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National Perspective

Washington Insight

July 15, 1998|From The Times Washington Bureau

SHOPPING PARTY: Democratic Party circles are abuzz about the disappearance of gift certificates from a California shopping mall company and the subsequent admission by a Democratic National Committee regional finance director that she used them for clothing and shoes. Montgomery Mall, a Washington-area shopping venue owned by L.A.-based Westfield America, contributed certificates worth $2,000 for a DNC fund-raiser's outside charity work. But they never reached the museum or the college memorial fund for which they were intended. Instead, another DNC employee filched them and went shopping. After mall personnel notified the DNC, committee officials insisted that the offender confess and make restitution. She did so and kept her job. But as she was given new responsibilities, other Democrats worried about the message being sent about the ethics of the money-machine staff. Says one source: "You have to have people in those jobs who would never take advantage." DNC executive director Janet V. Green says, "It was an internal DNC matter. There was no DNC money involved, and it was handled appropriately."

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WRONG CIRCUIT? U.S. District Judge Kim M. Wardlaw is trying to convince Republican senators that she is no activist. Nominated by President Clinton for a seat on the much-criticized 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Wardlaw is encountering some bumps in the road. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Wardlaw's sponsor, pulled her nomination last week after getting wind of some unexpected Judiciary Committee opposition. Feinstein asked critics of the nomination to voice their concerns in advance of a follow-up hearing later this week. But Wardlaw's detractors have stayed mum. The judge is making courtesy calls in an attempt to quell any concern. But aides to several GOP senators say the discomfort may center on the court. "The 9th Circuit is a circuit out of control," says one aide. "In order to move it into the mainstream, some nominees that ordinarily might get onto the court might have to be blocked."

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NOT FREE: Rumors that FBI Director Louis J. Freeh would resign after the birth of his sixth son earlier this year look unfounded. Nearing the halfway mark in his statutory 10-year term, Freeh has too many unfinished goals to leave the bureau this year--and probably next, too. Besides seeing through the campaign fund-raising probe, which doesn't win Freeh any points at the White House, the FBI director wants to introduce the bureau's much delayed automated fingerprint ID system, now set for next year; shepherd the overseas expansion of the FBI to counter foreign links to U.S. crime; and oversee a long-term strategy to better mesh its operations. "We're the greatest collectors of information, but not the greatest processors," acknowledges a veteran FBI official.

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PROP ALERT: Forget the inside-the-Beltway rap. Lobbying tactics and press releases clearly have gone the way of Madison Avenue--as in gimmicky, prop-dependent and, yes, wooden. Fresh on the heels (or would that be lobes?) of the 535 plastic brains in a jar from the American Heart Assn. (to promote funding for stroke research) are these gems: a prescription medicine bottle labeled "Lethal Medicine for Africa" from public-interest groups TransAfrica and Public Citizen (to urge defeat of the sub-Saharan Africa trade bill) and, from the Alaska Rainforest Campaign--yes, a save-the-trees group--a press release printed on a foot-wide piece of wood--yes, a dead tree. The group opposes a proposal to increase clear-cutting in Alaska's Tongass National Forest.

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