Susan McDougal celebrated her acquittal from obstruction charges, stemming from Kenneth Starr’s Whitewater investigation, with a four-day visit to Washington, D.C. with her Arkansas attorney/fiance of 15 years, Pat Harris. They appeared arm and arm at the annual White House Correspondents Dinner Saturday evening. Although her longtime friend and business partner, Bill Clinton, was the guest of honor, McDougal did not even attempt to push through the crowd of 2600 reporters and their VIP guests to greet him. But she did confide that she worries that the President won’t grant her a pardon from her Whitewater woes — fraud and contempt convictions; possible retrial on criminal contempt charges. While in town, she returned loyalty to her friend Julie Hiatt Steele. Steele received the only indictment handed down by Independent Counsel Ken Starr on the Monica Lewinsky investigation. Steele testified on behalf of McDougal last April, and now McDougal was at her trial at the Arlington, Va. courthouse to offer moral support.
Most of the pressies were too busy schmoozing with pornographer Larry Flynt, actors Ron Silver, Tom Selleck, Val Kilmer, Sean Penn, Roma Downey, Princess Di’s butler, Paul Burrell, or former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Barbara Walters, Sam Donaldson, Brian Williams, John F. Kennedy Jr., or Gen. Colin Powell to even critique the pistachio crusted salmon dinner. But Susan McDougal, who dined primarily on prison food for most of the last three years, raved about the food. “I didn’t see fruit for over a year,” she said. “It’s a pleasure to eat.”
Aretha Franklin belted out “RESPECT” while Susan McDougal and her lawyer/fiance danced dreamily into the night. President and Mrs. Clinton cheered the Grammy-winning vocalist and gave her a standing ovation. Franklin created an upbeat mood at the dinner — quite a contrast from the usual entertainment fare where a comic such as Paula Poundstone or Don Imus puts the President to the fire. But Aretha wasn’t as thrilled with the situation. She demanded that the hotel turn off the air-conditioning before she stepped onto the stage, even though it was an absentee Vice President Gore who was roasted over the hottest coals of the evening. No go was the reply — they AC stayed on.
Susan McDougal isn’t the only one who stayed away from President Clinton. When actor Ron Silver, a longtime Democratic supporter, was asked if he’s been to the White House recently, he backed off: “Not so much anymore,” he replied with a grin. But Camryn Manheim, who plays a lawyer in “The Practice,” didn’t hesitate to show her view: “I support the President.”
As some VIPs tried to crash the Vanity Fair “invitation only” after-party at the Russian Trade Mission, Eleanor Mondale headed in a different direction. Following actor Val Kilmer and his lady friend, she barged into the back of their taxi, “Aren’t you going to the Jefferson Hotel?” she demanded. They rushed to their suite for private time. Back at the Vanity Fair bash, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy could only find a seat on State Department spokesman Jamie Rubin’s lap. He didn’t seem to mind a bit, and neither did her hubby John, who was dishing across the room.