The words may have floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee - but the government says they weren't from Muhammad Ali. Still, his friend Orrin Hatch says that just can't be.
Government investigators disclose in court documents that they have confirmed the ex-boxing champ's attorney - Richard Hirschfeld - mimicked Ali on the phone for years and fooled representatives of the media and several lawmakers, who were persuaded by the "Ali voice" to provide several favors.Hatch, R-Utah - who is friends with Ali and Hirschfeld - says he doesn't believe it. But government lawyers have argued in court that such trust by Hatch is ill-founded because he "has been a victim" of Hirshfeld's manipulation.
The Washington Post reported this past week that such revelations are in court documents in Norfolk, Va., relating to a case in which Hirschfeld was convicted March 5 for filing a false income tax return, plus tax and securities conspiracies.
The Atlanta Constitution in 1988 first alleged that Hirschfeld was the "Ali voice" on the phone that was crisp, volatile and opinionated, like the Ali of the mid-'60s. Meanwhile, Ali - who has Parkinson's disease - barely speaks above a whisper, trembles and talks slowly in person.
After the Constitution story broke, Ali held a press conference on the U.S. Capitol steps saying he had lied to the Atlanta Constitution about the situation just to get a pesky reporter off his back.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney David Barger asserted in a paper filed in court, "Ali and Herbert Muhammad (his manager) have advised the government that the defendent (Hirschfeld) asked Mr. Ali to have a press conference and claim responsibility for the calls, noting that if he (Ali) did not, Mr. Hirschfeld could get in trouble."
He added, "The United States is prepared to prove that Mr. Hirschfeld has imitated Ali's voice in the past."
The Ali voice did not just make small talk. It asked Hatch and other senators for favors that it often received.
For example, it asked for legislation to allow Ali to refile a $50 million lawsuit against the United States for charging him with draft evasion. Hatch worked on such a provision, but never pushed it.
The Ali voice also recommended a close Hirschfeld friend, Stephen A. Saltzburg, as a deputy assistant attorney general - an appointment he received.
And the Ali voice told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Justice Department was out to railroad Hirschfeld in its probe into his income taxes. Committee pressure led to a Justice Department re-examination, which delayed the case for a year before Hirschfeld was convicted.
After the conviction, Judge J. Calvitt Clark Jr. said Hirschfeld - whom he described as "very devious" - should remain in jail until his May 17 sentencing.
But Hatch and Saltzburg wrote, pleading for his release, arguing that Hirschfeld posed no risk of flight and that jail would be an ordeal for his family.
But prosecutor Barger replied, "The weight to be given Sen. Hatch's statements is diminshed by the fact that the defendant has misled the senator in the past. Sen. Hatch, the government respectfully submits, has been a victim of the defendant's manipulation."
Paul Smith, Hatch's press secretary, said Hatch still believes strongly that he was never called by a phony "Ali voice."
Hatch said in earlier interviews that when the rumors about a phony Ali voice first spread, he decided to do some testing himself by weaving into their telephone conversations references about things only he and Ali knew. Hatch said Ali "knew what was going on," and that convinced him no "Ali voice" existed.
Hatch - a former boxer - and Ali became close friends first when Ali called to compliment Hatch for his defense of the Reagan administration during the Iran-Contra hearings.
They have met numerous times since, and even attended prize fights together. Ali also gave one of his championship belts to Hatch, campaigned in Utah for him and attended the 1988 Republican National Convention at his request - where he wore a "Hatch for president" button.
At the convention in New Orleans, the Deseret News may have received a call from the false Ali voice. At a reception for Ali, he was tired and barely able to respond to guests. Hirschfeld told a Deseret News reporter that if he put his phone number in Ali's coat pocket, the champ would call later that night.
A call did come later from someone saying he was Ali. Unlike the tired Ali at the reception, the Ali on the phone was articulate, combative and thoughtful.
Hatch has said he has seen such transformations of Ali in person. He said after he rests and takes medication, Ali can be dramatically sharper mentally and verbally.