FIRST came shock. Then the titillation and the jokes from the late-night comedians. Now the book deals.
through it all there has been a curious silence and even expressions of
sadness and fealty from those he apparently betrayed. If the tawdry
saga that is the Dick Morris affair seems to teach anything about the
ways of the influential, it is this: in an age when politicians prattle
on about personal responsibility, some people, even when caught, seem to
And in this case, if an as-yet-undisputed article in a
supermarket tabloid is to be believed, they're getting away not only
with violations of ethics but criminal behavior.
To be sure, Mr.
Morris, the former chief political strategist for President Clinton,
hasn't gotten off scot-free. He was forced to resign in disgrace after
the tabloid Star reported that for a year he had retained Sherry
Rowlands as a $200-an-hour call girl, allowing her to listen in on phone
conversations with the President and to have advance looks at speeches
by Vice President Al Gore and Hillary Rodham Clinton. But beyond making
Mr. Morris and Ms. Rowlands the butt of jokes, virtually everyone --
prosecutors, the taxman, feminists, Mr. Clinton -- seems willing to give
them a pass.
an average day, the District of Columbia police make 300 to 500
arrests, on a variety of charges, of men and women engaged in
prostitution as either ''johns'' or hookers. Yet a spokesman for the
Police Department said it had no plans to bring charges against Mr.
Morris over his reported frolics at the Jefferson Hotel, or to launch an
investigation into whether such charges were warranted. Under D.C. law,
having sex with a prostitute is not illegal; soliciting sex with one
is. Unless the transaction is witnessed (generally through the use of
policewomen posing as hookers on the street), it's difficult to prove a
crime has occurred. So the police don't bother investigating.
far as we are concerned, he has not committed a crime, other than
associating with a prostitute,'' said Sgt. J. C. Stamps, a D.C. police
spokesman. ''That's not a crime. It may be a problem ethically, but it's
not against the law.''
But the reported actions of Mr. Morris,
who has neither confirmed nor denied the Star account, and Ms. Rowlands,
who was paid by the tabloid as its primary source, conceivably could
have spawned other crimes; it is unclear whether that possibility is
It does not appear to be against the law to
allow a person outside of government to be privy to private
conversations with the President, so long as they don't involve
classified information. But it could be a crime if such access is used
to get wind of pending governmental action and profit from it -- new
regulations on tobacco, say. But legal experts say that making an
insider-trading case against either Mr. Morris or Ms. Rowlands would be
difficult. For starters, there is no evidence so far that Mr. Clinton
and Mr. Morris spoke of such matters or that Ms. Rowlands heard of them
if they did.
Then there is the question of whether Ms. Rowlands
paid taxes on her income from prostitution. Unless exempted by Federal
statute, all income is taxable whether it comes from legal or illegal
activity. Therefore, if she did not report her earnings from
prostitution (although it would be doubtful she would say that was the
source), Ms. Rowlands could end up doing hard time instead of just
But Sheldon Cohen, a former Commissioner of the
Internal Revenue Service, said the agency normally did not pursue those
kinds of cases unless the amount of money was significant. And the
world's oldest profession is a cash business, so if a call girl reports
any income, it's difficult to determine whether she underreported it. As
a result the I.R.S. usually doesn't investigate. ''If they chased every
prostitute on that basis they wouldn't be chasing anybody else,'' Mr.
Aides with the Clinton campaign, which was paying Mr.
Morris as a consultant, said a preliminary audit indicated that campaign
funds weren't used to pay Ms. Rowlands, thus they do not believe there
was any violation of Federal election law.
Legal issues aside,
there is still the court of public opinion. And aside from the
fulminations of editorial writers and columnists, the reaction of
official Washington has been strangely muted. Anger at the betrayal of a
President and the demeaning of the White House has been expressed only
'Nobody's Asked Us'
Even health officials who
have warned of prostitution in an age of AIDS have had nothing to say.
''When this happened, the Surgeon General was on vacation,'' said Damon
Thompson, a spokesman for Acting Surgeon General Audrey Manley. ''She
just got back in town this week and has had her plate full with other
business at hand.''
Feminists vigilant against Republican efforts
to restrict their independence on abortion have not seized upon this
new, high-profile opportunity to rail at the exploitation of women in
prostitution. When asked why the National Organization of Women had not
said anything about the Morris affair, a spokeswoman for the
organization replied, ''Nobody's asked us.'' Later Patricia Ireland,
NOW's president, said in an interview that she felt the group had bigger
fish to fry than a dethroned political strategist.
''Yes, we are
trying to change the culture,'' she said. ''While he may be a prime
example of bad behavior, it is not like he is heading up the Senate
Finance Committee, or tricked voters in his last election like Senator
$(Bob$) Packwood did. Dick Morris doesn't have that kind of power
Rather than publicly speak of how Mr. Morris apparently
abused his confidence, Mr. Clinton called the departed political
strategist a ''friend'' and the President and First Lady telephoned to
console him. ''We're not interested in making this last any longer than
it needs to,'' said a White House official. ''We would much rather get
people's attention focused back on the economy and the issues.''
so far, Bob Dole, the Republican Presidential nominee, has not made an
issue of Mr. Morris, except for making some glancing asides in speeches
about a lack of values in the White House; aides make clear to reporters
that these refer to the Morris scandal. Republican strategists have
said that Mr. Dole does not want to appear to be exploiting the Morris
affair for political gain. But some political observers suggest that the
Republicans are wary of making too much of Mr. Morris since he has
worked for Republican candidates as well as Democratic ones.
so many public notables keeping quiet, wishing the Morris affair would
just wither and die, it is little wonder people are cynical. Indeed,
some observers say the saddest thing of all regarding the Morris affair
is the little interest the public has shown in it.
''I think our
senses have been deadened,'' said Thomas Mann, a scholar at the
Brookings Institution. ''People have just come to discount all this
stuff. There are so many scandals, so much behavior that seems
reprehensible. It's so common, so every day, so much in our face on a
regular basis that we don't react anymore.''