Go to Destination: Scandal!

The Hay-Adams & The Scandal Revelations

By Lloyd Grove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 30, 1987; Page B01

Sometime in the distant future, when the words "Iran" and "contra" are the stuff of national nostalgia, the first stop on the scandal tour will be the Hay-Adams Hotel.

"When you think about Watergate, a lot of it was conducted in parking garages," said Pamela Stuart, a Justice Department lawyer who was taking tea with half a dozen friends yesterday in the hotel's Lafayette Pavilion cocktail lounge. "It only shows that this one is a much higher class scandal."

The Hay-Adams loomed large yesterday as conservative fundraiser Carl (Spitz) Channell pleaded guilty to conspiring to cheat the government of taxes on more than $2 million raised to arm the Nicaraguan rebels -- with the aid, Channell said, of fired White House functionary Lt. Col. Oliver North. According to a document released by the independent counsel, the hotel built on the site of John Hay's and Henry Adams' houses, and across Lafayette Square from the Reagans', hosted four meetings in which illegal contra-butions were cadged from sympathetic altruists.

In the leathery splendor of the dining rooms, and in the lush comfort of the cocktail lounge, they happily wrote and received large checks.

"Oh my goodness!" said Janet Early, another member of the tea party, celebrating the birthday of her daughter Barbara Brown. They sat in a woody nook dominated by an elaborately framed oil of a bearded medievalist wearing a golden crown. "It's your ex-husband," said Carol Clements to Brown.

"This is a good place to come for secret talks," Clements went on. "You're left alone," she added, significantly.

The hotel management was equally communicative.

"No, I should say not," said General Manager James Bennett when asked if there were any plans to commemorate the "overt acts," as the meetings were labeled by the independent counsel. "If a hotel is well run, you don't really need publicity. And if it's run poorly, publicity doesn't matter. We're one of the quietest hotels in the city."

A laconic man wearing a somber suit and a pained smile, Bennett seemed nonplused by the affair. "Hotels are a place where businessmen can transact business," he said. "What they do or don't do is entirely up to them. We certainly don't monitor them ...

"I didn't even know the man was here," he said of Channell. "If he walked in, I wouldn't even know what he looked like." Channell, it was reported yesterday, is a short, red-faced man with a pencil-thin blond mustache.

"We've got our share of rather elegant guests here," Bennett conceded. After some prodding, he described the hotel de'cor as "kind of English." Named for Hay, secretary of state under Theodore Roosevelt, and Adams, the legendary chronicler, the hotel opened for business in 1927.

Bennett, general manager for the last two years, was hard pressed to recall any other newsworthy events. A cursory examination of the files revealed that in September 1954, three suitcases belonging to a Peruvian plantation owner -- including one containing $8,000 in mink stoles and capes -- mysteriously vanished from the cloakroom. And in October 1978, 15 hotel employes were overcome by smoke during a fire in the kitchen.

In the latest incident, the hotel was identified in four overt acts from April 1985 to May 1986, during which Channell and North raised $2.12 million in cash and securities. While one of the overt acts took place in the cocktail lounge, the independent counsel didn't specify whether the others occurred in the Grill Room downstairs, the Adams Room upstairs or the John Hay Room on the lobby level. Nor did he say what was ordered, who paid or whether the meals involved were breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Bennett was no help.

"I'd prefer that you wouldn't, really," he said, giving a visitor's arm a very hard squeeze, when asked if his guests were available for consultation. "What happens is that they're not used to being interviewed."

The strains of a Shaker hymn ("It's a gift to be simple, it's a gift to be free ...") could be heard over the sound system of the Lafayette Pavilion.

Asked for permission to speak to his waiters, Bennett demurred once again. "I prefer you don't, really," he said. "You see, they speak different languages."

How about the chef?

"I don't think so," he said. "He's such a very hard worker, I don't think you'd get much of anything from him."

Then what kind of furniture is that?

"It could be Chippendale," he speculated.

And how many years has he been in the hotel business?

"Quite a number," he replied.

"It's more like a club here than a hotel," Bennett explained. "But all types of people come in. It's open to the public."

He stood by patiently as members of his public were asked their reactions to yesterday's developments.

"It makes no difference to me whatsoever," said a businessman leaving the cocktail lounge, punctuating the remark with an icy scowl. "It's irrelevant."

"That's exactly why we're here," said a man with a briefcase, accompanied by another man with a briefcase whom he identified as his lawyer. "We're about to conspire."

© The Washington Post Co.

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