WASHINGTON INSIGHT

From The Times Washington Bureau

SOFT OR TOUGH: Some prominent Washington lawyers have grumbled for two years that a number of top Justice officials have a liberal, "soft on crime" bias that belies the Clinton administration's tough talk. As campaign season approaches, those complaints have spilled into public view. Republican Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee claimed at a recent Senate hearing that U.S. Solicitor General Drew S. Days III, the administration's top lawyer for appeals, "too often fails to defend convictions, fails to support law enforcement and fails to support the death penalty." Thompson cited a case where Days failed to appeal a decision throwing out the conviction of a deranged West Virginia man who sent a mail bomb to a U.S. attorney. Because the bomb had failed to explode, a judge had said it wasn't a dangerous weapon. A former Yale law professor, Days got off to a rocky start two years ago by dropping a highly publicized child pornography case.

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RIORDAN ON SIMPSON: Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan reacted to the O.J. Simpson verdict by urging calm and refraining from offering personal opinions about the outcome. But when the mayor dropped into one of Washington's trendiest nightspots for dinner late Saturday--the same place Kato Kaelin partied earlier this year--Riordan was overheard saying he thought Simpson was guilty. The mayor, comfortably underdressed in a red sweater and baggy trousers, was in the company of prominent Washington lobbyist Thomas Quinn. The two had accompanied President Clinton in Europe last week, and Riordan stopped here overnight on the way home. In bar conversation, he also predicted that Clinton will carry California in next year's election, saying little enthusiasm exists there for Republican front-runner Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas.

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SPY STORY: The publisher of a Capitol Hill newspaper and William Safire, a New York Times columnist and novelist, are under fire for giving voice to the literary criticisms of perhaps the greatest American traitor of modern times. The affair began when convicted spy Aldrich H. Ames wrote a review panning Safire's new novel, "Sleeper Spy." Ames' lawyer gave the review to Safire, who gave it to friend Martin Tolchin, who published it in the newspaper The Hill. The review drew angry phone calls, letters and subscription cancellations--and plenty of publicity for the novel. Tolchin, a former New York Times reporter, said many people have offered praise. "We have a lot to learn from villains as well as heroes," Tolchin said. "The world would have been a better place if more people had read "Mein Kampf" and known what was on Hitler's mind." Ames is serving a life sentence for passing secrets to the Soviets, an act that led to the deaths of at least 10 agents working for the United States. Safire did not return a phone call for comment.

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HAIRY SHINS: Washington would never be accused of being a fashion center. How could it be when even the Federal Election Commission is distributing advice for the fashion impaired. Last week, the agency released documents in connection with a lawsuit that alleges the GOP Action Committee, while headed by House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), had violated federal campaign laws. Among the documents were papers GOPAC had turned over to the commission that offered Republican political candidates a list of do's and don'ts for television appearances. "Wear socks that cover the calf. If you cross your legs you don't want your bare skin to show," GOPAC warned men. "Try to get a haircut at least two days before, not the day of an interview. A tan is the best makeup."

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