WASHINGTON TODAY: Et Tu American-Style
Mar. 22, 1996
WASHINGTON (AP) _ It's an ugly situation. Julius Caesar is dead, slain by Marcus Brutus and his co-conspirators, and Mark Antony is threatening civil war.
What to do? Let the crisis spin out of control until there's even more bloodshed?
Not when you can rely on that great American innovation, the Senate investigative committee.
And so it was that the Lawyers' Committee for the Shakespeare Theatre presented its ``Opening Hearing Into the Assassination of Julius Caesar'' to interrogate Brutus and Antony on the events leading up to Caesar's death.
Basing its program on William Shakespeare's play ``Julius Caesar,'' the attorneys' committee convened in a Senate hearing room on a recent March evening as a Roman Senate panel. The panel was chaired by Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., who knows a thing or two about Senate committees, and consisted of four Washington lawyers.
``Senator Antony, what this committee needs to know is what did you know and when did you know it,'' intoned lawyer Kenneth Gideon, portraying a Senate panel member and Brutus supporter.
Antony was played by Kenneth Adelman, former arms control director in the Reagan administration. Acting the part of Brutus was Frank Fahrenkopf, former national Republican Party chairman.
The panel members wore white togas _ albeit with modest long sleeves. Simpson used an hourglass to keep the questioning from running too long.
Here's the scenario: It's a year after the fateful Ides of March when Caesar was stabbed to death on the floor of the Roman Senate by Brutus, Cassius and the other conspirators.
Antony _ Caesar's friend and supporter _ is raising an army to fight a civil war. The Roman Senate remains sharply divided over whether Caesar was a tyrant whose killing saved the republic or a patriot whose murder was an act of treachery.
So everyone heads to the hearing room for a session with some peculiar similarities to the current political scene.
``This whole hearing is an outrage,'' sputtered Adelman as Antony. ``I believe this is nothing more than a Roman lynching right now.''
He insisted there was no evidence-tampering in the investigation of Caesar's stabbing. ``Even Marcus Fuhrman was kept far away from any part of handling this case,'' he said.
Fahrenkopf, as Brutus, insisted Caesar's killing was necessary to save Rome from a man who was beginning to see himself as a god.
``His constant references to himself in the third person _ what senator would refer to himself in the third person?'' Fahrenkopf demanded. Antony is merely a demagogue who tried to stir up the Roman citizens in his eulogy to Caesar, he added.
``Some have heard him say such things as `lock and load' and `to the pitchforks,''' Fahrenkopf added.
Like their true-life counterparts, sometimes these investigators got sidetracked. When Adelman, as Antony, introduced as ``special guests'' Caesar's grieving widow and children, Brutus' supporters began criticizing Caesar's lack of family values and his dalliance with Cleopatra.
And then there was Brutus' secret diary, never mentioned in Shakespeare's play but apparently subpoenaed by the senators. It turned up at the last minute, found on a table in Brutus' private residence.
``I want a full investigation of this diary business,'' insisted Linda Gustitus, portraying a senator supporting Antony. In real life, she's chief counsel to a Senate government oversight subcommittee.
Margery Waxman, a Washington lawyer in private practice, spoke up for Brutus and insisted that Antony could have done something after Caesar's assassination besides raising an army and creating an enemies' list.
``What did you want me to do, go home and bake cookies?'' asked the mock Antony.
``You could have sought a special prosecutor,'' Waxman responded. ``A special prosecutor has never cost as much as a civil war.''
``You haven't seen some special prosecutors,'' returned Adelman, as Antony.
Alan Morrison called on the Senate to expel Brutus.
``You have wrongfully blasphemed Caesar and then assassinated him for your personal glory,'' said Morrison, of the Public Citizen Litigation Group. ``After all, there are some limits on the conduct we senators can engage in.''
But all the sound and fury wound up signifying nothing. The panel ended its hearing, leaving it to the pundits to decide who won and who lost.
Peter Wallison, chairman of the Shakespeare Theatre lawyers' committee, later said the program illustrated some of the difficulties of pinning people down in legislative committees as opposed to court trials.
It could be worse. In Shakespeare's play, Brutus wound up dead by his own sword after realizing Antony's army was closing in. And as Waxman said, the more civilized ways of investigating things are a lot cheaper than a civil war.
EDITOR'S NOTE _ Laurie Asseo covers the Supreme Court and legal issues for The Associated Press.