Sunday 25 February 2018

Bars open early and many skip work as Washington grinds to halt for compelling hearing

Spectators and patrons at Shaw’s Tavern in Washington, DC, watch as former FBI director James Comey testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Photo: Getty Images
Spectators and patrons at Shaw’s Tavern in Washington, DC, watch as former FBI director James Comey testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Photo: Getty Images

Peter Jamison in Washington

Some people in Washington skipped work yesterday to watch former FBI director James Comey's testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

That wasn't necessary for Lillyanne Daigle, who simply followed the rest of her office to a bar.

Ms Daigle, a 29-year-old who works at a nuclear non-proliferation advocacy group, wasn't playing hookey as she stood in line with hundreds of other people outside Shaw's Tavern, a DC bar that opened at 9.30am to show the Comey hearing on its big-screen televisions.

All of her co-workers were there on an official field trip.

"I've been in DC three years. This is my first DC scandal," Ms Daigle said, occasionally peeking at the block-long line of like-minded political spectators between herself and the door.

"This is the most DC thing - watch a political scandal, at a bar."

"At work", added Jennifer Knox, one of Ms Daigle's colleagues.

Hangovers, power breakfasts, sporting events in distant time zones - people have many motives for walking through a saloon door before lunch.

In most cities, the opportunity to watch jargon-studded Congressional testimony by a fired bureaucrat with the haircut of a 1950s Boy Scout is not among them.

But anyone looking for evidence that Washington truly is a place apart from the rest of the country needed look no further yesterday morning than Shaw's, one of at least a half-dozen District watering holes that opened early to show Mr Comey's testimony.

The crowd was a mix of young and old. Some, in ties or pantsuits, kept up a pretence of weekday seriousness. Others were at their summertime ease in salmon slacks and chequered linen shirts.

Inside the bar, the crowd was not raucous. By mid-morning, most were still eating breakfast and favouring coffee to stronger beverages.

But, in between long stretches of silence as Mr Comey spoke, the patrons weren't above an occasional demonstrative outburst - most of it, in a city that voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton, directed against US President Donald Trump.

When Mr Comey referred to some of Mr Trump's statements as "lies, plain and simple," the room burst out in applause.

Mr Comey's dry laugh-lines - "Yes, because I've heard the president say so," he deadpanned at one point when asked whether the FBI's investigation of Russian meddling in the election played a role in his firing - were duly met with guffaws.

This being Washington, some people sought to fill the role of anonymous sources.

Crazy

"This is crazy, and just a total testament to how different DC is as a city," a lawyer told a reporter before remembering his government clients and catching himself. "I think it's probably best that we stay off the record," he added.

Mohammad Al-Rousan, a 22-year-old intern freshly arrived in the capital from Dallas and still not practiced in the dark arts of not-for-attribution quotes, was less guarded.

"I've never seen anything like this," he said, looking wide-eyed around the tavern. The closest he could recall, he said, was a mob scene at the mall for the release of the iPhone 7.

Sasha Ghosh-Siminoff, Mr Al-Rousan's boss at an international aid and development outfit, said he wasn't expecting any smoking gun moments during Mr Comey's testimony.

Nevertheless, he said he had decided a trip to the bar would be a fitting orientation for his new crop of interns.

"What's more DC," Mr Ghosh-Siminoff said, "than making a huge political circus out of dry testimony in the Senate?" (© Washington Post Syndication)

Irish Independent

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