If the U.S. Justice Department wants to talk about settling lawsuits filed by two of three people thrown out of a March 2005 Denver presidential forum, here is what the pair wants to hear:
The White House broke the law.
“Any settlement that doesn’t have an admission of wrongdoing would be unacceptable,” said Alex Young, a member of the so-called Denver Three.
The government has not yet offered to settle a suit brought by Young and Leslie Weise. The pair sued after White House operatives and Republican volunteers banished Young, Weise and Karen Bauer from attending an appearance by George W. Bush.
The reason the White House kept them from seeing the president at a supposedly non-partisan, taxpayer-financed public forum on Social Security?
They arrived in a car with bumper stickers that said “No More Blood for Oil” and “Save the Environment, Plant a Bush.”
Events of the past week suggest taxpayers might have to pay for that bit of Republican thuggery. The government just forked over $80,000 of you tax money and mine to settle a suit brought be a couple arrested for trying to wear anti-Bush T-shirts to a non-partisan, publicly financed presidential appearance in West Virginia.
With an October federal court hearing looming in the Denver Three case and with a set of facts as outrageous as what happened in West Virginia, the government may be looking to deal.
“We are anticipating some overtures in our case,” said Martha Tierney, one of Young’s and Weise’s lawyers.
Meanwhile, her clients said money will make no difference without some kind of legal standard that will stop Bush and future presidents from unconstitutionally smothering dissent.
The Justice Department settled the West Virginia case without an admission of guilt, said Weise. “There’s nothing in that settlement that precludes this administration or any other from doing this again.”
Technically, she’s right.
Practically, however, the government doesn’t fork over 80 grand if it did nothing wrong.
Still, Young and Weise seem to have a textbook case of malfeasance. Evidence in the just-settled case produced a heavily censored copy of an October 2002 "Presidential Advance Manual" that outlines in detail highly partisan and legally questionable ways to stymie dissent at supposedly public presidential appearances.
What happened to Weise, Young and Bauer followed the manual almost to the letter.
The manual calls for using Republican volunteers to identify and weed out potential protesters before they are admitted to public, non-partisan events. To stifle those who manage to get in, the manual recommends roving “rally squads” made up of “college/young Republicans, local athletic teams and fraternities/sororities” to surround and shout down protesters.
But the manual is clear in its preference that dissenting voices be kept out in the first place.
“It is important to have your volunteers at a checkpoint before the Magnetometers in order to stop a demonstrator from getting into the event,” the White House manual advises. “Look for signs that they may be carrying, and if need be, have volunteers check for folded cloth signs that demonstrators may be bringing to the event.”
At the March 2005 Denver Presidential Social Security Forum, Andy Merritt, the state director for Republican U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, identified Young, Weise and Bauer as suspicious after seeing them arrive in a car with bumper stickers that said “No More Blood for Oil” and “Save the Environment, Plant a Bush.”
Although Young, Weise and Bauer wore T-shirts under their business suits that said “Stop the Lies,” those shirts were not visible. The trio also had tickets to legally enter and watch the forum. None carried signs.
Yet based on Merritt’s warning, Republican activist Jay Bob Klinkerman detained Weise and Bauer before they reached the Magnetometer.
“You’ve been ID’ed,” Klinkerman told the two.
Klinkerman called in a man who turned out to be Mike Casper. Weise and Bauer said Klinkerman told them Casper was a Secret Service agent, an allegation Klinkerman denies.
Casper is actually a federal employee who took the day off to volunteer with the White House advance team. He says he never identified himself as Secret Service. However, he wore an earpiece and lapel pin that closely resembled what Secret Service agents wore.
Casper warned Weise and Bauer not to do anything to disrupt the president, then let them in. But Casper later found Weise, Bauer and Young and told them they would have to leave the public meeting before the president arrived.
Despite having done nothing wrong and having proper tickets that should have let them stay, Young, Weise and Bauer were escorted out by Casper and forced to leave the parking lot. A Secret Service agent from Miami on loan to the event later told superiors she saw a uniformed sergeant with the White House Secret Service detail tell Young, Weise and Bauer that they would be arrested if they didn’t leave the parking lot, a charge the sergeant denies.
Whatever happened should never have happened in a country that stakes its reputation on freedom of speech.
That’s why the case of the Denver Three may get to court if settlement offers don’t come with admissions that preclude others from having their constitutional rights trampled.
Going to court in October involves risks for both sides, Tierney admitted. The defendants – Klinkerman, Casper, former White House advance office director Gregory Jenkins, his deputy Steve Atkiss and senior advance representative James O’Keefe will all argue “qualified immunity.” That means they can’t be held responsible for carrying out government policy. The question then becomes who set the policy.
It is like the good German defense used by Nazis to excuse their heinous behavior: I was only following orders.
If the judges in the 10th Circuit buy that argument, free speech will be forfeit. If the judges don’t, then a court will have prohibited the use of partisan thugs to suppress dissent at non-partisan public presidential appearances.
Young and Weise just might roll the dice.
“This is all about acknowledging that what they did was illegal,” said Weise. “We want to set a precedent.”