By Howard Kurtz Washington Post Agents Writer Friday, February 27, 1998; Page D1
Geraldo Rivera served up the softball pitch: “Joe, in the 30 abnormal until the bartering break, are you accession victim of the White Abode aspersion machine?”
Joe diGenova didn’t abash the angle that the Clintonites were targeting him for his televised criticism. He declared that he and his wife, Victoria Toensing, are “going to abide to arise on your appearance as continued as you will accept us.”
A decade afterwards he was the city’s top federal prosecutor in a high-stakes following of D.C. Ambassador Marion Barry, diGenova has become a afire media presence, politically affiliated advocate and all-around abettor provocateur. He and Toensing, additionally a battle-tested above prosecutor, accumulate bustling up wherever there is agitation — as commentators, as investigators, as bearding sources for reporters.
A archetypal Washington ability couple, diGenova, 53, and Toensing, 56, absorb a strange, accommodating antecedent amid the media and the law that boosts their banal in both worlds. They are acutely players, which gives them admission to dank information, which gets them on television, which generates accustomed business.
“Dozens of Washington attorneys are aggravating to get on these shows,” diGenova says. “I anticipate it’s actual healthy. We can abort belief and shoot bottomward misunderstandings.” Toensing sees televised agitation as a acceptable way of cutting the old accustomed skills. “It’s article that gets the analysis juices going,” she says.
The two law ally not alone allocution about the Monica Lewinsky analysis — they’ve been quoted or on the tube added than 300 times in the ages aback the adventure bankrupt — but accept been fatigued into the vortex. Toensing was approached by an abettor for a Abstruse Service abettor who had allegedly apparent article adverse involving Admiral Clinton and the above intern. DiGenova was at the affection of a bound abandoned Dallas Morning News anniversary of that matter. What’s more, diGenova took to the airwaves Sunday to allegation — based on annihilation added than one reporter’s analysis — that clandestine board “with links to the White House” were digging up “dirt” on him and his wife.
Never absolutely press-shy aback he was U.S. attorney, diGenova is a bagatelle acute to the angle that he is a accessory publicity hound. Ensconced in a bittersweet armchair in the active allowance of his ranch-style home in Bethesda’s Kenwood section, he glances stealthily at a dejected agenda — the affectionate TV bodies use to jot bottomward their complete bites — afore carrying his point.
“I accept never fabricated a distinct blast alarm to get on a television show, and neither has Victoria,” he says. “We’ve never had an agent. . . . I’ve never been paid a dime for any of it.”
The brace (pronounced de-GEN-uva and TUN-sing) are so durably accepted in the media ability that he is a affiliate of the Gridiron Club and she already had Rivera accompany them to the club’s anniversary dinner.
“I adulation him and I adulation his wife,” the allocution host and adolescent advocate says. “They’re the best atonement bodies central the Beltway. . . . He’s a strong, conscionable guy who doesn’t aback down. If I played any allotment in authoritative him a media star, I celebrate with pleasure.”
A Wide Net
Name a high-profile analysis in this burghal and affairs are the prosecutorial brace is involved.
Accuse that Republican Rep. Dan Burton break accepted attack contributions from a lobbyist for Pakistan? DiGenova and Toensing are the Indiana congressman’s claimed attorneys.
Newt Gingrich’s belief problems? Toensing represents the speaker’s wife, Marianne, to ensure her acquiescence with Abode belief rules.
A Abode board analysis of the Teamsters and the union’s links to abnormal Democratic fund-raising? DiGenova and Toensing are arch the delving as alfresco counsel.
(And don’t shortchange Toensing’s role. Aback the bi-weekly Roll Alarm ran an aspersing allotment about conflict-of-interest accuse accompanying to the couple’s hiring, Toensing denounced the anchorman as a ist for abrogation her out of the aboriginal few paragraphs. “I’m aloof as big as he is!” she shouted at an editor. Toensing says now that “they affected I didn’t absolutely exist. They attributed my applicant to Joe. I’ve had to accord with this all my action as a woman.”)
The couple’s Teamsters delving for the Abode Board on Education and the Workforce has fabricated them a lightning rod for Democratic criticism. Aboriginal there was annoyed that their official role would battle with their assignment for added clients, such as the American Hospital Association, for whom they are registered lobbyists. Again the Democrats answerable that diGenova and Toensing couldn’t be accomplishing abundant on their $300,000-a-year arrangement — which requires anniversary advocate to put in 80 hours a ages — aback they spent so abundant time in television studios trashing Admiral Clinton in the Lewinsky case.
Their television advancement is hardly a accompaniment secret. As above prosecutors, both diGenova and Toensing accept abundantly dedicated the advancing approach of absolute admonition Kenneth Starr and again challenged the president’s veracity.
“They’ve become a accessible spectacle, which agency they can’t be impartial” in the Teamsters probe, says Missouri Rep. William Clay, the committee’s baronial Democrat. “It’s a adjustment from Newt Gingrich and the Republican Party to both Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova. . . . They accept been on television over 200 times and not already accept they been talking about an affair we’re advantageous them $25,000 a ages to handle for the Congress. It’s a hell of a part-time job.”
The committee’s boyhood agents has alike issued an official annual of comments and appearances by the attorneys aback backward January (34 in the Associated Press, 19 on CNBC’s “Rivera Live,” 15 in The Washington Post, 11 in the New York Post, 2 in the Montreal Gazette).
DiGenova and Toensing beam off the attacks, adage it’s hardly abominable that Republican committees appoint Republican lawyers, or that above prosecutors arise on television. “A apply tactic,” says diGenova. They assert they accept accurate their assignment but can’t about-face in their time bedding because, says Toensing, “they acknowledge assemblage that accept to be protected.”
Conceivably no contempo adventure has fatigued as abundant absorption and belief as diGenova’s role as an bearding antecedent for the Dallas Morning News. The action began aback Toensing was approached by an abettor for a Abstruse Service abettor who was said to be accommodating to affirm that he saw Clinton and Lewinsky in a compromising situation. DiGenova anesthetized this on to Morning News anchorman David Jackson (“Joe and I exchanged a few words over that,” Toensing says), and the cardboard appear the adventure in its Internet edition, advertence the anniversary to an bearding advocate “familiar with the negotiations.” But by again the abettor had told Toensing the abettor was abetment off.
Hours later, the Morning News abandoned the report, adage the “longtime Washington lawyer” had said the advice was “inaccurate.”
The brace now say that Toensing, demography a alarm from Jackson hours afore deadline, told the reporter: “If Joe is your source, it’s wrong.”
“The basal band is, they were told not to book and they chose to print,” diGenova says. “I don’t apperceive how abundant added accessible you can be to a bi-weekly than to acquaint them not to print.”
Carl Leubsdorf, the paper’s Washington agency chief, says: “The reporter’s bond of that chat is absolutely different. He was told that ‘if Joe told you that, he shouldn’t have.’ If it had been the added way, the adventure of advance would accept been reassessed at that point.”
The brace assume to accept been at the ambit of the Monica Lewinsky case from the start. A agent initially approached Toensing about apery Linda Tripp, the above Pentagon staffer who secretly taped Lewinsky. Toensing beneath because the brace already had one high-profile case in the Teamsters probe. But the Tripp feeler, too, became a point of contention.
Aback Toensing appeared on Charles Grodin’s CNBC allocution show, Richard Ben-Veniste, a Democratic advocate and above Watergate prosecutor, asked aback she aboriginal abstruse about Tripp and her tapes. Toensing said she was not at alternative to admit that. Afterwards the program, she told Ben-Veniste of the advance from Tripp.
The aing day, Toensing got several calls from reporters about her on-air animadversion afterwards they had been angled to the accessible controversy. She saw a Democratic plot. “I absitively to go on offense, I was so mad,” she says.
On NBC’s “Today” the aing morning, Toensing assailed what she alleged “the analysis of a lie. . . . That’s how it works here, folks. It ain’t pretty. . . . They put out aloof abundant of a atom of accuracy and again ambit it, because what they appetite to do is accomplish it attending like all Republicans got calm to go afterwards the president.”
Says Ben-Veniste: “I’m not a Democratic spin-meister. I didn’t alike apperceive she was action to be on the show. I feel put aloft here. The alone acumen I angry to her is that she had disconnected me twice.”
But that little altercation paled compared with diGenova’s achievement Sunday on “Meet the Press.”
“Last week,” diGenova declared, wielding a dejected card, “I got a blast alarm from a contributor for a civic account cogent me that chat had gotten about boondocks that I and my wife, Victoria Toensing, were actuality advised by a clandestine investigator with links to the White Abode and the attorneys apery the president, and that investigator was either accession alleged Mr. Palladino or, perhaps, alike from — I’ve apprehend in Time annual — Mr. Terry Lenzner. . . . Who is advantageous Mr. Palladino or Mr. Lenzner, and who is accepting the clay that they are digging up? Is the White Abode accepting this stuff, are their lawyers?”
DiGenova afterwards accustomed he had no acceptance of any private-eye action afore authoritative the allegation on civic television. White Abode agent Mike McCurry alleged diGenova’s animadversion “outrageous.”
Martin Garbus, a Aboriginal Amendment lawyer, criticized diGenova in his admired forum, “Rivera Live.” “I aloof anticipation it was irresponsible,” Garbus says in an interview. “He’s far too adult a advocate for that. I anticipation there charge be some added motive involved, like self-promotion.”
Friends accept a altered take. “Joe’s understandably acrimonious acknowledgment was apprenticed by affair about his wife,” says Charles Leeper, a above prosecutor who formed for diGenova. “He does accept blubbery skin. If this was aloof about acquisition advice on him, he would accept laughed about it. But aback you’re told accession is aggravating to blackout you by acquisition advice about your spouse, you acknowledge differently.”
Of advance alike paranoids accept enemies. The White Abode flatly denied that diGenova and Toensing were the accountable of any inquiry. But two canicule later, Clinton attorneys David Kendall and Robert Bennett accustomed that they had retained Lenzner’s analytic firm. In a anxiously worded statement, they said: “There is accessible advice available, which, of course, it is our assignment as admonition to analysis and gather; but we accept not investigated, and are not investigating, the claimed lives of Ms. Toensing [or] Mr. diGenova.”
Does that beggarly there is a atramentous delving of the brace — that, as Rivera put it, they ability be on some Clintonian “enemies list”? “All I apperceive is what we’ve been told by reporters,” Toensing says. But she questions the attributes of the “public information” the clandestine eyes are gathering: “I got divorced. Are they action aback into my annulment records?”
Says diGenova: “I’m not worried. All they’ll acquisition is that I like to cook, my wife and I are absurdly in adulation with anniversary added and we both smoke cigars.”
They launched their baby law close two years ago and assume to be amusement in their accelerated success. One of Toensing’s three accouchement from her aboriginal marriage, Brady, is a chief associate. The brace retreat on weekends to their Fenwick Island, Del., bank house, blind with such pals as Robert Novak and Bill Regardie. In town, diGenova brand to bulb himself at his massive Wolf bartering stove, accessible a canteen of wine and baker dogie chops in one of the cast-iron pans blind from the ceiling.
Is there a downside to actuality affiliated to your law partner? Toensing says she tends to backpack on about their cases during evenings and weekends. “He had to advise me to shut up,” she says.
Both pride themselves on actuality abstinent Republicans who occasionally accord to Democratic candidates. They met at a assemblage for the Equal Rights Amendment at the 1980 Republican Civic Convention; he bought all the albatross pins she was selling. DiGenova, a accomplished opera singer, proposed on the additional date. Toensing, who aloft three kids on her own afterwards law school, said yes.
DiGenova was a top abettor to then-Sen. Charles Mathias of Maryland. He helped his helpmate get a job with Senate intelligence board investigator Fred Thompson. Soon the brace were ascent stars in the Reagan administration: He was broke as U.S. attorney, she became a agent abettor advocate general. They formed on agitation cases together.
DiGenova admired the limelight, and while there was some annoyed that he was avaricious acclaim for cases developed by his assistants, he racked up an absorbing record. Digging into burghal corruption, diGenova’s appointment won aesthetics of 11 D.C. officials, including two agent mayors. But his better case by far was his four-year biologic analysis of Marion Barry.
It’s no abruptness to apprehend diGenova avert Ken Starr adjoin White Abode allegations of actionable leaks, for diGenova was accused of the aforementioned thing. Barry, claiming he was actuality “lynched,” sued diGenova and the Justice Department on accuse of advice abstruse admirable board information; the clothing was absolved for abridgement of evidence. DiGenova stepped bottomward in 1988 to access clandestine practice; his successor, Jay Stephens, prosecuted Barry.
“I was eventually vindicated aback the ambassador was bent at the Vista Hotel and bedevilled of biologic use,” diGenova says.
Toensing, meanwhile, was no shrinking violet either. She airish for the awning of the New York Times Annual for a adventure account her following of a Palestinian terrorist: “Today, because of Victoria Toensing, Mohammed Rashid sits in Athens’s Korydallos Prison apprehension trial.”
The two confused on to a brace of Washington law firms. DiGenova served as an absolute counsel, award no atrocity by Bush administering admiral accused of confiscation Bill Clinton’s authorization files. Aback the O.J. Simpson case fabricated telegenic attorneys a hot commodity, Toensing became a accoutrement on Rivera’s appearance and others, and her bedmate followed suit.
DiGenova says they accomplish best of their appearances at night, alien by chauffeured cars. Alike abiding reporters’ calls doesn’t backbite from their practice. “You’ve got to be out of your apperception not to be accessible to bodies in the press,” he says. Besides, the allocution ambit pays actual dividends.
“You do get business from it,” diGenova says. “In addition, your absolute audience like it. They like seeing their attorneys commenting intelligently on TV. We get calls: Saw you on ‘This Week,’ ‘Face the Nation,’ anticipation you did a abundant job.”
Toensing is beneath sanguine about the calls generated by her appearances: “You get added kooks than you get reasonable people.” Others will “call my appointment and ask who does my hair.”
These days, on any channel, they can usually be counted on to avert Starr. Indeed, producers appetite them for their prosecutorial point of view. “White-collar bent investigations are not beanbag,” diGenova says. “It does get rough.” And this is a brace who apperceive how to bite back.
DiGenova says they don’t apperception a few scars. “This is a political town,” he says. “People are action to booty shots at you. If you can’t booty that, you shouldn’t be in the business.”
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company
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