Muhammad Ali tried to knock out stories Wednesday that his lawyer is impersonating him in telephone calls to senators - including his friend Orrin Hatch, R-Utah - by saying he lied to the reporter who wrote them.
At an impromptu press conference on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, Ali admitted using a verbal "rope-a-dope" on Atlanta Constitution sports writer David Kindred.He told Kindred that he had not ever phoned any senators and wasn't interested in politics - even though many senators had received dozens of calls from what Kindred called "the Ali voice."
Ali said, "I did it just to get him off my back."
He added, "This Mr. Dave Kindred kept following me around and has come to Sen. Hatch. He kept following me around asking me if I made phone calls to senators. He bothered me so much that I just told him no, I hadn't made no calls."
Ali said he thought that sucker punch of a lie would make Kindred go away. It did - but Kindred wrote stories saying someone was impersonating Ali on the phone, probably his crafty lawyer Richard Hirschfeld. He based that on Ali's statement plus quotes from people who said Ali always sounds more intelligent on the phone than in person.
Kindred's theory that someone was impersonating Ali on the phone upset Hirschfeld so much months ago that he argued violently with Kindred during a Hatch campaign reception in Utah.
Kindred surmised that Ali is brain damaged from boxing, isn't really interested in politics and is being manipulated by his friends. But Hatch - a close friend of Ali - called the stories "unmitigated bull corn" and "almost racist."
Hatch said Ali is not brain damaged and is highly intelligent but that he speaks slowly when he's tired because of Parkinson's syndrome.
Ali said after he lied to Kindred, "I looked up a week or two later and there's a big headline in the paper, `Ali didn't make the calls.' So I'm allowed to tell you it was me. I did make the calls, and that's why I'm here."
When asked if he trusted Hirschfeld and one of Hirschfeld's clients, Robert Chastain, a Salt Lake travel agent, Ali said, "Those guys are angels. They're my best friends."
Reporters asked several questions to determine whether Ali is really interested in politics, which Kindred's stories questioned.
When asked what his legislative priorities are for next year, Ali said, "Well, I'm still studying. I'm not a politician. I'm not boxing now. I'm always doing something to shape the world . . . religion, Vietnam . . . I'm always in the headlines. This is my latest thing now, working around Washington."
He noted that he has met personally with presidents Reagan and Carter, met personally with numerous senators and has even campaigned in Utah for Hatch.
Ali - or at least Kindred's "Ali voice" - has sought support for the appointment of an acquaintance to a Justice Department post, has lobbied for a bill that would allow him to sue the government for what was proven to be his wrongful conviction for draft evasion and asked for an investigation into violation of privacy in a grand jury investigation of Hirschfeld.