The Washington Post

Chief justice’s identity stolen; the Easter Bunny sweats it out


Credit-card fraud can strike anyone, anywhere. Ask Chief Justice John Roberts.

Roberts usually uses a credit card to buy his morning coffee at his local Starbucks in suburban Maryland.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

But on Tuesday, when he needed to be extra sharp for the arguments that day over California’s ban on same-sex marriage, he had to pay in cash.

Seems someone had gotten his credit-card numbers, he told the cashier, and he was obliged to cancel the card.

So be careful out there.

Inside the carrot cabinet

 The White House is expecting more than 35,000 people Monday on the South Lawn for the annual Easter-egg roll — an event that began some 135 years ago and has evolved into a major Washington happening.

Presidents now regularly appear, but that apparently wasn’t always the case. Judging from photos, it doesn’t appear that President Lyndon Johnson attended, according to Margaret Harman of the Lyndon B. Johnson Library audiovisual archives. He preferred to spend Easter at the ranch in Texas.

A great part of the event — at least for the kids — is the appearance of the Easter Bunny, who became a regular at least as far back as Richard Nixon’s administration.

One of the first to don the bunny costume was Nixon advance man John E. Nidecker, who did the honors at least once, former aide Stephen Bull recalled.

(Nidecker, who died in 1988, is also said to be the inventor of the massive balloon drops at political conventions — starting with the 1964 GOP convention. And he sparked an investigation of South Korean influence-peddling in 1974 when he blew the whistle on an attempted $10,000 “gift” by a South Korean official at the end of a Nixon trip there.)

Over the years, a number of well-known administration officials have done the honors in the Mr. and Mrs. Bunny costumes.

Fred Fielding, White House counsel to George W. Bush, wore the costume in 2008 while associate counsel Amy Dunathan was Mrs. Bunny. Ursula Meese, wife of Ronald Reagan aide and attorney general Edwin Meese, was Mrs. Bunny every year but one during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, according to the outfits’ manufacturer, Jonn Schenz of Cincinnati, who has brought them gratis each year starting with the Reagan administration.

Keith Hennessey, the former Bush II National Economic Council chief who now teaches at Stanford Business School, did the honors a couple of times during the Bush II era, as did Republican National Committee communications chief Sean Spicer, who was then the assistant U.S. trade rep.

Bill Clinton’s administration didn’t use senior staff members in the bunny costumes.

“We used Cabinet-level people,” senior staff and famous folks “as readers to the kids,” said Melinda Bates, the White House Egg Lady for a record eight years as director of the visitors office.

In 2000, she recalled, “we had Robert De Niro on the lawn reading a story to the kids.” De Niro, who often plays some truly scary characters on screen — “Taxi Driver,” “Goodfellas” and “Cape Fear” — was nonetheless a great hit, Bates said.

Wearing the costumes is no simple matter. In addition to getting hot — “It gets hotter than hell,” Schenz agreed — it’s very hard to see through the bunny’s mouth — though everyone looks at the bunny’s eyes when they talk to it. (The bunny, however, is not supposed to talk.)

The limited vision can even be dangerous, not so much for the bunny as for the little kids running underfoot, Spicer recalled. That’s why the bunnies have a handler to guide them as they wander about. Volunteers sign up for specific time slots — each an hour or so.

“Early morning is key,” Spicer advised, before the day — and the costume — heat up.

We repeatedly asked the White House for any info on the bunny customs during President Obama’s egg rolls, but got no response. Maybe the info is considered classified?

Paging Thurston Howell III

You don’t have to be as smart as the Professor to know how this ends. Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus is demanding a “line-by-line” accounting of how much the IRS spent to produce two parody videos riffing on “Gilligan’s Island and “Star Trek” and used in agency training.

The AP says the goofy videos — whose “actors” were IRS employees — cost $60,000 to make, but now Baucus wants a breakdown of the spending. How much for the palm trees and tiki mask props used in the “Gilligan’s Island” set? How much for the surprisingly nifty spacecraft interior in the “Star Trek” one? What about those fake Spock ears?

In a statement issued in a “What did the president know and when did he know it?” tone, Baucus demanded answers. “I want to know exactly how this video came to be, exactly who is responsible, and what the plan is for ensuring taxpayer dollars won’t be wasted on another futile endeavor like this again,” he said.

The IRS has previously said it is increasingly using videos to reduce travel costs, though it expressed regret about the “Star Trek” video, which was used only as an introduction to other training materials, it said.

Knowing how those IRS types are, it shouldn’t be too hard for them to report all the video-related expenses. After all, they probably kept the receipts. You know, for tax purposes.

With Emily Heil

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. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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