Spies Like Us

Posted March 22, 2004 at 6:34pm

Three Capitol Hill insiders, including House aide Jim Brandell, will be starring in “Spymaster” — a new reality show that will debut March 30 on The Learning Channel.

The other two Hill contestants in the espionage drama are Warren Rojas, a Congressional reporter for Tax Notes, and Stephanie Whelpley, former spokeswoman for Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio.).

“I used to work on fostering democracy in Yugoslavia against Milosevic

so most of my friends thought I was a spy anyway,” joked Brandell, who is chief of staff to Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.).

TLC is billing the show as a “major new, high-octane television series” but — in true CIA fashion — is keeping the details close to the vest.

“If you’ve ever fantasized about being James Bond, this is the opportunity of a lifetime!” says the TLC Web site, adding of the 30 contestants who compete in the first episode: “You need quick wits and nerves of steel, you must be over 21 and physically fit.”

Whelpley said that DeWine, a member of the Intelligence Committee, has been on the edge of his seat waiting to see her debut.

“He’s excited,” said Whelpley, who’s now working for the G-8 Summit. “I’m an avid ‘Alias’ watcher. I think that’s what piqued my interest.”

Rojas said he answered an ad in the Washington City Paper looking for applicants. He thought it was a game show, so he showed up at a Dupont Circle hotel for the audition and eventually got selected to participate. The 30 participants get weeded down to 12 contestants and on down the chain until the show is left with one Spymaster.

“It’s like a crash course in espionage for everyday people,” Rojas said mysteriously, before declining to discuss it much further. “Unfortunately, I can’t tell you who won.”

Other spies, however, tell HOH that only two of the three Hill insiders make it through the first cut.

Frist’s Footsteps. One way to track the workload in the office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) is to take a look at the pedometers that just about all of the heart surgeon’s staff is wearing these days.

As a certified fitness freak, Frist handed out the footstep-tracking device to encourage his own staff to get serious about exercise. Doctors say that anyone logging about 8,000 steps a day is going to be in pretty good shape, and Frist is going to be handing out an award to the aide who ends up getting the best score.

But the device is also proving to be a pretty good aid in figuring who’s chained to their desks — and who’s logging some serious time running around the Senate — during busy days in the chamber.

When the chamber had one of its classic “Vote-a-ramas” during the recent debate over the budget resolution, Frist had to race back and forth from his Capitol office to the Senate floor for hours on end. That resulted in the Majority Leader’s body guy, Charlie Durkin, logging about 19,000 steps in one day.

Frist’s chief counsel, Alex Vogel, told HOH that Durkin is making him and office spokesman Bob Stevenson look bad. Vogel noted that on the first day he had a pedometer, he just barely reached 8,000 steps — despite twice skipping the Senate subway to log more footwork.

“We need to have a sloth contest to see who can have the lowest count for the day,” said Vogel. “Stevenson and I are in the running for that one.”

But the communications director hotly protested being lumped in with Vogel. “If he did 8,000 steps, then he has a bunch of hanging chads on his total,” said Stevenson. “I logged something like 16K steps yesterday. The leader wants to make sure we go the extra mile for the American people.”

Team Player? As a Democratic member of the Sept. 11 commission, attorney Richard Ben-Veniste has been in hot pursuit of sit-downs with Bush and Vice President Cheney to get their views on what went wrong leading up to the horrific terrorist attacks against the United States.

In the wake of his outspokenness, the former Watergate special prosecutor has been ripped by everyone from conservative columnist Robert Novak to The Wall Street Journal editorial page in recent days. So Ben-Veniste was surprised to become the latest Democrat to receive a mass mailing from the president — urging him to join the Bush-Cheney campaign.

“Grassroots leaders like you are the key to building a winning team,” says the mailing.

“What’s all the fuss — we’re all on the same team,” an amused Ben-Veniste, who hangs his hat at the law firm Mayer Brown, said Monday.

But Ben-Veniste told HOH he was even more stunned to find that the same pitch from Bush had arrived last week for his late mother, Sylvia, as well.

Talk about leaving no stone unturned.

Hoop Du Jour. Former NBA players Bob Lanier and Mike Glenn will serve as coaches when Democrats and Republicans square off Wednesday night in the 11th Annual Galludet University Congressional Basketball Classic.

Lanier, the NBA legend who was an eight-time all-star, will coach the “Fighting Elephants,” which is guided by the GOP team captain, Rep. Mike Oxley (Ohio).

Rep. Ron Kind (Wis.), team captain of the “Dunkin’ Donkeys,” has tapped Glenn to serve as coach. The man known as “Stinger” played in the NBA for 10 years with the New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks.

Admission is free for the game that begins at 7:30 p.m. at the field house at Gallaudet, the only university in the world that provides deaf and hard-of-hearing students with a total college experience.

As part of the NBA’s Read to Achieve Program, Lanier and Glenn will conduct a reading workshop at the Kendall Demonstration Elementary School at Gallaudet. That will be followed by a basketball clinic at the school, which serves deaf and hard-of-hearing kids from birth to eighth grade.

Breaux-Nickles Alliance? Retiring Sens. John Breaux (D-La.) and Don Nickles (R-Okla.) are coming together this week, though not to form a powerhouse lobbying firm — at least not yet.

Amid speculation that they may be heading to K Street together next year, Breaux will be presenting a distinguished service award to Nickles at The Bryce Harlow Foundation’s 23rd annual dinner on Wednesday night. Breaux will also honor retiring Rep. Cal Dooley (D-Calif.) with the same award at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), meanwhile, will be on hand to introduce the recipient of the foundation’s Business-Government Relations Award to George Koch.