Scott Adams is disappointed that La Colline's discreet, high-backed booths aren't crawling with Capitol Hill weasels. But with Congress out of town for next week's elections, the power-broker restaurant two blocks from the Senate was nearly empty yesterday morning.

He glances at a wall covered with photos, more than 100 of the place's famous patrons. He nods. Yes, indeedy, where better than here in Washington?

"It's like the mother ship. I've reached the center of the Weaselverse," says Adams, creator of "Dilbert," the popular comic strip that appears in 2,000 newspapers. "Where there is money and power, there are weasels."

Weasels are on his mind these days. "My theory is that a weasel bubble has formed," he says. "You know you're in a weasel bubble when historians are making stuff up, and when movie studios are writing their own movie reviews, and ice-skating judges are fixing the Olympics, and priests are having a better sex life than you are."

Midway through a seven-city publicity tour promoting his new book, "Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel" (HarperBusiness, $24.95), Adams seems a little quip-weary making a case that falls somewhere between an indictment and stand-up comedy. By 8:15 a.m., he has already done one TV show, he's running late and his crammed interview schedule doesn't allow for lunch until nearly dinnertime.

But the cartoonist who single-handedly has made the ordinary cubicle the favorite pinup of downtrodden office grunts is on a mission. Inspired by recent Fortune 500 scandals and rising anti-corporate sentiment -- not to mention that he lost money owning stock in Enron, WorldCom and Tyco -- Adams wrote the 350-page book to unleash his sharp and witty observations on workplace duplicity in a broader expose{acute} of the Weasel Zone than his usual three-paneled cartoons.

His last book, "The Dilbert Principle," restated the Peter Principle as "idiots are systematically identified and promoted to management." In this book, he not only alleges that management consists entirely of weasels but also that office life at every level is infested, from paper-clip stealers to back-stabbing co-workers to scheming executives.

"There is more of it certainly in the executive suites because crime has never paid so well," says Adams, 45, who, with cropped hair and spectacles, looks like Dilbert without the potato-shaped head and extra-large waist. "It used to be you commit a crime and maybe you get a guy's wallet and an old watch. Now you get a dental plan and five weeks' vacation."

Now the way of the weasel has trickled down. "I'm pretty sure everyone in the world is a weasel, except for you and me," he says, "and I'm not so sure about you."

So what's a weasel?

As Adams defines it, any person or group trying to get away with something is a weasel. And the Weasel Zone is "a gigantic gray area between good moral behavior and outright felonious activities," where "everything's misleading without actually being a lie."

Weasel-like behavior runs from scheming to take the last cup of coffee from the office machine without brewing another pot to corporate doublespeak like, "We're not lying, we're using non-full disclosure."

There's the "Weasel-Creep Method" -- promising to do something less annoying or less illegal, then inching back to whatever you were doing. And Weaselmath, manipulating statistics and logic to make an unmakable case, such as a "clever piece of pro-gun humor" Adams found that stated that the number of accidental deaths per physician is 9,000 times higher than the number of accidental deaths per gun owner -- so doctors should be banned.

Using weasel etiquette, weasel means never having to say you're sorry -- unless there's some advantage in it. "The weasel apology goes like this," says Adams. "You don't say, 'I'm sorry I was late.' The weasel way would be, 'I'm sorry you thought I was late.' "

Weasels also typically take credit for overstated accomplishments. In one strip, at a staff meeting, Dilbert's colleague Wally boasts: "I'm pleased to report another stellar week of accomplishments! I moved more than 800,000 bits of data to a disaster recovery backup facility!" Afterward, Dilbert asks, "Did you just take credit for copying a file to a diskette?"

Last month, Adams polled readers of his Web site, Dilbert.com, in the First Annual Dilbert Weasel Awards competition -- a publicity stunt to launch the new book. About 116,000 votes were cast by Dilbert junkies over four weeks to anoint the weaseliest people, groups, nations, and so on.

When ballots were tallied last week, Martha Stewart came in first among the weaseliest; former representative Gary Condit was runner-up, followed by the French Olympic ice-skating judge.

Corporations? Arthur Andersen ranked second, Enron third and WorldCom fourth, all of them behind: Microsoft, which received nearly 40 percent of the vote. The weaseliest company is the one that "gets away with it," Adams says, not the ones that get caught.

Likewise, France overwhelmingly carried the countries category with more than a third of the vote, followed by Saudi Arabia; Pakistan and Iraq tied for third. "If you look at the weaseliest country, it was France partly, I think, because some of the other candidates like North Korea, Iraq and Iran were maybe just more evil and not cute little weaselly countries," says Adams.

The poll wasn't exactly scientific, says Adams, which undoubtedly explains the weaseliest occupation tally: News reporters beat out lawyers and politicians.

One character nobody voted for: Dilbert. "He is the least of a weasel of anyone," says Adams, who estimates that the character is 37 percent him from his years in cubicle hell at Crocker National Bank and Pacific Bell. That was before he transformed his time-killing doodling into a multimillion-dollar empire that includes gobs of Dilbert merchandise, 20 million books and calendars sold, including four bestsellers, and even "Dilberito" -- vegan, burrito-style health meals.

And now add to that weasel T-shirts, coffee mugs and other paraphernalia.

Is it possible to pull that off and not be a weasel?

"No, you can't," says Adams. "You can't do anything important without being a little bit of a weasel. And, frankly, you almost have to join them because you aren't going to beat them."

Unexpectedly, he fesses up to some of his own weasel behavior. The news release announcing the results of the Weasel Awards? It stated that there were 116,000 votes cast in the poll. Some news organizations reported that as 116,000 people voted. "Now what we didn't say is that there were 19,000 voters and they each voted in six categories," Adams says, insisting the confusion was unintentional.

Just the fact that he's doing marketing at all makes him a weasel -- albeit not the worst kind, he says. "And my whole proposition is you should spend less time with your family and more time reading Dilbert books. I mean, how can I feel good about that?"

Scott Adams, pushing his new book in "the center of the Weaselverse."The Weasel Zone is "a gigantic gray area between good moral behavior and outright felonious activities," Adams says, declaring that the way of the weasel has trickled down from the highest executive to the lowest cubicle worker."I'm pretty sure everyone in the world is a weasel," the author says.