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Authors: Keith M. Donaldson

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Senate Cloakroom Cabal (9 page)

BOOK: Senate Cloakroom Cabal
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arrived in the office at 9:30. I had talked with Michael Horne from home last night, asking him about Senate procedures, something Jerry said I should find out. I was also curious about what, if any, paper trail existed that might document the side effects the FDA had purported and who had tracked the testing.

I knew little of how the Senate conducted themselves. It appeared to me things went on there in a very aloof manner, a world unto itself. Where were the checks and balances? The Senate advises and consents on the executive branch. Was there a similar system in place to do the same on Congress? If so, how did it work?

Congress appeared immune to scrutiny, except for the criminal activity of a member. An analogy that popped into my mind was that of trying to prove a cop committed an illegal act with no one to corroborate it. The police have an internal affairs office. Was there something similar for senators? I'd heard of an ethics committee, but senators ran that.

The Senate appeared to have oversight on everything, making them dangerously powerful and open to all sorts of opportunities. Maybe Michael Horne and Senator Roanne Dalton had a legitimate concern.

I called Lassiter's assistant and asked to see my editor following the staff meeting.

Jerry had brought up what a drug failure could do to a company's worth, which had made me wonder whether the company might have built up their drug's potential, after which insiders may have sold their holdings at the inflated price. He said he'd look into it, once we had the company's name.

I pushed my mind onto Horne. He had provided a lot of ammunition, but no gun to fire it. His basic concern was with senators, pharmaceutical companies, and lobbyists possibly defrauding the American people. That would constitute a conspiracy and bring in the FBI. I felt at least one of those senators would have to be powerful, able to push things through and rally legions to him, or her.

I felt antsy; Lassiter's meeting was running long. I called Horne's cell.

“This is Michael.”

“Hi, this is Laura Wolfe. I'll meet with the senator. I'm waiting to see my editor—”


“Look, I can't go probing around,” I fibbed, “without official backing. Just so you know, I've gotten in trouble when I didn't follow that directive.” And that was true.

“I understand,” he said, but sounded unsure.

He was difficult to read.

My intercom buzzed. “Ms. Lassiter is available,” Mary said.

“I'm on my way,” I told Mary. “Michael, I've got to go. And don't worry.”


hat pretty much sums it up,” I told Lassiter.

“Sounds like a lot of mishmash to me. What do we know—?” She stopped and pushed a button on her intercom. “Van?”

There was a momentary pause. “Yes ma'am.” “Did you get anything back on Michael Horne?”

“There's not much on him, but he is who he says he is. He majored in political science at the University of Pennsylvania and got a master's degree in business at Wharton. He's worked for Senator Dalton almost six years.”

I jumped in. “That means he worked for H.T. Dalton and stayed on when his wife . . . Van, was he H.T.'s AA?”

“I don't remember . . . oh, here it is. He became AA last spring.”

“That's after Roanne Dalton was appointed to her husband's seat.”

Van continued. “I have a whole bunch of stuff on Mrs. Senator Dalton.

Did you know she was a beauty queen, made the top five in Miss America?”

“Thank you, Van, get that all to me,” Lassiter said flatly.

“Will do.”

Lassiter turned back to me. “All right. Looks like Horne has some credentials. We'll start a file—without naming names, just a pharmaceutical piece. It'll make a nice project for our newly hired copy people.”

“Senator Dalton wants to meet with me privately.”

“Go for it. Meanwhile, I have to pass this by Barton, make sure we're not stepping on any journalistic toes up on the Hill.” She held up Michael's file folder. “Are these your only copies?”


She handed them to me. “Make a set for me. I'll get back to you after I've talked with Barton. And get me the name of the pharmaceutical company.”

That ended our session. I went straight to the copy machine and ran off the pages, hoping Mary wouldn't show up. It would hurt her feelings, my not asking her to do this, but I thought it worth the risk. Fortunately, no one showed up.

Back at my desk, I called Horne and told him to set up my meeting with his senator.

“There are no votes scheduled for this afternoon, so she could make it a little earlier than 7:00, if you like.”

“I have to go home first in any case. I need to call my husband. It'll really depend more on his schedule. I don't think I could make it before 6:30.”

I called Jerry's private line, but he didn't answer. I dialed the office number.

“Mr. Fields's office,” Sophie said softly.

“Hi, Sophie. It's Laura. Is he in?”

“He's not in right now, but he is expected back by 3:00.”

“Ask him to call me right after you talk with him.”

“We will not hear anything before then.”

“Okay. Thank you.”

“You are welcome.” The line went dead.

I hung up. Sophie was super-efficient and super-literal. Jerry says she was dynamite in her job and a whiz at editing. She'd drive me crazy if I had to work with her on a daily basis. I buzzed Van and asked for copies of what he had on Horne and the Daltons. He'd get them to me.

“Have them put on my desk please, not Mary's.”

I went to the cafeteria for a salad. Copies of Van's research were on my desk when I returned. I read all of them, including copies of newspaper articles about Roanne McAllister's beauty-pageant escapades, H.T.'s crash, Roanne McAllister Dalton's appointment to the Senate, and her primary and general election wins.

She and Michael were both well educated. I saw no blips on the screen— very clean. Van noted he found no connections between Dalton, Horne, or any pharmaceutical company. There was some pharma Political Action Committee (PAC) money that had been donated to both Dalton campaigns, but nothing leaped out as unusual.

Jerry called before 3:00. I gave him the short version. He'd be home by 5:00.

“I was talking with Ralph Morgan today on another matter and asked him about any contacts he might have had with the pharmaceuticals,”

Jerry said. “He'd had some for then-Senator Rick Grayson, but not after Grayson became the Veep. I didn't mention anything about Dalton, only that you were working on PAC stuff in preparation for the impending battle in the Senate over discount drugs and Medicare.”

“Anything he has will help, will give me a comparison to what Dalton and Horne tell me.”

I called Anna and told her I'd be home by 4:00. Everything there was good. I called Horne to say I'd aim for 6:30. He said the senator would be home by 6:00. He then gave me instructions on which garage to use, which numbers to punch in, and the rest. Dalton's condominium building was right off Jefferson Davis Highway in Crystal City, a mile from the Potomac River.

My intercom buzzed. Lassiter wanted to see me.

My editor started talking as soon as I entered her office. “Barton has given us the green light. We're to keep him in the loop. He'll let his Senate correspondent, Claire Rowley, in on it. Nobody else has a need to know. Rowley will give you a tour once you've cleared their security check and you get new credentials, which should only take a couple of days. Your normal press badge won't suffice.”

“My meeting is on with Senator Dalton tonight.”

She nodded. “Remember, we have people to do the digging. You don't have to do it all yourself,” she admonished.

“Yeah, I do forget that. I'll be glad for the help.”

Lassiter gave me a glance that seemed to question whether to believe me or not.

“I will,” I insisted.

She gave me her half smile, Harrison Ford-style. “I'm glad, but seeing is believing.”


wrote out questions I wanted to ask Senator Dalton. I felt a little unsure of myself. I was used to criminal cases. This one was outside my comfort zone. Then it hit me. “That's what I'm missing,” I said aloud. I called Max's cell and caught him leaving a dry cleaner's on Georgia Avenue north of Howard University, where a murder and robbery had taken place the previous night.

“Hayes and I are wrapping up,” my favorite homicide captain said. “What's up?”

“I'm getting into an area I'm not familiar with . . . the senator I told you about . . .”


“Right. I'm meeting her tonight. It looks like I will be spending time on Capitol Hill.”

“Why don't we grab a cup of coffee? You have the time?”

“I want to be home by 4:00, 4:30. Jerry will be there at 5:00. My meeting is at 6:30 in Dalton's Crystal City condo.”

“I'll be there in fifteen with the coffee. We can walk across to the park.”

Max arrived very nearly on the button. He parked, and we walked across to the nearly vacant, one square-block patch of green grass with blooming spring flowers and trees.

“I feel a little out of my league,” I said, as we sat on a bench.

“This is not unlike what you have experienced in the past, except that you are not working with clues and evidence.”

“Right. I'm in uncharted waters. PAC money and under-the-table deals that can be explained away six ways from Sunday.”

“Don't get too far out in front of yourself. I haven't read what you have, but I daresay there's little if any hard evidence for you to chew on.”

“Exactly. It's all speculation.”

“Hearsay? Or someone's interpretation?”

I took a sip of my coffee. “Both.”

“Do you believe Senator Dalton, or is it that you want to believe her?”

“I don't know.”

“Go back to the beginning.”

“I'm not sure where that is.”

“Try this, somebody comes to me and says so-and-so is planning to have Mr. X killed,” Max encouraged, trying to get me started on a train of thought.

“Dalton's AA comes to me,” I said, warming up to an explanation, “representing her, and tells me that she believes some senators are colluding with the pharmaceutical lobbyists over some drug under consideration by the FDA.”

“Very good. Now, the senator tells you what she suspects, but gives you no facts to back up that allegation, so look at her credibility. What motivates her to tell you this?”

“For one, Senator Dalton is politically powerless, and it would be political suicide for her to go up against her leadership.”

“You've been there, done that. Last year, you took on some pretty powerful folks.”

“Yes, but that was because I saw the potential for abuse, an antagonistic relationship.”

“Bingo. You have two sides here you can play off each other, right?”

I nodded, “Pro-drug, anti-drug. What motivates both sides? We need to carefully observe attitudes and keep close tabs on their actions.”

“And what reasons they give. Dalton has given you a lot of information, written and spoken, opposing the overwhelming majority of her party. Who has what to gain?”

“Right. I see where there may be ethical problems, money passing hands.”

“Okay, why? I would judge it to be something very big, something a freshman senator can't take on alone. She needs outside help and calls you.”

I sat back and took a deep breath, blowing it out.

Max said, “She doesn't have the goods to carry it off alone. That's where you come in. Be aware that in a politically partisan hot bed like the Senate, each party draws a line in the sand, regardless of the right or the wrong. It then becomes the party's way or no way.”

“But this is intra-party. It's unlike a partisan battle, where neither view may be true. There will be a right
a wrong here.”

“That makes it more explosive. Getting in between those forces is like when we walk into a domestic fight and get turned on by both,” he said emphatically.

“How would I be in the middle? Wouldn't I be the friend to one and enemy to the other?”

“Your only hope here is that Senator Dalton has solid enough facts to get you started. One advantage she may have is her newness in the Senate, not sullied. She is too clean to be besmirched or threatened, and she can't be blackmailed.”

“Never compromised? That's got to be scary for the big guys. They won't be able to play intimidation games.”

“She has her father, a former two-term governor. He's a power she could call on in a pinch. However, she's no slouch—she impressively went out and got herself elected, against everyone's wishes.”

He surprised me. “How do you know all that?” I asked.

“Her AA, Mr. Michael Horne, was the victim of a mugging in January. We were involved early on . . . a possible homicide. He was transported to emergency unconscious. His ID told us where he worked, and Capitol police told us the rest. They notified the senator, who frankly, I was not familiar with, so we did a background check. When you told me about her, I had Delia pull up what we had, which you are welcome to.”

“Any skeletons?”

“She's about as clean as a person can be and still be mortal.”


yler's wanting to play made it doubly hard for me to get out of the house by 6:00. This would be the first time since my son was born that my work overflowed into my time with him. Jerry nearly had to push me out of the house.

Horne's directions were excellent. I was in the garage and on the elevator in no time. The elevator doors opened onto a recessed area off a main hall. The décor spoke quality, but at the same time, comfort—tastefully upscale with textured wallpaper in muted colors, chair rails, and plush carpet. The lighting was muted without being dull.

BOOK: Senate Cloakroom Cabal
11.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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