Washington -- AT A CAPITOL HILL fund-raiser here on a recent night, Democratic Sen. Brock Adams of Washington state stood on a table and quoted Mark Twain to a room jampacked with supporters. "A lie travels halfway around the world before the truth gets its shoes on," he said, and nobody in the crowd had to ask what he was referring to. They responded with lusty cheers and applause.
Days earlier, letters to political action committees invited Jack W.Germond &JulesWitcoverto the fund-raiser had urged them to boycott the affair. They were sent by the father of a woman who four years ago charged Adams with sexual improprieties -- charges thrown out as having "absolutely no basis whatsoever" by the federal prosecutor under whom the allegations were investigated. The letters repeated the charges and asked the PACs to "seriously consider giving your money to another candidate."
The plea served to fuel once again the allegations that have kept a cloud over Adams ever since their first airing. To counter the latest wrinkle, the federal prosecutor at the time -- Joseph diGenova, a Republican -- put in an appearance at the Adams fund-raiser, which generated more than $100,000 for his planned re-election campaign next year.
The big turnout suggested that the anti-Adams letters may have backfired, and diGenova declared it "more than unfair" for the old charges to continue to be aired.
But even as he did, the letters to the PACs had triggered yet another round of stories about the original charges amid the current climate of sex-and-scandal in Washington, fanned most recently by the much-hyped biography of Nancy Reagan and the latest accusations of sexual misconduct by a member of the Kennedy clan.
Adams has threatened to sue for defamation of character, but such action would only guarantee a longer public life for the allegations.
A number of Republicans in Washington state are breathing hard over the opportunity to challenge Adams next year, leading to obvious speculation that the GOP had a hand in the letters to the PACs. Some Democrats, too, professing that Adams can't be reelected, are said to be interested in running, but Adams is digging in and says he expects no primary challenge.
Democratic Gov. Booth Gardner has pointedly left Adams swinging in the wind, saying it was up to Adams "to make his case" to the PACs whose money he needs for an effective reelection run.
Ironically, Adams would be high on the GOP target list for 1992 even without the nagging personal allegations because he was in the forefront of the effort in the Senate to hold off the use of force in the Persian Gulf. In fact, it was he and Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa who forced a vote on use of force on ground that without it Congress' constitutional role in warmaking would be illegally bypassed.
Republican Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas and House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich have served notice that January votes by Adams and other Democrats up for re-election next year to continue economic sanctions against Iraq will be prime ammunition in GOP attempts to defeat them.
Adams still defends that vote, and may be getting some political cover from the tragic aftermath of the shooting war involving Iraqi refugees. Rather than retreating, he says more needs to be known about whether President Bush "signalled" the Shiites and Kurds to rebel and thus bears some responsibility for the ensuing human disaster.
Adams may have less to fear from his vote on the war than Republicans hope, because Washington state has always had a peace-oriented tradition going back before the Vietnam years. In fact, some Republicans were charging before the war started that Adams was playing the conspicuous dove to divert attention from the nagging sex allegations.
But the senator's track record in opposition to use of force, or at least in insisting on congressional prerogatives in launching it, was well established long before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
Early in his term he championed invoking the War Powers Act, opposed the re-flagging of Kuwaiti oil tankers to permit U.S. Navy escorts and questioned the invasion of Panama without congressional authorization.
All this, as well as the scandal charges, have made him the prime GOP Senate target for 1992. But Adams' determination to hang in recalls that other famous Mark Twain remark on the occasion of a rumor about him. "Reports of my death," he wired his publisher, "are greatly exaggerated."
Adams clearly feels the same about his much-proclaimed political demise.