School for Scandal
Sunday, June 4, 2006
Washington whispers. Colleagues gossip. The scandal machine has affixed a bull's-eye on someone's back and the town is abuzz, voyeuristic, cruel.
Acquaintances step away, eyebrows raised behind ice clinking in glasses at cocktails once so cozy. Or they surround you, tongues clucking, heads shaking, offering their sympathy about the subpoenas, the raids, the leaks, the bad press.
Your reputation faces ruination. There may be jail time. But you've got to suck it up. Got to soldier on, move forward, like Franklin D. Raines.
Nearly two years ago, Raines's voice choked, his emotions rose, as he told a congressional hearing of his difficulty in explaining to his daughter why the newspapers were saying bad things about her daddy.
But even as the ousted Fannie Mae chief executive awaited the outcome of civil and criminal probes into alleged financial fraud at the mortgage funding agency, Raines moved on to other high-profile and potentially lucrative ventures. He partnered with Frederic Malek, Colin Powell and Vernon Jordan in a failed bid to win ownership of the Nationals baseball team. And he partnered with Steve Case, the founder of AOL who has started a new holding company, Revolution. Raines, an investor and board member of Revolution Health Group, is not a man slinking away in disgrace, at least not now.
Nor is Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio). He's out stumping in his district, keeping his reelection campaign stoked. Ney is among several targets being investigated in the scandals surrounding dirty lobbyist Jack Abramoff; a former Bush White House official, David Safavian, is on trial in that sprawling public corruption case. Just after Ney's former chief of staff, Neil Volz, pleaded guilty to conspiracy last month in the Abramoff-related probe, Ney stood before the House Republican Conference and addressed the situation head-on, saying, of course, he had done nothing wrong.
Says Ney spokesman Brian Walsh, "You can't ignore the elephant in the room." He's not talking about Republicans; he's talking about the stain of scandal.
"People in Washington talk. I mean, that's what we do for a living. . . . [Ney] unfailingly will bring it up. It's in the headlines. People are aware of it. People are talking about it. You can either pretend it's not there or you can acknowledge it and address it."
Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.) spoke at the inauguration of Mayor Ray Nagin down in New Orleans just days after the feds raided Jefferson's Capitol Hill office as part of a bribery probe, following the public revelation of $90,000 found stuffed inside his freezer. Jay Leno may have dubbed that frozen cash a "bribe-sicle," but life goes on. Jefferson even attended an event with first lady Laura Bush on historic preservation in New Orleans.
Melanie Roussell, Jefferson's spokeswoman, says her congressman is just doing what he's supposed to do: be a lawmaker, represent his constituents.
"It's not a strategy," she said of Jefferson's very public and high-profile schedule.
But what he's doing does have a name.