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THE STARR REPORT

For Rep. Rogan, It'll Be a Long Weekend

House: California lawmaker, a member of judiciary panel, flees capital for a flight home--better to concentrate on the long-awaited report.

September 12, 1998|FAYE FIORE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — At 1:59 p.m. Friday, an aide drops the first 38 pages of the much-awaited report into Jim Rogan's hands. They are still warm from the copy machine.

Five ABC-TV crew members are crammed into the red-carpeted office of the Republican congressman from Glendale, a member of the House Judiciary Committee who will now weigh whether the 400-plus-page tome from independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr is grounds for impeachment.

"What will you be looking for?" the television reporter asks Rogan, who has not yet gotten past the table of contents.

"Right now, I'm looking for the other 412 pages," he says, before the reporter politely commandeers the advance copy and begins what will amount to a live on-the-air search for the juiciest parts.

Rogan, a former Los Angeles assistant district attorney who won his seat in 1996, says something about reserving judgment until he has thoroughly studied the full report and the president's response. Through an earpiece, he can hear a producer hollering for references to the cigar, the phone sex. Finally, Rogan scribbles a note to an aide that essentially says, "Please get me out of here."

The new-millennium technology that has provided the nation instantaneous access to raw history has just collided with the careful forebearance the forefathers envisioned when they provided for the removal of a president.

Rogan, 41, and his 434 House colleagues will spend the weekend poring over a document that reads in parts like a dime novel but could change the course of history. For once, the long flight from Washington to California--always a source of agony for those lawmakers who make the trek on weekends--has never looked so good to Rogan.

The flight out and the return trip "gives me 10 uninterrupted hours to read this," he tells another reporter staked out in his office as he prepares to catch a 6 p.m. plane leaving Dulles International Airport for Los Angeles. "If I stayed here, you guys would drive me crazy."

All morning, there has been in the air a weird mix of anticipation and chaos as "the report" is ceremoniously shuttled about the Capitol like some lifeless head of state.

Getting a copy becomes the single mission of every member of Congress. The wheels of government do not respond well to such needs even in the most mundane times, and watching the bureaucracy respond to the clerical demands is like witnessing a difficult birth.

Rogan's aides have been regularly tapping into the congressional Web site that is to carry the goods as soon as humanly possible. Four floors below, a line is forming outside the legislative office where one of the originals, guarded like the crown jewels, is delivered for laborious duplication.

There is fear the Internet will crash. (It does not.) And word that hard copies might not arrive until 4 p.m. is too much to bear. So by noon, legislative minds are devising ways to beat the system and give officeholders something to curl up with this weekend.

On his way back from a committee meeting, Rogan sees some purposeful looking police officers being tailed by a gaggle of television reporters, who have broken into a trot.

"Wow, that's it!" a House page gasps. Rogan thinks maybe Clinton is in the building.

"Who is it?" the congressman asks.

"It's not a person," comes the answer. "It's the report."

Back in his office, still with nothing to read, his staff is ordering pizza. Rogan, who after dropping out of high school worked his way through UC Berkeley and UCLA law school, wants to go to his favorite Mexican restaurant for lunch, but they won't let him. It could land any minute, and the media want to record the instant the document is in his hands--first draft of history and all that.

Finally, the first chunk arrives, and there is Rogan under the Klieg lights, holding it. But not for long.

ABC-TV's Peter Jennings asks him what he thinks.

"I wish I could tell you I've seen a lot of it, but you have a very good reporter in Linda Douglas, and she took my report and she won't give it back to me."

Sitting for an hour before the camera, he finally writes his rescue note, leaving the media to pore over the salacious parts in his absence.

He heads for the Mexican restaurant and sits down over a Big House burrito, focusing on the task at hand.

"We have a somber job ahead. We are going to do it judiciously and fairly, and we are not going to be persuaded by polls and focus groups," he vows. "And if we fail to do that, history will judge us harshly for it. History will not be kind."

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