Saturday, March 03, 2007
|2005 FORUM IN DENVER|
|By Bruce Finley|
Denver Post Staff Writer
|Article Last Updated:03/03/2007 12:19:11 AM MST|
A former White House official who ordered three activists expelled from a 2005 Denver public forum with President Bush says it was White House policy to exclude potentially disruptive guests from Bush's appearances nationwide.
The former official, Steve Atkiss, revealed the policy Friday in an interview after two volunteer bouncers identified him and a current White House staffer, Jamie O'Keefe, as the officials who ordered the so-called Denver Three activists sent away from the event.
The activists had done nothing to disrupt the forum, and two of them sued over the incident.
In sworn legal depositions, bouncers Michael Casper and Jay Bob Klinkerman for the first time named the White House officials who they say ordered the Denver Three to be excluded.
An American Civil Liberties Union legal team is challenging the expulsion in federal court, arguing that it violated the activists' constitutional free-speech rights. They had obtained tickets to attend the taxpayer-financed public forum about Social Security.
Guests who disagree with Bush can stay at public forums if they are well-behaved, "but certainly, if there's an indication somebody's primary intent is to cause trouble, we are looking to avoid trouble," said Atkiss, who now serves as a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection chief of staff.
He was interviewed Friday by cellphone from an Alabama runway where he was waiting for a helicopter.
"If it became obvious and apparent somebody is there to create a fuss, there was an effort made to ensure that didn't happen," Atkiss said.
The expulsions before Bush's 2005 appearance in Denver happened at a time when "there was a concerted effort on the part of a lot of organizations to go way out of their way to intentionally disrupt the president's speeches," he said.
ACLU attorneys now are planning to file a second case in U.S. District Court targeting the White House officials.
White House security staff "certainly has the right to eject persons who try to shout a speaker down, block him from being heard or otherwise cause a disruption. But 'potentially' disruptive is not a legitimate reason to exclude persons from a public event," ACLU legal director Mark Silverstein said.
"This is especially true in this case, where our clients were apparently labeled as potentially disruptive simply because they were perceived to disagree with the president."
White House spokesman Blair Jones declined comment.
Friday's revelations by the bouncers appeared to contradict a White House spokesman's assertion in 2005 that volunteers were responsible for ejecting the Denver Three - self-described progressives Alex Young, Leslie Weise and Karen Bauer. Only Young and Weise are involved in the federal lawsuit.
That spokesman, Scott McClellan, who resigned last year, could not be reached for comment.
McClellan at the time also said: "The White House wants a diversity of voices at these events."
The ACLU team seeks a federal court ruling that a policy of excluding event guests violates the First Amendment.
"We would hope, then, that the White House would change their policy," lead attorney Martha Tierney said.
According to attorneys for both sides in the lawsuit, the bouncers testified that Casper told White House officials Atkiss and O'Keefe at the forum that several local volunteers had identified the activists as people with a history of disrupting political events.
The White House officials then directed Casper to "please ask them to leave," which he did, the bouncers said in their depositions.
"I don't think the law requires someone to actually become disruptive before you eject them," said Sean Gallagher, one of the attorneys defending Casper and Klinkerman.
They had moved for the lawsuit to be dismissed, saying the bouncers operated under orders from federal officials and therefore were immune from lawsuits.
A federal appeals court on Tuesday denied a motion to block the depositions.
The incident happened March 21, 2005, shortly before Bush arrived for the forum at the Wings Over the Rockies museum in east Denver.
Young, Bauer and Weise obtained tickets from the office of then-U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez. They arrived in a red Saab hatchback with a bumper sticker on the back: "No more blood for oil." They also wore "No more lies" T-shirts under their jackets.
Klinkerman pulled them out of a line and told them to wait, then called Casper, who had heard from other Republican Party officials who deemed the three suspicious.
The Secret Service later investigated whether a volunteer committed a crime of impersonating a federal agent. The U.S. attorney's office declined to press charges, giving no explanation.
The Bush administration has run into trouble elsewhere after critics were ejected from Bush appearances. People in North Dakota complained they'd been put on a list of guests to be barred from a 2005 event. The ACLU sued on behalf of two West Virginia residents arrested in 2004 after refusing to remove anti-Bush T-shirts at a campaign event.