Dem strategist defends Arab ambassador’s lavish dinner for WH staff, press: ‘like any campaign night’ 

Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons was one of a small number of White House officials, Democratic operatives and journalists (plus one Republican member of the House) at an extravagant dinner held last week at the McLean, Virginia home of Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the U.S.  How extravagant was the event?  Al Otaiba brought legendary Beverly Hills chef Wolfgang Puck in to personally cook for the group.  The dishes Puck prepared, each paired with a specially-chosen wine, were not exactly everyday fare.  Here is the menu, from a report by Politico’s Mike Allen:

1) terrine of foie gras with toasted brioche, seared foie gras with cherry chutney, and mousse on apricot tartlet (Riesling, Hirtzberger, “Singerriedel,” Austria 2004); 2) seared wild salmon with cucumber raita and sweet pea puree (Chardonnay, Littorai, “Mays Canyon,” California 2006); 3) risotto with porcini mushrooms (pinot noir, Clos De Tart, “Grand Cru,” Burgundy 1995);  4) veal Milanese (Barolo, Oddero, Italy 2000); 5) slow braised Kobe short ribs and grilled Kobe New York (cabernet sauvignon, Beaulieu Vineyard, “Georges de Latour,” Napa 2001); 6) strawberry shortcake, chocolate raspberry soufflé and peach cobbler (Grüner Veltliner Eiswein, Anton Bauer, Austria).

After I wrote a brief item on the dinner Friday, saying it would do nothing to allay “a growing concern about the appearance of coziness between Obama administration figures and some in the press,” Simmons responded via Twitter. “Nothing nefarious about journos and politicos having dinner talking politics,” he wrote. “Like any campaign night.”

Like any campaign night? If a feast personally prepared by Wolfgang Puck, who traveled to Washington for the occasion and selected the accompanying wines — if that is like any campaign night, then Simmons has been involved in some pretty high-end campaigns.  A look at his bio shows that he worked for the 1992 Clinton campaign, the 2000 Gore campaign, and the unsuccessful presidential primary campaigns of Wesley Clark and Bob Graham, among others.  Simmons has also been a political analyst for CNN.  In another tweet in reaction to criticism of the Al Otaiba dinner, Simmons wrote, “I’m no ‘reporter,’ I’m a polemicist and dinner was full of calories and polemics.  What could be better?”

According to the Politico report, those invited in addition to Simmons were Obama White House spokesmen Bill Burton and Josh Earnest, Treasury Department spokeswoman Natalie Wyeth, New York Times White House correspondent Helene Cooper, Politico executive editor Jim VandeHei, “Meet the Press” executive producer Betsy Fischer, ABC News’ Jonathan Karl, CNN’s Jessica Yellin, MSNBC’s Norah O’Donnell, the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, and Democratic communications consultant Laura Burton Capps (who is also Bill Burton’s wife).  Rounding out the group was Illinois Republican Rep. Aaron Schock. A spokesman for Schock told me Schock cleared his attendance at the dinner with the House Ethics Committee.

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