Robert Novak

The response by Mehlman that he does not remember getting rid of Stayman on its face sounds like a politician's typically bad memory. But that Mehlman really had no recollection of the case rings true because he did not immediately cite Stayman's political track record.

The reappearance of Stayman's name after a five-year absence rang alarm bells for Republican majority staffers on the House Natural Resources Committee, who battled Stayman when he ran the Interior Department's Office of Insular Affairs. Documents in the committee indicate Stayman's office was engaged in legally questionable political action against several Republican House members -- including the then majority leader and majority whip, Dick Armey and Tom DeLay.

Supposedly isolated from all political affairs, Stayman's staff in 1997 asked the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee how to contact opponents of Armey, DeLay and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher. Stayman wrote a Democratic National Committee draft press release that year (never consummated) attacking the then governor of the Marianas.

Earl Devaney, the Interior Department's inspector general, testified to Congress in 2001 that the behavior of Stayman's office was the "most egregious" he had seen in 30 years because of his political activity. Republican Rep. Don Young, then Natural Resources chairman, said Stayman "failed to end a wide range of prohibited political activities" in his office and "may have engaged in them himself."

In the two years before he was fired as a civil servant, Stayman donated $1,400 to the Democratic National Committee and $500 to the Gore campaign. Not surprisingly, Stayman later went to Capitol Hill as a House Democratic staffer. Here is a hardened political infighter, not a hapless bureaucrat. In October surprises, the truth sometimes is the victim.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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