By Dana Milbank
Friday, November 9, 2007
Those who believe in the innate goodness of humankind have never walked the 100 block of D Street Southeast.
Let's start at 110 D St., the drab Hill House apartment complex; police were summoned here, to Apartment 215, when a woman complained that her lover, then-Rep. Don Sherwood (R-Pa.), a married man, tried to strangle her.
Walk a few doors down and you arrive at a townhouse with a birdbath in front: 132 D St., the "Safe House" where, under artwork provided by clients of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) and his colleagues made fundraising calls and set up a lobbying business.
Across the street at No. 137, a charming stucco house under a shade tree, is where then-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) was reportedly visited by teenagers; from there he also sent lewd instant messages to boys.
On the corner of the block stands an appropriately whitewashed structure housing the Republican National Committee, where thousands of e-mails from Karl Rove and other White House officials mysteriously vanished. Also on the block: the former home of Porter Goss, who, as director of the CIA, hired Dusty Foggo, indicted as part of the bribery case that also imprisoned former California Rep. Duke Cunningham (R).
But, scandal tourists, there is no time to tarry here. You must hurry to the corner townhouse near RFK Stadium where the FBI found $90,000 in a congressman's freezer; the men's room at Union Station, said to be a favorite hangout of the "sitting" senator from Idaho, Larry Craig; the corner on Pennsylvania Avenue where a former national security adviser hid classified documents under a construction trailer; hotels where Scooter Libby told Judy Miller to call him a "former Hill staffer" and where a defense contractor provided refreshments and allegedly prostitutes for government officials; and the marina where a congressman once moored the boat he earned as a bribe.
With at least 16 current and former members of Congress under investigation and congressional committees issuing two dozen subpoenas to current and former administration officials, there has never been a better time to take a scandalous tour of Washington.
Not that there has ever been a bad time for the scandal industry here. The comedy group Gross National Product has long conducted Scandal Tours for the prurient. But a check of the group's Web site indicates that the tour's itinerary is in need of updating. It still includes Ollie North's shredding (1986), the Watergate break-in (1972), Gary Hart and Donna Rice (1987), Rita and John Jenrette (1981) and Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill (1991). The tour still features the Tidal Basin, where Wilbur Mills and a stripper were caught -- in 1974. Mills, once chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has been dead for 15 years.
After the past few years, Washington can do better (which is to say worse) than that.
Begin your tour across the river at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City. This is where old scandal meets new. Here is where Marv Albert bit a Virginia woman in 1997 and where Monica Lewinsky was recorded and photographed while she had lunch with Linda Tripp in 1998 and was later questioned by the FBI. In 2004, the FBI recorded a meeting between Pentagon official Larry Franklin and two top pro-Israel lobbyists as part of an ongoing espionage case.
All of this means that William Jefferson, a Democratic congressman from Louisiana, should have known something was up when, in July 2005, business partner Lori Moody invited him to the hotel. There, FBI agents recorded Jefferson accepting a briefcase containing $100,000 intended as a bribe for an African official.
To see the rest of the Jefferson story, hop on Interstate 395 back into town, and make your way to 1350 F St. NE. In August 2005, FBI agents found $90,000 of the money wrapped in aluminum foil and stuffed in frozen-food containers in Jefferson's freezer. Jefferson won reelection last year and has since been indicted.
By the time you finish touring D Street and the Jefferson sights, you'll probably feel like taking a break. Stop for refreshments at the Dubliner,520 North Capitol St. NW, near Union Station. The pub was one of several haunts of then-Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), who is doing time because of the Abramoff scandal. Ney spent a memorable night here in January 2002 instead of attending the State of the Union address.
Public restrooms are scarce downtown, so take advantage of the facilities at Union Station to freshen up. A man told the Idaho Statesman that this popular meeting point for gay sex is where he once had a sexual encounter with Craig (R-Idaho).
Continue down Capitol Hill and you will soon arrive at the E. Barrett Prettyman federal courthouse, which is a pretty sight indeed for the scandal hunter. Here, where Pennsylvania and Constitution avenues meet, Libby was found guilty of perjury in the Valerie Plame leak scandal and sentenced to 30 months in prison before President Bush commuted the sentence. Here, the dozen convictions in the Abramoff case were secured, including that of the former No. 2 at the Interior Department, Steven Griles, sentenced to 10 months.
Here, too, alleged D.C. madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey is heading toward trial, accused of running a prostitution ring that has already forced out deputy secretary of state Randall Tobias and caused embarrassment for Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). And here, a grand jury is investigating former congressman Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) for influence peddling.
A few blocks up Pennsylvania Avenue NW brings you to the corner of Ninth Street, a bipartisan scandal mecca. This is where former White House national security adviser Sandy Berger, sneaking classified documents out of the National Archives in 2003, hid the papers under a construction trailer. That happened just steps from Abramoff's restaurant, Signatures, where Republican lawmakers enjoyed meals on the house. The restaurant, at 801 Pennsylvania Ave., became an Italian seafood spot, D'Acqua, after Abramoff went under.
Cater-corner from the late Signatures: the Justice Department (950 Pennsylvania Ave.). Here, officials hatched an ill-fated plan to dismiss eight U.S. attorneys and replace them with "loyal Bushies." That produced a flurry of subpoenas to administration officials, a constitutional stalemate between the White House and Congress, and an acute case of amnesia for then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as he tried to recall his role in the dismissals.
Continuing along Pennsylvania Avenue will soon deposit you at Lafayette Square, across from the White House, where in 2002 a disk containing a political presentation by Rove was mysteriously found by a Senate Democratic staffer. The 27-page PowerPoint document had been stored on government computers.
One block north on 16th Street is the St. Regis Hotel, where "former Hill staffer" Libby ate two meals with New York Times reporter Judith Miller and told her about Valerie Plame's work for the CIA. But the St. Regis is undergoing renovation; head west instead to 1800 F St., headquarters of the General Services Administration. Here, a Rove deputy gave a briefing about the 2006 election, and administrator Lurita Alexis Doan asked how the agency could help "our candidates."
Walking several blocks north of the GSA brings the scandal tourist to Dupont Circle. On the south side of the circle (1333 New Hampshire Ave.) is the Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld law firm, which recently suspended a legal secretary after she admitted moonlighting for the D.C. madam's escort service. On the north side of the circle (1523 New Hampshire Ave.) is the former headquarters of MZM Inc., the business of defense contractor Mitchell Wade, who pleaded guilty last year to paying more than $1 million in bribes to Rep. Duke Cunningham. Recently, a sign in the door announced: "Thank you for your patience while this area is under construction."
Time for a break. Revive yourself in Washington's tony West End at the Westin Grand,2350 M St. NW. This is where Brent Wilkes, another defense contractor involved in the Cunningham scandal, hosted wild poker parties. Federal investigators contacted escort services to determine whether Wilkes supplied Cunningham, Foggo and other officials with prostitutes at these parties, which began at the Watergate Hotel and then moved to the Westin.
Heading south on 23rd Street will bring you past the State Department, where a woman named Shaha Riza moved (with a hefty raise) after her boyfriend, then-World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz, helped arrange her transfer from the World Bank. That assistance to his sweetheart cost Wolfie his job.
Last stop: The waterfront. At 3000 K St. NW, in the upscale Washington Harbour complex, the now-defunct Alexander Strategy Group did business from its first-floor offices. Former DeLay aide Edwin Buckham ran the lobbying business, which employed DeLay's wife and another former DeLay aide, Tony Rudy, who pleaded guilty in the Abramoff case. Another Buckham business employed Julie Doolittle, wife of Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.). This year the FBI searched Julie Doolittle's home as part of a corruption investigation.
From Washington Harbour, it's just a short trip downriver to the Capital Yacht Club (1000 Water St. SW). Among those who have floated their boats here are Republican senators Craig of Idaho and Ted Stevens of Alaska; Stevens has become ensnared in a corruption probe in his home state. Here, too, is where Cunningham lived aboard his boat, the Duke-Stir. Defense contractor Wade bribed the congressman with a $140,000 boat and received a federal contract.
Today, the yacht club itself is a bit run-down, and trash floats in the water. A janitor making his way along the pier recently was asked about the Duke-Stir. "It's gone," he said.
But not forgotten.