Coffee Battle Boils Over

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WASHINGTON: It was certainly a great show a titanic struggle between two masters of political indignation. In the GOP corner: Fred Thompson, who used his opening comments at the campaign finance hearings Tuesday morning to vent at the White House. It was a multimedia display, including clips from those now-infamous tapes of donors quaffing coffee in the Oval Office, and colorful calls for the President to "step up to the plate" by taking responsibility for fund-raising misdeeds. "Nobody wants this to go down as a successful cover-up," said the ambitious senator, with all the righteousness he could muster.

But just as Thompson seemed to have an illegal choke-hold on Wednesday's headlines, up popped Harold Ickes to wrestle them from him. "We played by the rules you, and only you, have the power to change the law," said the former Clinton guru. His opening speech to the committee was replete with references to Reaganite fund-raising, the President's right to drink hot beverages, and the GOP's aversion to campaign finance reform. Boil his speech down to two words, and it would have read: you hypocrites.

Ickes almost didn't speak at all, after a surprise sideshow squabble between Fred Thompson and his alter ego, ranking Democrat John Glenn. "Glenn wanted (White House Counsel) Charles Ruff to come up and tell his story about the tapes," reports AllPolitics correspondent Tom Moore. "It was meant to clear the air on why the tapes were not released in July, to address the disclosure problem and try to deflate Thompson's indignation."

Yes, Fred Thompson loves his indignation. And every time he was out-indignation-ed, by Glenn and by Ickes, the chairman simply declared another recess. Bear in mind, therefore, that all we have seen so far is the opening volleys. This battle should really start percolating Wednesday.