Slate Exclusive

Aug. 7 1998 3:30 AM

Slate Exclusive

We hear Monica speak! Sort of.

(Continued from Page 1)

By 8, a few of us have adjourned to the first floor of the courthouse in anticipation of Monica's arrival. An AP reporter spreads the latest unsubstantiated rumor: Monica had a breakdown last night and won't be testifying. False: A couple of minutes later, cell phone reports say she has left the Watergate. Only 15 of us are waiting inside the courthouse. The TV folks have stayed outside, because cameras are banned, and others haven't arrived yet, because they don't expect Monica till 9. Too bad for them.

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A guard shoos us well back from the door where she will enter, and at 8:25 a black sport utility vehicle pulls up outside the glass door. Monica gets out first and opens the courthouse door. She is wearing a blue suit--not quite navy blue, but a bit closer to that notorious color than I would have chosen--and white pumps and is carrying a white purse. She looks neither relaxed nor nervous.

It is weird, inexplicably weird, to see her in the flesh. The 15 of us, who had been talking loudly, fall into a spooky silence when she opens the door. (It is during this quiet that I hear her two questions.) The silence continues for 30 seconds till she walks around the corner and disappears into a closed back corridor, followed by her legal team. At that point the reporters break ranks, some sprinting up the stairs, some (like me) clambering into an elevator in hopes of seeing her enter the grand jury room. No such luck. She's inside and hidden, and there's nothing more to see.

The courthouse is not the only political circus in Washington this morning. After Monica vanishes, I stroll to Capitol Hill to see the Rep. Dan Burton spectacle. Burton, who's the chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, the force behind the campaign finance investigation, and an all-around nutter, wants his committee to cite Attorney General Janet Reno for contempt of Congress. Reno, Burton claims, is breaking the law by refusing a subpoena for confidential FBI and Justice Department reports about the campaign finance investigation. The contempt measure is expected to pass but, appropriately for this theatrical day, it is a theatrical gesture: The full House is highly unlikely to approve such an inflammatory action.

The contempt scheme is such a stupid, vicious, wrongheaded idea that it is a joy to watch Rep. Henry Waxman, Burton's Democratic nemesis, grandstand against it. "For the past two years we have seen this committee systematically demean and abuse almost every tool of congressional investigations. ... Today, Mr. Chairman, you are demeaning perhaps the most serious power we have--the power of contempt," Waxman announces to the committee. "Today if the Republican majority supports the chairman, our actions will be added to the growing list of travesties that this committee has inflicted on the oversight and congressional process. We have made a shambles of any pretense of seriousness and dignity.

"The chairman seems to relish every fight and go out of his way to provoke every imaginable showdown. What does it accomplish? Nothing. Any fight, of course, attracts some media attention. But are we doing anything of consequence today? No."

And that, I suppose, is today's moral.

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