A BAD CASE OF SCRUGGS
A chastened Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) has already made plans to meet with trial lawyer extraordinaire Richard “Dickie” Scruggs in Scruggs’ hometown of Pascagoula, Mississippi, within the next two weeks to hash out differences over the nomination of federal court judge Charles Pickering. The judge is a close friend of Scruggs’s, as well as a longtime friend of Sen. Trent Lott, Scruggs’s brother-in-law. Scruggs happens to be one of America’s most influential trial lawyers, a group Edwards (a trial lawyer himself) has pinned his fund-raising hopes on if he is to make a serious presidential run in 2004.
Scruggs’s hackles were raised over Edwards’s treatment of Pickering during the judge’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Edwards, using notes and information provided by Democratic staffers on the committee, belittled and berated Pickering for his role in a Mississippi cross-burning case. Before the hearing several Democratic senators on the committee, including Dianne Feinstein and Joseph Biden, were given the same information and declined to take on that line of questioning for fear of bringing on the ire of Scruggs and the trial lawyers.
“This was a hot potato,” says a Democratic staffer on the Judiciary Committee. “Everyone sensed that this subject would be hot and would be embarrassing to the Pickering family, to Lott and to Scruggs. A lot of our people wouldn’t touch it. Edwards jumped at it. I think he realized this could make him a star.”
What Edwards apparently hadn’t banked on was Scruggs’s ire. “Edwards blew off Scruggs’s calls before the hearing and now he’s probably sorry he did,” says another Judiciary Committee staffer. “Scruggs controls so much money within the trial lawyer community that if Scruggs were to say so, Edwards would probably have a hard time getting much money or support from that group.”
So now Edwards is scrambling to make peace with the man who may hold his political future in his wallet. “He’s going to Mississippi like a puppy who missed the newspaper,” crows a Lott staffer. “I don’t know what would be better for us, pictures of Edwards getting rejected, or Edwards and Scruggs kissing and making up.”
Democratic House Leader Dick Gephardt recently spent several days in Los Angeles fundraising and meeting with longtime Democratic donors, according to a legislative assistant. “He using the old Clinton-Gore list that Terry McAuliffe put together for them a few years ago,” says the aide. McAuliffe and Gephardt are long-time friends, and McAuliffe assisted Gephardt in several elections. Their relationship is so tight that many believe McAuliffe limited his initial role in the 2000 presidential campaign until it was clear Gephardt wouldn’t run.
The list might have been golden for Clinton, but Gephardt isn’t Clinton. “A lot of the old Clinton friends weren’t interested in writing $1,000 checks for him or the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee,” says the aide. “The line was that [California Gov.] Gray Davis was more in need of their help than the national party.”
Gephardt returned with commitments of less than $75,000 in hard money, considerably less than what he had hoped for. A DNC fundraiser said such a trip in the good old Clinton days — even if it wasn’t Clinton himself passing the hat — easily would have garnered more than $100,000. “It’s just not the same,” says the fundraiser.
HILLARY’S BAD AIR DAY
It isn’t just Sen. Charles Schumer and his staff who hate all the attention junior New York Sen. Hillary Clinton gets in the media. New York House members hate it too. The latest blowup comes from Rep. Jerry Nadler‘s office. For four months Nadler has been calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate air-quality risks at the site of World Trade Center attacks. But the EPA failed to jump until Clinton and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman held a hearing on the matter in Manhattan on February 11. At no time was Nadler credited with initiating the calls for investigation.
“Jerry deserved the credit, he was the one pushing behind the scenes, but he’s in the minority in the House,” says a Nadler staffer. “It’s tough for a Democrat in the House to be heard. The least they could have done was thank him for his hard work. They didn’t even invite him for a photo-op. I guess we expect this from Hillary, but Senator Lieberman? We’re surprised.”
According to the Nadler staffer, the representative called Clinton’s office and asked that his role in the environmental hearings and EPA investigation be included in press releases. Clinton’s office declined.