- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 18, 2005

Helene’s warning

Here’s an intriguing follow-up to our item earlier this week about U.S. presidents rewarding large campaign donors with foreign ambassadorships. (President Bush is no exception with at least 40 such appointments.)

Mike Bates, of Tinley Park, Ill., writes: “Ambassadorships are often handed out as rewards to the big-money folks, but not always. Almost 30 years ago, I met a charming lady named Helene von Damm. Her major claim to fame at the time was being Ronald Reagan’s secretary. In 1983, Helene was named United States ambassador to Austria. She did a fine job.”

In fact, this columnist happened to be a member of the White House press corps in March 1984, the same month when then-Ambassador von Damm sent a confidential cable to the White House warning about evidence that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein — you guessed it — was using weapons of mass destruction in his war against Iran.

In her cable, reviewed once again by this columnist yesterday, Mrs. von Damm wrote that of 10 Iranian war wounded brought to Vienna earlier that month for medical treatment, three had died and four were hospitalized in intensive care in serious condition.

Blood samples of two of the Iranians, the cable went on to say, revealed toxic substances used by Iraq. Specifically, lab experts found evidence of poisoning by mustard gas and mycotoxin (“yellow rain”).

“The Iranian government has now granted permission for autopsies after earlier refusing them as against Islamic laws,” the ambassador saw fit to point out.

Before she was appointed ambassador, Mrs. von Damm was assistant to the president for presidential personnel, although as Mr. Bates accurately pointed out, during the first nine months of the administration, she was Mr. Reagan’s personal secretary. In fact, her association with Mr. Reagan began during his first gubernatorial campaign in California in 1966, and she went on to serve as his personal secretary during his two terms as governor.

Byrd’s briefcases

Once upon a time, before he rose to become West Virginia’s senior senator — indeed, the majority leader of the Senate in 1977— Robert C. Byrd carried a fiddle everywhere he went.

One profile of the Democrat recalled that he “made his fiddle his briefcase,” playing in churches, homes and hamlets throughout the Mountain State.

Today, instead of a fiddle, Mr. Byrd carries a copy of the Constitution with him everywhere he goes. Ask him, and he’ll gladly pull it out of his left breast pocket.

Thus, he’s come to be Capitol Hill’s leading authority on the Constitution and its framers, from Article 1, Section 1 — “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives” — to its list of signers, including Charles Pinckney, Pierce Butler, William Few and Rufus King.

Now, we learn from the Senior Executives Association that some 160 federal employees attended a recent program on the Constitution organized by the Office of Personnel Management at the National Archives’ McGowan Theater “to celebrate the new requirement with key agency officials.”

New requirement?

Mr. Byrd, not surprisingly, added language to a recent spending bill requiring that all federal agencies, each and every year, provide educational and training materials about the Constitution to their employees — all 1.8 million of them.

And that’s not all. Thanks to Mr. Byrd, any school that receives federal dollars is now required to show students a program on the Constitution.

New competition

The Washington Post is staying in-house to fill a vacancy left by former Reliable Source columnist Richard Leiby who, given his displeasure for gossip, lasted a little more than one year in the position before returning to write more substantive stories.

Who better asa replacement than a well-known writer who has covered the social beat in Washington longer than any other scribe, Roxanne Roberts?

“I am the only person who can stand to do it this long,” said Miss Roberts when reached at her desk yesterday. “I’ve always liked it, while other reporters thought I was crazy.”

Co-authoring the column will be Amy Argetsinger, who has worked on both the metro and national desks at the newspaper for the past decade.

“I am totally impressed with her,” Miss Roberts says. “But the important story is not so much the who, rather that Washington has gotten a whole lot bigger than covering just the White House and [Capitol] Hill, and the Post has given us the resources of two reporters to cover the city.”

John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washington times.com.

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