By the end of my first day with Julie Hiatt Steele, I discovered a little
information about her that the Independent Counsel overlooked and which you
all need to know: She makes the best egg salad sandwiches ever!
That the OIC overlooked this piece of information is remarkable considering
that there was an entire room in the Office of the Independent Counsel marked
"Julie Hiatt Steele Discovery Room." It was packed with documents stamped
"United States of America v. Julie Hiatt Steele." I donít recall suing her, do you?
It struck me as remarkable, also, that the woman standing at her kitchen
while I sipped coffee at the table could be a subject of one of the largest government
investigations in recent history. Standing five-feet two inches tall and weighing maybe
95 pounds, her hair tied into a girlish pony tail, Julie stood cutting my egg salad sandwich
into dainty triangles, pausing every now and then to stop her son Adam from some of
the kind of shenanigans eleven-year-old boys get into if left to their own devices.
She could be a soccer mom in any kitchen in any town in America.
Except for a small fact that is untrue of any other mom in the country:
Ken Starr spent three years and several million dollars trying to destroy Julie Hiatt Steele.
The first time Julie and her sister Elizabeth heard about the Steele
Elizabeth shook her head and said, "Well, Julie, Iíll tell you what: Iím kind of glad
Daddy is dead, because if he saw this it would have killed him."
Ken Starr did not, of course, destroy Julie Hiatt Steele. He was unable
to intimidate her
into lying about the president by casting aspersions on the legality of her sonís adoption.
He couldnít frighten her into changing her story by bringing bogus charges of obstruction
of justice against her for appearing on Larry King Live. (I donít know where in the
Constitution it states that it is a felony to appear on Larry King Live. In fact, I donít
even think Larry Kingís name is mentioned in the Constitution at all, but apparently that
didnít matter to Ken Starr and the grand jury who brought the indictments.)
And Ken Starr couldnít break her will by dragging her through a protracted and wildly
expensive legal battle. (Fun facts: The foreman of Julieís jury was a member of Free
Republic, the rabidly conservative Web site that hates Bill Clinton with a fiery passion
and holds fundraisers for Linda Tripp, American heroine. Another of the jurors, who
worked for a conservative right-to-life group, was also the wife of the counsel for the
CIA, and her son had, at the time of trial, just completed an internship for Bob Barr.)
Ken Starr did not break Julie Hiatt Steele, But sticking to the truth sure has its consequences.
In the end, of course, Julie walked away a free woman, and in the end,
also, she sent
Ken Starr packing, but only after she had lost nearly everything. She lost her house,
on which until the indictment she had owed no note. She lost her job, because her
employer was "uncomfortable" with having on the payroll someone who appeared on
the front page of the newspaper for telling the truth. She lost most of her friends, who
were terrified by the prospect of receiving a subpoena from the OIC. And most
important, she lost her sense of security.
From the moment Julie was thrust into the public eye, life would not
be the same.
For a while, Julieís son Adam had to be escorted around school. Teachers with
walkie talkies tracked the boyís progress through the halls of his own school,
so fearful was everyone for his safety. Because threats had been made. When it
became clear that a threatening phone call had been made by a government witness
being protected by the OIC, an order came down from Ken Starr for the FBI
not to investigate. Julieís car had been tampered with, as had her automatic garage
door opener, both with potentially fatal consequences. So now, at the sound of a noise
outside, Julie goes rushing down the stairs to make sure Adam is all right. He is fine,
and the sound was only the front door slamming, but the reflex is automatic.
Itís been hammered brutally into her.
Your tax dollars at work, folks.
She has been treated for post-traumatic stress syndrome, and would be
still if not for the fact that she cannot afford it. The reason she cannot afford it?
Nobody will hire her. "It wouldnít look good," they say, or "Youíre too politically hot."
Julieís world is very small for the moment. She knows three roads in
the town she lives in:
the road to the beach, the road to the grocery, and the road to Adamís school. For now,
thatís all she wants. She came here to heal, and how big a roaming range do you need for that?
But the good news is that Julieís spirit is intact. Mark Twain once
"Profanity offers a release afforded not even to prayer." Substitute humor
for profanity and youíve got Julie in a nutshell. She has a razor sharp wit
and a great sense of fun, both of which are on exhibit 24 hours a day.
She kept us entertained throughout our visit with hilarious stories of her
ordeal, the trial, and the shifting floor in her kitchen that suggests the
presence of termites. The ability to laugh in adversity is a key to success,
and it explains how Julie sent Ken Starr home.
And I cannot express to you how surreal it is to watch a tape of Kathleen
interview on Larry King Live, and have Larry look at the camera and say,
"When we come back, Kathy Willey talks about Julie Hiatt Steele," and have
Julie Hiatt Steele whip around from her seat across from me on the other sofa
as if to say "Ta da." "Uh huh," she says, "thatís me. Waitíll you hear what a
horrible person I am. Youíll be ashamed to be in my house."
If she knew what would happen, all that she would lose, would she do
it all the
same way again? You bet, Julie says. Yes, she has lost, but she has endured.
And she has gained, too. Sheís made new friends and she has begun a new life.
She lost her old house, but in exchange for that she has The Greatest Show on Earth,
which is what she calls the stunning blend of flaming orange and crimson that mark
the setting of the sun over the beach near her house. Most evenings will find her there,
awed by the beauty of it, and realizing how much she has to be grateful for. How bad
can things be when thereís this kind of beauty in the world? And most important,
she has kept her integrity, which is more than I can say for some people.
(Ken Starr, call your office.)
In the end, Julie Hiatt Steeleís story is not the story of Bill Clinton.
It is the story of
government run amok, of a Republican party so rabid with hatred that they are willing
to run roughshod over the rights of an innocent American citizen, to threaten to take
her own child from her, indeed to attempt to destroy her if it means accomplishing
the coup they set out to achieve.
As Julie says, this is not the country I thought I lived in.