One in an occasional series on celebrities who bring their star power to Washington on behalf of a pet causes. Monday’s visitor: Sean Penn.
Event: House Human Rights Subcommittee hearing (in the Rayburn Building) on Jacob Ostreicher, an American detained in Bolivia since 2011.
Setting: Mostly empty hearing room with one chair and mike at the witness table, because Penn was the only witness — essentially, a tricked-out news conference.
Bona fides: Oscar-winning actor, paparazzi pugilist, global human-rights activist.
Backup: Rep. Chris Smith, who’s made two trips to Bolivia in attempts to get Ostreicher freed; four other congressfolk; congressional staffers/fans.
What Penn wants: The release of the ailing Ostreicher, a New York businessman accused of money laundering; although imprisoned, he has never been formally charged by the Bolivian government. Several high-level government officials have been arrested for allegedly extorting him, but he remains under house arrest. After investigating the case, Penn testified that he was “personally and thoroughly convinced” of Ostreicher’s innocence.
How he got involved: Actor/pal Mark Wahlberg asked him to look into the case. “It came at a point I could pay attention to it — and then I couldn’t stop paying attention to it.” He made a high-profile trip to Bolivia in December, but failed to get Ostreicher out despite a close relationship with President Evo Morales.
How he looked: Weary, like he needed a good night’s sleep. Navy suit, white shirt, tie askew, messy hair.
How he sounded: Passionate, knowledgeable, very engaged, respectful. Able to answer detailed questions on his feet.
Hail Mary pass: Penn unveiled a surprise plan to make this a global cause by pressuring international corporate sponsors of the famed Dakar Rally — scheduled to run through southern Bolivia next year — to pull the race out of the country unless Ostreicher is released.
Sound bite: “I’ve never seen a worse movie or more archvillainy on a such a caricaturish or humanly diabolical level.”
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