Excerpt from Scandalmonger by William Safire, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Novel

by William Safire

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  • First Published:
    Feb 2000, 496 pages
    Jun 2001, 496 pages

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"The President must be made aware of this," Monroe told the Speaker firmly. "There is no offense more reprehensible, in an officer charged with the finances of his country, than to be engaged in speculation."

"Of course." But Muhlenberg hesitated. "Don't you think we should see Hamilton first, in case he has some logical explanation?"

Though eager to use the evidence to undermine Hamilton's influence with Washington, Monroe agreed. He considered it important to give the fair-minded Speaker every impression of his own impartiality. "And before we do," he suggested, "perhaps we should see the judge who or-dered tomorrow's release of Reynolds. To see if Hamilton had a hand in that."

Muhlenberg shook his head, no. "The Attorney General of Pennsylvania signed the release order. I know the man. If we go to him, the news will be all over Philadelphia in a matter of hours."

Monroe reluctantly accepted the need for discretion. "The young man who wrote this note -- when he was your clerk, was he reliable? Do you trust his word?"

"He's easily misled and I believe was duped by Reynolds. But in the years he worked in my store, Jacob Clingman never stole a thing. I'd vouch for him to that extent. I arranged for his release on bail, but I refused to do the same for Reynolds."

Monroe believed he could do with more evidence, particularly letters in Hamilton's handwriting, before he confronted the Treasury Secretary, who would surely deny everything. And he felt a need for some political basis for interceding in this affair. "The name Reynolds is familiar," he said, frowning as if to remember. "Is this man one of the Virginia Reynoldses?"

"He's a New Yorker, but I suppose it's possible he has family in Virginia."

"Could be a constituent of mine in trouble, then." He rose. "Let's see what letters your informant Clingman has. Then we can interview Reynolds." Monroe presumed that if Reynolds had incriminating documents from Hamilton, they would probably be at his home. Because this was to be his last night in jail, there might be an opportunity to visit the Reynolds domicile and speak to his wife or housekeeper without his presence, perhaps even to search his desk. "After we hear what this Reynolds says, then we can visit Hamilton."

The Speaker nodded his agreement. "At that point," he said, "we would be in a position to lay this before the President."

Frederick Muhlenberg

Jacob Clingman, coatless -- it was a mild winter in Philadelphia -- was brought into the Congressional office. He was genuinely glad to see Speaker Muhlenberg, the only man of power who had ever befriended him. He did not recognize the tall, sharp-nosed, cold-eyed man with him, introduced by the Speaker only as "my colleague." Probably a lawyer, Clingman thought.

"I vouched for your good character, Jacob," said his business mentor, who had once been his Lutheran pastor, "but not that of Reynolds. I verily believe him to be a rascal."

"He is that and worse, sir. Reynolds says that he has it in his power to injure the Secretary of the Treasury, and I think that is why he is to be released tomorrow."

"That cannot be the reason Comptroller Wolcott gives," said the lawyer with the cold eyes.

"No. Wolcott is in a tight place," Clingman told his interrogators. "He was doing his job, investigating a fraud, and tripped over this much bigger speculation scandal involving Reynolds and the Secretary. Then, to save his superior any embarrassment, Comptroller Wolcott had to find reasons not to prosecute us. So Reynolds made full restitution of the money, and gave him the list of veterans that we used. He even told the Comptroller which Treasury clerks in New York had slipped him the list. That's when his case was dropped, and Reynolds gets out tomorrow all free and clear. But my case is still pending and I don't know why."

Copyright William Safire February 2000. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of the publisher, Simon & Schuster

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