Powell staffer who stopped interview had defended Republican protesters during Florida recount "melee"

››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

Emily J. Miller, described on May 18 by The Washington Post as "the controversial press aide" who "ordered a cameraman to stop filming an interview with" Secretary of State Colin Powell from Jordan on NBC's Meet the Press with Tim Russert on May 16, worked as a spokesperson for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) during the 2000 Florida presidential election recount.

DeLay's office served as "a switchboard of sorts for volunteers looking to sign up" to help oversee or protest the recounts, according to a November 28, 2000, New York Times article. As the Times reported on November 24, 2000, young Republicans "tried to rush the doors outside the office of the Miami-Dade supervisor of elections." Responding to Democrats' characterizations of the November 22 protest as "intimidation" by "out-of-state, paid political operatives," as reported in the November 28 Times, Miller defended the protesters' actions: "This was not a threatening band of armed thugs; They were idealistic, enthusiastic young Republicans who felt they were being shut out, that this was an unfair decision [to recount the ballots]."

However, as the Times reported on November 24, the November 22 demonstration -- by the protesters whom Miller called "idealistic, enthusiastic young Republicans" -- "turned violent ... after the canvassers had decided to close the recount to the public." As the Times further reported in the November 24 article:

Joe Geller, chairman of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, was escorted to safety by the police after a crowd chased him down and accused him of stealing a ballot. Upstairs in the Clark center, several people were trampled, punched or kicked when protesters tried to rush the doors outside the office of the Miami-Dade supervisor of elections. Sheriff's deputies restored order.

According to a December 4, 2000, Time magazine article by Tim Padgett, titled "Mob Scene in Miami":

What the world watched was a G.O.P. melee. When Geller walked out of the room with a sample ballot, the crowd accused him of stealing a real one and responded as if he had just nabbed a baby for its organs. Geller says he was pushed by two dozen protesters screaming, "I'm gonna take you down!" Luis Rosero, a Democratic observer, claims he was punched and kicked. Republicans dispute the charges, but video cameras caught scenes of activism that had morphed into menace.

In perhaps further tension with Miller's characterization of the protesters as "idealistic" and "enthusiastic," The New York Times reported on November 28, 2000: "Many of the protesters, who stayed at Hilton hotels and received paid breakfast and lunch, according to Brad Blakeman, a New York lawyer who helped organize them, roamed between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach, depending on where the largest crowd was needed on a given day." In addition, the Times reported, "[A] large number of Republican lobbyists, consultants and elected officials also paid for their own trips to Florida."

As the Associated Press reported on May 17, during Secretary of State Powell's May 16 interview with Russert on Meet the Press, "Powell abruptly disappear[ed] from view. Briefly seen [were] swaying palm trees and the water, backdrops for the interview." The Washington Post's "Reliable Source" columnist Richard Leiby confirmed on May 18 that "controversial press aide" Emily J. Miller "ordered a cameraman to stop filming" the interview. The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz detailed the exchange between Powell and Miller, during which Powell was heard to say, "Emily, get out of the way," and then, "Bring the camera back please." The AP also reported that Meet the Press executive producer Betsy Fischer said that "Miller called right after the taping to 'express her displeasure' that the interview ran long," while "Powell called Russert a few hours later to apologize." While remarking that "to his credit" Powell handled the situation effectively, Russert -- discussing the incident on CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer -- said, "Now, this [aide Emily Miller] is someone paid by the U.S. taxpayers, trying to cut off an interview with an American journalist and the American secretary of state." Russert said further, "I've been in countries where staffers pull the plug on people. This is the United States of America. It really is unacceptable."

The transcript from the May 16 edition of Meet the Press:

Russert: Finally, Mr. Secretary, in February of 2003, you placed your enormous personal credibility before the United Nations and laid out a case against Saddam Hussein citing...

Powell: Not off.

Emily: No. They can't use it. They're editing it. They (unintelligible).

Powell: He's still asking me questions. Tim.

Emily: He was not...

Powell: Tim, I'm sorry, I lost you.

Russert: I'm right here, Mr. Secretary. I would hope they would put you back on camera. I don't know who did that.

Powell: We really...

Russert: I think that was one of your staff, Mr. Secretary. I don't think that's appropriate.

Powell: Emily, get out of the way.

Emily: OK.

Powell: Bring the camera back, please. I think we're back on, Tim. Go ahead with your last question.

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