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Coulter, TWP Ann Coulter is a fixture on the shout-show circuit. (Dayna Smith — The Washington Post)

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  • The Blonde Flinging Bombshells at Bill Clinton

    By Howard Kurtz
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, October 16, 1998

    The woman on the bar stool -- long blond hair, short black skirt, spiky heels, chain-smoking Carltons -- looks like she's waiting to be picked up.

    But Ann Coulter is actually waiting to speak to a conservative gathering at Hunan on Capitol Hill about her favorite topic -- why President Clinton should be impeached.

    She serves up red meat by the slab, calling Clinton "crazy," "like a serial killer," "creepier and slimier than Kennedy. . . . We're shrugging about this guy using this woman like a dog. . . . He's behaving like some sort of sultan or tin-pot dictator." And in case anyone missed the point, "I just want to get rid of him."

    Two years ago, Coulter was an obscure Senate aide. Now she's a fixture on the shout-show circuit, which led to a book contract, which led to an ad featuring a sultry-looking Coulter with the headline: "Bill's Last Blonde?"

    "Bill Clinton's worst nightmare just came true. . . . Meet Ann Coulter, the constitutional lawyer turned journalist who finally puts the case for Bill Clinton's impeachment to bed." So to speak.

    Coulter proudly claims membership in the small band of what she calls "blond right-wing pundits" -- up close, her chemically enhanced mane is a blinding yellow -- because she says it creates a "market niche" for her anti-Clinton views. She professes mild embarrassment at the "Last Blonde" ad, but says nonchalantly that Regnery Publishing has concluded that "sex sells."

    Indeed it does. Coulter's book, "High Crimes and Misdemeanors," written in seven months and bringing her to the verge of a "nervous breakdown," has rocketed to No. 5 on the New York Times bestseller list. The book is a 314-page polemic that combines legal scholarship with a kitchen-sink review of every charge, from orchestrating tax audits of conservative groups to supposedly arranging hush money for Webb Hubbell, ever hurled against the president. And its success has prompted the 34-year-old lawyer to quit her day job and devote full time to peddling the book, and herself.

    "We thought she'd make a good author for promoting it," says Alfred Regnery, head of the conservative publishing house. "She's feisty and gets attention."

    While Coulter can toss off references to James Madison's view of impeachment as quickly as the next lawyer, she delights in going for the jugular. On "Rivera Live," she said Clinton's use of his secretary, Betty Currie, "is so craven and cowardly. It's like a hostage holding a baby in front of him. . . . He would use taxpayer-funded jobs to pay off his little government-funded brothel."

    On "Equal Time": "We're now at the point that it's beyond whether or not this guy is a horny hick. I really think it's a question of his mental stability. He really could be a lunatic. . . . I think it is a rational question for Americans to ask whether their president is insane."

    Lunatic? Insane? Coulter's inflammatory style, not surprisingly, has its detractors.

    "She is annoying," says Democratic strategist Victor Kamber, who often debates her on TV. "She's a very opinionated, black-and-white type person. But I'm as rude as she is. I'll shout just as loud as she will. With Ann, it's much more of a brawl."

    Others refuse to appear with her. "She is entitled to her own style, and it's been successful for her," says former White House spinmeister Lanny Davis. "It's not my style, and I just am not comfortable with her style."

    But Coulter is more than comfortable. "She's loving being able to voice her views, to get her message out there," says Dan Travers, a friend since Cornell University, where Coulter launched the conservative Cornell Review. "She likes the attention and the fans. She thrives on the whole thing."

    Coulter seems to delight in making trouble for her employers. "I had vituperative arguments with Regnery that required a number of tantrums to pull off," she says. She is "still bitter" about the publisher's refusal to use her favorite chapter title, "Fellatio Ad Absurdum." "They thought it was too racy. . . . They kept coming up with these stupid titles," she says. (Chapter headings include "Blasting the Bimbos," "Prevaricator in Chief" and "A Cancer on the Country.")

    She acquits herself of the charge of using her sexuality to hawk the book. "I'm not, they are," Coulter insists. "I did draw the line at a completely absurd radio ad they wanted me to read. It was ridiculous. I've written a serious book. It went something like 'They call me Bill's last blonde, I'm keeping him up at night.' They begged and pleaded. I crossed my arms and just said no."

    Coulter does more than play a conservative on television. She advised Paula Jones's lawyers in their suit against Clinton and helped Jones find new attorneys when the first pair quit. She referred Linda Tripp to her attorney friend Jim Moody (Coulter and Moody are both Deadheads who followed the Grateful Dead to dozens of far-flung concerts, she says). Coulter says she suggested to Moody that Tripp take her tapes of Monica Lewinsky to independent counsel Kenneth Starr; he had already thought of the idea.

    On a recent edition of "Crossfire," Coulter was briefly speechless when asked if she had heard any of Tripp's tapes before the story became public. She now admits she heard one of the tapes, saying that an unidentified friend needed her recording equipment to copy it.

    "I was a little concerned about the 'right-wing cabal' appearance of things," Coulter says. Although Starr is examining whether Tripp lied about how the tapes were made, Coulter says she's not worried about being questioned.

    Both Coulter and Moody say he was not the source of the tape she heard. "She's kind of annoyed at me for not giving her the tapes so she could put them in her book," Moody says. Still, he says, "I always enjoy her because she doesn't pull her punches. We all want to appear dignified and thoughtful and contemplative, and Ann is just Ann."

    A native of New Canaan, Conn., Coulter attended law school at the University of Michigan, where she founded the local chapter of the Federalist Society, a conservative scholars' group (or as Coulter puts it, "a bunch of nerd lawyers interpreting the Constitution"). She did stints as a Justice Department attorney and appeals court clerk before practicing corporate law in New York. "Mind-numbingly boring," she sniffs.

    When the Republicans won control of Congress in 1994, Coulter moved here to work for Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.), a Federalist Society activist. She says she took a two-thirds pay cut, to $35,000 ("I thought you got welfare benefits at that level"). Her goal was "to repeal the New Deal," but her portfolio was confined to such issues as immigration law.

    In the summer of 1996, Coulter, who didn't own a TV until she moved here, became a part-time talking head for MSNBC, the new kid on the cable block. "I was one of their dopey little contributors," she says. "They kept firing me, but then they'd rehire me. People just went mental when they saw a real conservative on TV."

    Her cutting comments became legendary. While Pamela Harriman's casket was being carried off an airplane, she described the late ambassador as having slept her way to the top. "What she said was so outrageous she was immediately put on probation, and the next one was even worse," an MSNBC official says.

    Coulter was debating a disabled Vietnam vet when she snapped: "People like you caused us to lose that war." (She says she didn't know the guest, appearing by satellite, was disabled.) That ended her MSNBC career.

    Coulter later calls a reporter back to share other lowlights from her MSNBC days. She once indirectly referred to Clinton as "white trash." And she was scathing after Princess Diana's death, taking on what she calls "the pathetic loser soccer moms who just wanted to call in and weep about Lady Di."

    "I probably shouldn't be bragging about this," says Coulter, adding that she was rather upset (and hired a lawyer) at the time.

    On the romantic front, Coulter seems to flit from one relationship to the next. After moving here, she dated a Democratic Senate staffer whose legislative efforts she opposed. Then she began seeing Bob Guccione Jr., the controversial founder of Spin magazine, until becoming disenchanted in March. Now she's involved with an FBI agent.

    Having catapulted herself into the television ranks of other blond conservatives (Laura Ingraham, Kellyanne Fitzpatrick, Barbara Olson), Coulter left the Senate to write a column for Human Events and litigate cases for the Center for Individual Rights. Terry Pell, the center's senior counsel, says they parted company two weeks ago because "it was clear she was never going to have the time to come back." But Coulter says she quit because "the book was a little too hot for them. I was getting too big."

    Once the blonde-ambition tour is over, Coulter plans to do more than just television. "You want to be careful not to become just a blowhard," she says.


    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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