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On the Rebound

The Washington Wizards have been turning in some lackluster performances of late, including a loss to the Charlotte Bobcats on April 4. But you can’t blame their defeat on unenthusiastic fans, who included former Justice Department aide and headline-maker Kyle Sampson, fresh from his testimony before Congress, accompanied by former Attorney General John Ashcroft. [IMGCAP(1)]

The pair were spotted seated in close-to-the-court seats, along with a mutual friend and Sampson’s young son. Hmm, could the recently unemployed Sampson — who is at the center of the controversy surrounding his former boss, current Attorney General Alberto Gonzales — be on a job interview?

After all, Ashcroft now runs the lucrative Ashcroft Group, which has hired some high-profile Justice Department alums.

Alas, Sampson’s attorney, Brad Berenson, put the kibosh on that speculation, explaining that both his client and Ashcroft were guests of Washington lawyer Noel Francisco, an old classmate of Sampson’s and a former Justice Department colleague.

“Kyle and his seven-year-old son were invited by a former colleague, Noel Francisco, to attend the Wizards game,” Berenson told HOH in an e-mail. “Gen. Ashcroft was also a guest of Mr. Francisco. I don’t think there’s anything more to the story.”

Juleanna Glover Weiss, a spokeswoman for The Ashcroft Group, told HOH that Ashcroft and Sampson, too, are old friends. Sampson was an aide to Ashcroft during his tenure, and the two played basketball together in those well-chronicled Justice Department b-ball sessions, she noted.

OK, we get it, this was an all play-no work outing. But you know what they say about attorneys who play together.

Indian (Award) Giver. Count the U.S. Chamber of Commerce among us red-faced folks with occasionally itchy trigger fingers poised over the e-mail “send” button. The powerful biz lobbying group is having to do plenty of backpedaling this week after accidentally notifying every Member of Congress that they won a prestigious award — in most cases, erroneously.

The chamber on Tuesday sent out the oopsie e-mail notifying Capitol Hill staffers that their bosses were winners of the group’s 2007 “Spirit of Enterprise” award. That coveted mantle, which is given to Members who vote the group’s way 70 percent of the time or better on key votes, would be handed out in an April 17 ceremony, the e-mail said.

The missive noted that Members would be getting a hand-delivered invitation to the awards ceremony. “Thank you and congratulations!” the e-mail cheerfully concluded.

But not all of the offices that got the e-mail fit the criteria, and chamber staffers have been furiously working the phones to break the news gently to the offices that got the message in error.

A chamber spokesman said the e-mail was a mistake by an outside vendor handling communications for the award. Chamber staff e-mailed and called offices once they realized the error, he added.

“We hope one day everyone will vote with us and receive the Spirit of Enterprise Award,” the spokesman quipped.

Toss the Vote. Ah, democracy is such a good thing. HOH first brought you the tale of outraged staffers angered over a new system for Taco Salad Wednesday in the House basement cafeteria, whereby customers were asked to fill out slips indicating their choice of taco toppings. Then we were compelled to chronicle the new system’s defenders.

Now, it seems, staffers can exercise the power of the ballot to settle the matter: New slips distributed on Wednesday in the cafeteria allow taco salad noshers to vote on whether they like using the slips.

Viva Taco Salad Wednesday!

Wrangling Rangel. Yes, HOH was of course fascinated by the truly important insights on crucial chapters in recent American history contained in House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel’s (D-N.Y.) new book. But since we’re only in it for the dish, we’re leaving all the meaty stuff to the scholars.

And though the memoir, “And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since: From the Streets of Harlem to the Halls of Congress,” is light on truly scandalous tidbits, there were a few notable details.

To wit: Rangel recalls the incident in 2003 when then-Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) called the cops on the panel’s Democrats. Rangel writes about that memorable exchange between Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) and then-Rep. Scott McInnis (R-Colo.), in which Stark lit into McInnis when the Republican Congressman told him to “shut up.” Stark called McInnis “a fruitcake” and a “wimp” and dared him to come make him shut up.

Rangel had nothing but kudos for Stark’s outburst. Stark “was then seventy-one but still agitates with the testosterone of a seventeen year-old,” Rangel writes admiringly of his compatriot.

And surprisingly, Rangel reveals some warm feelings between himself and former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). Rangel recounts how Hastert told a group of new Members that they should get to know Rangel because of his “understanding and respecting the people of the Congress.”

Now that’s one for the history books.

Spell Check. Even little 8-year-old Susie Flynn can spell “president,” something that the architects of Rep. Duncan Hunter’s (R-Calif.) run for the title of commander in chief apparently can’t manage.

In the California Republican’s formal Federal Election Commission filing making his bid official, Hunter misspelled “president,” mangling the name of his committee as “Hunter for Prseident Inc.”

On the bright side, although the field of candidates for the presidency is a bit crowded, Hunter is uncontested to be prseident.

His signature song? “Hail to the Cheif.”

Lauren W. Whittington contributed to this report.

Please send your hot tips, juicy gossip or comments to hoh@rollcall.com.

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