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Hillary Clinton, Back After a Break

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton kicks off her worldwide "I'm Ba-aack" tour today, starting with what's being billed as a "major policy address" at the Council on Foreign Relations here. She's then off tomorrow on a week-long trip to India and Thailand.

This will give her a chance to, um, reset her image following a month on the sidelines after breaking her elbow and then some embarrassment this week over a comment she made in May: "The Iranians are building a huge embassy in Managua. And you can only imagine what that's for."

Turns out, as this paper reported Monday, that no one in Nicaragua has been able to find any super-embassy, and they've been looking hard. "We don't have an Iranian mega-embassy," a Nicaraguan official told The Post. "We have an ambassador in a rented house with his wife."

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly was obliged to tell reporters Monday that "right now, there is no major Iranian presence in Nicaragua." That jibed with the view of one U.S. diplomat in Nicaragua, who told The Post, "There is no huge Iranian Embassy being built, as far as we can tell." (And this is not Saddam Hussein's Iraq or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran. Things in Nicaragua are pretty findable.)

Clinton apparently heard this report from a "foreign counterpart" while attending a summit in Trinidad, we were told. Unclear whether she bothered to check with her staff at the embassy in Nicaragua or at Foggy Bottom before she spoke about it, Kelly said, but this so-called Iranian threat has been making the rounds of think-tank reports, congressional testimony and press accounts for a couple of years. And we don't want to wait for that mushroom cloud . . .

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

Folks watching the not-quite-riveting Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings this week may have noticed Cynthia Hogan, now counsel to Vice President Biden, sitting behind the judge's left shoulder. We recall during the explosive Clarence Thomas hearings 18 years ago that Hogan, then a top aide to Biden when he chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee, sat behind him, a dozen feet or so from where Thomas sat. This time, she's behind the witness, sitting to Sotomayor's left.

Goes to show you: In this town, the fights may change but the protagonists pretty much stay the same, only moving around to different corners.

Take Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), who just a couple years ago, when he was a Republican, chaired the same committee. He is still there, albeit way down the dais, seated between Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) a former Biden Senate staffer who is warming a seat for the vice president's son Beau Biden, and Stuart Smalley. Must be weird.

10,000 LAKES, 2 PANELISTS

In honor of last night's baseball All-Star Game, we recall that the first Minnesota Twins used to be called the Washington Senators until their move to the Twin Cities -- Minneapolis and St. Paul -- for the 1961 season. They are still happily playing baseball there, fielding a pretty fair team over the years, winning the World Series in 1987 and 1991 and several division titles.

The next Minnesota Twins came into being in 1970, when Justice Harry A. Blackmun joined Chief Justice Warren E. Burger on the Supreme Court and started voting pretty much in sync with the chief. (That lasted only for a few years, until the late liberal Justice William J. Brennan Jr. pried Blackmun left and he became a solid liberal vote.)

The latest Minnesota Twins were unveiled Monday as Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken took their seats Monday, as members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, for the Sotomayor confirmation hearings.

Why is it that Minnesota and Wisconsin each have two members on the committee -- fully one-third of the majority Democrats' 12 seats -- while states such as New York and California have but one and many other states have none at all?

Is Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid playing around with the assignments? Most likely not. Judiciary might be a high-profile committee, but only during times like these. And membership often involves some heavy lifting, some actual preparation, or you can look like a fool. It is not like Appropriations, which is just a question of shoveling out money to the states or the federal government.

BYE, PARTISAN

Noted in passing. . . .

George W. Bush's guests at Camp David just before he left office included Sen. Judd Gregg (R-Vt.) and his wife. They spent the night there just a few weeks before President Obama asked him to be his commerce secretary, the Associated Press reported, based on guest lists it has obtained.

But then Gregg changed his mind about joining the Obama Cabinet. Maybe something Bush said . . .?

THE WAIT IS OVER

It's official: Obama has tapped former Agency for International Development official Aaron Williams to be the Peace Corps' new director.

Williams, a former Peace Corps volunteer, is the vice president for international business development with RTI International and has helped develop and manage aid programs in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia.

CORRECTION

While news accounts have reported that Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) used the word "extortion" when talking about conversations with his former chief of staff Doug Hampton regarding Ensign's affair with Hampton's wife, we're advised by his office that Ensign has repeatedly declined any comment on this matter and did not use that term himself. An Ensign spokesman had talked of Hampton's "outrageous demands" but didn't use the E-word.

Also, his office says that the alleged $25,000-plus severance payment to the Hamptons that some critics had questioned is part of the generous $96,000 gift Ensign's parents decided to give the Hamptons.

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