WASHINGTON - The woman who faces charges of running a prostitution ring in Washington that serviced the prominent and powerful wants to force many of those clients to testify for her.
Although Deborah Jeane Palfrey promoted her business as a legal "high-end erotic fantasy service," she said it wasn't meant to include "sexual intercourse and oral sex in exchange for money," as the indictment against her alleges.
She told reporters yesterday that her former clients, reported to include a Bush administration economics official and the head of a conservative research group, should confirm that when they are called to testify.
If any sexual activity occurred, she said, it was not authorized by her but undertaken independently by her female subcontractors and male clients "who disobeyed my directives, their signed contracts and participated in illegal behavior."
In other words, she is stunned at allegations that sexual activity had taken place between the women who worked for her and the men who paid them about $300 for 90 minutes of whatever.
So far, the names of only two of her powerful clients have been disclosed. The most prominent was Randall L. Tobias, a veteran businessman and the top foreign- aid adviser in the State Department, who resigned Friday after admitting to ABC News that he was on the list of Palfrey's clients.
The other, disclosed on Palfrey's Web site, was Harlan K. Ullman, a Defense Department consultant best-known for coining the phrase "shock and awe" to describe the intended effect on Iraq of the war's opening barrage, but the phrase also might well describe his own reaction to being called by reporters on Friday about the disclosure, to which he declined comment.
Palfrey says she didn't know the actual names of her clients, just their phone numbers, which she gave to ABC News so the network could use its resources to match names to the numbers.
ABC has used the information to prepare a story to be broadcast Friday on its show "20/20." In a tease for the segment, ABC said on its Web site yesterday that the list includes "a Bush administration economist, the head of a conservative think tank, a prominent CEO, several lobbyists and a handful of military officials" in addition to Tobias and Ullman. The network did not identify the customers by name.
Tobias told reporters that he had used the escort service but said he received only massages.
At a hearing yesterday, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered a new attorney be appointed for Palfrey, citing irreconcilable differences between her and public defender A.J. Kramer.
Kessler denied a request to appoint a high-priced New York obscenity lawyer Palfrey asked for.