Almost a half-hour after U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was scheduled to give a press conference in Boise, Idaho Tuesday, a representative told a crowd of more than 100 protesters that the press conference had been rescheduled and relocated to the U.S. Attorney’s office and only members of the press with credentials would be allowed in.
The crowd immediately booed and chanted “Coward! Coward! Coward!” and Larry Grant, candidate for Congress, took the microphone and said, “I’m sorry Gonzales didn’t come out to face his critics. We need an Attorney General who can bring respect back to the office and to our country’s reputation for supporting civil liberties.”
Gonzales is in Boise today to meet with the Treasure Valley Metro Anti-Gang Task Force. He was also scheduled for meetings with staff at the U.S. Attorney’s office, judges and agency heads.
Commentary from the press conference
Note to Gonzales’ staffers: Not only does dodging and relocating a press conference make you look silly, it also ticks off the press.
Most of us were stuck with almost an hour to kill between the scheduled press conference and the re-scheduled one, and then had to run the gauntlet of approvals. Feds with clearly displayed Glocks on their belts stood cross-armed on the steps in a disapproving fashion, and went out of their way to let me know I was a suspicious individual.
But they did that to other reporters. It was all very Government Spy Movie-ish and amusing, but I figured if I laughed they wouldn’t let me in for sure.
There was a miffed-off atmosphere in the room when Gonzales finally appeared. One of the first questions from a reporter was, “Why did you move the press conference when there were more than 100 people waiting for you outside the Fort Boise Community Center?”
Gonzales, his aides towering over him, spoke in a faint voice. “Because of other individuals that (sic) were there, we felt it would detract from being able to bring a very important message to the people of Idaho.”
Then someone threw him a softball question about the purpose of his visit to Boise, and my ears stopped functioning for a minute because I was getting all ramped up to ask Gonzales: “The hundred people who were waiting for you at the community center – aren’t they the ‘people of Idaho’?”
Gonzales: “Of course. But again, the concern was to deliver the message about the important work being done at the community center.”
That was just one of many intellectual remarks from the Attorney General.
For example, Gonzales said there are too many ways for people to have access to weapons, and that law enforcement agencies need to do a better job of coordinating resources to cut down on gang and gun violence.
Between that kind of pablum and his refusal to face the people who showed up at Fort Boise to question him, the question of spinelessness was the elephant in the living room. Here we had the very guy who proposed making war-on-terror prisoners exempt from the Geneva Convention, after which a group of military legal experts, including former Navy judge advocate general Admiral John Hutson released a letter to the Judiciary Committee. (The letter said that Gonzales’ recommendations “fostered greater animosity toward the United States, undermined our intelligence gathering efforts, and added to the risks facing our troops serving around the world.”) There he was, not 15 feet from me, and like the others I didn’t bother asking about that and other tough issues, knowing I’d get nothing back but spin-controlled drool.
John Miller of the Associated Press asked him, “What did you hear today that you can take back to D.C.?” and Gonzales answered, “We can see if we have any resources we can share with Idaho. You know, every time we take one of these trips, we learn something from the community.”
I think that’s what he said, anyway. He spoke so softly that his sentences tended to trail off.
Earlier, two lawyers at the protest asked me if I’d take their question to Gonzales, which was, “What is your legal opinion about whether Vice President Cheney is a member of the executive or legislative branch of government?” I was all set to ask when Gonzales said, “That’s all.” A small mob of the usual dark-suited Rayban-wearing feds suddenly talked into their wrists in the classic fashion, with a barely audible “Let’s go” from one of them. They surrounded Gonzales and swooshed him out of there into a black SUV that rocketed down Park Boulevard as if Bruce Willis was driving.
I’ve seen this perfectly-choreographed Get-Out-of-Dodge act before when big cheeses come to town, but it’s still interesting. Sometimes real life IS just like the movies.
Coming up: What went down at the protest.