The day after his testimony, however, Stephenson learned that instead of increasing staff, the RTC had done just the opposite. In the elite 75-member division of the RTC that prosecutes former S&L directors, 28 lawyers were transferred out.

In an interview last week, Stephenson told us that he found this shakeup "unbelievable."

"We had clearly met with the RTC people to talk about the adequacy of their staff and it was never brought to our attention that they were going to tell a number of their professional liability staff, particularly managers, to [leave]," said Stephenson.

Looking back at the RTC interviews, Stephenson characterized the remarks of the agency's administrators as "evasive."

In response to the startling upheaval within the RTC, Stephenson said the GAO has begun an investigation. Attorneys from the professional liability team have charged that politics is at the heart of the shakeup.

"We're evaluating that right now," said Stephenson. "There is some indication and they have given us some things to look at. And we are doing that as we speak. But I can say that that's going to be real tough to prove."
On July 13 the cover story in the National Law Journal reported on the upheaval within the RTC. The Journal wrote that the moves "reflect an apparent policy shift by the Bush administration to ease off aggressive lawsuits to recover millions of dollars from ex-officials of failed savings and loan institutions, according to the high-level government lawyers . . . one inside attorney said many colleagues perceived the shakeup as 'gross election-year interference by the White House' because so many targets of investigations and lawsuits happened to be prominent individuals with strong Republican ties."

Accompanied by a large photo of this state's chief executive, the article by Marianne Lavelle pointed out that, "The roster of defunct savings and loan directors includes high-profile figures in politics and business. Best-known is Arizona Governor Fife Symington . . ."

The Journal noted that, "The three RTC attorneys who had signed the original complaint in the case [against Symington and the other directors] are no longer on the RTC professional liability team."

A spokesman for the RTC insisted the staff shift had nothing to do with politics and that vacancies created would be filled, not forgotten.

In the wake of the Journal article and the announcement of an investigation by the GAO, someone got nervous.

In a turn of events that the GAO's Stephenson described last week as "remarkable," the RTC suddenly reversed course and reinstated the attorneys who were transferred.

@body:John Dowd's press assault on behalf of Symington--letters of complaint, demands for retraction, threats of litigation--may not impress the attorneys that review them, but it is a mistake to dismiss Dowd as an ignorant intimidator in media matters.

On June 8, 1984, it was announced that Dowd and a fellow prosecutor with Department of Justice extracted an $800,000 settlement in a libel action directed at the Wall Street Journal. The sum is all the more remarkable given Dow Jones' long-standing policy against settlement. A statement by Peter R. Kahn, associate publisher of the Journal, explained, "In this case, where two important parts of the article turned out to be unproved, we thought it would be unwise for us and our people to undergo the financial and human costs of a long trial."

HarperCollins Publishers announced that the second printing of Collision at Home Plate by James Reston Jr. would contain four specific changes from the first edition. The statement from the publisher said, "Mr. Reston has agreed to delete or clarify certain of his statements which pertain to Mr. Dowd's investigation . . . these charges as well as other modifications to the text are being made by Mr. Reston for purposes of clarity, and in response to Mr. Dowd's specific concerns. Both Mr. Reston and HarperCollins regret any confusion stemming from the first printing of the book and both recognize that Major League Baseball has the right to investigate certain allegations and to impose sanctions." Four sections of the book's second edition were changed.

On February 14, 1992, the same day that Dowd issued the 17 and a half pounds of Symington documents, Playboy magazine issued a one-page press release. Playboy's statement announced a "correction and clarification" regarding an article it printed by Roger Kahn on the Pete Rose case. As the target of one of his current threats of litigation, I am comfortable with the notion that John Dowd knows all the libel law he needs to make him a real eye-gouger in the right alley.

If his correspondence on behalf of the governor does not win him the offers of settlement he solicits, the failure springs less from Dowd's ignorance of the law than the conduct of his client.

His client, J. Fife Symington III, is not an injured party. How many sitting governors, after all, are the targets of $197 million lawsuits by the federal government? Injured or not, Symington has benefited from a Dowd defense that is fierce.

Brendan Sullivan, the attorney who represented Oliver North, said, "Dowd is known in the defense bar as a zealous defender. He does everything he can for a client that is lawful, ethical. He never gives up."

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