The Reliable Source

By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Friday, March 27, 2009; 12:00 AM

Al Franken, Making The Rounds

When you're this close to becoming a U.S. senator, you don't want to take any chances. That's why Al Franken chose his words very carefully at the USO dinner Wednesday night.

"There was an election . . . ," he told the crowd. "I think I won it. This has been going on for a while. . . . All I know, if I get to the Senate, I'm going to do everything I can for these soldiers."

Franken's fate, with a 225-vote lead over Norm Coleman, is in the hands of three judges in Minnesota who are expected to rule any minute. The former comedian, who's been on seven overseas USO tours, took time out from the legal battle to accept an award from the Metropolitan Washington chapter for his visits with soldiers at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda and Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He was joined by Miss America Katie Stam, actress Renée Zellweger (adorable, but refused to talk to the media because . . . oh, who cares?) and a ballroom full of Medal of Honor recipients and other distinguished military personnel.

Franken told the audience at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City that he was initially worried, like most volunteers, about how he could cheer up the wounded veterans -- and found himself lifted by their courage and humor. Four veterans stood alongside Franken while he delivered his remarks -- until the spotlights got too hot and they filed off the stage. He gave them an exaggerated double-take until one of the vets quipped: "Burn guy. He's melting."

"I do the jokes," shot back Franken with a grin.

After the presentation, the would-be senator avoided any questions about the election ("Tonight is about the USO") but said he'd use the seat to obtain better health care for veterans and push for a pet pilot project: "I'd like to see wounded veterans get service dogs. I'm a dog guy."

And what if he doesn't end up in the Senate? "I don't even want to entertain that possibility," he said without cracking a smile. Guess there are still some subjects he can't joke about.

A Serious Role for a Hollywood Veteran

Tom Selleck: Not a Vietnam vet, but he played one on TV! Good enough reason to be on the Mall yesterday helping the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund unveil exhibits -- letters, dog tags, helmet -- that will tour the country and become part of a permanent education center, reports our colleague Neely Tucker. The "Magnum, P.I." star, 64 (big head, trademark mustache, no Detroit Tigers cap) signed on earlier this year to be national spokesman for the group; stopped in D.C. en route to France, where he's filming "Five Killers": "I don't kill anybody, though."

This Just In . . .

-- A man who tried to jump the fence at the TV studio of "Dancing With the Stars" was charged yesterday on a felony charge of stalking contestant Shawn Johnson. Prosecutors in Los Angeles said Robert O'Ryan, 34, drove from Florida in a car with loaded guns, duct tape and love letters with notions of meeting the 17-year-old Olympic gymnast.

Hey, Isn't That...?

-- Sean Penn walking into Bistro Bis on Wednesday night, all in black and as usual sporting the best head of hair on two coasts. Later showed up at Capital Grille with a large business-like group. Playing Joe Wilson in "Fair Game," which filmed yesterday at the Willard Hotel and NBC studios -- looked like they grayed up his hair for the role.

-- Alex Ovechkin lunching late at Clyde's of Georgetown yesterday. Shared the roasted calamari with his leggy blond date.

-- Tim Daly (blazer, jeans, glasses) dining Wednesday night with lobbyist Morris Reid at Teatro Goldoni. The "Private Practice" and "Sopranos" actor testified on the Hill yesterday about job losses in the arts community.


"Eventually your words is going to kill you. . . . It made me and it's going to kill me, so I might as well stop."

-- Gilbert Arenas explaining to the Associated Press why he's breaking our hearts by retiring the NBA's best blog. Complains that "people started using it, trying to take bits and pieces instead of enjoying the blog." Gilbert, we always enjoyed the blog.

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