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Dornan Outdoes Himself as Presidential Point Man

October 18, 1992|ERIC BAILEY and ROBERT W. STEWART | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The same day, the Bush campaign launched a spirited "fax attack" on Clinton, based on a Washington Times article which itself was based largely on Dornan's House speeches criticizing Clinton's youthful trip to Moscow over New Year's of 1969-'70. Within a day, Bush personally mounted a more focused assault on Clinton's anti-war activities as a Rhodes scholar in England and on the Moscow visit.

"One of the things people don't get about him is he's very much a team player," Bennett said of Dornan. "People always see him as a maverick out there on his own. It's quite the opposite. He consults with people before he makes a decision."

White House officials played down the role of Dornan and the other congressmen in putting together the attack plan.

"When you're the President of the United States and you're somewhat behind in the polls you hear lots of advice," said Ron Kaufman, Bush's political director. "And Bob--in his own quiet, shy way--always is willing to share with us his feelings and beliefs and ideas. But there are very few ideas that only one person has."

Nevertheless, the President's decision to follow his advice was a personal victory for Dornan, who has seized on Clinton's anti-war activities during the Vietnam era as a major campaign theme.

On the House floor last month, Dornan told his colleagues, "I am going to . . . discuss the pathetic attempt of Gov. Bill Clinton to avoid his past history as a calculating draft dodger by claiming he was 'only a 23-year-old boy,' when he dodged the draft.

"When I was 23, I had two children and one on the way. And, as an Air Force lieutenant, I was flying F-100 supersonic fighters as a flight leader at George Air Force base. I repeat, I was 23 and I was not 'a boy.' "

In his own campaigns, Dornan has been more than willing to kick up dust:

* During his 1980 battle for his old Santa Monica-area district against Carey Peck, son of actor Gregory Peck, it took a Justice Department investigation to clear the challenger of Dornan's allegations that Peck accepted $13,000 in illegal cash campaign donations from James H. Dennis, a convicted felon serving time in an Alabama federal prison for fraud. Dennis said that he agreed to make the accusations when Dornan visited him in prison and promised to get the felon better prison status. Dornan denied that any deal existed.

* While making an unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate in 1982, Dornan accused Barry Goldwater Jr. of being involved in a drug scandal on Capitol Hill and assisted law enforcement officials in an investigation. The younger Goldwater was never charged with any wrongdoing.

* At a debate during the 1986 race, Dornan launched a furious series of character attacks on his opponent, then-Assemblyman Richard Robinson. He accused the Democrat of "influence peddling, bribery, extortion and dealing with teen-age prostitutes in Sacramento." An angry Robinson denied all the charges, but lost the election.

A politician who has earned a special place on Dornan's mantle of opponents is Sen. Edward M. (Ted) Kennedy (D-Mass.). After the Chappaquiddick scandal broke in 1969, Dornan was unconvinced by Kennedy's story of how his car plunged off a rickety wooden bridge, trapping Mary Jo Kopechne inside. Never one to sit idly by, Dornan jetted off to Cape Cod, donned a swimming suit and dove into the channel.

The next week on his TV talk show, Dornan announced the results of his little test: He had nearly drowned, so there was no way that Kennedy--who to this day suffers the effects of a back injury he sustained in a previous traffic accident--could have done it.

A decade later, Dornan raised the specter of Chappaquiddick once again, this time on the House floor. At the time, Kennedy was eyeing a run for the presidency, so Speaker of the House Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. came to the senator's defense. "Dornan, this is a character assassination," O'Neill declared. "You need a psychiatrist."

Times staff writer Dave Lesher and researcher April Jackson also contributed to this report.

Bob Dornan's Way With Words

Quotations from Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove), who often draws controversy with what critics and admirers agree is an aggressive political style.

* "I walked over and grabbed the guy's flag from around his throat and shook it until the knot came off and pulled it off. I told him: 'My dad earned three Purple Hearts for this flag.' "

--Dornan, describing his encounter in 1971 with an anti-war demonstrator wearing an American flag for a scarf.

* "I don't want my two sons drafted, not after we killed 57,000 men in Vietnam and can't tell them why. I don't want my sons sucked up into that, and if that sounds like (left-wing Assemblyman) Tom Hayden, tough."

--Dornan on draft registration in 1980

* He is "a betraying little Jew."

--Dornan on Soviet TV commentator Vladimir Posner in 1985. He later apologized for the remark.

* "No, no, no. He was a drunk, an adulterer and a bastard and I didn't support him."

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