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THE GOVERNOR'S 800-POUND GORILLA

Page 8 of 13

One month later the Mesa Tribune discovered that Governor Symington was less than truthful in his pose of wounded nobility.

On January 19, John Dougherty wrote that Symington's lawyer, Jim Vieh, had met with regulators, all the way back in September, following the release of the controversial RTC memo that was leaked to the Washington Post. "The September 20 meeting in Washington contradicts repeated statements by the governor that neither he nor his attorneys had an opportunity to present their case to federal regulators before the Resolution Trust Corporation filed a $140 million civil suit [since amended to $197 million] in December against Symington and other board members of the failed thrift," the article said. The next day Dowd blasted Dougherty and the Tribune, describing the Tribune article as "false and defamatory."

Despite a four-page, single-spaced letter of demand for retraction and damages in which Dowd characterizes the story as "ugly and unforgivable," Dowd himself confirms the September 20 meeting and its subject matter: "On September 20, 1991, Jim Vieh met with Alfred Byrne, chief counsel of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation; Mr. James Roether, counsel to the Resolution Trust Corporation; and a representative of the Inspector General," wrote Dowd.

"Mr. Vieh demanded the meeting to address the false allegations in the press about Governor Symington. Mr. Vieh furnished a memo to Mr. Byrne addressing all allegations in the press." Well, the "allegations in the press" were the allegations in the RTC memo. Most of these same allegations became the basis for the lawsuit.

Responding to Dowd's correspondence on January 22, Tribune attorney Dan Barr said, "What Dowd complained about are facts that were not only true, he admitted they were true in his own letters." Dowd argued that there should have been a second meeting, that government lawyers even agreed to, and then reneged on, a second meeting and that it just goes to show, well, something when a second meeting didn't occur.

After enough of this debate your eyeballs begin to rotate. The governor claimed no meeting ever occurred when, in fact, one did. After news of that meeting was printed, Dowd insisted the government of the United States should have held Fife Symington's hand through a second meeting, ignoring the fact that no meeting, whatsoever, was mandated by statute.

You spend enough time in the company of Mr. Dowd's Chinese-water-torture tactics and you begin to understand why Meyer Lansky died rather than take any more of it.

@rule:
@body:The relentlessness that Dowd demonstrated in the Rose case, the ability to focus upon and magnify minutiae he showed in the Kelley investigation, combined with his muscular approach to libel--it all was coming together for Symington's benefit.

Two days after the conference where Dougherty was bounced off the story, Symington and Dowd walked into the U.S. House of Representatives.

In order for Symington and Dowd to advance the case for the governor's innocence in the Southwest Savings and Loan collapse, it would not be enough to contain the press.

Congress, which had legislated the S&L fiasco, now wanted to know what went wrong. As a high-profile example of the industry's problems, Governor Symington was called to testify on the Esplanade deal. While Dowd could not threaten representatives and senators with litigation the way he did the press, he understood that the February 20 appearance in the House was as much an opportunity as an obligation. The two did not lack for gall.

Amid a blizzard of documents Symington and Dowd obscured critical details and focused upon irrelevant trivia. They were like a Biblical development team from Babel.

After media coverage, Congress represented Symington's second front in the savings and loan debacle. At the conclusion of their appearance on the Hill, Dowd and Symington had vanquished their Congressional critics and press headlines shouted their victory. In the performance orchestrated by Dowd, the politicians and the journalists lost sight of the issues. Because Symington sat on the board of Southwest Savings and Loan, he could not have the S&L invest in his Esplanade project without approval from regional regulators in San Francisco.

To demonstrate Symington's compliance, Dowd dumped 17 and a half pounds of documents on each politician's desk.

Through page after countless page, from one exhibit to another, Symington and Dowd argued that they complied with federal conflict of interest regulations.

The governor's papers included written answers and indexed records provided to the chairman and each member of the House subcommittee on General Oversight and Investigation of the Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs. The avalanche of paper obscured the fact that Symington had neither the required audit nor written approval of federal regulators before embarking on the Esplanade deal.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey