The Washington Post

Life inside the Beltway can be brutal


Diplomatic circles can be dangerous terrain. Like nature, they may be red in tooth and claw.

Take the bloody international incident that played out in the otherwise civilized environs of the genteel Foxhall neighborhood, where the ambassadors of Belgium and Spain occupy lovely adjacent residences.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

A family of foxes had made its home on the grounds of the Belgian ambassador’s residence. There, the mother fox and her little kits were adored by the ambassador and his wife.

All was well until a clash with a rival raccoon family dwelling in the yard of the neighboring Spanish ambassador’s home, one of our trusted Loop sources told us. The mother fox apparently killed the raccoon babies and fed them to her own young.

Quelle horreur! Wars have begun on lesser grounds.

Belgian Embassy spokesman Joris Totte tells us that, indeed, the ambassador and his wife have been delighted to host the fox family. In fact, they’ve even taken great pains to protect the four-legged clan from partygoers attending functions at the residence. The ambassador, an avid shutterbug who enjoys nature photography, has snapped many photos of the wildlife.

And the Spaniards confirm there’s a fox that’s known to roam the grounds.

But the incidence of intra-species violence remains shrouded in mystery. Totte says — as do representatives of the Spanish Embassy — that there’s been no fox-on-raccoon violence that they know of.

Do we detect an international coverup?

We growled, they listened

Score one for Fido!

United Airlines has told the State Department and the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) that it will extend its military rate for pet travel to Foreign Service officers assigned abroad.

An April 18 Loop item noted that UAL had given a waiver to members of the military when it newly classified dogs and cats as cargo instead of excess baggage — a change that could run transport costs from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. Because of its size and federal requirements that officers use U.S. carriers, United is often the only option.

The AFSA members protested that they should be included in the waiver. Former commerce secretary Gary Locke, now ambassador to China, weighed in with a letter to the airlines.

Members of Congress, including Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Jim Moran (D-Va.), Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.) , Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), wrote UAL executives last week urging they extend the waiver to the Foreign Service.

The effort apparently paid off. A senior UAL official called Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy on April 18 and AFSA President Susan Johnson the next day to tell them the military waiver would be extended.

AFSA’s not been talking about it, one official said, because they were “still waiting for something in writing before we make it official,” and that the organization hoped to get written confirmation this week. Unclear if the new policy also applies to employees of other agencies who are stationed at embassies.

The un-lobbyist

Former lobbyist Steve Ricchetti took a huge pay cut to work for Vice President Biden. Of course, it helps that he’ll get a $2 million payout from the lobbying firm he owned, our colleague T.W. Farnam reports.

Ricchetti began work as a counselor to Biden last month. On Tuesday, Biden’s office released documents showing that Ricchetti made $1.8 million from his firm, Ricchetti Inc., last year. He’s owed $217,000 more for work in January and February of this year.

He made more in those two months than he’ll make working for the government for the rest of the year — the top salary for White House officials is $172,200. The vice president’s office doesn’t disclose salaries.

The administration doesn’t hire lobbyists who have been registered with the House and the Senate in the past two years. In this case, it hired the president of a lobbying firm with clients including drugmaker Eli Lilly, the American Bankers Association, the American Council of Life Insurers, AT&T and the American Hospital Association.

Ricchetti lists on his disclosure form that he was doing “government relations” for at least 20 different clients last year. He did not require a waiver of the administration’s anti-lobbyist policy, however, because he deregistered with the House and Senate in late 2008, as President Obama was preparing to take office. His brother, Jeffrey Ricchetti, remained registered to lobby for the firm, which they founded together.

“Steve Ricchetti has not acted as a lobbyist within the past two years, so he does not need a waiver,” Biden’s office said in a statement. “Since 2008, Steve advised clients on public policy, communications strategy, and grassroots efforts but did not act as a lobbyist with the federal government on behalf of any client.”

The disclosure form also shows that Ricchetti resigned from a fleet of Washington boards to take his new job, including the Center for American Progress, the Trust for the National Mall, and Bloomberg Government. BGov paid Ricchetti $57,000 for his board service.

Ricchetti’s 401(k) will remain with Ricchetti Inc., according to the form, which says it is at least $500,000 and “all cash.”

Moving on

Ron Weich, assistant attorney general for legislative affairs and before that chief counsel to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, is leaving to become dean of the University of Baltimore School of Law. Weich takes over there in July.

About that Cantor flight

We had promised last week to provide additional details on that Delta flight on Monday from Atlanta to Washington with two House members — Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), returning from his district, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) — on board.

Lewis was in coach, Cantor in business class. We called to see why Cantor was in Atlanta and why in business class. Alas, his office wouldn’t say — which is a bit unusual when we call offices about lawmakers’ travel.

But we’re not going to use our Loop subpoena power to force Cantor to tell us. (The Justice Department gives us only six a year, and we try to save them.) Of course, we could use the Freedom of Information Act. Oh, wait! Congress exempted itself.

So we apologize. The trip details may remain a mystery.

With Emily Heil

The blog: Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.


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