Washington — So Senator Robert Torricelli bows out in disgrace. As I watched his thirty-minute farewell address and testimonial to himself, his wolfish head bent over the microphones, his dark eyes suspiciously darting from one camera to the other, I was reminded of Virginia Woolf’s old line: “He’s not as nice as he looks.” At one point he bawled, “I’m a human being.” Alas, it is true. Genetic engineering might have more to recommend it than I had hitherto thought.
Torricelli is, despite all the love he has for himself, a nasty little man, given to delusions of grandeur. In his embarrassing speech of congé he blubbered, blinking back the tears, “Somewhere today in one of several hospitals in New Jersey, some woman’s life is going to be changed because of the mammography centers I created….” And more, “Somewhere all over New Jersey some senior citizen who doesn’t even know my name lives in a senior center that I helped build.” Oh, unfortunate senior citizen — Senator Torricelli cares for thee. Do you know how this loving public servant addressed the aging Senator Frank Lautenberg, before a group of fellow Democrats at a closed-door caucus meeting in the Capitol in 1999? According to the May 7, 2001 New Republic, “The Torch” addressed him thus: “You’re a f—ing piece of s–t, and I’m going to cut your balls off.” Needless to say, this fat little butter ball of a foul-mouthed senator was not actually going to visit violence on the elderly Senator Lautenberg. Senator Lautenberg even in old age could stand his ground against this impostor.
Senator Torricelli is a political bully who uses political power to do what he is physically impotent to do. As the months have passed since he was severely reprimanded by the Senate Ethics Committee for taking gifts from a former campaign contributor the evidence of his coarseness mounts, for instance, there is the tape showing Torricelli accompanied by a shadowy thug hounding the aforementioned campaign contributor. Doubtless there was more evidence to come before he cut and ran.
I have had my own experiences with his bully-boy tactics. After The American Spectator published a well-substantiated report in 1998 that the New Jersey senator had received $136,000 in hard money from the Mujahedin-e Khalq, a group involved in the murder of American servicemen in Iran and in the subsequent takeover of our embassy in Tehran, he threatened us with a libel suit through his agile lawyer Abbe Lowell. I ignored his threat.
When empty threats of libel did not work Torricelli led in ginning up a year-long government investigation of the magazine complete with a grand jury to look into our revelations of the misbehavior of his friend Bill Clinton, another of Lowell’s unsuccessful clients. It all began on a gray Sunday morning in Washington on ABC’s “This Week With Sam & Cokie.” There Torricelli denounced the Spectator, accusing us of money laundering, which is a felony. Then he wrote Attorney General Janet Reno and demanded an investigation. The charges they settled on were witness tampering and threatening murder, the last, perhaps, provoked by our deadly prose. Of course, unlike the Senator and his friends in the Clinton Administration we cooperated fully with the authorities and were completely vindicated. Thus here I am today, a free and happy man, while Torricelli shuffles off into ignominy.
“There are times in life you rise above self,” he said as he maundered on utterly absorbed with self — not even sparing us the story about his patriotism as a five-year-old. “When did we become such an unforgiving people?” he asked, his dirge taking on themes eerily reminiscent of the likewise disgraced Congressman James Traficant bidding Congress adieu. Despite the Senate’s reprimand he even boasted of his integrity: “How did we become a society where a person can build credibility their entire life and have it questioned by someone who has none?” That reference was apparently to his former contributor whose testimony convinced prosecutors of Torricelli’s guilt as their recently divulged documents attest. In our 1998 piece on him our writer Kenneth R. Timmerman noted: “Torricelli has never had a reputation for impeccable probity. During his stint on the House Intelligence Committee he was several times accused of publishing classified intelligence information to suit his own political agenda.” Torricelli had no “credibility.” That is why the Democrats forced him out of his reelection campaign with their anonymous leaks. He was losing badly, and despite his delusions of being a tough guy he did not have the courage to fight.
Now the Democrats, in keeping with their behavior in the 2000 presidential campaign, want to change the rules of the race. They feel that in New Jersey they should have two chances to beat the Republican candidate. New Jersey law says Torricelli withdrew too late for another Democrat to replace him, but the Democrats want to replace him with Lautenberg. Perhaps if Lautenberg is doing badly in a week or so they will, notwithstanding the law, seek to run yet another candidate. In a way the Democrats of New Jersey had in Torricelli a candidate just like them, a man above the law, a bully.