"It's like old home week tonight," said Max Hugel, former deputy director of operations for the Central Intelligence Agency, handshaking his way through the crowd of well-wishers in his expansive new Pennsylvania Avenue offices last night. "It feels great to be back in Washington. I like the place, there's lots of opportunities. And I have a lot of friends here."
Hugel, the millionaire businessman who resigned in July 1981, from his sensitive CIA position after allegations of improper stock trading practices, held the reception to launch his new consulting firm and announce he is now representing the State of New Hampshire.
"Sure, I'm bitter. No, I'm hurt. But I feel the experience I had was a good one," Hugel said, after escaping into the relative quiet of his corner office facing the White House. "Yesterday, I got a default judgment against those two individuals who started the whole thing. They haven't been heard from since the day it hit the papers." He was speaking of the McNell brothers, former business associates who secretly tape-recorded Hugel's business conversations.
But wasn't it difficult to come back to Washington?
"I have investments all over the world," said Hugel, a New Hampshire resident, sporting a silver tie clip bearing President Reagan's engraved signature. "So it was only a question of where I would set up operations. I waited a long time before I made up my mind. This kept coming up as the central place, since I have so many friends here."
Hugel returned to glad-handing his way through the crowd, making lunch dates and greeting newcomers among the more than 200 friends from politics and business who crowded into his plush offices to feast on salmon, lobster and crab legs after welcoming him back to the capital. "I wish I rented blue pinstripes," said one man in the queue for roast beef. "I would have made a fortune tonight."
"I know Max is a controversial character," said John Sununu, the new Republican governor of New Hampshire and a former Tufts University engineering professor. "But he does have his friends here. He knows the state and he knows Washington. It's a combination we couldn't turn down. He's offered to take us on, for the time being, at what amounts to his own expense.
"I intend to be an active governor," said Sununu, who didn't miss a chance to invite new acquaintances to go skiing in New Hampshire. "Working with Max should give us a day-to-day presence, so we can have access to things on a more timely basis. You sometimes need some assistance that doesn't have a congressional flavor to it. And I think that's the gap I expect Max to fill."
Hugel said a hurried hello to CIA Director William J. Casey, who left with his trench-coated bodyguard after making a brief appearance. Casey and Hugel spoke briefly of plans to meet over the weekend.
"I just came here to have a drink with an old friend," said Casey.