Washington Post

Not a Pretty Picture

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, September 23, 1998; Page A23

The White House Historical Association had a great idea to put together a distinctive calendar for 2000 and to raise money through sales to buy something for the White House, perhaps furniture from the John Quincy Adams family to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the occupancy of the White House.

The idea was to commission well-known artists, one from each of the original colonies and from the District of Columbia, to paint the White House from various perspectives. The artists would get only expenses and a small honorarium -- the paintings and copyright would be donated.

Sounds good. But South Carolina's West Fraser wanted to paint not from a photo, as some of his colleagues were doing, but from life. "I want to paint the White House as I see it today," he said yesterday.

So Fraser applied for a permit from the National Park Service to set up an easel in Lafayette Square to get started. But not so fast. There is a Park Service regulation, developed after years of bitter litigation, that prohibits structures in the park, and tripods are considered structures.

Park Service spokesman Earle Kittleman said the regulations were meant to prohibit permanent encampments at the park, "balancing First Amendment rights with the need to have regulations." So television cameras, for example, are permitted in the park but must be shoulder-mounted, not on tripods.

"I know the Park Service is doing their job and I don't fault them," Fraser said. But they refused a permit.

Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), South Carolina Sens. Strom Thurmond (R) and Ernest F. Hollings (D), and Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.), who chairs the Senate subcommittee on national parks, weighed in for common sense.

The Park Service, apparently confident that its budget is sacrosanct, could not be moved. Fraser's only option may be to park his stuff on the now-barricaded Pennsylvania Avenue -- apparently not subject to the Park Service's restrictions -- while he paints for charity.

Welcome to Washington, Mr. Fraser. Even easy things can be hard.

Eire Apparent

On the other hand, if you work things right, even hard things can be easy. Take for example the very, very late nomination of former Wyoming governor Mike Sullivan (D) to be ambassador to Ireland.

The paperwork wasn't completed and it looked absolutely impossible that Sullivan could have a hearing and be confirmed before the Senate adjourns Oct. 9. That would mean no ambassador in that critical post for several more months.

But Thomas, who beat Sullivan in a 1994 Senate race, weighed in on his behalf. Calling in chits with Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), who chairs the Foreign Relations subcommittee on European affairs, and committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), Thomas got a deal: If Sullivan could get his paperwork finished by this week, he would be added to the subcommittee's business meeting on Sept. 29. He got the papers in yesterday and was immediately put on the calendar, a Thomas spokesman said, giving Sullivan a good shot at getting to Dublin next month.

And why is Thomas helping Sullivan? Seems "they're friends," the Thomas aide said, and they've had several conversations about this.

Bipartisanship? Still alive?

Echoes of Scandal Past

Washington has to be the smallest town in America, at least when it comes to names from one scandal reappearing in another. Take Robert J. Bittman, a hard-nosed prosecutor and top aide to independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr. Bittman was one of the most often heard disembodied voices questioning President Clinton on the videotape broadcast the other day.

Bittman is the son of William O. Bittman, a former federal prosecutor and defense lawyer of considerable note. Scandalmongers, however, will recall that the elder Bittman was the lawyer for Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt and was named an unindicted co-conspirator in the Watergate coverup after witnesses told of delivering huge sums of cash to Bittman, who acted as a conduit and passed the funds to Hunt.

Meanwhile, an admittedly longer stretch involves what may be called the Podesta Syndrome. Deputy White House chief of staff John D. Podesta has been coordinating the Clinton defense strategy against potential House impeachment proceedings.

The last time a Podesta held a senior job in an administration was when Robert A. Podesta, perhaps a very distant cousin, was an undersecretary of commerce in the Nixon administration. Bodes ill?

Planting an Idea for Starr

Farmers in Kansas have a new mission for Starr. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, back home in Kansas at a state fair, reports no questions asked of him about Monica S. Lewinsky. Fairgoers wanted to talk about increasing troubles on the farm, including low prices and low exports. One farmer said he wished Starr would investigate the Chicago Board of Trade to figure out why prices are so low.

Small-Screen Standout

The Emmy Award-winning federal government? Apparently so. The little-known Emmy Award for National Public Service Announcements went recently to "Looking for the Fountain of Youth?" produced by the National Institute on Aging and Vilsack Productions. The purpose was to alert people that various substances, such as DHEA and melatonin, haven't been proven to extend life and may have serious side effects.

Moving On . . .

Carmen E. MacDougall, former deputy assistant secretary for communications at the Energy Department, has moved over to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as director of communications.