It’s been a dozen years since Vice President Al Gore embarked on his infamous fundraising trip to a Buddhist temple, after which Attorney General Janet Reno, despite calls for a probe from within her Justice Department, declined to appoint an independent counsel to investigate.
Miss Reno concluded that Mr. Gore had not participated in White House conversations about using the contributions for the Clinton-Gore campaign, although a memo later surfaced from within the vice president’s office suggesting otherwise.
At a loss for words when pressed by federal agents, Mr. Gore argued that he had been drinking a lot of iced tea that day and perhaps was in the bathroom when the dialogue turned to how to spend the money.
We recall this so many years later because Mr. Gore’s unusual iced tea defense was brought up of late by Sen. Arlen Specter, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, when he spoke of the need to strengthen the Justice Department under its new Democratic leadership.
Mr. Specter not only was sharply critical of former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales for having “molded his views to accommodate his appointer,” President Bush, he singled out Miss Reno for at least one lapse in judgment.
“There was the relatively notorious incident where the vice president was at a meeting and drank a lot of ice tea and absented himself from certain parts of the meeting where he … had a rationale for not knowing certain things,” the senator recalled.
“I questioned Attorney General Reno in detail about that during Judiciary Committee hearings and she said: ‘Well, there just wasn’t sufficient evidence.'”
As for the upcoming confirmation hearings for President-elect Barack Obama‘s attorney general-designate, Eric Holder, Mr. Specter stressed there “is no intent on my part or on the part of any of my colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle to engage in partisan sniping.”
We’d observed in our previous column that Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, at age 91, is the longest-serving member in the U.S. Senate’s history, having taken office on Jan. 3, 1959.
Now, one West Virginia reader wants to remind us that before he became a senator, Mr. Byrd served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, having been first elected in 1952. (During all these years, Mr. Byrd has an amazing 98.7 percent attendance record).
As for the longest-serving representative in the House, that would be Jamie Whitten of Mississippi, a conservative Democrat who served 53 years, two months, 13 days. His 1995 obituary in the New York Times described the congressman as having a style of deliberate vagueness that stirred a mixture of admiration and frustration among House colleagues.
It was explained that he had a technique of dropping his voice and thickening his already strong Southern drawl when he wanted to disguise his true purpose. “Mr. Mumbles,” Rep. Silvio O. Conte, Massachusetts Republican, described Mr. Whitten in 1985.
“He’ll give you an ulcer,” Mr. Conte said. “Dealing with him is like throwing putty at a wall.”
COME BACK, OPRAH
They couldn’t have been too happy at Rosslyn’s “Top of the Town,” a conference and reception facility featuring a sweeping view across the Potomac River of Washington’s landmarks and monuments, when the group that booked the lofty venue for Inauguration Day canceled at the “last minute” – and after Oprah Winfrey already had been turned away, no less.
“At this stage in the game, it’s almost impossible to get anything close to this for inauguration with parking. We are opening it up to the best offer,” said Nancy Goodman, vice president of Main Event Caterers. There’s space for 180 people.
LEFT WITH CHANGE
EBay auctioneers beware: yet another bill has been introduced in Congress to make it a crime to knowingly sell tickets to the presidential inaugural ceremony.
In addition, the proposal by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, Missouri Democrat, would make it a criminal act to produce counterfeit tickets for the Jan. 20 ceremony.
Several million inaugural-goers are expected to descend on Washington — “in some cases without a place to stay,” the congressman notes — and tickets “should not be bought and sold to the highest bidder.
“Even worse are false promises of tickets that are made to individuals and families who are then left with empty pockets and tales of disillusion,” Mr. Cleaver says.
We had not realized until seeing the FBI’s “Most Wanted” poster of Osama bin Laden that the terrorist mastermind sometimes goes by the alias “The Director” – not to be confused, obviously, with FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III.
Among other aliases of bin Laden’s, according to the bureau: “The Prince” and “The Emir.”
“Should be considered armed and dangerous,” warns the poster, describing bin Laden as olive complexioned, standing 6-foot-4 to 6-foot-6-inches tall, 160 pounds, left-handed, and walks with a cane.
Anybody who uncovers his whereabouts (some U.S. intelligence operatives think bin Laden is dead) will be paid a State Department reward of $25 million, plus $2 million from the Air Line Pilots Association and Air Transport Association.
Bidding farewell to retiring Virginia Republican Sen. John W. Warner “is a day I have dreaded,” said West Virginia Sen. Robert C. Byrd, who has retained his U.S. Senate seat longer than any lawmaker in history – a half-century and counting.
“Senator Warner is one of my heroes,” praised Mr. Byrd, which is quite a compliment from the outspoken Democrat and history buff, whose other heroes include Nathan Hale (he gave his life while spying on the British during the Revolutionary War), Francis Marion (the “Swamp Fox”), Nathanael Greene (a major general in the Continental Army), Daniel Morgan (another Revolutionary War standout), George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and James Madison.
And going back further, there is Polybius, Didorus, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Cornelius Neopos, Gaius Sallustius Crispus and Titus Livius – “blood brothers” of the silver-haired senator.
Like Hale and Marion and Greene and Washington, Mr. Warner “has always displayed the timeless virtues of patriotism and selfless devotion to duty in defending our country,” said Mr. Byrd, pointing out that at the ripe young age of 17 Mr. Warner enlisted in the U.S. Navy to serve in World War II, then came back as a U.S. Marine during the Korean war.
“[Y]ou’ll love the way the federal bureaucrats make new cars,” quipped Rep. Ted Poe, Texas Republican. “The new federalized auto industry will have the competence of FEMA, the pleasantries of the Post Office and the compassion of the IRS.”
“I believe America is in trouble.”
So retiring Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska begins his sobering assessment of the state of the world, “The Challenges That Lie Ahead.”
Published by the Republican Party’s Ripon Forum, the senator labels the Middle East “more dangerous, more complicated, more interconnected and more combustible than ever before.”
One of the most immediate priorities of President-elect Barack Obama, he says, should be to implement a “comprehensive geostrategic approach to the broader Middle East region spanning North Africa to Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
Doing so, suggests Mr. Hagel, will require all U.S. instruments of power – diplomacy, trade, economic assistance, intelligence and military might – however a “war of ideas and ideologies” would have to be fought to win over Middle Eastern youth.
“Classrooms are the battlefields,” he says. “This will require a revolutionary universe of new thinking and policies. The human dynamic always dictates outcomes.”
PASS THE CIGARS
So how does it feel to own a substantial chunk of Citigroup?
“We find ourselves just days away from the federal government having had to rescue no less an exemplar of a large bank than Citigroup, by providing a guarantee of up to $306 billion for its loans and securities backed by residential and commercial real estate,” Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairman Christopher Cox said during a speech at the Mayflower Hotel in recent days.
“In addition, the federal government has twice made equity injections into Citigroup totaling $45 billion and received additional preferred stock in connection with the guarantees. Leaving aside the one-third-of-a trillion-dollar guarantee for Citi, the U.S. government’s $52 billion in preferred equity makes all of you in this room who are taxpayers 7.8 percent owners of Citigroup.”
President and Mrs. Bush are welcoming 60,000 guests into the White House this Christmas season, while hosting 25 receptions and seven dinners.
The visitors are strolling past 25 Christmas trees, 780 feet of garland, 232 wreaths and 412 poinsettias, while sipping cups of eggnog. The White House is hoping 700 gallons of the creamy dairy drink will suffice.
Sign up to the Human Events newsletter