While Al Franken is used to offending conservatives, he wound up insulting some fellow Democrats at Monday’s launch party for the Center for American Progress, John Podesta’s new liberal think tank.
The fireworks started flying when Christine Varney, a former Clinton White House official who’s now managing partner at the prestigious firm Hogan & Hartson, privately introduced herself to Franken during the mingling portion of the bash at the International Spy Museum.
Franken proceeded to tear into Varney over the fact that her firm represented Fox News Channel in the network’s lawsuit claiming that the title of the comedian’s book “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look At the Right” violated a Fox trademark.
“Franken flipped out,” mused one prominent attendee. “He went crazy on this woman. It was so uncomfortable.”
Another prominent attendee noted that during his remarks to the packed crowd later in the evening, Franken proceeded to deliver “numerous and gratuitous shots” at Hogan & Hartson — spending much of his speech trying to settle scores over his book rather than promoting Podesta’s think tank.
“He was funny, but he was embittered,” this Democratic strategist said of the speech, which included some f-bombs and other profanities. “There were people who clearly felt that he made it all about him.”
Franken, who was at turns cracking jokes and seriously lashing out at Hogan & Hartson again during a phone interview Wednesday, insisted to HOH that he did not yell at Varney or insult her. But he acknowledged having a frank conversation about his strong belief that an “unethical” complaint was filed in court by a Hogan & Hartson attorney in New York.
“I might have said that the woman who filed the complaint against me was an asshole,” Franken said. “I use language as bad as President Bush does, like in his Tucker Carlson interview [in Talk magazine prior to the 2000 campaign]. Maybe I’m not qualified to be president.”
Franken’s beef centers around the fact that the Fox complaint cited press reports in calling him “deranged” as well as “unstable” and a “parasite.” He contends that the attorneys culled this “personal invective” from uncorroborated blogs, not legitimate media accounts.
“I could write on a blog that two drunk Hogan & Hartson lawyers went up to Al Franken and said, ‘We hope you die,’” Franken said Wednesday. “And then it would be, ‘In the press, Hogan & Hartson lawyers are drunk all the time. And they hope the enemies of their clients die painful deaths from rectal cancer.’ And they would be like, ‘It’s true, it’s in the press.’”
The comic stressed that he was only teasing the firm in his general remarks to the audience. “I just spoke in a comedic riff,” said Franken, who repeated his frequent line from the Fox case that, “Satire is protected speech, even if the intended target doesn’t get it.”
He added of the gripes from attendees of the party: “This might be a new wrinkle on that line. Now I’m going to extend it to, ‘even if the viewer doesn’t get it.’”
Varney did not return calls seeking comment on the confrontation. But Debbie Berger, director of media strategy for the think tank, stressed that the party was a smashing success and there are no hard feelings.
“I am very close to many people at Hogan & Hartson, and I can say with certainty that nobody there is upset with the center,” she said.
She added of the comic’s remarks, “Al Franken was brought there as entertainment and he was entertainment. And I think people need to understand that. It was 10 minutes of a four-hour event.”
Guess Who’s Coming to Lunch — Or Is She? Democratic Senators Wednesday received an invite to today’s Democratic Policy Committee luncheon that listed two special guests: Ambassador Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame Wilson.
While the ambassador has been a fixture on television, blasting Bush officials for allegedly leaking out the fact that his wife was a CIA operative — he’s also gotten plenty of face time by endorsing the presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) — the missus has been in the shadows.
So Democratic insiders were stunned that they might finally get a gander at this mysterious woman.
But Sen. Byron Dorgan (N.D.), chairman of the DPC, said it ain’t so: He believes Ambassador Wilson is coming sans CIA operative.
“He’s not bringing his wife,” Dorgan told HOH, saying he was unaware of the e-mail that was circulated.
“I think most Members find what happened appalling,” Dorgan said of the CIA matter, but he stressed that Wilson is coming to talk about Iraq. He noted that Wilson was the last American official in Iraq before the United States closed its embassy.
But Republicans may grow suspicious, given Wednesday’s revelation that aides to Sen. Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), the top Democrat on the Intelligence panel, drafted a memo laying out a potential plan to force Republicans to probe pre-war Iraq intelligence. The memo spoke of the possibility of “major new disclosures” and suggested the minority could “pull the trigger” on an independent probe if Republicans do not pursue the story hard enough.
Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) howled that Democrats “want to play politics with our intelligence agencies,” but Rockefeller said it was much ado about nothing. He said it was “disturbing” that a “draft paper describing the rights of the minority to push for a full and fair review of these issues is being so grossly mischaracterized” by the GOP.
The Fashion-ator. While surely there was some substance to California Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger’s (R) whirlwind trip to Washington last week, there’s one part of his visit that female Hill staffers still can’t stop talking about.
Let’s face it, women are used to seeing their male counterparts in Washington wearing some pretty lame shoes. Penny loafers are about as exciting as it gets around here.
So one California Democratic aide told HOH that after sitting in on a meeting with Arnold, she was impressed by his dark shoes — if not his politics. “He was wearing these super, super shiny shoes,” she said. “The sole flared out.”
A prominent California Republican aide also marvelled about the shoes, saying they looked like Doc Martens — possibly in a burgundy. “They were hip shoes,” she said. “They were the opposite of wingtips.”
This staffer noted that she had chatted up a female Bush administration official who said she “couldn’t believe his shoes,” which she swore to be black — leading to the possibility that there were multiple pairs of hip shoes worn during the trip.
But John Feehery, spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), sniffed at the notion that the kicks were merely Doc Martens. “They were a higher grade. Probably Maglis,” he said of the brand made famous by O.J. Simpson.
“I noticed that they noticed,” Feehery conceded to HOH. “All I know is I heard several female staffers say that he had fabulous shoes.”
So HOH dialed up a Schwarzenegger staffer, who cracked that this was the first mainstream reporter to ask such a silly question.
But after a little bit of digging, the staffer changed his mind and got the goods.
“On background, there was only one pair of shoes. They were dark brown,” said the Schwarzenegger aide, adding that Arnold’s shoes are made by Branchini, a company based in Bologna, Italy.
The Democratic aide, meanwhile, said the shoes appeared to be alligator skin.
“During the campaign Governor-Elect Schwarzenegger said that he would consider abolishing the California Environmental Protection Agency,” she joked. “After seeing his shoes, you have to wonder if his plan to protect endangered species is to wear them on his feet.”
Mark Preston contributed to this report.