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Gabriel Bitol, a junior aide on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee majority staff, must have thought he was being helpful when he sent out an e-mail last week detailing the committee’s schedule for this week. Instead, he inadvertently managed to offend a few people. [IMGCAP(1)]

The main body of the e-mail itself was fairly innocuous, noting a “committee coffee with the president of Liberia” on Wednesday. But at the bottom of the e-mail was a photo depicting a scene from the 1995 cult movie “Friday,” which pokes fun at stereotypes of black culture.

The photo shows a scene in which one of the movie’s heroes, played by comedian Chris Tucker, is confronting the drug dealer to whom he owes money. Tucker has a cigarette (or is that a joint?) behind his ear and a large gold chain around his neck, while the drug dealer sports a full head of curlers.

Below the picture, Bitol, who is black, included an oft-cited quote from the flick. “Playing with my money is like playing with my emotions,” it reads.

The juxtaposition of an event with the head of an African nation with the “Friday” joke didn’t sit well with some staffers who received the e-mail.

“A lot of people who saw it thought it was really offensive,” one Senate aide said. “It’s a really serious thing, and there’s this attachment of a picture from a movie. … People thought it was off-color.”

It isn’t uncommon among the younger members of the Hill’s e-mailing set to include a funny clip or quote at the close of their e-mails, so junior staffer Bitol isn’t alone in his e-mail style.

But his elders on the committee staff weren’t amused. “This is a good staffer who did a dumb thing,” said Antony Blinken, the committee’s staff director. “He knows it was unprofessional and he’s assured me it won’t happen again.”

Rep. Baby-Daddy. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) is suddenly so newsworthy. On Monday, he shocked all of Washington, D.C., with his freshly shorn upper lip after 40 years of mustachioed glory. And now, another bombshell: It turns out that he’s the father of deceased tabloid princess Anna Nicole Smith’s baby.

Gingrey broke the shocking news during an appearance on Fox News Channel on Wednesday morning. During a spot on “America’s Newsroom with Bill Hemmer,” he was asked about the Iraq War resolution the House was debating. Gingrey, though, had something more important to discuss first.

“Well, before we get into that, I want to make an announcement on Fox News,” the lawmaker said. “I am actually the father of Anna Nicole Smith’s baby, and I wanted to make sure I got that out there.”

(For those of you who have been living in a cave without cable television, the hot story of the last several days was the legal battle to determine who fathered the infant daughter of Smith, who died last week, apparently of a drug overdose.)

But just as HOH was about to jump into full-on National Enquirer mode and start tailing the Congressman’s every move, Gingrey spokeswoman Becky Ruby took the wind out of our sails.

Buzz-killer Ruby assures us that the remark was made in jest. “All the news before the segment was all Anna Nicole Smith, all the time, and all the news after was all Anna Nicole Smith, all the time, and he was just poking a little fun at all the 24-hour news coverage,” she said.


Mr. Sawyer Goes to Columbus. Who knows if it’s a good thing, but Columbus, Ohio, is starting to look a little more like D.C. these days. In a coincidence surely attributable to a wrinkle in the space-time continuum, the three newest members of the Buckeye State Legislature’s upper chamber have Hill ties.

Tom Sawyer, the former Democratic Congressman who lost his 2002 primary race to now-Rep. Tim Ryan, was appointed this week to the state Senate to replace state Sen. Kimberly Zurz (D), who is leaving the Legislature to head the state’s commerce department.

Sawyer joins fellow D.C. alum, shopping-mall heiress state Sen. Capri Cafaro (D), a former Hill staffer who also has ties to disgraced former Rep. Jim Traficant (Ohio). Her father, J.J. Cafaro, pleaded guilty to bribing Traficant, and although Capri Cafaro was never charged with anything, she was given immunity to testify during Traficant’s 2003 trial.

And the third in the Washingtonian triumvirate is Ohio state Sen. Jason Wilson (D), who is taking the seat vacated when his father, Democratic now-Rep. Charlie Wilson, was elected to Congress.

Hmm, less traffic and better steaks? Maybe these guys are onto something …

Ways and Meaningful Glances. Isn’t it sweet how love blossoms in the unlikeliest of places? And there’s no more unlikely a spot than a House Ways and Means hearing.

But blossom it did. Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) opened a hearing Wednesday (um, that would be Valentine’s Day, for those of you who live under Hallmark-free rocks) with U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab by making an irresistible offer. “Ambassador, I want to be your new best friend,” Rangel offered.

Schwab good-naturedly went along with the bit. “Mr. Chairman, in keeping with the spirit of the day, I will be your new best friend if you will be my Valentine.” According to our spy at the hearing, Rangel shot back a wink.

The chairman might be one of Congress’ “old bulls,” but he’s still got some game.

Take It From the Losers. Two woulda-been-president Senators have some advice for two of their colleagues vying for the Oval Office: Know when to shut yer trap.

During a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee markup Wednesday, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) was holding forth with a scintillating tale of how his mother instilled in him the importance of early childhood education. But before members of the audience had a chance to nod off, the lights went out in the hearing room.

Apparently, someone had leaned up against the light switch. When the lights came back on, HELP Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) quickly reassured Alexander that the lights going out was in no way a reflection of how the committee felt about his remarks.

Alexander laughed and said a similar thing had happened during his first presidential debate in New Hampshire.

“Sens. Dodd and Obama — let that be a lesson to you,” he warned Sens. Chris Dodd (Conn.) and Barack Obama (Ill.), who are angling for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. “I should have taken the hint back then.”

Kennedy chuckled, perhaps recalling his own long-ago bid. “I know the feeling,” he concurred.

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