Let it be noted that on the last day of February the Yoshino Japanese cherry trees were bearing buds outside the Rayburn House Office Building, that congressional monument to price overruns and collective political bad taste. Inside, another kind of oriental flower was about to bloom. Not so fresh, and certainly not so delicate, but compelling nonetheless.
Down one large gray marble corridor elaborate precautions had been taken. A metal detector, of the kind you pass through at airports, had been set up at either end. The corridor itself was cordoned off by ropes.
By 9 a.m. the area outside the F. Edward Herbert hearing room - a heroic place, over adorned with scenes of Americans in combat - was bathed in bright floodlights. Ten Capitol policement milled about watching people pass through the detector. Behind the ropes the crowd of photographers was already six deep, and growing. And behind them, rising in pyramid fashion were platforms on which the TV cameras and crews were stationed. A mesh bag dangled from one tripod. On it were stenciled the bold words: CBS NEWS URGENT.
Waiting is a Washington game, particularly for the press. It happens everyday, everywhere in town. The process breeds a certain sardonic camaraderie, if not professional cynicism.
"You're got to have space for the bullpen," a congressional aide said, moving down the aisle, and gesturing toward the news people clustered behind the ropes.
Voice, from behind the crowd:
"This is really absurd. All this is going to happen in seconds and here we all are."
"Boredom, that's what this town lives on - cigarettes, coffee, gossip and boredom."
The bullpen was becoming filled to over-flowing. At 9:20 another congressional aide stepped before the crowd with an announcement. It was rendered with all the arriving son and he would speak to them. "He will speak," the aide repeated, highlighting the impact.
Another aide walked past the ropes passing the words: Six minutes. Six minutes to go. "He's going to talk for a few minutes," someone said, relaying the news.
Flurry of movement, testing of microphone at front of bullpen, hassle over clearness of camera shots. Ready .
Staff and committee members were arriving, precipitating more action. When the chairman strolled into sight, a network correspondent waved his arm, ordering his crews to record that arrival. Alas, the chairman was too short to stand out over the throng. The moment was forever lost as he disappeared from view.
9:27. Shouts: "Jaworski, Jaworski." Like a firing squad, the rows of cameras snapped into line, touching off the sound of a hundred crickets, multipled a thousand times: Whirr-whirr-whirr. Click-click-click . . .
Two minutes later, another announcement: He would speak for only two minutes, and the crowd had to move back to give him room. Groans, jostling, movement.
Now, at 9:35, the elevator doors opened, and a voice called out: "There he is," A press aide for the committee flashed the pre-arranged signal to the crowd as a pleasant, smiling, cherubic little man, wearing an immaculately tailored light blue suit, white shirt and colorfully patterned tie walked straight toward the bullpen and the microphone and the cameras: Whirr-whirr-whirr. Click-chick-click.
As homecomings go, the return of Tongsun Park to Washington after an absence of 1 1/2 years will not, we guess, rank with that of Douglas MacArthur's. But his procession across the Pacific, from Korea to Honolulu and then on to Washington, has had elements of a potentate's visit. When he landed at Dulles Airport Sunday night we saw him, courtesy of the networks, stepping into a waiting limousine and then being whisked off into Washington like some celebrated diplomat.
Tongsun may not be much, but he does represent something we seem to need: He stands for the best scandal we've got going. Certainly, the longest-running. Whether you want to call it Koreagate, or just old-fashioned influence-buying, he's back and we're making the most of it.
Of course, Tongsun himself appears to have little to lose. Our Justice Department has agreed to a deal by which a 36-count indictment, covering such things as bribery and mail fraud, was dropped in exchange for Tongsun's return. And for his testimony. All he has to do is tell the truth when he appears before the ethics committees of House and Senate. Let it all flow - about his friends on Capitol Hill, his favors, his gifts, his relationship to the Korean government. A prodigal party-giver returns, carrying out a mission of truth.
There he stood, poised and charming speaking into the lights.
The whole thing was very unfortunate, he was saying, a negative type of situation. Bad for Korea, bad for the United States. "For the sake of both countries and for my own personal sake I hope the whole thing will be terminated as soon as possible," he added.
He was grateful to be there, grateful to tell his story. Grateful, too, toward the Congress: he was going to do his best to clear the air so that Congress can get back to its normal life. Then, a hope expressed:
"We can all see the happy ending coming to us very soon."
In bestowing his blessing, he had only one request. "Try to be kind to me," he said.
Tongsun Park loves us. Can we fail to reciprocate, especially when he provides such a good show?