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Sticking to His Guns

Charlie Wilson and wife Barbara made a special trip to Los Angeles to attend the official premiere of
Charlie Wilson and wife Barbara made a special trip to Los Angeles to attend the official premiere of "Charlie Wilson's War." Wilson had a heart transplant in September, at age 74. (By Chris Pizzello -- Associated Press)

Says Cornett: "He specialized in dating lovely women." She was Wilson's press secretary from 1982 until he left office in 1996, and she remembers when a New York gossip columnist reported that Wilson was dating actress Farrah Fawcett. "He'd never met Farrah in his life, but he reads that and says, 'You think if I call her, she'll go out with me?' "

On Capitol Hill, Wilson became famous not only for dating beautiful women but for hiring them. "His office was filled with absolutely gorgeous, striking women," recalls lobbyist Roselee Roberts. When Wilson was asked about them, he would respond with a line that is quoted in the movie but which can't quite make it unscathed into this family newspaper.

"You can teach 'em to type," he'd say, "but you can't teach 'em to grow [breasts]."

"Charlie just likes saying things like that," says Tindal, who was Wilson's staffer on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee in the 1980s. "He used to drive us crazy because he was such a chauvinist, but he also gave us so many opportunities. For heaven's sakes, I was a woman on Defense Appropriations, where there weren't very many of us." Then she adds this: "I'm a big fan."

Beating the Rap

In the summer of 1980, Wilson traveled to Las Vegas with a girlfriend, who happened to be a Playboy cover girl, and he somehow ended up in a hot tub at Caesars Palace with two naked showgirls.

"The girls had cocaine, and the music was loud," Wilson told the late George Crile, author of the 2003 book "Charlie Wilson's War," which inspired the movie. "It was total happiness. And both of them had 10 long, red fingernails with an endless supply of beautiful white powder. . . . The feds spent a million bucks trying to figure out whether, when those fingernails passed under my nose, did I inhale or exhale, and I ain't telling."

Those "feds" were led by Rudolph Giuliani, then a young Justice Department attorney, heading an investigation into drug use on Capitol Hill. When news of the probe leaked, Wilson denied that he'd used cocaine. Then he added a promise that was pure Wilson: "I won't blame booze and I won't suddenly find Jesus."

Giuliani never got the goods on Wilson, and in July 1983 the feds announced that they had "insufficient admissible, credible evidence to support criminal charges." Charlie was off the hook! He celebrated with a "Beat the Rap Party."

But his troubles weren't over. A month later, driving in a condition he later described as "drunker than [bleep]," Wilson lost control of his Lincoln Continental on the Key Bridge, smacked into a Mazda, then drove away. A witness reported his license number to the police, and he was busted for hit-and-run driving.

Divorce, dope, drunk driving: As the 1984 election approached, the experts figured the voters of East Texas might decide to replace Wilson with someone a bit less, um, colorful.

A Mover and Shaker

But the experts were wrong, as they often are, and the God-fearing people of East Texas reelected Wilson in 1984 -- and five times after that.

"He was their Charlie," says Tindal, "and whatever he did, they'd say, 'Well, that's our Charlie.' "

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