There was much response to our Lake Tahoe "Cal Neva Lodge" item from last week and rumors that John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy - in the company of Frank Sinatra and crime boss Sam Giancana - carried on trysts with Marilyn Monroe, as she suggested in tape recordings recently made public.
John Jekabson, of Oakland, Calif., tells The Beltway Beat that he worked at the Cal Neva during the summer of 1962, the year in question.
"There are a lot of myths and tall stories about that time and place," he writes. "At that time, I was a 21-year-old college student making money during the summer as a busboy. I worked the graveyard shift - 11 p.m. to 7 a.m."
As we'd written after our visit beneath the lodge last week, Jekabson recalls "extensive tunnels under the club," but he says they were mainly used to carry food and supplies, not to shuffle VIP guests of Sinatra and Giancana undetected between the casino and its cabins.
"They were old and dank, and certainly not the least bit romantic. I never encountered any 'unauthorized person' down there," Jekabson said.
As for Giancana, a silent partner of Sinatra's at the lodge, "I remember him as dressed in a golf outfit, with white loafers and a pink shirt, always walking with a group, and seeming oblivious to the people that worked there," he says. "We were distinctly told never to talk to him or approach him without first being asked.
"Sinatra was there and would sometimes saunter through the kitchen area, but always in a group. The other people that I remember were Lena Horne, Eddie Fisher, Joey Bishop, Joe E. Brown (who had just been in Marilyn's film 'Some Like It Hot'), a comic by the name of Soupy Sales, whose schtick was to throw pies in people's faces . . . .
"No mention, or glimpse, was ever made of . . . the Kennedy brothers. I think someone on the staff would have leaked to the rest of us if the president of the United States, the attorney general of the United States and Hollywood's top glamour star were there," Jekabson notes.
As for any hanky-panky, one early morning at 3 a.m. the busboy answered a "room service" call from Sinatra, placed from one of the showgirl's cabins.
"But none of this was through any secret tunnel," he insists. "And I didn't even get a tip, as all he said was 'leave it outside the door.'"
ASK QUESTIONS LATER
Let's hope the private security officers protecting the U.S. government's Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) - 695 million barrels of oil stored in underground salt caverns in Texas and Louisiana - now have permission to shoot to kill any terrorists who might drop in unannounced.
The Energy Department's inspector general writes in an investigative report we obtained that the authority to use deadly force at these facilities is "inconsistent."
"Specifically, the SPR protective force had the authority to use deadly force only for protection of personnel," writes Inspector General Gregory H. Friedman. "They were not authorized to use deadly force to protect the SPR infrastructure, the oil caverns, and the facilities which allow removal of the oil. . . ."
The inspector general said it was "indicated" to his office by the security personnel from Pinkerton Government Services Inc. "that the decision as to whether to use deadly force in the event of a terrorist attack on the SPR is currently left to individual SPR protective force officers.
"Under the current formulation, the protective force officer must decide at what point an attempt to destroy or damage the SPR infrastructure constitutes a danger to personnel. Then, and only then, can deadly force be used.
"In the post-9/11 period, we concluded that this policy should be re-evaluated, especially given SPR's designation as part of the department's critical infrastructure."
Indeed, the Energy Department, in response to the Homeland Security Presidential Directive, designated that the SPR has a "national security critical essential function," classifying it as a key resource for national energy and economic security.
Meanwhile, the inspector general additionally found that 87 percent of contractor and subcontractor employees at both SPR sites, "some with unescorted access to sensitive areas, had never been processed for any level of security clearance."
"We were told that this was because they do not access classified information. As a result, these employees have never undergone a federal background investigation," the inspector general states, even though the Energy Department requires background "checks and rechecks" for most private contract employees.
Mark Maddux, principal deputy assistant secretary for the department's Office of Fossil Energy, has set a Sept. 30 deadline to address the inspector general's report.
While 2006 is still months away, we were allowed first peek at next year's Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute pin-up calendar, which honors "great American conservative women" for once.
Miss January honors, rightly so, go to the late Mrs. Luce, an accomplished foreign and domestic journalist, magazine editor, playwright, congresswoman from Connecticut and ambassador to Italy.
Miss America 2003 Erika Harold is crowned Miss February; blond TV pundit Kellyanne Conway, president and CEO of the Polling Company and WomanTrend, is Miss March; Miss April is Marji Ross of Regnery Publishing in Washington; Becky Norton Dunlop, vice president at the Heritage Foundation, is Miss May; and Suzanne Fields, the nationally syndicated op-ed columnist for The Washington Times, carries us into summer as Miss June.
Everybody's favorite gun-rights advocate, Shemane Nugent, wife of rock legend Ted Nugent, is Miss July; Miss August is New York ladies' magazine magnate Myrna Blyth; for Miss September, we find syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin; Miss October honors go to Virginia Republican Party Chairman Kate Obenshain Griffin; popular MSNBC host Monica Crowley makes an attractive Miss November; and last but never least, Miss December is Ann Coulter, who requires no introduction.
It's no secret that U.S. presidents have rewarded large campaign donors with foreign ambassadorships, and President Bush is no exception to the long tradition.
The Center for Responsive Politics counts "at least 40" well-connected persons, all of whom contributed or raised generous amounts of money to help elect Republicans since Bush's first campaign, currently serving or have been nominated to serve as ambassadors.
As a group, they forked over $8.8 million to federal candidates and political parties between 1999 and 2004 - $7.7 million, or 88 percent, going into Republican coffers. Some 9 percent went directly into Bush's campaigns, or else the Florida-recount fund he formed after the highly contested 2000 election, in which he ultimately defeated Vice President Al Gore.
Of the 40 ambassadors, 23 were top Bush fundraisers, says the center.
The Gingrich Foundation has just made a monetary gift to establish the Newt and Callista Gingrich Scholarship at Luther College in Iowa.
The endowment of $25,000 will provide annual scholarships at the college, which is the alma mater of Mrs. Gingrich, who is chief clerk of the House Agriculture Committee.
Mr. Gingrich, the former House speaker, reportedly has his eyes on the White House in 2008 - reachable after first passing through Iowa.
HARD TO BEAT
Restaurateurs in Washington enjoy boasting about VIPs who show up at their establishments - Bill Clinton, Bob Dole or Jack Valenti, for instance.
Mel Oursinsiri, proprietor of Bangkok Joe's Dumpling Bar & Cafe, thinks he has everybody beat. He says "the most beautiful woman in the universe - literally" dined at his Georgetown restaurant the other night.
Miss Universe 2005 Natalie Glebova, 23, of Toronto, dropped into the popular Thai cafe with four friends she was visiting here. (For those who care, they sipped mango margaritas and ate crab shumai.)
Glebova was crowned Miss Universe during a May pageant in Bangkok.
And yes, first daughter Jenna Bush also has dined at Bangkok Joe's this year, but where hasn't she showed up?
WOMAN WHO COOKS
After decades of men doing the baking in the White House, first lady Laura Bush has named Cristeta "Cris" Comerford as the new White House executive chef - the first woman to serve in the position.
Trained in French classical techniques and specializing in ethnic and American cuisine, Chef Comerford has worked as an assistant chef at the White House since President Clinton's days. She's now responsible for executing menus for state dinners, official luncheons and receptions hosted by President Bush and his wife.
"Her passion for cooking can be tasted in every bite of her delicious creations," Mrs. Bush states.
The chef, who received a bachelor's degree in food technology from the University of the Philippines, previously was found behind stoves at two Washington hotels - Le Grande Bistro at the Westin and the Colonnade at the former ANA Hotel.
WORKS FOR WINNIE
That was James Roosevelt Jr., grandson of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, showing up at the Roosevelt Memorial over the weekend to read from the speech his grandfather gave when he signed the Social Security Act into law 70 years ago yesterday.
Also paying respects were Bill Halter, former acting commissioner of the Social Security Administration under President Clinton, and 97-year-old Winnie Pineo of Vermont, an activist in the 1930s who fought to pass the act. Today, Winnie still lives on a farm in Vermont, surviving almost solely on Social Security.
KILLING TWO BIRDS
You have to hand it to Rep. Barney Frank. The Massachusetts Democrat has a sense of humor - even if a bit morbid.
In the hours before congressmen fled Washington and its dog days of August (lawmakers don't return from their summer recess until Sept. 6), Frank and fellow Democrats sat and observed for "well over an hour here . . . while the (Republican) leadership variously cajoled, bribed, browbeat, et cetera, a few Republicans who wanted to have it both ways - who wanted to give people the impression they were opposed to (the Central American Free Trade Agreement) while they were ready to cave in for sufficient inducement."
Says Frank: "While I am not an expert in time management, I do have a suggestion that would allow the House to better use its time."
"What we should have done, and I propose this for the future, is the next time we have one of those tough votes where they are going to have to do that with their (Republican) members, let us schedule an evacuation drill from the House," he says.
"The fact is at the time the (errant) plane was flying over here and a roll call was open and we evacuated the House, it took about the same time as it took them to cajole and blackmail and browbeat their people," the congressman points out.
"So why not do two things at once? The next time they know there is a bill they are going to cram down people's throats that they do not want to vote for and want to pretend to their voters they are against it - and it is going to take them an hour or two to find out ways to get them to help fool people - why not schedule in advance an evacuation drill, and that way we can kill two birds with one stone?
"And since people might not know it is a drill, they can threaten people who do not vote with them: They can make them stay here in case there is a plane crash."
Michael Chertoff, no doubt, would dread the day he ever became president of the United States.
While the likelihood of the secretary of Homeland Security being appointed president is remote, the chances improved in recent days when Congress made a rare alteration to the order of presidential succession - moving the anti-terror chief from last to eighth place, behind the attorney general, and ahead of Cabinet officials who head departments like Labor, Agriculture and Education.
The Presidential Succession Act of 1792 determined that the Senate president pro tempore was next in line after the vice president to succeed to the presidency, followed by the speaker of the House. That changed in 1886, when Congress, whose members were thought to lack executive experience, moved Cabinet officers ahead of the Senate president pro tempore and the speaker in the line of succession.
Then President Harry Truman, in 1946, changed the order again, seeing to it that Cabinet members would succeed the president in order according to the date their offices were established. That order stood until recent days.
Now, with the new change, here's how the line of succession works:
1. The vice president - Dick Cheney
2. Speaker of the House - Dennis Hastert
3. President pro tempore of the Senate - Ted Stevens
4. Secretary of state - Condoleezza Rice
5. Secretary of the treasury - John Snow
6. Secretary of defense - Donald Rumsfeld
7. Attorney general - Alberto Gonzales
8. Secretary of homeland security - Michael Chertoff
These significant eight are followed, in order, by the secretaries of Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy, Education and Veterans Affairs.
The White House has granted press passes to bloggers, so why not the State Department?
That's the question from Michael Petrelis, a San Francisco AIDS activist who recently used his Web log (mpetrelis.blogspot.com) to highlight abuses against homosexuals in foreign countries, including Iran.
Planning a visit to Washington later this month, Petrelis sent an Aug. 3 letter to the State Department requesting press credentials.
Petrelis has a long record of working with the press, including The Washington Times. Among other things, he helped expose the questionable use of federal AIDS prevention grants by a San Francisco nonprofit, eventually sparking an investigation by the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services. But this apparently didn't impress the folks at Foggy Bottom.
In a phone message, Petrelis reports, a State Department official told him that "right now our policy is that the general public cannot attend press briefings, and we consider bloggers to be still in the public realm, not being an employee of a mainstream news organization. So, unfortunately, you're not going to be able to come in to attend the briefings."
This prompted Petrelis to write a second message to the State Department press office: "Considering the White House press office in March began granting daily press passes to bloggers, I think State should forthwith follow the example of allowing bloggers access to media briefings. If bloggers qualify as journalists worthy of admission by the White House into press briefings, why should State have a different standard on this matter?"
With the increasing number of U.S. soldiers being killed and wounded in Iraq, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist wants Americans to learn the significance of the Purple Heart, the oldest military decoration in the world in present use.
The medal is awarded in the name of a U.S. president to members of the armed forces who are wounded in conflict with an enemy and are wounded while held as prisoners of war, and posthumously to the next of kin of soldiers who are killed in conflict or who die of a wound received in battle.
The award was established Aug. 7, 1782, during the Revolutionary War, when Gen. George Washington issued an order establishing the Honorary Badge of Distinction, otherwise known as the Badge of Military Merit.
Interestingly enough, the awarding of the Purple Heart ceased with the end of the Revolutionary War, but was revived in 1932 - the 200th anniversary of Washington's birth, out of respect for the country's military achievements.
All told, about 1,535,000 Americans have been awarded the Purple Heart, about 550,000 of whom are still living.