'Steeling' the Show

Steele the Show

The new chairman of the Republican National Committee, former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, recently headlined the Republican Women’s Federal Forum at the Capitol Hill Club, and suffice to say he stole the show.

The dining room was packed, and, following Mr. Steele’s rousing speech, he was afforded a long standing ovation by the GOP ladies. In fact, he was stormed by the admirers to the point that, according to one observer, "[I]t looked like a mosh pit!"

Eventually, the group’s chairman, Judy Black, grabbed the microphone and requested that the crowd of women allow Mr. Steele to leave the room because he had other appointments to keep.

Pan to Fryer

Noted historian and best-selling author James Swanson and his wife, Andrea, invited guests into their Capitol Hill home over the weekend to celebrate the release of a new book about Abraham Lincoln by former senator and 1972 presidential candidate George McGovern.

One guest, who had lived in North Carolina, told Mr. McGovern that he supported him for president three decades ago, despite being warned by his conservative neighbors: "If you vote for George McGovern, the country will go to hell."

"Well, I voted for George McGovern, and the country did go to hell," Mr. McGovern, in later remarks to the crowd, quoted the guest as saying – referring, obviously, to the disgraced Richard Nixon and Watergate.

Otherwise, as far as not winning the White House, Mr. McGovern had the crowd, including former TV newsman Roger Mudd, laughing in hysterics when recalling former President Bill Clinton once telling him after the fact: "You know, you can get into trouble in that Oval Office."

The former Democratic senator turned serious when cautioning President Obama not to go through with his plans to increase U.S. military strength in Afghanistan by 30,000 troops.

"It would be a dreadful mistake," Mr. McGovern warned. "It would be moving U.S. soldiers from the frying pan into the fryer."

Best in Show

Former Clinton White House chief of staff and California congressman Leon E. Panetta was confirmed by the Senate to become CIA director and has now been privately sworn-in before a small group on the seventh floor of CIA headquarters.

The oath was administered to Mr. Panetta by CIA deputy director Steve Kappes (there will be a formal swearing-in ceremony at the CIA this week).

The 70-year-old Mr. Panetta got plenty of laughs when telling his invited guests: "I noticed in the press that they said I’m the oldest director to take charge of the CIA, but I would remind you that the ‘best dog in show’ this year [at last week’s 133rd Westminster Kennel Club dog show] was a dog that was 10 years old. So I come here as the best dog in show."

The other dog was "Stump," the first Sussex spaniel to win the top pooch award. The previous oldest winner, crowned in 1999, was an 8-year-old Papillon.

Mr. Panetta’s predecessor, retired four-star Gen. Michael V. Hayden, was 61 when he became CIA director in 2006.

Deleting the ‘D’

Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, thinks he’s on to something — scandals minus the "D," you might call it.

"Two weeks ago the governor of Illinois was removed from office," the congressman notes, referring to the embattled Rod R. Blagojevich. "All three television networks ran full reports on the story the same night and again the following morning. Not one report mentioned that he is a Democrat."


"The same has been true of numerous other Democrats recently embroiled in scandal," he continues. "CNN ignored the party affiliation of the Democratic mayor of Baltimore as news broke that she had been indicted. The [Associated Press] did the same while covering the indictment of the former Democratic mayor of Detroit. And in the aftermath of his sex scandal, network newscasts apparently forgot that the former governor of New York is a Democrat."

He is referring to Baltimore "Democratic" Mayor Sheila A. Dixon, recently charged with 12 counts of felony theft, perjury, fraud and misconduct in office; Detroit "Democratic" ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who was just released from prison after serving a sentence for lying; and former New York "Democratic" Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned from office last year after spending time with a $1,000-an-hour call girl who went by the street name Ashley Alexandra Dupre.

Media ‘Shield’

The Free Flow of Information Act has been reintroduced in Congress to allow reporters the privilege of shielding confidential sources in federal court.

The House overwhelmingly passed the legislation in 2007, garnering 398 votes. Now Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican, and more than 30 of his colleagues, including Rep. Rick Boucher, Virginia Democrat, are pushing hard to make the bill law.

"This is truly a bipartisan issue," Mr. Pence said. "It is a First Amendment issue."

Today, he said, the press "cannot make that assurance to sources, and we face the real danger that there may never be another ‘Deep Throat.’ "

‘Benedict Arnold’

Speaking of Deep Throat, Rep. Lynn Woolsey, California Democrat, has just paid congressional respect to one of her more notorious late constituents, former FBI associate director William Mark Felt.

She calls the Watergate whistleblower, who died in December at age 95, a "singular American who helped our democracy triumph in one of our darkest moments … that will forever ensure his place in history."

Three years ago, however, this columnist called on John "Jack" McDermott, who supervised the Watergate investigation as special agent in charge (SAC) of the FBI’s Washington Field Office. At the time, the retired agent was awaiting a scheduled visit from a Hollywood screenwriter.

"[Actor and producer] Tom Hanks has already paid Mark Felt’s family for the rights to write the screenplay on Deep Throat, and I can only surmise that they will only be willing to proceed with this if Hanks were planning on projecting Felt in a heroic manner," Mr. McDermott told me. "You don’t make too many films about the devil."

"Our aim is to see if we can inject some degree of perspective in this thing," he continued. "So I plan to accommodate them by making myself available for the sole purpose … consistent with accuracy."

Mr. McDermott, who retired as the FBI’s deputy associate director, has made no secret of his disdain for Mr. Felt, who after decades of secrecy conceded to being Deep Throat. The retired SAC charged that his colleague’s repeated leaks to the press not only compromised the Watergate probe, but placed witnesses in jeopardy.

"[A]ll other arguments seeking to justify Felt’s actions are trash," said Mr. McDermott, who handed me a three-page summary he’d authored surrounding Mr. Felt’s secret role in Watergate.

"Felt was the bureau’s Benedict Arnold," he said. "Having been entrusted with the highest levels of military command … Arnold betrayed his oath, his country and his fellow citizen-soldiers to pursue his own ambitions. Felt did no less to the bureau and his fellow agents. Let’s not fool ourselves. The bureau’s reputation for faithfulness and unselfish devotion to duty has been seriously diminished by this foul episode."

After Mr. Felt recently came out of hiding, he signed book and film deals for around one million dollars, said his publisher, who added Mr. Hanks would produce the movie.

Mr. McDermott was concerned that Mr. Hanks was "sold" on a belief that Deep Throat was "a champion of truth that otherwise would have been suppressed, rather than a cowardly bushwhacker, disloyal to his fellow agents and his oath of office."

No Time for Adieu

Rebecca Hagelin, the Heritage Foundation’s senior communications official, is senior producer of the film "33 Minutes: Protecting America in the New Missile Age," which has just made its premiere.

"33 Minutes is one of the most important projects of my career," she told this columnist before the Capitol Hill screening.

"When Americans realize how vulnerable we are to a missile attack — and how close we are to reducing that threat to near zero through the full deployment of missile defense — I believe they will demand that our leaders finish the mission that was started some 25 years ago."

She said most Americans "don’t realize that 33 minutes is the longest it would take for a ballistic missile launched from anywhere in the world to reach and obliterate the city or region is was programmed to destroy. That’s not even enough time to call all your family members and say goodbye."

More than two dozen screenings of the film are scheduled throughout the nation.

No Bags, Sir?

"I remember a time when the airlines used to lose my bags for free."

So quipped (actually, he was dead serious) best-selling author and NBC "Today Show" travel editor Peter Greenberg while dining at DC Coast on Sunday night with a few fellow frequent fliers, including Keith Bellows, National Geographic Traveler’s editor-in-chief, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Education Christina Erland Culver of Culver Strategies and C/H Global Strategies.

Actually, Mr. Greenberg, called the nation’s pre-eminent expert on the travel experience — packing to unpacking — doesn’t lug his suitcases to the airline counter and check them. He ships them ahead of time to his destination, hotel room or home, and he was doing so long before airlines began charging costly luggage fees.

"As I always say, there are only two kinds of luggage: carry-on and lost," he pointed out, naming several dedicated luggage-shipping companies, as well as UPS, FedEx and DHL.

(Note: On Sunday, Mr. Greenberg will be correspondent for a one-hour NBC "Dateline" special surrounding the 2000 crash of an Air France Concorde. After an intensive eight-year investigation, the French government in July charged Continental Airlines with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the crash. "For the first time, we’re going to tell people what really happened when the Concorde crashed in Paris," Mr. Greenberg said.).

Case ‘Closed’

It was just over a year ago that conservative blogger Matt Margolis filed a formal complaint with the Federal Election Commission surrounding questionable fundraising practices by then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The complaint dealt with a $380,000 "cooks and dishwashers" fundraiser in New York, which sought campaign contributions ranging from $1,000 to $2,500. As Mr. Margolis pointed out, there was at least one donor who admitted to being an illegal immigrant, while another claimed she was illegally reimbursed for her contribution.

Recently, the FEC took up the complaint — purporting "contributions were made in the name of another and contributions were made by foreign nationals" — and has ruled that it "found no reason to believe" Mrs. Clinton violated FEC regulations and "closed the file."

‘Goofy’ Cocktails

Talk about reaction to our interview last week with former judge Robert Bork, the one-time acting attorney general nominated to the Supreme Court by President Reagan.

Yes, some readers had forgotten that the former Yale Law School professor had opportunity to instill legal wisdom in a young radical-minded student named Hillary Rodham-soon-to-be-Clinton. Mr. Bork stressed that "she was in the room. I don’t claim any credit for her development."

Most, however, wished to applaud Mr. Bork’s argument that "the martini is a drink that is much abused – everybody’s making chocolate martinis and apple martinis, and so forth. And it’s the kind of thing that has to stop. The integrity of the martini is essential."

"I’m a Las Vegas bartender, and I happen to agree with Judge Bork on martinis," writes Mike Niederberger. "Although I don’t drink ’em (I prefer an 18-year-old Irish whiskey or a Scotch), I am a martini purist. There is only one martini, and it’s made with gin (your preference) and a splash of dry vermouth with three olives . . .

"All these other goofy ‘martinis’ are nothing more than glorified cocktails served in a martini glass. End of story."

Liberal Listener

Former forest ranger (as a young man) John D. Dingell has made headlines by becoming the longest-serving member in the history of the House of Representatives, the Michigan Democrat having assumed his seat in 1955 at age 29 after the death of his father, the incumbent congressman.

Ever since, whenever Mr. Dingell’s name has appeared in print, it more often than not is preceded by "liberal," albeit not in the traditional sense that he’s unwilling to listen to the other side.

Just over three years ago, this columnist saw fit to quote the congressman after President Bush‘s 2006 State of the Union address, which he actually praised as "balanced."

"After years of divisive rhetoric, he spoke like a man wanting to work with the opposition," Mr. Dingell noted. "It is now my hope that these words are matched with deeds; if they are, I will be happy to work with him."

Mr. Bush, of course, is now in Texas. Mr. Dingell has begun working with his 11th president.

Maury News

"Teen Expelled for Bringing Gun to School," "Should the Death Penalty be Allowed in Montana?" "Dead Dogs and Screaming in the Woods."

Those are three of the latest headlines in the Flathead Beacon, a weekly tabloid newspaper published in Kalispell, Mont. (where this columnist got his journalism start so many years ago), funded no less by D.C. native/TV personality Maury Povich, who with his wife, former CBS anchor Connie Chung, are 10-year residents of the surrounding Flathead Valley.

Mr. Povich, son of the late Washington Post sportswriter Shirley Povich, recently celebrated his 70th birthday.