'Tis truly the season for magnanimous gestures--or maybe huge mistakes--as invitations to events get rushed out in the mails. But John Whitehead, head of the conservative Rutherford Institute, which bankrolled Paula Jones's suit against President Clinton, insists his Christmas party invite to White House press secretary Joe Lockhart was no mistake.

"It was intentional," Whitehead said yesterday. "Christmas is not a political thing. Anybody who could bring a toy was invited" to an open house Saturday at his home. If Lockhart shows up with a toy, new and unwrapped for needy kids, Whitehead said, "that would be great."

So Lockhart's going? No, said deputy press secretary Jake Siewert. "Even the holiday spirit has limits."

Whitehead, Loop fans may recall, stepped in after Jones's lawyers pulled out. Rutherford put up $430,000 to keep the lawsuit going, which is how Clinton eventually ended up at his famous deposition. Were it not for that funding, Whitehead notes, "you'd never have heard of Monica Lewinsky."

Grateful reporters--it's impossible to overstate our indebtedness--might want to send two toys.

Rejecting a Subscription to Forbes

On the other hand, some invites must be mistakes--or at least wishful thinking. Take one that a Mr. Edward P. Romaine of Center Moriches, N.Y., got recently for a fund-raiser this week for Rep. Michael P. Forbes (N.Y.).

Forbes, until recently a Republican, is running for reelection as a Democrat. "I am writing today," Forbes said in his letter to Romaine, "because you have been supportive of my reelection efforts in the past. Now, more than ever, I need your help."

"Dear Mike," Romaine wrote back, "I just received your letter inviting me to attend your next fund-raiser. . . . Since I likely will be your opponent next year, I'll pass on the invitation and its offer to be a patron for $1,000." He wrote on his "Romaine for Congress" letterhead.

Even the holiday spirit has limits.

They Finally Cleaned Out Envoy's House

Good news on the diplomatic front. Ambassador to Great Britain Phil Lader is finally getting to move into glorious Winfield House. Seems there was an asbestos problem in the 30,000-square-foot mansion and the Laders have been in other digs since arriving in London two years ago. They recently had a reception for a couple thousand of their closest friends to celebrate. At least they'll have a year in the splendid home.

Board Surmounts Hill in the Road

Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) has weighed in to try to resolve a particularly nasty turf war that has virtually paralyzed the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.

The basic issue, as noted last month on this page, is the authority of chairman Paul Hill Jr. versus that of the other members on the five-member board.

Hill says he hires the personnel and takes care of the budget, effectively cutting other board members out of the key decisions.

Supporters of the two-year-old organization appealed to Lautenberg, the drafter of the legislation creating the board, to provide "immediate adult supervision."

Lautenberg sided with the board members on several points, including the board's authority to approve the budget request to Congress, the use of funds and the approval of key appointments.

Stay tuned . . .

Marshall's Back on the Beat

Administration moves. . . . Case Western Reserve law school professor William P. Marshall, who had been in the White House counsel's office in 1997 until August 1998, is back in once more. He left the law school once again to be deputy counsel, replacing Cheryl Mills, who went to work for a women's media group.

Mark Medish, Treasury's deputy assistant secretary for Eurasia and the Middle East for nearly three years, is moving to the White House. Medish, protege of Secretary Larry Summers--but Summers' mentor on the tennis courts--is joining the National Security Council as senior director for Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian Affairs.

Cheryl Shavers, who had been a senior executive with Intel in Silicon Valley, is now undersecretary of commerce for technology. Steven Jacques, who had been director of communications at the State Department, is in charge of public affairs matters at the Commerce Department's technology administration. Margie Sullivan, a former chief of staff to three Cabinet members--Defense Secretary William J. Perry, U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo--and more recently in Los Angeles as a HUD regional director, is going back to the Pentagon, sort of, running an e-commerce company called Pentagon Inc. She's the chief operating officer of the 20-person business, which is soon to go public, so be nice.

On the Hill, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has tapped Jeffrey Forbes, who had been in the White House legislative affairs office and earlier worked at the Democratic National Committee, to be his chief of staff, replacing Christine Niedermeier, who left amid chatter about harassment, an allegation Baucus categorically denied.