The details are a bit sketchy. None of the principals want to talk about it. But feathers were ruffled at the White House last week over U.N. Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke's 12-day swing through Africa.

No one thinks the Nov. 30 trip--to decidedly unhappy, impoverished, war-torn or AIDS-ridden places such as Mali, Uganda, Rwanda and Angola--was a junket. Far from it.

What miffed senior White House types was that Holbrooke announced the trip on Nov. 23 and then, since his U.N. budget isn't adequate, wanted someone to pick up the tab for an Air Force plane.

White House folks say Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright wouldn't cough up the authorization. But if the White House were to pay, the trip would have to be declared an official presidential mission. National security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger had just approved Holbrooke's trip to East Timor. With Holbrooke's prior public announcement, Berger was left with no option but to approve this one.

Then the White House thought Holbrooke wanted to take a few dozen people--Holbrooke's folks say this may have been a miscommunication since he's only traveling with three aides plus assorted State Department and White House types. And forget that Air Force plane from New York that Holbrooke wanted. It would be commercial from New York to Germany, where a military plane could be picked up.

But the real sparks apparently flew over Holbrooke's demand that he be allowed to take his wife, journalist Kati Marton. The White House said he couldn't do so if this was a presidential mission, but Holbrooke insisted and the matter was referred to the White House counsel's office, which said she couldn't go unless Holbrooke paid first-class airfare.

No burden for Holbrooke and Marton, since they have gazillions of dollars. But what about the less-well-heeled Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and his wife Mary, a writer interested in press freedom issues, who Holbrooke also invited? Feingold is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Africa.

Holbrooke is said to have been willing to pay for her but that would raise ethics problems. As it turned out, Feingold apparently had made other arrangements following the normal Senate procedures, getting committee approval for the trip which, under Senate rules, allowed his wife to go if there were an empty seat.

In any event, the trip has generated much media focus on the region's problems and on efforts to resolve them.

And Holbrooke doubtless has made a lot of friends over there.

Makes up for some he lost on Pennsylvania Avenue?

From Ragged to Riches

White House deputy press secretary Barry J. Toiv, who was press secretary for a decade to former representative Leon Panetta (D-Calif.) and then head of press operations for the House Budget Committee before moving with Panetta to the White House in 1993, is going private: to PR giant Burson-Marsteller for what a source said was a "very generous" offer. Toiv is staying at the White House until the end of the year.

Rogan's Heroes

"It is sad but true," House impeachment manager James E. Rogan (R-Calif.) wrote a supporter, "that I am under constant attack by Bill Clinton and his vast array of leftist liberal allies because I did my constitutional duty . . . alongside Chairman [Henry J.] Hyde [R-Ill.]."

"I'm sure you have heard of Clinton's promise to defeat me in the next election," Rogan said in the Sept. 29 fund-raising appeal, "because of his desire for revenge for his self-inflicted embarrassment. And Bill Clinton has sounded the trumpet calling his left-wing friends to help carry out his threat of revenge."

Rogan enclosed a photo of himself and Hyde, who "symbolizes the good in our government."

But wait! Wasn't that Rogan and his wife, Christine, Monday night at the White House congressional holiday ball, up there at the front of the line to get his picture taken with the great revenger himself?

Well, well, well. Sure was. And Clinton's standing right there with the primo "leftist liberal" ally herself, the senatorial wannabe.

Is this for the "See-we-kissed-and-made-up" fund-raising letter to independents?