The Tenacious Trio
The door to Rep. Mark Udall's office opens at lunchtime yesterday, and 13 chattering reporters and cameramen stream in.
The Colorado Democrat gawks. "I wish I could get this kind of coverage on my own," he says.
Indeed, the journalistic pack -- from CNN, the New York Times, The Washington Post, the Associated Press and elsewhere -- is interested not in the congressman but in the three people sitting demurely in armchairs in his office: a computer worker, a temp and a non-practicing lawyer.
Individually, they are ordinary citizens and political unknowns. But collectively, they are the Denver Three -- a political sensation in Colorado that is causing agita to a White House that has bested far more sophisticated foes.
The Denver Three's quest: to learn the identity of the "Mystery Man" who, impersonating a Secret Service agent, forcibly removed them from a taxpayer-funded Social Security event with President Bush three months ago because of a "No More Blood for Oil" bumper sticker on one of their cars.
They and their attorneys have filed 10 freedom-of-information requests. They won support from eight of Colorado's nine members of Congress and persuaded lawmakers to send letters of protest to the White House and Secret Service. Working from a Denver coffee shop and from a loft apartment, they spend hours each day contacting reporters, producing almost daily news coverage and provoking questions at White House briefings. They have a Web site and bumper stickers, and they got a well-funded liberal group to send them to Washington. Now they're talking about public meetings and a lawsuit.
"Who was the Mystery Man who removed us from your Denver town hall event?" demands Karen Bauer, one of the Denver Three. Toting cell phone and Snapple, she is standing in front of the White House on Monday afternoon, reading a letter to Bush before a small knot of journalists and a large clump of tourists.
"It's unconscionable," adds co-conspirator Alex Young.
"It's un-American," submits Leslie Weise, the third member of the trio.
The three try to drop off letters hand-addressed to Bush and top aides. When the guard refuses to take the delivery, they drop the letters into a Pennsylvania Avenue mailbox -- cameras running -- and then sit down with a reporter at a Starbucks to discuss their unlikely stardom.
It started when the three got tickets to Bush's March 21 Social Security town hall meeting in Colorado. They flirted with protesting at the event and wore "Stop the Lies" T-shirts underneath their business attire. But Weise worried about getting arrested.
Even so, they were identified after they arrived as potential troublemakers, and then forcefully removed by a man who, they had been told, was a Secret Service agent. Only later did they learn that the man wasn't an agent at all. The Secret Service launched an investigation (it's a crime to impersonate a law enforcement official), and the agency and the White House have both learned the impostor's identity -- but they're not talking.