On Thanksgiving, the Richard V. Allen family put two television sets on the buffet table in the dining room and then watched, as they had turkey and champagne, all three network evening news shows. "That was the emotional and psychological clincher," Allen said yesterday at his home, minutes before the Justice Department announced no special prosecutor would investigate the famous $1,000. "Everyone was just sort of stunned . . . watching me being cut to pieces."
The Richard Allen road show was born. From Sunday, when he announced on "Meet the Press" that he was taking an administrative leave, until yesterday's Justice Department decision, Allen has been the star of his own media blitz. Last night, he and his wife watched themselves on television in the latest installment, cheering as they listened to her tell reporters on ABC: "Next time, I hope you'll all think twice before you do this to someone else."
"You never cease to amaze me," Allen told her, laughing. "That was an unbelievable comment -- the most accurate statement of this whole thing. You upstaged me."
Their kids were finishing up dinner at the table, watching but continuing to eat. Their father was the lead story on all three networks. The amazing thing was that everyone acted as if seeing him embattled on the news was routine, which it is.
On Thanksgiving Day there'd been the usual reporters on his lawn, Washington's hottest stakeout since it was first disclosed that the national security adviser had received $1,000 from Japanese journalists. "I thought," recalled Allen, " 'Well, it is Thanksgiving. I'll have the reporters in for a cup of coffee.' " CBS, NBC and ABC crew members warmed up around his table as he talked with them about how he wanted to clear the air. All three immediately offered their networks as a forum. " 'Meet the Press' is the oldest and most prestigious of the shows," Allen reasoned. "I liked the idea of me being on one side of the room, no breaking in, no arguing . . ."
But will the blitz work?
"I don't know," Allen said. "And I have no way of knowing. It's just that I thought I needed the widest possible forum."
He has not had a stellar defense from the White House, which had no comment yesterday on when -- or whether -- Allen would return to his job. CBS News called the White House statement "almost icy in tone."
And it's not over. The FBI said it will continue to investigate irregularities in Allen's financial disclosure statements as well as his acceptance of two watches from a Japanese friend.
The public official besieged by scandal has become a familiar and peculiar Washington figure, marked by microphones shoved toward closed mouths. Allen has decided to take a much more combative stance, fighting back via the media he bitterly calls "wretched."
"As a friend said," Allen said, " 'Some of the problem with the writing community, Dick, is that they can't forgive you for having a business to sell.' Some people are very resentful that I won't meet with them, background them, discuss with them the inner workings of the NSC. I'm not providing regular care and feeding to the Washington press."
The conduct of the press, he complained, has been "abysmal. They climbed trees and looked in our bedroom window to see if we were here. But one nice thing is to use the flip side of the press attention to get a hearing."
Allen spent yesterday with reporters, either on the lawn or in his family room. After he watched the evening news, he stopped by a dinner party at columnist Pat Buchanan's, cheered on his daughter, Kas, in a high school basketball game, then went on the Larry King Show until 2 a.m. "I can sleep in the morning," he told his wife. "So you can tell Signal the White House military switchboard not to put calls through."
It was a day of contradictions. There was intense press attention, but he and his family attempted to go about the mild fare of suburban life. Like any husband tired after a long day, Allen got lost on the way to the Buchanans', then blamed it on his wife. "You should have brought the map," he griped to her as they peered down dark driveways in McLean.
The school friends of his kids weren't in the pleasant suburban script either. "Kas!" one called out to Allen's daughter at the basketball game. "I saw you on T.V. tonight! A definite star!"
"A lot of people come up to me," said Karen, his 17-year-old daughter, "and say, 'Hey Karen! Can I borrow $1,000 from your Dad?'"
Earlier in the day, when his kids were still at school, Allen talked about the case in his family room as callers to a radio phone-in show debated the merits of his case. Allen turned it off, more interested in the flickering fire. He wore khaki pants and a cardigan sweater, a startling switch from his weekday fare of dark three-piece suit.
The room itself was a wall-to-wall hodgepodge of comfortable couches, skylights and a hardwood floor looking out on Arlington woods, but Allen had turned a corner of it into a temporary office. On a round table, covering up an "Are You a Preppette?" puzzle put together by his children, were folders of documents he had collected for his case. ("That's the 'fun' table," called out Pat Allen, making lunch in the kitchen.) A spiral notebook held his handwritten log of the calls he'd received in the past days. On top was a personal letter from the White House. Allen turned it over, hiding its contents.
"This is a very interesting time," Allen said cryptically, "a time I'll never forget." He looked tired, having appeared until after 1 a.m. on Monday's edition of ABC's "Nightline." He spoke slower than usual and was testier than usual. Once, when asked to restate something he'd said, Allen shot back: "If you're not clever enough to get it the first time, then I'm not going to repeat it." Asked what bothered him about a particular broadcast, Allen replied: "I'm not going to do your homework for you."
Pat Allen, a shy woman who the family says is her husband's stabilizer, put cold cuts and potato salad on the table. In public, she is perpetually quiet and pleasant. Yesterday, she showed signs of anger.
"Would you feel put upon every morning when you couldn't sleep because the car doors were banging outside and people were talking?" she asked, adding that she doesn't think the children -- seven of them, aged 6 to 23 -- are angry. At her son's school, for instance, the nuns are praying for his father. "I think," continued Pat Allen, "the kids just don't understand why this is happening."
"As soon as this matter broke," Allen said, "I took them aside in groups and told them what the facts were, my prognosis of what would happen, and advised them on what to expect. We made up our minds on the first day of the stakeout that we weren't going to alter what we'd normally do. The children said it was probably a good time to water the lawn extensively, and it was probably a good time to have a few rented dogs, preferably of German ancestry, and it was probably a good time to fertilize the lawn with natural components."
The doorbell rang. The mailman. Pat Allen opened the front door to talk to him.
"Oh, I don't like that cold air on my legs," said Allen, feeling the draft. He took a bite of his sandwich.
"Come on, close the door," he muttered. But there was more cold air.
"COME ON!" he yelled to her. "DOOR'S OPEN!"
She obediently said goodbye to the mailman, closed the door and brought the mail to the table. They read it together, the fire still flickering.
In the evening Allen made a splashy entrance at the Buchanans', waving his arms in the Nixonian victory sign. Inside the huge house were Ernest Lefever, Reagan's former nominee to head the State Department Bureau of Human Rights; former ambassador Clare Boothe Luce, Sen. William Armstrong (R-Colo.) and Robert McLellan, an old friend of Allen's.
"God bless you," McLellan said to Allen. "Let me know if I can do anything.
"So you're riding your bicycle?" McLellan's wife, Helen, said to Allen. She was referring to the television shots of Allen out for some exercise.
"It's a Fuji 12-speed," he replied.
"Is that in your safe?" asked Robert McLellan.
Meanwhile, a fire crackled in the wood-paneled room. Guests nibbled on peanuts and drank cocktails out of glasses that said "This Time Make Mine Nixon," one of which Buchanan handed politely to a reporter, not realizing it was that particular glass. When he saw the slogan he said, aghast, "Oh, Good Lord."
Allen and his wife didn't stay long, wanting to see the basketball game at Wakefield High School. Their daughter's team won, 54-22, and by 9:30 p.m. they were home. Allen took off his jacket, flipped through the Justice Department statement and snacked on some cheese.
In 2 1/2 hours, on the Larry King program, he'd be at it again. The road show continued.