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Cosmos Club/ The Washington Post
Cosmos Club (The Washington Post)

Cosmos Disrupted by Lewinsky Hubbub

By Ken Ringle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 16, 1998; Page D01

The founders of the venerable and long-exclusive Cosmos Club believed no philosophy "so serene and so comforting as that which unites the love of study and of books with the fellowship of men."

Thus members of the starchy institution have viewed with something less than enthusiasm the recent residence therein of one William Ginsburg of Los Angeles, who, with his legal client Monica Lewinsky, has effectively placed the club's Beaux-Arts building on Massachusetts Avenue under journalistic siege.

Television crews, satellite trucks, photographers and reporters have ringed the mansion ("like a camp-out of Gypsies with tambourines," sniffed one member), radiating around the globe images of the club's elegant, glass-canopied doorway, framing a young woman whose purported fellowship with the president of the United States had little to do with serenity.

"It's excited more than a little comment from the members," said Cosmos veteran David Taylor, a professor at Georgetown University. "Ginsburg isn't even a member of the club."

Taylor and other members, all of whom voiced nervousness about being quoted, emphasize that nothing exactly improper has occurred at their establishment. Attorney Ginsburg is a member of a club -- apparently the Athletic Club of Los Angeles -- which has reciprocal membership privileges with the Cosmos, and he is exercising those privileges within all the rules.

The problem, they say, is one of appearance. The Cosmos is so strict about members' not using its premises for business that reporters visiting the dining room by invitation have had their notebooks ordered shut in mid-interview. Yet Ginsburg, by making the club his Washington base, has obliquely tarred it not just with business, but with the tawdriest Washington scandal within memory.

Under rules of the club, which was founded by explorer John Wesley Powell in 1878, visitors reportedly may confer with clients in private club rooms rented for that purpose. This Ginsburg has apparently done. But meeting with Lewinsky in the club at this point behind closed doors . . .

"Do I really have to spell it out?" sighed one anguished Cosmopolite.

Other frictions have surfaced as well among the 3,000-odd membership, the average age of which, Taylor says, is well past 65. According to one report, television personality Barbara Walters was huddled with Ginsburg one day in the bar when a member of her camera crew came in dressed in bluejeans and a sweat shirt. The club requires male guests to wear coat and tie. The offending lout was reportedly ejected, prompting an indignant protest from Walters. This story, however, while reported secondhand by several members, could not be confirmed.

"I've heard that report, too," said former journalist Murray Gart, a longtime Cosmos member. "But I've heard at least four versions of it and they're all so different I couldn't begin to say which, if any, is true."

Neither Walters nor Ginsburg could be reached for clarification.

Robert Cleary, Cosmos Club president, replied frostily to inquiries about Ginsburg's visit and what protests, if any, it has engendered. "This is a private club and any such communications would quite naturally be private," he said. "Nothing noisy or unusual is going on inside the club. Some people camped outside the club have been disruptive at times. Some of them, if I'm not mistaken, are your colleagues."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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