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Ashcroft, No Sellout

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Washington State University Vancouver folks were puzzled last week when only 100 people bought advance tickets for former attorney general John D. Ashcroft 's speech on national security and civil liberties.

After all, last year's speaker, newly named Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean , sold out the 1,100 seats before the event.

The head of the WSU Vancouver College Republicans told the Oregonian of Portland it may be that Ashcroft, the author of the controversial USA Patriot Act, "is not an exciting character for a lot of people."

Well, he must be exciting to someone. He received a $27,000 speaker's fee to address the school's fourth annual Public Affairs Distinguished Lecture series, according to Carolyn N. Long , head of the school's public affairs program. And that was substantially less than his usual $60,000. With travel and other costs for receptions and dinners, the tab came to about $36,000.

Dean's fee, she said, was only $17,000. Probably could have been given more if he had promised to scream.

"We did an all-out blitz" to gin up interest among local Republican Party folks and others, Long said. In the end, about 700 showed. Of those, 225 paid the full $10, 400 students were comped and 75 were VIPs. Several rows in the back were roped off to make the room appear smaller.

A couple of dozen protesters were outside and one inside as Ashcroft gave an address described by news accounts as an interesting speech.

Eternal City Beckons Eternal Officeholder

Sad news. We've failed once again to land a most excellent job in Rome -- as ambassador to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, which is based in the Eternal City.

Someone even turned this job down, we hear, clearing the way for Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez , who's now said to be President Bush 's pick.

The ambassador's office is on the Piazza del Popolo, site of the last public executions in Rome and not far from the Spanish Steps. It's an easy stroll for an exquisite lunch at Da Bologna, where the stars hang out. What better way to bring attention to world hunger?

Loop Fans may recall that Vasquez, a former Orange County official, announced "with mixed emotions," in October 2003 that he was leaving after only 20 months at the Peace Corps. But he never left.

Vasquez would replace former congressman Tony P. Hall (R-Ohio), who is being talked up as the next envoy for war-torn Sudan.

Unclear if Vasquez would continue Hall's annual Hunger Banquet, where some diplomats dined on water and rice, some on rice and beans and a select few had a fine meal, reflecting the proportion of those who eat well and those who don't.

Was It Inevitable? Klayman Sues Judicial Watch

Tenacious lawyer and recently unsuccessful senatorial candidate Larry Klayman is suing the organization he founded and chaired, Judicial Watch, and its president, Thomas Fitton , for a range of alleged misdeeds, including defamation and failing to comply with a severance agreement.

In the suit, filed in federal court here last week, Klayman, now practicing law in Florida, said Judicial Watch had been "threatening the media" so it would "no longer refer to" him as the organization's former founder and chairman, which would result in the media's no longer calling on him "to comment on political and legal affairs."

Klayman rose to fame as a watchdog for his suits against the Clinton administration; ethics complaints against others, including former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.); and another action to open the deliberations of Vice President Cheney 's Energy Task Force.

Co-plaintiff Louise Benson of California alleges she pledged $50,000 to Judicial Watch as part of a fundraising campaign to buy a headquarters building, giving $15,000 up front in exchange for "naming rights" and a plaque.

But while $1.4 million was raised, no effort was ever made to buy the building, the suit alleges.

Benson is asking for at least $75,000 and for punitive damages. Klayman is seeking several million dollars in damages.

Judicial Watch, in its IRS filings, has said that Klayman, while head of Judicial Watch, also ran his own law firm and the two businesses "shared certain employees and . . . expenses, such as rent, telephone . . . etc." Judicial Watch said Klayman has not reimbursed it for those expenses.

Klayman, in the suit, says that the statements are false and that their posting on the Judicial Watch Web site violated the severance agreement.

Fitton declined to respond to "specific allegations," but said, "generally, it's a ridiculous lawsuit full of lies and distortions, which Judicial Watch will address vigorously in court. It's a tactical maneuver to distract attention from the fact that he owes us more than a quarter-million dollars. It's a smear job."

Klayman has demanded a jury trial. Should be a fun show.

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