Must-see hearings!

Stung by low ratings and general lack of interest, Sen. Fred Thompson has a secret plan to get America watching his investigation of the campaign finance scandal.

Published August 1, 1997 7:00PM (EDT)

"the hearings thus far have been devoid of vivid witnesses and compelling drama."
-- The New York Times on the Senate investigation of the campaign finance scandal.

Move over, Tinseltown, because a real thriller is coming to the nation's living rooms later this summer. Actor-turned-senator Fred Thompson, stung by low TV ratings and a bored news media, is going to put some major zip into the campaign finance hearings when they start up again in September.

"We'll have more thrills than 'Men In Black' and 'Air Force One,'" vowed the feisty Tennessee senator after the first round of hearings ended Thursday to decidedly mixed reviews. "Nailing those wily Asian money men and exposing their conspiracy to take over American elections is going to be non-stop action from now on."

The new strategy, according to a top secret PR plan we've obtained, was previewed two weeks ago to a focus group who watched the hearings when a CIA agent testified from behind a hidden screen. Based on the test audience's positive reaction, Thompson will premiere the fall series with a riveting "mystery witness" who is shrouded in a black hood to keep his identity secret from a band of rumored Chinese government killers-for-hire. He will tell a shocking tale of receiving millions of dollars in a satchel from a Chinese embassy official and using the money to entertain Democratic congressional candidates at wild parties stocked with Asian call girls. The witness is actually a "composite character" played by an actor, dramatizing allegations contained in raw FBI files, Internet discussion groups and Wall Street Journal editorials. The actor? None other than Thompson's hunky co-star in "Die Hard 2," Bruce Willis!

That's just the beginning. Guest interrogators drawn from TV's top cop shows, like tough-guy "NYPD" cop Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) and bullet-headed Frank Pembleton (Andre Braugher) from "Homicide" will apply their well-honed questioning skills to pry confessions from evasive Clinton supporters. Sparks are really going to fly when Franz leaps over the hearing table, grabs ex-White House adviser Harold Ickes by the shirt collar and calls him a "scum bucket" for not telling more about those White House coffee klatches.

And who better to bring on board as director than Oliver Stone. The "JFK" maven's straight-to-video movie of the hearings will feature dramatic reenactments of such key scenes as fund-raiser John Huang (played by action star Jackie Chan) handing over money in the White House -- and later escaping the clutches of federal investigators by doing back-flips through a plate-glass window in his lawyer's office.

As for the "love" interest (wink, wink), Thompson will bring on sultry sex kittens who've been involved in the steamy scandal. Just as the Iran-contra hearings had the willowy blond Fawn Hall, so will the campaign finance hearings be spiced up with gorgeous Congressional aides -- and the bachelor senator's latest girlfriend -- in close proximity to CNN's camera. Democratic Party contributor Pamela Anderson Lee will be called to testify.

More erotic fireworks will be unleashed when Thompson grills fat-cat contributors about what really happened behind closed doors in the Lincoln Bedroom. "Taxpayer funds were used to pay for your sexcapades," Thompson will fume while cross-examining Barbra Streisand and her flame, James Brolin. Adding color, as well as a sense of exotic mystery, Asian fund-raisers John Huang and Charlie Trie will appear before the committee wearing colorful native garb designed by the Academy Award-winning designers of "The Age of Innocence."

Aware that campaign finance sounds like so much "inside the Beltway" stuff, Thompson has handed location shooting to Stone. The committee travels to Area 51 in Nevada, where the Air Force reportedly keeps seized UFOs and alien bodies. "Just as the government covers up the real truth about UFOs," Thompson will tell a huge TV audience (including cosmonauts on the Mir space station), "so too is the White House covering up another alien invasion -- tainted foreign money entering our political system."

Thompson's gruff exterior won't exclude his tender side, as he gently interviews 11-year-old Sally Ma, whose daddy gave all his money to John Huang in the hopes of obtaining a lucrative Commerce Department contract. When the contract was given to an even bigger donor, her father lost his job, and they now are forced to live in their cramped Infiniti.

Viewers will enjoy lighter moments, especially when Thompson brings on a sure-fire crowd-pleaser: midget Republican lawyers asking tough questions in squeaky voices of former DNC chairman Dan Fowler. "The next hearings will have mystery, excitement, tears and laughs -- everything the American public wants," Thompson told one insider. "I'm sure they'll be watching in droves."

By Art Levine

Art Levine is a contributing editor at Washington Monthly.

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