Bossie loses job, not sense of principles


WASHINGTON -- In Washington, you can't take friendship personally. Ask Dave Bossie.

Mr. Bossie got sacked last week as the chief investigator for the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee -- the panel charged with investigating campaign-finance improprieties in 1996. He got tossed on the orders of the man who put him there, House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Mr. Bossie didn't learn of his ouster from Mr. Gingrich, of course. He got a midnight call from the Chicago Tribune and learned further details the next morning by watching television.

Cold shoulders abound

Politics is a pitiless profession, and Mr. Bossie has gotten the Dead Man Treatment. Folks who used to greet him heartily now refuse to make eye contact. Lesser colleagues also veer away, as if he were surrounded by a force field.

As old friends shunned him, television networks descended like flies, hoping he would savage Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Burton or otherwise bring discredit to the GOP.

Mr. Bossie has been a marked man ever since he came to Capitol Hill four years ago. Prior to his stint as an investigator for a couple of House committees, he worked for the infamous Floyd Brown, a partisan muckraker who raised Democratic hackles in 1988 by running an ad that featured a thumbnail photograph of Willie Horton.

If not for Mr. Bossie, we would know virtually nothing about Whitewater transactions that produced jail sentences for such people as the former governor of Arkansas. He dug up stuff reporters and investigators just flat missed, and he did it the old-fashioned way: He went to Little Rock, Ark., nosed around and returned with thousands of pages of documents.

Sen. Lauch Faircloth, a North Carolina Republican, got wind of Mr. Bossie's talents and hired him to work on the Senate Whitewater Committee. When that body folded, Mr. Bossie went to the Government Reform and Oversight Committee, chaired by Rep. Dan Burton, an Indiana Republican. There, he made the connections between John Huang and a coterie of lawbreaking campaign contributors -- the associations at the heart of the campaign-finance scandal.

Throughout it all, he never concealed his partisans' loyalties. In a town of cloak-and-dagger types, Mr. Bossie stood out as the rare sort who would punch a foe in the nose rather than stabbing him in the back. He's young -- 32 years old -- and prone to bursts of candor that sometimes erupt into indiscretion.

But even his detractors concede he's honest. Reporters in Washington have relied on him regularly -- he says more than 200 called to express sympathy after his lynching -- and even his political foes grudgingly give him credit for trustworthiness.

For some reason, however, reporters betrayed him. Some of them ratted him out, citing him as the source of some bombshell stories. This is unheard of -- remember Deep Throat?

Perhaps scribes considered him an oddity. The average Washington reporter is a dandy -- well-educated and more likely to know about French wine classifications than where to find a good bowling alley. He sees himself as a social presence, not a gutter-dweller. To this end, he likes to be fed, led and flattered.

Mr. Bossie, in contrast, is a meat-and-potatoes lug from Boston who looks like a compact Clark Kent -- thickly muscled, his square head crowned by closely cropped dark hair and rimmed with a dense beard, his eyes punctuated by thick, wire-rim glasses.

A Maryland resident

While colleagues live in such chic neighborhoods as Georgetown, Mr. Bossie goes home each night to the Beltsville Volunteer Fire Department in suburban Maryland, where he shares quarters and duties with a dozen other guys. He wrecked his ankle several years back -- all he'll say is he was in a burning house.

He's a tangle of contradictions: a pit-bull gumshoe who rounds up colleagues for services on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, a veteran leaker who will do acts of anonymous kindness to those who work at his side.

No doubt his enemies would reply, hearing of his virtues, that Hitler loved children and stray dogs. This illustrates the problem with Washington. The town has become Bosnia without the ruins.

Mr. Bossie got fired because he posed a threat to Democratic activists -- and the GOP didn't have the courage to stand up for him. The savagery that claimed him isn't unique, however. White House aide Sidney Blumenthal, another old friend of mine, constantly gets whammed for his unapologetic partisanship -- as if commitment to a politician or a cause were a crime.

Mr. Bossie marvels at the fact that he has become a front-page celebrity. But it's no surprise. Politicians refuse to acknowledge their own cupidity these days, so what better way for them to save face than by making a great show of whipping an aide who accepts responsibility for his actions?

Tony Snow is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 5/12/98

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