of many reasons she re-emerged in 2007 with a book: “Target: Caught in the Crosshairs of Bill and Hillary Clinton.”
Hillary was running for president, and Willey wanted the public to know she was complicit in her husband’s crimes. And, she said, “I was in a bad position and I needed some money.” WorldNetDaily paid her $16,000.
Come 2016, Willey wasn’t just against Hillary. She was wholeheartedly for Trump, from the day he announced his candidacy.
“I cried because I felt like somebody was running for president who loved our country,” she remembered.
She said political consultant Roger Stone offered to pay her $5,000 a month to fly around the country speaking out against the Clintons. She agreed, but she wasn’t sent to any events until The Washington Post published a recording of Trump bragging about grabbing women’s genitals without their consent.
The tape didn’t change her mind. “I mean I wasn’t real happy about it, but I knew that nobody got raped,” she said. “That’s a big difference.” She said she wasn’t aware that more than a dozen women had come forward with sexual misconduct allegations against Trump.
So Willey appeared at the second presidential debate, alongside Jones and Juanita Broaddrick, who claims Clinton raped her in 1978. The stunt caused a media frenzy, introduced the allegations to younger voters and, best of all to Willey, left Bill Clinton with “that shifty look in his eyes.”
The next day, Trump invoked Willey’s name at a rally, arguing that the former president was “a predator” enabled by his wife.
But Stone — who declined to talk about his interactions with Willey — never came through with the money, Willey said. And over the next two years, her life only seemed to grow harder.
She broke her shoulder, tore a rotator cuff and had back surgery for a slipped disk. Her only income was $1,318 a month in Social Security. It was never enough.
In 2017, as the #MeToo movement began toppling titans of Hollywood and Capitol Hill, Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct was not left out of the conversation.
“The women involved had far more credible evidence than many of the most notorious accusations that have [recently] come to light,” Caitlin Flanagan wrote in the Atlantic. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) suggested that Clinton should have resigned.
“They have paid absolutely no attention to Juanita, Paula, Gennifer or me,” she said. “We were conservative, and so we didn’t count.”
A retired businesswoman in California whom Willey knew only from Facebook sent her a message saying, “I might be able to help you.” They talked on the phone.
It bothered the woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, that conservatives who trotted out Willey as an anti-Clinton showpiece weren’t coming to her aid now. It bothered her that crowdsourcing for Ford, a Kavanaugh accuser who struck her as “mentally unstable,” had raised more than $800,000.
She’d always admired Willey, she said in an interview. And because her marriage had recently ended, she suddenly felt empowered to spend her money how she wished. She took money she had saved for her kitchen renovation and wired it to Willey.
It was $50,000.
With the $37,805 that 749 people donated to her on GoFundMe, Willey now had nearly $90,000. She spoke with her loan servicer, informing them of the money she’d raised. Four days before the foreclosure date, she learned her loan could be renegotiated. Willey could keep her house.
Jonathan O’Connell and Alice Crites also contributed to this story.