Thursday, September 27, 2007

Clarence Thomas's Book Party

An article in The Hill:
Most Washington parties can be crashed with simple name-dropping or the flash of a powerful business card. Next week’s book party for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, however, is off-limits to intruders.

“If you don’t have an invite, don’t come,” said Armstrong Williams, who will host the party at his Northeast D.C. home. “And don’t bring guests who aren’t on the list.”

In what surely will come as a shock to some who saddle up to the bar next Wednesday, the party is alcohol-free. Not so shocking for Williams and Thomas — neither drinks.

Dissecting a D.C. party such as this one is a complicated affair. Plans must be made. Buzz must be created. Above all, an air of exclusivity must be close at hand.

Williams’s guest list includes jaw-dropping names, even by Washington standards. Thomas’s colleagues on the high court will be there, mingling with Hollywood celebrities, media superstars and powerful members of Congress.

To top it all off, there is strong speculation that Vice President Cheney and his wife, Lynne, will attend.

Like other hosts for exclusive parties in the nation’s capital, Williams — a former aide to Thomas — has not released his guest list.
But make no mistake, this party is strictly A-list. Actor Will Smith, White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten, ABC newswoman Barbara Walters, CBS Sports’s James Brown, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, ex-NBA star Charles Barkley and Bob Jones of Bob Jones University are expected to celebrate Thomas’s tome, entitled My Grandfather’s Son. Washington Redskins and Wizards will also be in the house.

Steve Croft of “60 Minutes,” whose recent interview of Thomas is expected to air this Sunday, will be at the party next week.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), whose aggressive questioning of Anita Hill during Thomas’s contentious confirmation hearings in 1991 attracted praise from the right and condemnation from the left, will also be in attendance, as have Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and other lawmakers.

Yet this book party is not a conservatives-only gathering. Civil rights activist and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton and NAACP President Julian Bond are expected to attend.

“This is an American event,” Williams said. “It’s not left or right.”

He added, “There’s a cross-section of media types who were invited, including some who unfairly criticized Justice Thomas. But that’s behind us. You can’t hold a grudge.”

Williams describes Thomas as his mentor. Their friendship has grown stronger over the years — they have been spotted dining at the Capital Grille, and Williams regularly drops by the high court to talk with his old boss.

Years ago, Williams said, Thomas told him that he was considering writing his memoirs. Having held functions for Thomas before, Williams said it was a given he would host the book party.

They have compared notes on what Williams describes as the “storms” in their lives. For Thomas, it was the contentious confirmation process. For Williams, it was his government contract promoting President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, which triggered a Justice Department investigation.

“That is a bond for us,” Williams said in an interview this week. “But what matters is we’re still standing and we have something to celebrate.”

Thomas, Williams says, is in a good place: “I’ve never seen him so upbeat.”

Since word got out on the party, Williams said, his office has fielded close to a thousand calls. Most have been turned away. Only about 250 VIPers will get in, though Williams noted that there are regular people on the list who are close to Thomas — Americans who won’t show up in People magazine.

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