The Republican National Committee's musical wires caper turned into a comedy of recriminations yesterday.
GOP national cochairman Mary Dent Crisp and her advisers complained that the investigation of a possible bugging of her office had been bungled through delay.
RNC officials assigned to the brouhaha by national chairman Bill Brock suggested, in turn, that the initial work of the investigators Crisp had hired last week had been too cursory and haphazard to take very seriously in the first place.
D.C. police, meanwhile, continued their investigation, but their experts have thus far dismissed the suspicious wires found in Crisp's office June 18 as part of the musical intercom system installed in the building 10 years ago.
The Republican vs. Republican exchanges came at an occasionally tense and testy meeting in Crisp's office that ended shortly after midnight Wednesday with both sides still tsk-tsking over what should have been done.
"It's a comedy of errors," one RNC official said later. "It's probably one of those things nobody will ever resolve."
On that point, there appeared to be universal agreement. Crisp's chief security consultant, Richard E. Govignon, claimed that he couldn't even clearly identify the suspicious wires now dangling from the ceiling panels in Crisp's office as those he found there last week.
"A thousand hands have touched this stuff," he protested.
Unlike the feuding Republicans, D.C. police have had little to say about the incident in recent days.
Police are preparing a report on their investigation to give to the major crimes division of the U.S. attorney's office here, sources said yesterday.
Most law enforcement officials have already virtually dismissed any possibility of a bugging, the sources said. A sophisticated bugging detection system used by police when they swept the RNC offices Saturday found no evidence of eavesdropping.
If there was a wiretapping or bugging system in Crips's office at 310 First St. SE, experts pointed out, it was an amateurish one at best.
The meeting that led to the rankling yesterday was convened for the presentation of Govignon's formal report -- a full week after his inspection -- on what he found in Crisp's office June 18.
In it, he said the wiring -- which contained two unexplained connectors connected to nothing -- "originated in an office" next to Crisp's, which until recently was occupied by her executive assistant.
RNC communications director Michael Baroody expressed surprise that Govignon hadn't looked down at the floor and discovered that the wiring actually ran down the wall and terminated in two loose ends sticking out of the baseboard next to Crisp's office couch.
"That's new to me," Govignon declared as Baroody led him to the wall and pointed down at the wire ends, now sticking out several inches farther than they had been over the weekend.
"I didn't see wires like that," Govignon said. "I guess we basically assumed it went into that office (next door)."
One of Crisp's brothers, Charles Dent, who accompanied her to the meeting, suggested ominously that the outlet might not have been there when Govignon and a technical consultant he brought along, George Lesser, checked last week. Dent accused Baroody of leading Govignon into "a setup."
Baroody disclaimed any such intentions and said he was simply asking questions based on Govignon's report. It said, without equivocation, that the wire in question entered from the adjoining office.
Under questioning by RNC press secretary Linda Gosden, Govignon acknowledged he couldn't remember looking down at the floor.
"Maybe you ought to write in your report that it 'appeared' to originate in the office next door," Baroody suggested.
The late night meeting in Crisp's office began with RNC legal counsel Donald Ivers questioning Govignon in courtroom fashion, but Ivers desisted after Dent accused him of acting like a prosecutor.
Govignon, who is security director of Baltimore's Commercial Credit Corp., acknowledged that he does not perform electronic sweeps very often. But he insisted that the wires and an electromagnetic force field discovered in Crisp's office last week were suspicious enough to warrant more thorough investigation immediately.
Ivers was notified of the findings on the night of June 18 by RNC staff member Harlan Strauss, who is close to Crisp. But Ivers did not initiate any immediate action.
"You really didn't think much of this," Crisp told him in a slightly scolding tone.
"I said I did not take it as seriously as I perhaps should have because of the manner in which it was presented to me," Ivers replied.
He did not elaborate on that point at the meeting, but he said yesterday afternoon that he thought "the presentation [by Strauss] was somewhat melodramatic." Ivers said he satisfied himself on the night of June 18 that the wiring "went down the wall."
Govignon said, "I felt really creepy -- the hair stood up on my neck" when he discovered the still unexplained magnetic field.
But Baroody likened it to the magic basketball in the beer commercial that stands there in midair. Govignon acknowledged that he and Lesser found no signs of the field except at a free-standing point, about waist-high, next to Crisp's desk.
(In retrospect, Govignon said yesterday afternoon that he feels he should have brought a lawyer with him. "I tried to be honest last night, and all of a sudden I felt like I had Gangbusters on top of me," he said. "I almost walked out a couple of times.")
D.C. police stepped in over the weekend and said they found several electromagnetic signals in the room, but all seemed innocuous.
They also said they heard music on the wiring. The head of the police technical team, Sgt. Gabriel Brandani, has insisted that the wiring was connected to the Muzak system in the building, but he has said he did not inspect the connection himself.
Brandani said police tore out the connection on completing their inspection. A Muzak official has said the wiring does not belong to the Muzak system and was probably installed for some other purpose.
The meeting in Crisp's office ended with all sides agreeing a quicker follow-up should have been ordered last week. A few minutes later, Baroody could be heard in an office downstairs singing, "I hear music, but there's no one there."