Tag Archives: Nixon

The Rep goes behind closed White House doors

It’s rare when every living U.S. president gets together in a room. In the nation’s history, it’s only happened a handful of times, when either political obligation or tragedy summons the country’s current and former commanders in chief to the same physical location. 

It’s the sort of thing that gets you wondering: What passes for small talk in a room full of presidents?

That’s the question that led Rick Cleveland to write Five Presidents, the world premiere opening this month at the Milwaukee Rep. The play takes place on the day of Richard Nixon’s funeral, April 27, 1994, when the five remaining living presidents — Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton — assembled to pay respects.

Cleveland’s been a playwright for years, but he’s best known for his TV work on such shows as Six Feet Under, House of Cards and The West Wing — the latter of which marks the origin point for Five Presidents. While working on the show’s first season, he came across Shadow, the then-recently released book by Bob Woodward about those same five presidents, and he was struck by its cover photo depicting them at Nixon’s funeral. 

The idea of writing a play about that moment lodged in his mind and grew richer as time passed and more details about the presidents’ lives were revealed. “In 1994, when you see that photograph and Clinton’s on the cover,” Cleveland says, “we don’t know anything about Monica Lewinsky. … You can barely believe (George W. Bush) will be elected governor of Texas, let alone president. … You have no idea that an African-American is going to get elected president in (14) more years.”

But the play might still be gestating if Cleveland hadn’t bumped into Mark Clements. Clements had directed a play of Cleveland’s when he was the artistic director of Derby Playhouse in the U.K. When the two sat down for lunch in the winter of 2012, Clements asked if Cleveland had any ideas for a play. The Rep commissioned him to write Five Presidents shortly afterward.

Cleveland says the play has evolved steadily over the years, but one thing that’s stayed constant is a dedication to presenting these five men as authentically as possible. The Washington pols he befriended during his TV career served as benchmarks for accuracy: Would he be embarrassed to invite former press secretary Dee Dee Myers to see the play, or U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer?

“I want to write a play that if they see it, they’ll go, ‘That’s credible. I can believe that would be discussed, or happen.’”

That’s why most of the play’s dialogue comes from actual conversations between the presidents on stage, albeit not from that exact date. “They have said it to somebody else, or they may have said it another day,” Cleveland says, “but they said it.” 

The play’s behind-closed-doors nature also allows Cleveland to show sides of the presidents that they don’t expose to the general public and to bring up grievances new and old. Clinton, for example, is a Southern Democrat who doesn’t fit in with any of the other presidents except Carter — whom he’s recently snubbed by sending Nixon on diplomatic missions instead. Carter is still upset about the Iranian hostage crisis, which cost him his election and was wrapped up 20 minutes after Reagan’s inauguration. Bush is still stunned by his electoral loss too, only a little more than a year earlier.

It’s a mix of conflicts that Cleveland says coalesced into an acclaimed run with the Arizona Theatre Company, co-producing the world premiere with the Rep. Watching the play develop there, Cleveland says he has a few tweaks to make for the Milwaukee run. He also has a sense of why the play’s been so successful — and it isn’t, he says, about the quality of the play at all. 

“It’s a nonpartisan portrayal of five men who have only been portrayed in a partisan way. … I think what the audience is finding so applause-worthy is that this is not the politics that they’re going home to and watching on Fox News or MSNBC or CNN. This is a more empathetic portrayal.”

ON STAGE

The Milwaukee Rep’s world premiere of Five Presidents runs through April 5 at 108 E. Wells St. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. weekdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Tickets start at $20 and can be ordered at 414-224-9490 or
milwaukeerep.com.

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Bush, Reagan, Nixon books burned at Washington library

Biographies of George Bush, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon accounted for most of the dozen books burned in a fire at the main public library in Tacoma, Washington.

However, library workers don’t think the motive for the Oct. 18 fire was political. It was set in the American History section.

KING reported that Sharon Sailly of Tacoma pleaded not guilty on Oct. 20 to an arson charge and was ordered jailed on $500,000 bail.

Court papers say she poured lighter fluid on the books and started the fire because she had an issue with a librarian.

The fire forced about 250 patrons to evacuate the downtown library. 

Retired Supreme Court justice says campaign cash isn’t speech

Campaign donations pay for more than political ads and should not be protected as free speech, former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens told a Senate panel this week in urging them to rein in the billions of dollars shaping elections.

The retired justice reminded lawmakers that political donations funded the burglary at the Watergate office complex under President Richard Nixon. That break-in at the Democratic National Committee is not speech, Stevens argued in a rare appearance of a former justice in the Senate.

“While money is used to finance speech, money is not speech. Speech is only one of the activities that are financed by campaign contributions and expenditures. Those financial activities should not receive precisely the same constitutional protections as speech itself,” Stevens said. “After all, campaign funds were used to finance the Watergate burglary, actions that clearly were not protected by the First Amendment.”

Stevens has been a critic of his former colleagues’ decisions that have opened the floodgates for unlimited donations and super PACs.

At issue are the millions of dollars that influence elections – if not determine their outcome – with various degrees of openness. Recent Supreme Court rulings have permitted individuals and corporations to write unlimited checks to independent political committees, while other groups can accept cash and disclose the donors’ identities months or years later, if ever.

“These tactics have no apparent purpose other than to conceal the sources of funds,” Federal Election Commission vice chairwoman Ann Ravel said.

Ravel was not testifying in her FEC role but in her capacity as a former chair of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, the state’s version of the FEC that leveled a record $1 million fine against the Center to Protect Patient Rights and Americans for Responsible Leadership. Their recipient, the Small Business Action Committee PAC, also had to return millions of dollars in donations from those groups.

Democrats have criticized the new rules and those who take advantage of them, including some of their allies. Republicans, meanwhile, have embraced the system and used the rules to power well-funded groups such as Americans for Prosperity.

That group operates under rules that allow it to keep donors’ identities secret, unlike those who give to groups like the Republican National Committee. The conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch have backed Americans for Prosperity with millions, but understanding their impact in real time is impossible because they technically do not operate as political groups.

“Our democracy is at risk. That’s the problem here,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat who chairs the Senate Rules Committee that hosted the hearing.

But Republicans did not share that concern, especially as it relates to the Koch brothers.

“Let’s stop demonizing citizens who exercise their First Amendment rights,” said Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, the top Republican on the panel. “The First Amendment does not allow us to silence those who oppose us.”

Countered Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico: “Money and speech are the same thing? This is tortured logic.”

Schumer said the Senate this year would schedule a vote on Udall’s proposed constitutional amendment that would limit federal candidates’ ability to raise and spend money. The measure also would regulate and limit the ability of super PACs to impact elections.

Changes to the Constitution are difficult and the vote was more political than practical. The vote, however, would force Republicans to either defend unlimited money in campaigns or put them in the awkward position of condemning their allies.

Wednesday’s Senate Rules Committee hearing was the first since the Supreme Court’s ruling that lifted limits on how much total money individual donors can give to candidates. The court left in place a limit on how much individual candidates can take from each donor, but the justices cleared the way for donors to give the maximum amount to every candidate on the grounds that restrictions limit free speech rights.

Campaign donations pay for ads, of course. But that money also pays for polling, operatives’ salaries and offices – the nuts and bolts of a campaign operation that aren’t necessarily speech.

The Karl Rove-supported American Crossroads super PAC raised almost $5.2 million last month from three organizations and 21 individuals. The average donation was more than $218,000. The largest donation – $2 million – came from former Univision owner Jerry Perenchio. A trust tied to Oklahoma coal executive Joseph Craft III gave $500,000, as did Arkansas-based investment manager Warren Stephens and Kentucky-based self-storage mogul B. Wayne Hughes.

Fred Eychaner, the founder of Chicago-based Newsweb Corp., wrote a $4 million check to the Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic group with ties to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The group raised $11 million during the first three months of the year, including $2 million from James Simons, founder and chairman of investment firm Renaissance Technologies.

The private eye in Washington who has seen it all

What can we say about Terry Lenzner, a curious hybrid of Harvard-trained lawyer and dirt-digging Washington private eye?

That he braved the Klan as a federal attorney investigating the murders of three civil rights workers in Mississippi during “Freedom Summer.”

That he paid janitors to obtain trash containing Microsoft secrets and supplied them to a tech-billionaire rival of Bill Gates.

That as the Senate Watergate Committee’s deputy counsel, he served a subpoena on Richard Nixon, demanding the White House turn over the tapes.

That he investigated the personal lives of women bringing sexual-misconduct allegations against President Bill Clinton.

That he was held hostage by Geraldo Rivera, then a radical young lawyer, but Don Rumsfeld came to the rescue.

(Whew.)

And, finally, that he has written a memoir, “The Investigator,” which covers a remarkable 50-year career with periods of both light and shadow. Published Oct. 8, it is a time capsule of adventuresome sleuthing and traces the contours of U.S. political history.

Lenzner, according to many in the private investigation business, helped to reinvent the trade, wedding it firmly to a high-paying world of corporate, political and legal clients. He founded the Investigative Group International, which grew into a well-regarded operation with employees nationwide and around the world.

“He changed it into a white-collar profession from the days of the old guys with a cheap suit and a bad haircut, the old gumshoe thing. It’s now more polished,” said Nancy Swaim, who worked as an investigator in the firm’s Los Angeles office for more than seven years.

“Scorch the earth,” Lenzner was known to tell his private investigators. His firm is legendary for its “opposition research” probes – political or otherwise – that expose unseen connections, surface uncomfortable facts and bore in on people’s blemishes.

A relentless perfectionist, he could inspire dread in his employees – and his investigative targets. But a soul-searcher he isn’t.

“I can’t think of anything I would say I really regretted that I did it,” he says during an interview one morning on the back patio of his custom-built, modernist Cleveland Park home. Lenzner is 74 now, and the dedicated lifelong athlete – football, tennis, basketball – is suffering from a bad back, using a cane.

He speaks slowly, with a calculated deliberation accrued over decades of lawyering.

Never done anything wrong?

“I can guarantee that I did some things wrong, and I could go back and do another book on all my mistakes,” he says, but he won’t be doing that.

The former federal prosecutor seems to enjoy a tough interrogation. The cool, leafy calm of the morning is periodically brutalized by the roar of a chain saw as it chews through a neighbor’s trees.

“That’s appropriate background music,” he says, and smiles ever so slyly.

The life of Terry Falk Lenzner – father of three, married 45 years, pal of top politicos – could have been as typical as any other Washington insider’s. But starting with his first government job at Bobby Kennedy’s Justice Department 50 years ago, Lenzner’s career has a cinematic sweep.

It’s worth mentioning four movies. His life or his firm intersects with all of them.

First up, “Love Story,” a double-hankie romance set on the Harvard campus from 1970. The back story:

Lenzner, born in 1939, grew up in Manhattan in a well-to-do but troubled household. His father, a dentist, was unpredictable, sometimes violent and “often angry,” Lenzner writes in the book. His mother came from a wealthy New York family.

His father pushed Terry to play varsity football in the Ivy League, as he had done; the son ended up playing at the prep school Phillips Exeter Academy and later Harvard, and captained both teams.

As an undergraduate in Cambridge – he enrolled in 1958 – Lenzner also got to know Erich Segal, a brilliant classics professor and writer. Segal was a tutor at Harvard’s Dunster House, where Lenzner lived. They became friends. “We worked out together, went to the weight room, had dinner and lunch together,” recalls Lenzner.

In the novel “Love Story” and the screenplay – Segal wrote both – the character of Oliver Barrett IV had an athletic bent and a very difficult father. Oliver attended Exeter and Harvard and graduated from Harvard Law.

Oliver played hockey, and in the book, his height and weight are exactly the same as Lenzner’s.

Then there’s a 1996 letter to Lenzner from the late Segal.

“For the record, I hereby declare that you were the model for Oliver Barrett IV in Love Story,” Segal wrote.

It’s a bit weird. In 1997, Al Gore told reporters that he and his wife, Tipper, had been the inspiration for the central couple in Segal’s tale.

Lenzner said he couldn’t get into specifics about the letter. The late writer could have borrowed a “percentage” of Lenzner’s personal history, he says. “My view, very honestly, is that I was not the model for Oliver.”

Yet he didn’t hide the possibility that he was. It would become office lore at IGI.

Lenzner went directly to Harvard Law after college. When he graduated, he could have minted money as a corporate lawyer, but he said he felt disenchanted by his intern work at a Manhattan firm. Instead, in 1964, on the recommendation of a senior lawyer there – the great-grandson of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison – he joined the civil rights division at Justice.

Which brings us to “Mississippi Burning,” the 1988 movie about FBI agents in the bloody early 1960s civil rights period when Lenzner was on the ground gathering evidence about the three activists’ murders, staring down violent racists who didn’t want blacks to vote. Besides working in Mississippi, he also ran the grand jury investigating the “Bloody Sunday” beatings of marchers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.

Lenzner himself faced considerable risk. Checking into motels, he said, he would ask for a room in the back of the building. If there was only one facing the road, the young lawyer would hoist the mattress from the bed and prop it against the large plate-glass window.

You never know who might try to shoot you.

“After a while, you did get a little paranoid,” Lenzner recalls. He got used to sleeping on the floor.

Two other films capture the dark and light sides of Lenzner’s work at IGI during the 1990s. Both are reality-based and touch on the firm’s stock in trade: data-gathering and background checks often sought by white-collar clients.

There’s “The Insider,” about Jeffrey Wigand, an executive at the Brown & Williamson tobacco firm who defected and became a whistleblower. He’s the movie’s protagonist, bent on revealing dangers of tobacco that many manufacturers denied. In the mid-‘90s, he and his former employer were embroiled in litigation.

In real life, Lenzner’s firm – working for B&W’s attorneys – compiled a 500-page dossier, portraying Wigand as a serial liar and petty crook, that B&W leaked to the Wall Street Journal. It backfired.

“A close look at the file, and independent research by this newspaper into its key claims, indicates that many of the serious allegations against Mr. Wigand are backed by scant or contradictory evidence. Some of the charges – including that he pleaded guilty to shoplifting – are demonstrably untrue,” the Journal reported.

Some who know Lenzner remain disappointed that his company allied with Big Tobacco, especially given his history in the Watergate hearings of encouraging truth-tellers to come forward.

“When I worked with Terry, I had the highest regard for his integrity and his instinct for the public good. I never thought he would take on a case where he would not be on the right side,” said the author Scott Armstrong, an investigator with Lenzner on the Watergate Committee who also worked as a consultant to IGI. “That was the Rubicon he crossed. The Wigand dossier produced by IGI shocked me.”

Lenzner’s book ignores the tobacco case except for a brief aside. But in an email, he offered this:

“A senior employee brought the case to me, described what the client wanted and on the face of it, the request appeared to be legitimate. In essence they were asking for basic research on an individual, which is something we do all the time. If I had had the full context of the client’s goals, I might well have reconsidered undertaking the assignment.”

Finally, there’s “Shattered Glass,” a movie about New Republic plagiarist Stephen Glass: The magazine hired IGI to investigate his fabrications. It needed the kind of rigorous search for truth Lenzner was famed for.

In their sweep of Glass’s computer, IGI experts established clear evidence. Lenzner said he also came across a freelance piece Glass had done for the now-defunct George magazine, about Washington “power players.”

The article helped seal Lenzner’s conclusions. One of the players was Lenzner himself.

“I guess it need not be said that Glass had never interviewed me and that many of the things he said about me were invented,” Lenzner writes.

Lenzner set up IGI in 1984 with three investigative reporters (including two from The Washington Post) and grew the business by bringing in diverse talent: FBI and CIA veterans, financial fraud experts, mergers and acquisitions specialists, lawyers and journalists worked side by side.

“You had this whole range of expertise you could tap into,” said Swaim, the L.A. private eye. “High quality … high class.”

With his Watergate fame and fascinating background, Lenzner loomed larger than life among fresh-faced employees. Although known as a browbeater, he had stridden through history.

“He had an aura,” said Alex Kramer, who joined IGI in 1990 and stayed for a year. “I know people had incidents with him, but he also gave people great opportunities.”

Contact 10 or so ex-employees, and those willing to say anything at all are inclined to speak anonymously, not wanting to publicly cross the hot-tempered Lenzner, even many years later – and even though some profess great admiration for their former boss.

“He is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met,” said Andrew Fox, an investigator who worked at IGI for 10 years. “But his ego drives the ship. I know people have left angry. But that’s not anything necessarily different from any other workplace.”

Today the firm has been outflanked by competitors doing similar white-collar work and has downsized from 75 employees in its heyday to a core of 25.

IGI gained considerable notoriety during the late 1990s, when Lenzner worked for President Clinton’s attorneys on the impeachment case. Some articles have criticized IGI’s investigative tactics; for example, methods for obtaining phone numbers and credit records.

In recent interviews, some ex-employees said they obtained such records from “information brokers,” whose information-gathering techniques were sometimes called into question. The practice was widespread among PIs; only later would federal laws protect such material.

Lenzner emphatically denies that the firm ever accessed or used anything but materials in the public domain – otherwise they couldn’t be used in court. And, he says, no one at the company ever violated legal boundaries.

“It would have been suicide for us to have done anything to step out of line the slightest bit,” he said, noting that he is a lawyer and that many of his clients are, too. “And we never did.”

David Fechheimer, 72, a legendary San Francisco private eye who did various projects for Lenzner’s company, said he admired its investigative creativity.

“IGI believed in street work and human contact,” he said. “And they would take risks; not legal risks, but the risks of getting caught. They would mount interesting undercover and sting operations.”

When the boss ordered people to “scorch the earth” for information, they did. “It was an amazing, intense three years,” said Philip Davis, an Alexandria researcher who worked as a forensic accountant at IGI. “You came out of there thinking, ‘I can find anything.’”

How volcanic was the boss?

“Calling him General Patton on steroids is not overstating him,” Davis said. “But I love Terry Lenzner. Terry’s toughness made me sharper. … Talk about jumping into the fire wearing a suit made of newspapers.”

There is no lack of movie-worthy scenes from Lenzner’s life story, moments of both high drama and absurd circumstance, even if all of them won’t reach the screen.

“Yes, I held him hostage, it’s true,” said Geraldo Rivera, the Fox News host, of his historic collision with Lenzner 44 years ago.

Again, the back story:

After his work in the Justice Department, including a stint as an organized-crime prosecutor in New York, Lenzner took another Washington job in 1969. A Democrat, he went to work for Richard Nixon’s White House – the political equivalent of walking into a threshing machine.

Lenzner was brought into the Office of Economic Opportunity by its chief, Donald Rumsfeld, who had a spot in the president’s Cabinet.

“I had an instant rapport with him,” Lenzner writes of Rumsfeld.

But the future secretary of defense wasn’t digging the vibe at the anti-poverty agency, a Johnson administration creation; Che Guevara’s face adorned posters on the walls, Rumsfeld later wrote disapprovingly.

It fell to the 29-year-old Lenzner to supervise 2,200 Legal Services Program lawyers who were aggressively filing suits on behalf of the poor – battling police violence, protecting the rights of blacks and migrant workers, and taking cases that generally bedeviled the Establishment.

Republican governors like Ronald Reagan in California complained of being sued by shaggy-haired radicals paid by Washington. Nixon grew unhappy with the whole Lenzner-headed operation. Some minority lawyers attached to the program weren’t happy, either. This is where Rivera, then a chairman of the Black and Brown Lawyers Caucus, comes in.

One August day in 1969, he was one of about 50 newly graduated lawyers, many from Howard University, who decided to occupy the building at 19th and M streets that housed the Office of Economic Opportunity and Legal Services.

They wanted $1 million for a Legal Services fellows program at Howard.

“We did it on the fly,” Rivera recalls. “Once we got there, I don’t recall that we intended to keep Secretary Rumsfeld captive, or Terry, who we liked.”

Rumsfeld instructed Lenzner to escort the protesters to a conference room and hear them out. Lenzner did. Then they wouldn’t let him leave.

Into the room charged Rumsfeld, the former wrestler. “I took Lenzner’s arm and told him we were leaving,” Rumsfeld recounted in his memoir. But the protesters wouldn’t let Lenzner go.

“I’d say Terry was friendly, but he was representing the Man,” Rivera noted.

Eventually Rumsfeld summoned the cops. “I was later told that I had caused the arrest of the major fraction of the graduating class of Howard Law School,” he wrote.

About a year later, as heat from the White House grew, Rumsfeld fired Lenzner. But there was no venom. They remain friendly to this day.

Dissolve to the back patio.

Lenzner, who has suffered from heart problems, seems mellower now. But he isn’t ready to completely loosen his gasp as IGI’s chairman. He loves what he does too much, he says, to think about fully retiring. In the past, potential successors have been brought in, only to end up leaving. Yet he admits that he has never been good at running a business.

Lenzner recently brought in his son, Jonathan, a former federal prosecutor, to join senior management. (It should be noted that Jonathan Lenzner is married to a Post reporter.)

As is true of many autobiographies, Lenzner’s book tends to burnish the victories, elide the defeats, settle scores, ignore his critics or dismiss them.

But “The Investigator” establishes his legacy – and something more. “The book is intended to reflect lessons learned and stories about human nature,” he said.

Here’s something to consider. Terry Lenzner has been called one of the most feared men in Washington.

“That’s a compliment,” he says. The chain saw is still going.

Information from: The Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com

Story via The Associated Press


New Nixon bio alleges gay affair with Bebe Rebozo

A new biography suggests that former President Richard Nixon had a longstanding relationship with his fair with his Mafia‑linked BFF Charles “Bebe” Rebozo.

In his book “Nixon’s Darkest Secrets: The Inside Story Of America’s Most Troubled President,” biographer Don Fulsom also claims that the disgraced president’s relationship with his wife Pat was distant and abusive. Nixon resigned office in 1974 due to the fallout over the Watergate scandal.

Fulsom is a veteran Washington reporter who covered the Nixon years. He uses recently revealed documents and eyewitness interviews, including some with FBI agents, to examine what White House insiders have long suspected – that Nixon and the dapper, handsome Rebozo were more than just good friends and golfing companions. The relationship was also a favorite subject of gossip in Washington’s gay community at the time.

In the book, Fulsom quotes a former Time magazine reporter who bent down to pick up a fork at a Washington dinner and saw the two men holding hands under the table. Another journalist told Fulsom how a drunken Nixon once put his arm around Rebozo “the way you’d cuddle your senior prom date. Something was fishy there.”

An account of the book that appeared in the U.K.’s Daily Mail details Rebozo’s involvement with organized crime and his easy access to the White House, which staff found quite disconcerting. It also paints a troubling picture of Nixon’s marriage and Rebozo’s inability to form a meaningful relationship with a woman.

According to the Daily Mail: “The President’s closest colleagues complained at the way Rebozo monopolised Nixon’s time. General Alexander Haig, his last chief of staff, is said to have imitated Rebozo’s ‘limp wrist’ manner and joked that Rebozo and Nixon were lovers.

“According to Fulsom, Henry Kissinger resented the way Rebozo would fly on Air Force One, the Presidential plane, wearing a blue U.S. Navy flight jacket bearing the President’s seal and with his name stitched on it.”