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Roll Call

An Angry Star Is Born

Attention, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.): You’re not the only punching bag for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). The 2008 presidential hopeful is also really mad at the producer of the Sundance Film Festival award-winning film “Why We Fight.”

Forget about his nanosecond blip on Monday night’s episode of “24.” McCain — and especially his chief of staff — think the movie producer intentionally twisted McCain’s few lines in the film so that he comes off as critical of Vice President Cheney.

“We’re actually pretty mad about it,” McCain’s chief of staff, Mark Salter, told HOH. He accused the producer, Eugene Jarecki, of “doing manipulative editing” to make it look like McCain is questioning Cheney’s involvement in the awarding of military contracts to Halliburton, the company the veep used to run.

McCain says in the movie: “It looks bad. It looks bad and apparently Halliburton, more than once, has overcharged the federal government. That’s wrong.”

Then, asked how he would tackle the problem, McCain says, “I’d have a public investigation of what they’ve done.” At that very moment, coincidentally, the phone rings in McCain’s office ... and an aide announces the vice president is calling. Scene ends.

While McCain said nothing about Cheney in the context of Halliburton, Salter is angry because McCain’s scene immediately follows one in which Richard Perle is defending Cheney, saying the veep wouldn’t dare use his power to help Halliburton get contracts.

Then McCain pops on the screen saying, “It looks bad” — as if he’s talking about Cheney, when in fact he’s not, Salter argues. To the contrary, Salter said — McCain has “complete respect for Mr. Cheney’s integrity.” “It’s editorial manipulation,” Salter said of the film.

Jarecki can’t believe that McCain’s office is so upset. He says McCain didn’t impugn Cheney in any way, nor did he, as the filmmaker, intend for it to look that way. “I’m mystified by the whole thing,” he said. “My view of John McCain is extremely glowing.”

A big part of the film is about Dwight Eisenhower, who, in his 1961 farewell address as president, warned America about the “military-industrial complex” — a term he coined in that speech. “If there’s anybody today who carries that spirit ... it’s John McCain,” Jarecki said, adding, “What I see when I see John McCain in the film is a good man in a weary world. He’s working so hard every day to make Washington a better place.”

The love, apparently, only goes one way. Salter calls Jarecki a “a slippery son of a gun” and says that McCain doesn’t like the film, at least not the part involving him. “He thought it was dishonest,” Salter said.

The miffed chief of staff said Jarecki was misleading from the get-go. McCain thought he was doing an interview on Iraq with the BBC. “Turns out to be a theatrically released film in the United States.”

Well, it turns out that Salter is right. Jarecki originally made his film for the BBC. Then he hit the big screen.

“I never imagined we’d win Sundance and be picked up by Sony [Pictures],” he said. With that, he headed over to the Motion Picture Association of America for a second Washington, D.C., screening.

Spotted: Bizarre Threesome. What was Mr. (er, Dr.) Anti-Hollywood, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), doing having lunch Tuesday with Mr. Hollywood, the actor Richard Gere?

Coburn, Gere and McCain were spotted at a table in the Senate dining room having a ball. Both McCain and Coburn appeared “gaga” for Gere, one source told HOH. Coburn, she said, was “staring admiringly at [Gere] the whole time.” And McCain, she said, was laughing so hard at one point that he had his head on the table.

After running such a distinctively Anti-Hollywood campaign, it was a little shocking to hear that Coburn was cozying up with Gere over vittles. But sure enough, according to Coburn spokesman John Hart, the good doctor dined with Gere, taking the actor up on an open invitation he had sent inviting Senators to dine with him to discuss HIV and AIDS.

“I’m sure they discussed Tibet,” Hart joked of the actor, who’s made “Free Tibet” his big cause. Hart added dryly, “I hope they discussed earmarks.”

He said Coburn is “always looking for ways to build left-right conferences” but added that the Senator hasn’t gone squishy. “In case anyone is worried about him going off the reservation,” Hart said, “he did have breakfast with George Will this morning.”

Burned Out. Ryan Thomas, an aide to Sen. Conrad Burns (R), is leaving his post as the Montanan’s top staffer on the Appropriations subcommittee on the Interior amid lingering questions about his role in helping clients of ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Thomas, who was not available for comment, was on the now-infamous January 2001 trip to the Super Bowl in Tampa with Abramoff, along with another Burns staffer, then-Chief of Staff Will Brooke. Also on board the Abramoff-financed jet were aides to Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), as well as Neil Volz, who was then chief of staff to Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio).

Each of the Members whose aides were on that trip have become enmeshed ever-deeper in the now two-year Abramoff probe. James Pendleton, Burns’ spokesman, confirmed that Thomas was leaving but had no knowledge of what his next job would be. Pendleton defended the work of Thomas, who was a staffer in Burns’ personal office before moving over to the subcommittee when his boss became chairman.

“He intends to move on, and we wish him the best of luck,” Pendleton said, adding that Burns appreciated the years of Thomas’ “good, hard work.”

It is certainly common for committee staffers to leave the Hill before the legislative season heats up, but his exit comes as Burns is taking lots of political heat from Montana Democrats eyeing that seat in November.

Thomas and Brooke — who briefly went to work for Abramoff before the scandal erupted — have told the Montana press that they thought the trip was being paid for by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw, which would mesh with ethics rules allowing tribal nations to pay for trips. But the trip was actually funded by Sun Cruz Casinos, which Abramoff co-owned and is integral to a separate piece of the investigation.

Complicating matters, Burns helped champion at least one multimillion-dollar earmark for another tribal client at a time when Abramoff clients deposited more cash into his political action committees than any other lawmaker.

Here She Comes. There could be a lot of sore necks Thursday morning after the Washington Press Club Foundation’s annual Congressional dinner tonight. Congressional Quarterly — yes, CQ, not GQ — is bringing Miss America as its guest. Really. She should fit right in with all those Members, ambassadors and lobbyists.

Specifically, Miss America 2006, Jennifer Berry, will also be buzzing around the (mildly) star-studded after-party sponsored jointly by CQ and the Creative Coalition.

The woman who made it all happen — “Hardball” Executive Producer Tammy Haddad, who serves on the Miss America board of directors — joked that she was trying to figure out a way to make the Congressional dinner an “equally eye-popping, head-craning experience as the radio and TV dinner.”

At least Miss America should be able to keep things lively if this year’s speakers, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), don’t do the trick. Though we’re told there are some wild jokes in store.

Probably not as funny, though, as the dinner the White House Correspondents Association has in store this year. Late-night spoofster Stephen Colbert will be the headline entertainer at the April 29 affair.

Stephanie Woodrow and Paul Kane contributed to this report.

Please send your hot tips, juicy gossip or comments to hoh@rollcall.com.

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