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In the Loop

Gonzales's Curtain Call

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, January 5, 2005; Page A15

For most Americans, the bowl games and holidays are now over, and it's back to the usual routine.

But in Washington, the fun continues as we begin Confirmation Season, that quadrennial joyous time of Senate hearings filled with wondrous self-righteousness, outrage, shock, evasion, posturing and prevarication.

Attorney General John D. Ashcroft under the Justice Department's Spirit of Justice statue in pre-curtain days. (Joe Marquette -- AP)

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In recent times, a delightful pre-hearing appetizer has been added to jump-start the festivities. We've had attorney general nominee Zoe Baird's nanny, labor secretary nominee Linda Chavez's housekeeper and homeland security nominee Bernard B. Kerik's magnificent list of woes. (Unfortunately, Kerik bowed out of a rerun of Baird's brutal days of televised testimony or even Chavez's surreal news conference.)

White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales kicks off the official activities tomorrow as the Senate Judiciary Committee takes up his nomination to be attorney general. The Democrats doubtless will grill him about his now-repudiated, somewhat quaint theories on torture, international treaties and presidential power to do anything the president wants.

One thing the committee won't do, however, is ask him the question most Loop Fans want the answer to: Will Mr. Gonzales tear down that curtain? We're referring here, of course, to the huge blue curtain Attorney General John D. Ashcroft put up, for $8,000, to cover two large, partially nude, aluminum Art Deco statues in the Justice Department's Great Hall, which is sometimes used for ceremonies.

The 12-foot statues, there since the building opened in 1936, are of a woman, the Spirit of Justice (a.k.a. " Minnie Lou"), and a man, the Majesty of Law. Minnie Lou's bare right breast is often seen in the background at department events, most notably when photographers dived to the floor in 1986 to place Minnie Lou behind shots of former attorney general Edwin Meese III holding up a pornography commission report.

The department said the cover-up was to improve the background for TV cameras. But internal e-mails talked of "hiding the statues." No mention about trying to help the networks.

Ashcroft told David Letterman that "it really wasn't a covering for the statue so much as . . . a construction curtain." The statues "are being remodeled." Even so, liberals and longtime Justice staffers insisted he was behind the statutory drape.

Since the committee likely won't ask Gonzales what he'll do, it's time for the First-Ever In the Loop Poll. This is not a contest. Just a poll on what Loop Fans think Gonzales will do when he becomes attorney general. Will he take down the curtain or not?

Send your prediction, e-mail only, to: intheloop@washpost.com. Voting deadline is 6 p.m. tomorrow.

And Another Thing . . .

Meanwhile, if the committee won't ask Gonzales about the curtain, perhaps it can inquire as to why President Bush calls him " Fredo"? Bush famously nicknames everyone, but Gonzales's name is Alberto. Gonzales is said not to know why he is called "Fredo."

Environmental Lite

Hurry, hurry, hurry! There's still time to get out to another seasonal fixture, the Western Business Roundtable, starting today and running through Friday at the fine Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa in Phoenix.

Senior folks from Edison Electric Institute, big mining companies and others promise an exciting time of golf and casual lobbying with White House Council of Environmental Quality Chairman Jim L. Connaughton, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.) and House Resources Committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo (R-Calif.), along with Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton and Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho).

Do not worry if you can't get there until tomorrow. That's when there'll be sessions such as a report from Edison called "The Air Is Cleaner" and a discussion about federal air regulation -- "What Are the Threats and Opportunities in 2005?" Well, one person's threat could be another's opportunity. Another topic is: "What Congress is Going to Do on Endangered Species Act Reforms."

The lifting, of course, won't be too heavy. The sessions end at 3:30 p.m., and the big golf outing on Friday starts at noon. It's an annual "Festival of Access Buying" or FAB, opined Frank O'Donnell, president of the enviro Clean Air Watch, which, no doubt, wasn't invited.

Meant in the Most Positive Sense

This just in from the Left Coast: "SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) -- Motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel cannot sue a Web site that published a photo of him with two women above a caption reading 'You're never too old to be a pimp,' a U.S. appeals court ruled Tuesday. The term 'pimp' was probably intended as a compliment, the court said."

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