Fall from Grace

Seven days in May end with a front runner's implosion

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Hart's bitter indictment was a melange of truths (the press stakeout of the family's Colorado home was indeed intrusive), distortions (the Miami Herald insists none of its reporters in Washington hid in bushes) and self-serving justifications (at least seven Democrats -- including three Senators, a sitting Governor, a former Governor and a respected Congressman -- have not been dissuaded from seeking the presidency). But what Hart failed to address was the degree to which his own conduct and statements undermined public confidence in his truthfulness. A TIME poll conducted the night before Hart's withdrawal found that only 34% of those surveyed tended to believe the former Senator's story, and 47% thought he was "probably lying." By a ratio of roughly 10 to 1, those polled said they would be more troubled by Hart's not telling the truth than by any extramarital sexual relations.

The dramatic skein of events that dethroned the front runner did provide insights into Hart's often elusive character. That intense scrutiny is an ingredient of presidential politics that has often made Hart profoundly uncomfortable. As he conceded ruefully in his statement of withdrawal, "I guess I've become some kind of rare bird, some extraordinary creature that has to be dissected by those who analyze politics to find out what makes him tick." But delving into the character of potential Presidents is not a deviant form of bird watching. The next occupant of the Oval Office could be called upon to make decisions of war or peace, and how anyone might respond to such pressures cannot be divined from TV commercials or position papers.

Gary and Lee Hart first met Donna Rice at a New Year's Day dinner party this year at the Aspen, Colo., vacation home of Don Henley, formerly a lead singer of the Eagles. Rice, who had dated Henley several times, was no stranger to the pampered and permissive world of rock stars and multimillionaires. She once dated Prince Albert of Monaco, and was reportedly a guest of Adnan Khashoggi's daughter on his yacht. Hart's presence at the party was equally in character; since his days as George McGovern's 1972 campaign manager, Hart has displayed a fateful fascination with the glitz and glitter of show business. Some of the early rumors about Hart's extramarital conduct stem from his longtime friendship with Warren Beatty, an actor with no pretense to celibacy. A close friend of Hart's said, long before last week's scandal, "Gary had times when he sort of thought he wanted to be Warren Beatty."

If any friend could be blamed for luring Hart into political trouble, it was Lawyer-Lobbyist William Broadhurst. A close associate of Louisiana's flamboyant bon temps Governor Edwin Edwards, Broadhurst chartered the yacht for the controversial trip to Bimini. He also claims to be responsible for Rice's coming to Washington. Broadhurst says he invited her friend Lynn Armandt (who also sailed to Bimini) to come for an interview for the job of majordomo of his sprawling Capitol Hill town house, and Rice accompanied her. Broadhurst had developed a fun-guy reputation around Capitol Hill for entertaining lavishly. Daryl Owen, a former administrative assistant to Louisiana Senator J. Bennett Johnston, recalls that the town house was a "place where parties were given almost every day or night."

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