- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 29, 2002

It is a true undercover operation. The bane of the big and the buxom has come to an end at the Department of Justice.
The monumental, bare-breasted Spirit of Justice statue that towers over the official speaker's dais is now safely behind a set of no-nonsense blue drapes. After decades of providing comic relief for wily photographers, she has ruined her last photo op.
But heavens, it's the old right-wing, conservative prudes at work, according to press accounts that cast Attorney General John Ashcroft in the role of censor in chief.
According to ABC News, the "strongly religious" Mr. Ashcroft was "fed up," and could not abide waggish photographs angled to include his face and the statue's right breast a fate that had befallen former Attorney General Edwin Meese the day he released the final findings of a pornography commission back in 1986.
"No one in the Great Hall that day could ever forget the spectacle of the still photographers writhing on the floor, flat on their backs, in order to grab the shot of Meese holding up the porn report," noted ABC at its news Web site yesterday.
Canny photographers got a similar shot of Mr. Ashcroft in November, ultimately turning the Spirit of Justice into statue non grata.
Some interpet this as a good sign.
"This is a refreshing change from the prior administration. I am surprised Bill Clinton didn't take this statue with him to Chappaqua," said Mark Levin, Mr. Meese's former chief of staff and now chairman of the Landmark Legal Foundation.
"In fact, I am surprised Clinton didn't have a live woman up there instead of a statue," Mr. Levin added.
Mr. Meese was unavailable for comment yesterday.
Meanwhile, much has been made of the $7,900 cost of the new drapes, tailored in the same royal blue hue found in press briefing backdrops at the White House and elsewhere.
"We are actually saving money here. This is more cost-effective," said Justice spokeswoman Gina Talamora, who explained that the drapes are put up or taken down according to "aesthetics" of events.
"To rent drapes for one occasion is $2,100, including installation, each time. We'll save money now that we have our own," she added. "Besides, the photographers like the blue backdrop better."
The drapes were not purchased because of some thundering edict from on high, either. Mr. Ashcroft's "advance person" made the recommendation, Miss Talamora said.
Mr. Levin, meanwhile, smells media bias.
"Robert Kennedy once turned a whole huge Justice conference room upstairs into his own office, back in the day," Mr. Levin recalled. "There was absolutely no media whining about the cost of drapes and rugs and furniture."
Meanwhile, this is an equal opportunity condemnation. "Majesty of Justice," the loin-clothed male counterpart to the offending statue, is also behind the new curtains.
Drape discussion raged at several news Web sites yesterday, both pro and con. Some lauded the fact that "adults were finally back in charge" and condemned a "juvenile media." Others criticized the use of "public monies" and suggested the statue would be better off wearing an "I'm with stupid" T-shirt.
The statue herself has been much esteemed over the years. Cast in aluminum by noted Art Deco-era sculptor Carl Paul Jennewein, "Spirit of Justice" is listed in fine arts guides to Washington.
But wags know no bounds.
Parodies of the situation are already surfacing. According to one version, Mr. Ashcroft had unveiled a "fully clothed" statue of Janet Reno before an audience of "relieved members of the Clinton administration, as well as several generations of Ms. Reno's cats."

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