Yesterday morning, she was in conference with the State Department on the recent Malta hijacking, negotiating and orchestrating, searching for a way to extradite the latest terrorist to kill a U.S. citizen.
Just down the street, he sat tight-jawed and tense as his year-old investigation of Ivanhoe Donaldson, the mayor's long-time friend and political adviser, ended with Donaldson's pleading guilty to three counts of interstate transportation of monies taken by fraud, obstruction of justice and tax evasion.
She is a deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department, responsible for terrorism and fraud cases. He is Washington's U.S attorney.
Spies! Terrorists! Crooks! There's hardly a crime, it seems, that doesn't fall within the jurisdictions of Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova. Last night he jetted off to interview Israeli officials about the Jonathan Jay Pollard spy case, a sensitive international intrigue that threatens U.S.-Israeli relations. Last week she oversaw the government indictments of present and former General Dynamics executives on charges of trying to defraud the government.
"Sometimes I carry my beeper and sometimes Joe carries his," Toensing says. "But for the most part, I'd say we were a two-beeper family."
They have been called a "prosecutorial version of the Doles" -- talented and politically focused, a driven team who never let their eyes wander from Washington's bottom line of power, access and achievement.
Toensing's and diGenova's careers are a testament to the fact that instinctive shrewdness, political networking and facile handling of the media can get you on the map in a hurry here -- even with a historically unglamorous job.
And they are a testament, as well, to the unsettling price of quick success. In part because the pair landed on the map so fast, they have also been called "the Nick and Nora of the judicial system" by some Washington lawyers, an unflattering reference to Hollywood's perfectly witty, perfectly glib, socially cognizant detective duo.
What few dispute is that Toensing and diGenova are one of the more powerful couples in Washington.
DiGenova, 40, controls the second largest (after New York) prosecuting office in the nation -- overseeing an army of 200 attorneys -- and doubles as the local district attorney, the only such arrangement in the contiguous United States. As the Washington representative for Justice, he is not only responsible for violations of federal law within Washington, but also for all crimes committed against American citizens abroad. And Toensing, 44, in addition to terrorism, has jurisdiction over most of what is commonly called "white-collar crime." She operates with a support staff of 100 lawyers.
Last year they both worked on prosecuting Paul Thayer, the former deputy secretary of defense who pleaded guilty to obstructing justice and giving false testimony during an insider stock trading investigation; more recently they became involved in the TWA Flight 847 and Achille Lauro hijackings, together working to request extradition of the terrorists. After John Hinckley's trial resulted in a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity, diGenova and Toensing wrote three respected studies on the insanity defense and suggested reforms.
In many ways, they reflect the high premium the Reagan administration has put on law and order. Between them, by the end of 1985, they will have overseen the prosecution of more than 15,000 cases. So why, with a record like this, would their rapid rise be criticized?
"I think it's probably a combination of jealousy, myopia, fundamental ignorance," says diGenova, "a host of lesser qualities that are found in small people with small minds."
Some eyebrows were raised, however, by the way Toensing got her first Washington job.
After she moved here from Detroit and married diGenova in 1981, Toensing was promptly hired by Watergate attorney Fred Thompson, who was about to start a special investigation for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence into CIA Director William Casey's financial investments. At the time diGenova was still working on the Hill, as an aide to Sen. Charles McC. Mathias (R-Md.) and as staff director of the Senate Rules Committee. "Joe knew Fred," says Toensing, "so he sent my re'sume' over . . . I was hired in five minutes."
As a matter of course, outside consultants such as Thompson and Toensing must be approved by the Rules Committee (or at least by the committee's chairman, Sen. Mathias). According to sources close to the Rules Committee, Toensing's hiring caused some uneasiness among the committee staff because the staff director -- who wields substantial behind-the-scenes influence -- was Toensing's husband.
"It was a pro forma thing," says diGenova. "Yes, it came by me. Everything came by me. But it was not my decision to make. Everything was sent to Senator Mathias."
To the suggestion that he and Toensing are political operators, diGenova offers this response: "Politics is not a dirty word or a dirty subject . . . I'm not ashamed of it. This is a town where politics is a craft, it's a commodity, it's part of the practice of law."
They met in Detroit in 1980, at an ERA rally at the Republican convention. She was selling elephant pins. He was buying.
Did he actually need all 30 pins at $3 each?
"You'll have to ask Joe that," she says.
"I bought them because I thought it was an interesting way to get to meet someone whom I considered an extremely attractive woman," he says unabashedly.
They were married less than a year later and had their wedding reception in the Senate Caucus Room. He cried and played the piano and sang a love song to her. Last year she threw him a surprise birthday party in the same room. Mark Russell, a personal friend, performed and senators abounded.
"It's not unusual," he says. "I used to work up there."
They've become a popular attraction around town, appearing on the Larry King show and often invited to speak together. Last summer they talked to McLean High School's graduating class about managing two demanding careers.
Said Toensing, to much applause: "Where is it written that husbands get to meet beautiful lady lawyers . . . and beautiful sculptors and heiresses and poetesses, and wives get to meet the checker at the Safeway?"
Said her husband: "The pressures can be rough. One of us prepares for congressional testimony while the other hovers over a major investigation. Who cooks while all of this is going on?"
Actually, both of them do. DiGenova was a committed bachelor before he married. Fortunately for him, he loves to cook, and does so three or four times a week. "The mere art of chopping vegetables is a great release," he has said.
They live in a small colonial, in Northwest Washington near Chevy Chase, with her daughter from a previous marriage. (Two sons are away at college.) The house is cozy and tastefully decorated with a mixed bag of possessions from two households and trips around the world. This month, the living room is overflowing with Christmas decorations, little white lights twinkling over the fire.
Together, they give the impression that they really couldn't imagine being at any other time or place than where they are right now.
And they say they have an equitable marriage, something he says he learned from her.
"I mean, we're talking about a woman who put herself through law school and raised three kids," he says. "I'm just amazed at what she has been able to do."
"I think I made him more sensitive," she says. "He saw things being done to me -- he'd never been that close to someone to see firsthand how they were treated differently . . . I can remember wanting to go out and get jobs with my college degree and the only criterion was that I could type . . . "
Toensing got divorced during her senior year of law school, and spent seven years on her own before meeting diGenova. She refuses to discuss her first husband at any length, because "he is the father of my children."
"I think it's difficult," diGenova says, "for a man who has been a bachelor all his life and has been very selfish, and who has been totally introverted, to all of a sudden have to deal with a wife and three kids, to see a house that's a mess all the time . . . "
Or to never be able to use the phone: The night the Egyptair plane carrying the Achille Lauro hijackers was forced down by American fighter planes, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Trott tried for hours to reach them.
"A teen-age daughter and national security jobs do not mix," he says. "The next day, we got call-waiting."
"It's been good for his soul," she says, smiling.
Joseph diGenova seems to have a knack for getting himself into the newspaper, in large part through confrontations with Mayor Marion Barry. The Donaldson investigation -- because of the close relationship between Donaldson and Barry -- was one of the most politically sensitive cases diGenova has undertaken. Even yesterday, after Donaldson pleaded guilty to defrauding the city government of $190,000, diGenova refused to talk to reporters.
When diGenova took over the U.S. attorney's office in 1983, relations between that office and the mayor's office took a turn for the worse. Barry allies charged at the time that diGenova deliberately set out to damage the mayor last year by leaking stories that Barry was linked to Karen Johnson, a woman subsequently indicted on charges of selling cocaine. And Barry himself publicly accused diGenova's office of trying to "lynch" him.
DiGenova denies that he singled out Barry.
"We don't go after anybody," diGenova says when asked about his relations with the mayor. "We investigate cases, and if there is evidence of something in any area of the community, no matter who is involved, the matter is looked into because it should be."
The conflict reached a low point at the end of last year when Barry accused diGenova and Toensing of leaking grand jury information. DiGenova strongly denied the charge, and Toensing said at the time that Barry's "attack on my integrity is outrageous."
No charges were ever brought against Barry, but the verbal volleyball and the investigation of Johnson did keep diGenova on the front pages for weeks.
DiGenova seems to have made local corruption a priority, launching a broad range of investigations that include scrutiny of questionable contracts awarded to the District lottery board and possible misuse of city funds allocated to the city-sponsored Bates Street housing rehabilitation project, which Barry had intended as a showpiece of his administration.
DiGenova's increasingly high profile has led to speculation about his political ambition. Rumors abound that he is planning to run for everything from mayor (a virtually suicidal move, given the city's heavily Democratic electorate) to U.S. senator from Maryland.
DiGenova grew up in Wilmington, Del., and went to the University of Cincinnati. After law school at Georgetown, he clerked for a D.C. Court of Appeals judge, and then worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in the office he now heads. In 1975 he got a job as a midlevel staff assistant at the Justice Department; he worked for six years as Sen. Mathias' administrative assistant; and spent three years as the principal assistant U.S. attorney under Stan Harris, the man he succeeded two years ago.
He sees nothing odd about moving from a Mathias aide (the senator has been one of the most liberal Republicans in Congress) to a Reagan appointee. "I have always been conservative," he says. "I was very conservative when I worked for the senator. Part of my function was to provide a different viewpoint."
Aside from his work, diGenova says, his greatest love is the theater -- when he is doing the performing. The son of a professional opera singer, diGenova has sung numerous leading roles in local small-company musicals, most recently starring in "A Little Night Music" at Holy Trinity in Georgetown. A baritone, he's even sung the national anthem at a Redskins game.
Lately, when the subject of Mayor Barry comes up, diGenova and Toensing act like diplomats, playing down the confrontation.
In the end, after all,, it was Barry who turned over to diGenova the damaging canceled checks that diGenova used in his investigation of Ivanhoe Donaldson.
"I do my job and he does his job," diGenova says. "There's nothing to make a peace about . . . we work on whatever we have to . . . He's the mayor of the city. I'm the chief prosecutor." A spokesman for the mayor said last night that "the mayor and Mr. diGenova have been working quite well together."
"Every time you have a trial, there's an attack on the prosecutor," Toensing says. "But after your first year, you're used to it. They're fearful, so the only thing left to do is attack the prosecutor."
But attacking the prosecutor's wife?
"I thought that [accusing me of leaking] was a kind of wimpy thing to do," she says, "but I'm used to that kind of thing happening. You learn to hold your tongue."
Toensing has a reputation as a tough, dogged prosecutor who may know how to keep quiet but certainly speaks up when the time is right.
In October she disrupted a congressional hearing by grabbing the microphone from a witness whose testimony, she thought, might hamper an ongoing Justice Department investigation, and demanding that the hearing go into executive session (it did). And while vigorously prosecuting the abortion bombing cases this year, she refused to give any inkling of her own feelings on the topic.
"It doesn't affect my prosecutorial decisions," she says.
But in the fall of 1980, as Toensing was entering her fifth year as an assistant U.S. attorney in Detroit, she chose not to hold her tongue -- and ended up the hero of a judicial scandal.
She was having a drink with friends one evening when a bankruptcy court judge approached her and asked if she was a lawyer. As she later reported to her superior, the judge then told her that women should be kept "barefoot, pregnant or in the kitchen" and added, "You appear in my court sometime and see what you get."
Her complaint ultimately contributed to a yearlong federal investigation of sexual misconduct, unethical dealings and corruption in the bankruptcy court. The judge in question was eventually forced to step down; two clerks and an attorney were convicted on charges involving conflict of interest and obstruction of justice.
Toensing says it never occurred to her not to report the judge.
"My first thought was self-protection, the survival instinct," she says. "I thought if I ever have to appear before this person, I'm not going to be treated very well . . . And I wanted it on the record because he could have done it to other women, too."
It's a telling chapter in the life of a woman who decided at 32 to go back to school because "it was either my marriage or my life. I had to do something."
She grew up in Indiana in what she describes as a politically active family. She graduated from Indiana University, married a college sweetheart and taught high school for several years before quitting to raise her children.
Today, she is recognized as a women's voice in an administration that has not been lauded for its treatment of women. "I never felt uncomfortable here one day in my life," she says of the Justice Department. "It is the most unsexist place I have ever been."
This is high praise from a woman who seems highly conscious of sexism at times. A former coworker at the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, where Toensing was chief counsel for two years before going to Justice, says Toensing refused to make coffee for the office -- a job even the men did. She gave "kind of knee-jerk responses to things," he says. "Like, 'My job is not to make the coffee. I did that for 15 years and I'll never do it again.' "
Toensing says she never considered herself overly sensitive about sexism, but that "I think my sensitivity first developed when I had a daughter, and began thinking, will it be better for the next generation? I often see women still making stereotypical remarks, and I think, will it ever end?"
"Vicky is not catching up to anybody," says diGenova. Male Washington lawyers who question his wife's credentials, he says, "are jealous as hell of Vicky, who is so good, and who has probably made mincemeat out of their clients in meetings."
This year, most of Toensing's professional time has been spent on two rather high-profile criminal situations.
She is in charge of Justice's defense procurement fraud unit, and last week she supervised the four indictments involving General Dynamics. "As late as 1982," she says, "defense contractors were still laughing at us, saying, 'This is ridiculous; this is not criminal conduct; this is something that everybody in the industry does.' "
She is also responsible for determining whether there are grounds on which to request extradition of terrorists who commit crimes against Americans. It was she, for example, who requested that the American passengers heading home from the Achille Lauro tragedy be diverted to Italy to identify the hijackers.
"What do we do to make sure we have got a case? What do we do to make sure we've got the evidence to bring a complaint? How we secure the witnesses? Those are the things we look at during these situations," she says. "I don't think there has ever before been this level of legal preparedness on terrorism."
A long evening of Chinese food and interviewing is winding down and the prosecutorial couple look tired. Why is it, they are asked, that when people refer to them as ambitious, the word always seems to have a pejorative connotation?
"Yeah, they can't believe that someone loves public service, doesn't want to make a million dollars, enjoys the law, finds the prosecutorial function very challenging and is just satisfied with that," diGenova shoots back, a slight edge of annoyance in his tone. "That's people talking who can't fathom someone enjoying their work so much. I like to go to work every morning . . . I'm awfully sorry if I have a certain amount of panache that goes with that."
"Well," she says with a broad smile, "I'm going to take it as a compliment."