For genius gone haywire, tune in on Whitewater

July 25, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

WASHINGTON -- If you have both cable TV and too much tim on your hands, you might want to watch the Whitewater hearings that begin tomorrow.

These are not the big hearings. These are not the hearings that will answer questions about just what Bill and Hillary did and when they did it.

No, these hearings will answer a much simpler question:

How dumb can you be and still be considered smart in Washington?

A central part of these hearings will be an investigation into contacts between the White House and officials of the Treasury Department.

Earlier this year, the Resolution Trust Corp., which is overseen by the Treasury Department, needed a lawyer to investigate Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan, which has been linked to Whitewater and the Clintons.

So the agency hired Jay Stephens, a former U.S. attorney.

It was a stupid choice.

Stephens is a Republican partisan. Before becoming a U.S. attorney he was deputy counsel to Ronald Reagan. And when Clinton fired all 93 Republican-appointed U.S. attorneys, Stephens was the only one to go on "Nightline" and cry politics.

After nearly two years of investigating Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., without managing to obtain an indictment, Stephens claimed that he was being fired because he was close to getting one.

[As it turns out, Stephens, under George Bush, did not indict Rostenkowski. The new U.S. attorney, under Bill Clinton, did.]

Stephens then began exploring the possibility of becoming the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from Virginia, which he later abandoned.

Yet Stephens was picked to investigate a savings and loan linked to the Democratic president who fired him.

Naturally, the White House went ballistic.

And George Stephanopoulos, senior presidential adviser, picked up the phone.

According to Stephanopoulos, he called his pal, Joshua Steiner, the Treasury Department chief of staff, and "asked how Jay Stephens had come to be retained by the RTC. I was puzzled and blew off steam over the unfairness of that decision because Jay Stephens had accused the president of acting improperly."

Then, according to Stephanopoulos, "Once I got the facts from Josh, that ended the matter as far as I was concerned."

According to Time magazine, however, when Stephanopoulos called Steiner he began by saying, "This conversation never happened," and then said, "How can we get rid of Stephens?"

Stephanopoulos is considered a genius in Washington.

And so is Steiner, 28, who attended Yale and Oxford, and has been described as an "undisputed administration success story," "impressive" and "extremely effective."

Steiner, in fact, has only one teeny flaw: The nitwit keeps a diary.

L And, apparently, recorded the whole Stephanopoulos incident.

Now, we are informed by the New Republic, which did a boy-genius portrait of Steiner a few weeks ago, that he is "racked and humiliated by his role in the controversy."

So racked and humiliated that he called up longtime friend Roger Rosenblatt, contributing editor of the New Republic and contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine, and asked him to sing the theme song of "Felix the Cat " to him.

I am not making this up.

"When he was 3 years old, I used to sing to him the Felix the Cat song," Rosenblatt said. "During the midst of his troubles, he called and asked, 'Could you sing Felix the Cat?' So I sang the song: 'Felix the Cat. The wonderful, wonderful cat. Whenever he gets in trouble, he reaches into his bag of tricks.' But poor Josh didn't have any bag of tricks."

[The Washington Times helpfully has pointed out that the song actually goes: "Felix the Cat. The wonderful, wonderful cat. Whenever he gets in a fix, he reaches into his bag of tricks."]

It is not yet certain if Steiner will be called before Congress this week. Or be forced to read from his diaries. Or give evidence as to his genius-hood.

But if I were a member of Congress, I would certainly ask him one thing:

"Would you please sing that song for the cameras? This country hasn't had a good laugh in months."

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