"Well, hell," an extremely anonymous member of Congress joked to an equally anonymous cohort recently, "I've been introducing those immigration bills for $250 for the last 10 years. Now I feel kind of stupid knowing you could get $50,000 for them."
Down the corridor a ways a southern Democrat strode purposefully into his office one sunny morning this week. "Any mail from Abdul Enterprises?" he asked brightly.
Just two samples of comic fallout from ABSCAM, the latest Washington political diaster. Both one-liners and off-the-cuffers, they're often born in the Senate cloakroom, whispered in the marble corridors of officialdom, then repeated among the bar stools of K Street.
Admittedly, a good many folks think the FBI's bribery "sting" which implicated eight congressmen isn't at all funny. Serious, they say. Distressing.
But for every five of those there seems to be at least one who will say, "Well, yes, it really is a sad day for the Congress and I think it should be investigated thoroughly and yes, I find it appalling, but hey, did you hear the one about . . .?"
So here are some of the best and worst cropping out of the Great FBI Sting:
From Washington satirist Mark Russell: "Now we know why so few members of Congress are running for president. They can't afford to pay cut."
From another very anonymous congressman: "The Black Caucus has been saying that this proves racism once and for all. Whenever the big bucks are floating around, the brothers are never invited."
From Russell again: "Most of those reported to be involved are Democrats. The only thing they learned from Watergate is that they would have to wait their turn."
From Jim Abourezk, the former senator who is now lawyer for a host of Arab clients: "Someone suggested to me that I form a consulting service for members of Congress. They could call me up to determine the real Arabs from the FBI agents."
From Johnny Carson, on the "Tonight" show this week: "The congressmen never accept money from Alan Funt wearing a burnoose."
The Mark Russell version of that one: "They should have known they were dealing with the FBI and not Arabian sheiks. Nobody wears a burnoose with wing-tipped shoes."
Back to Carson: "They say the bribes were filmed and recorded. Now, see, there's a lesson to be learned there. Never accept a bribe from an Arab who asks you to talk into his camel's hump." (Some rather delayed laughter from the studio audience here.) "There's a lesson there," came the Carson reaction, "I didn't say there was a joke there."
And a last selection from the monologue: "You know, it's a little scary nowadays when the FBI's list of the 10 most wanted criminals are members of the Senate Ethics Committee."
From one of Washington's own, Polo Club co-owner Tommy Curtis: "If things keep going the way they are, at the next session of Congress you're going to have to call Allenwood Penitentiary to get a quorum."
Another from Russell: "There's only one way to bring about a 100 percent, completely honest Congress. Legalize bribery."
From a former deputy U.S. attorney, in passing comment among GOP leaders meeting at the Tidewater Inn in Easton, Md., last weekend: "Everywhere else in the country, the reaction is outrage and indignation. At Tidewater, the reaction is, 'Isn't that entrapment?'"
And finally, a few samples from the hybrid version of the Great FBI Sting joke. Which is: the Larry Pressler joke, created in honor of the young senator from South Dakota who with wide-eyed earnestness told the FBI agents he wouldn't take their money. He thought they were sort of "flaky," anyway.
From a Hill staffer: "maybe that's the right thing to do in South Dakota, but in New Jersey (the home state of two of the congressmen implicated in the bribery scheme) he'd be regarded as a turkey."