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Washington Insight

September 12, 1996|From The Times' Washington Bureau

SLEEPY HOLLOW: The presidential campaigns are gearing up for the fall debate season on two tracks--lawyers are starting to argue about debate formats and candidates are beginning to train for the rhetorical jousts. Bob Dole has asked Sen. Fred Thompson, the Tennessee Republican and movie actor, to impersonate President Clinton in debate preparation. Asked this week who would play Dole in Clinton's preparatory sparring, White House spokesman Mike McCurry responded, "Ichabod Crane"--the gaunt, humorless character of Washington Irving's tale the "Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Later it was learned that former Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell of Maine would pose as Dole.

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TANGLED WEB: Speaking of McCurry, he admitted this week that he had misled the press about one revelation in the extramarital activities of fallen White House advisor Dick Morris. Asked why, McCurry said: "To be perfectly honest with you, I was trying to bury the story." The episode began last week when McCurry was asked if Clinton was aware of reports that Morris, who resigned amid allegations he had been involved with a Washington prostitute, also had fathered a child with a Texas woman. McCurry replied that Clinton "has no knowledge of whether it's true or not." But over the weekend, he gave a different account, confirming to Newsweek that Clinton had been told about the child in 1995 by Deputy Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles. After learning of the competing accounts, reporters confronted McCurry. He responded that a mix-up occurred last week when he questioned Clinton about the latest Morris allegations. McCurry said he had not asked specifically about the out-of-wedlock child, but instead had asked Clinton if he knew about Morris' activities in general. Upon learning about Erskine's disclosure to Clinton, McCurry said he questioned the president more closely. McCurry also conceded that after discovering his original statement was wrong, he should have "moved quickly to correct my original response."

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HIS OWN PETARD: Republicans on the House Ethics Committee face mounting pressure from Democrats and public interest groups to release a report submitted last month by the special counsel hired to investigate allegations that Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) violated tax laws. Although the panel appears prepared to adjourn for the year without taking action, members could take heed of advice offered by Gingrich in 1989, when the committee was sitting on a report regarding ethics charges against then-Speaker Jim Wright, a Democrat. "I think that it's vital that we establish as a Congress our commitment to publish that report and to release those documents so the country can judge whether or not the man second in line to be president--the speaker of the House--should be in that position," Gingrich had said.

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WALKING OFF: To protest Clinton's decision to sign the Republican welfare reform plan last month, three senior administration appointees in charge of welfare at the Department of Health and Human Services have resigned--assistant secretaries Peter Edelman and Mary Jo Bane and Deputy Assistant Secretary Wendell Primus. "I have devoted the last 30-plus years to doing whatever I could to help in reducing poverty in America," Edelman explained to colleagues. "I believe the recently enacted welfare bill goes in the opposite direction."

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MARGINAL BENEFIT: From the loading docks of the Silver Line glass manufacturing plant in North Brunswick, N.J., GOP vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp lectured workers this week about the virtues of tax cuts. Unfortunately for Kemp, many in the audience were legal immigrants who are not eligible to vote. As Daniel Torres, a native of the Dominican Republic, explained: "I didn't know what this was about. They just told us to be here."

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