Washington Prowler

Questions, Questions

Money, television, audits and life in the fast lane -- in other words, just your typical news day.

By 2.3.02

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OLD BIRDS
With CNN chief and AOL-Time Warner big-wig Walter Isaacson in Washington for the State of the Union speech and to meet with CNN staffers in the D.C. bureau, the producers of "Larry King Live" were looking to make a bit of a splash on the post-speech Wednesday night show. "We're feeling some heat with the Connie Chung signing," says one King staffer. "She's so light and soft in her questioning, and Larry's been the king of softball stuff for years here. We want to separate ourselves a bit."

So producers wanted to line up some Republicans and Democrats and have them go at it. But King apparently had other ideas and pressed for an hour with former Texas Governor Ann Richards, who criticized President George W. Bush some and even gushed about the humanitarian wonders of Cuba. "It was kind of embarrassing," says the staffer. "Here we have a president with 80 percent approval ratings, and we've got this liberal old bird spouting off. It was just a head-scratcher for all of us."

WHAT MONEY CAN'T BUY
Top White House aide Karl Rove is said to have asked new RNC chairman Marc Racicot to bring in an outside auditor to examine the Republican Party's books after a dismal 2001 performance, even though the party last year raised -- and spent -- huge amounts.

"We raised almost $100 million in 2001, and what do we have to show for it?" asks a former RNC staffer who was let go within the past month. "We lost the governorships in Virginia and New Jersey and our reapportionment projects in a bunch of states are in the crapper right now. Yet, on paper, it looks like we've spent close to $50 million in the past year. It's mind boggling. Someone wasn't doing their job over there, and the White House wants to know who to blame."

LIFE AFTER RUDY
New York Governor George Pataki, seemingly assured of re-election next year in the wake of his performance post 9/11, has sent word through intermediaries that he wants out of New York and would gladly accept a cabinet position in the Bush administration. "He says he's tired of being governor," says a New York Republican Party operative. "He was lukewarm to the idea of running again before the terrorist attacks, rose to the challenges and now feels as though it's time for him to move on." But where? Currently there are no major openings in Washington.

"It's Rudy envy," says a longtime Pataki backer in Albany. "He sees Rudy being talked up as CIA director, as a future presidential candidate, as a senator, as a national political figure, and George wants that talk to be about him. If George doesn't run for re-election, almost assuredly Rudy would have to pick up the mantle and run for governor. That frees up Pataki for a position in Washington to further his own political goals."

But Giuliani, who has spoken to Pataki about the gubernatorial run, has nixed such a plan, at least his role in it. "Rudy wants to make some bucks," says a close friend. "He's got his new consulting firm and they are poised to make a fortune. The New York Stock Exchange, the Yankees, he's already lining up clients. He'll make some money, finalize his divorce and marry Judith [Nathan], then get back into politics in a couple of years."

I PAY, YOU PLAY
Former President Bill Clinton recently spent several days in London for a speech and a lot of partying. The most conspicuous evening out came when the ex-prez, his security team of 15, and his "private party" of 19, which included several attractive, single women picked up along the way at a dinner in Clinton's honor, built up a tab of more than $15,000 at a London club called Groucho's. But no one is laughing about the bill. Included in the total: champagne, several bottles of scotch, bourbon and vodka, plates of hors d'oeuvres, which featured caviar and foie gras and Cuban cigars. And that doesn't include the bill daughter Chelsea and several of her pals added on to the total when they arrived. Clinton left the club before the bill could be paid.

"The private company that paid for Mr. Clinton's speech will cover the tab," says a Clinton associate. "That's the way it's done. You cover his speech, his hotel and his entertainment. If you want the president, you pay."

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