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— The U.S. State Department stands accused of stonewalling a request filed by a Washington lawyer for files involving the late Coronado hotelier and ambassador M. Larry Lawrence and his young blonde widow Shelia. The inquiry comes from Mark Zaid, an attorney retained by columnist Adrianna Huffington, whom Shelia is suing for libel over references Huffington made to Shelia's alleged affair with President Bill Clinton and Larry Lawrence's phony war record. Zaid told the Washington Times last week that he is being denied information about a private foundation the Lawrences established to raise money for fancy furnishings at the U.S. embassy in Switzerland when Lawrence was ambassador there. "Although items purchased through this effort were considered property of the United States, after the ambassador's death, witnesses reported that Mrs. Lawrence took many of the items obtained through the refurbishment for her personal use," Zaid told the Times. "When she left, they literally had to go out and buy everything again." When Zaid tried to get the records under the Freedom of Information Act, the State Department found a federal judge who granted the government a stay until November of next year. Zaid says he will appeal the ruling.

All-smoking flights

A Republican congressman from Georgia, who got one of many trips to the Super Bowl in private jets courtesy of Big Tobacco, says he's proud of it. Rep. John Linder, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), told the Washington Post he sees "nothing wrong" with accepting trips aboard private planes owned by interests with business pending before Congress. The paper reported this week that congressmen regularly call the tobacco lobby asking for free private-jet travel, and there was special demand during Super Bowl week. "Word gets around pretty quick as to who flies and who doesn't," an industry source was reported as saying. Members or campaigns, he said, call the companies "and say, 'We are doing a trip. Is it possible that you can fly us from point A or X to Y?' " Then, he said, "we decide, yea or nay." Under federal law, the companies must eventually be reimbursed the equivalent of a first-class ticket to the same destination, but congressmen covet the trips aboard the tobacco jets because it gives them a chance to travel in luxury away from prying public eyes. Linder explains the flights are just "another big perk we get. I don't apologize for it." Todd Harris, ex-spokesman for Mayor Susan Golding who now works for the NRCC, said the committee made four separate "disbursements" to R.J. Reynolds to cover the January 23 Super Bowl trip. But he claimed those numbers might overstate the actual ranks of the junketeers, although he couldn't provide further details. Harris attacked Democratic congressman Henry Waxman, a long-time tobacco foe, who is investigating the trips. "What on earth is Henry Waxman doing, investigating the NRCC with taxpayer money? This is pure politics." In addition to the prestige travel arrangements, the tobacco companies also sponsored several private Super Bowl bashes for politicians and specially chosen Union-Tribune executives and other locals who helped hype the big game and its generous taxpayer subsidy. The planes were supplied by the Tobacco Institute, the industry's lobbying arm; United States Tobacco; and three cigarette makers, Philip Morris Companies Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., and Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp.

Rich and infamous

Do Deborah Szekely, founder of the Golden Door fat farm, and Helen Copley, owner of the Union-Tribune and famous for her ghost-written Christmas commentaries, have the same P.R. agent? A news release hyping the sale of the Golden Door to a big New York hotel chain quotes Szekely thusly: "I look forward to the opportunity to introduce more people to Golden Door resort spas and Golden Door CitySpas throughout North America and the Caribbean as Grand Bay shepherds the growth of its propriety concept." ... Newsweek is reporting that an unnamed Rancho Santa Fe couple has a 1600-foot bathroom with floor-to-ceiling book cases, three TVs, two whirlpool tubs, a pair of toilets, a bidet, and a fancy steam shower built for eight.

Contributor: Matt Potter

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