By Betsy Rothstein and Bob Cusack - 10/05/07 06:39 PM EDT
Upon reaching the home of Armstrong Williams on Wednesday night, partygoers could tell this wasn’t any ordinary gathering.
Secret Service swarmed the front and side entrances. A tow truck removed all cars on the block. Guests walked through metal detectors as bomb-sniffing dogs roamed the crowd.
There were other surprises, such as the live harpist who plucked away in the front yard, the delectable crab cakes and the better-late-than-never appearances by guests such as Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and fellow Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. The party was held in honor of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s newly published memoir, My Grandfather’s Son.
The following is a timeline of the evening’s festivities.
5:25 p.m. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas arrives to the party five minutes ahead of schedule. While walking inside the VIP entrance with wife, Virginia, he remarks to the host, “I’ll tell you, this is kind of upscale, Armstrong.”
5:41 p.m. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. shows up.
5:42 p.m. Former NBA all-star Kevin Johnson chats with students from St. HOPE Academy in Sacramento, Calif., whom he has brought to the gathering.
5:44 p.m. A hush falls over the crowd outside the house as a woman announces that Vice President Dick Cheney will arrive in 10 minutes. The VIP walkway is shut off and guests must cram into the front yard.
5:46 p.m. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) arrives. Asked if any of his Democratic colleagues will show, he replies, “I have not discussed it with anyone. I would imagine we’ll see some fine Democrats.”
5:50 p.m. Six motorcycles roar down the block as Cheney’s motorcade pulls up. Out walks Cheney and wife Lynne.
5:59 p.m. Former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson arrives.
6:06 p.m. Juan Williams, of Fox News and NPR, shows up. Armstrong Williams is the godfather to Antonio Williams, Juan Williams’s son.
6:10 p.m. Greg Crist, former communications director for the House GOP Conference who now works for Dutko Worldwide, walks through the crowd. “I’m sweating like a goat,” he says.
6:11 p.m. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is spotted.
6:14 p.m. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) shows up.
6:18 p.m. Cheney and his wife leave the party. Security reopens the VIP path.
6:20 p.m. Conservative columnist Cal Thomas leaves and walks across E Street when a guest remarks, “I didn’t realize he was that tall.”
6:20 p.m. Former U.S. Ambassador John Bolton enters through the VIP entrance, drinking a Pepsi. Asked about the lack of alcohol at the party, he says, “It’s fine by me.”
6:24 p.m. Things are getting tense at the side door because there are too many people upstairs socializing with Thomas and the crowd is hot and growing antsy. “That’s my wife,” one man says, watching his spouse head upstairs while he’s stopped at the doorway. “Jesus Christ,” one of the doorkeepers says. “I don’t think anyone should go upstairs.”
6:26 p.m. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) comes down the steps, sporting a fashionable beige suit with a peach and white striped button-down shirt. He, too, is rather toasty: “The fire marshal just left,” he deadpans.
6:29 p.m. Upstairs, Thomas embraces Bolton.
6:30 p.m. Thomas mops sweat from his forehead.
6:31 p.m. Former RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman says he is enjoying post-RNC life “very much.”
6:32 p.m. Steve Kroft, the “60 Minutes” correspondent who spent seven days with Thomas and interviewed him on last Sunday’s show, is sweating buckets in the kitchen upstairs. His face is bright red; his hair is sopping wet. In a gray striped suit and tortoise-shell glasses, he holds on tight to a copy of the justice’s book.
6:35 p.m. Virginia Thomas approaches Kroft and thanks him. She also apologizes. “I’m sorry it’s so hot, but thanks for coming out,” she says. It’s OK, he says. As various TV cameras, including a few from C-SPAN, film the party scene, Kroft remarks, “I’m not sure I want to be on C-SPAN.”
6:37 p.m. A guest asks sports analyst Stephen A. Smith, “Are you on ESPN?” A smiling Smith replies, “Yes.”
6:40 p.m. Conservative talk show host and author Laura Ingraham is upstairs in the kitchen. “I’m boiling,” she says. “I just came in for three minutes to say hi.”
6:42 p.m. Thomas steps outside the house for a breather.
6:44 p.m. A St. HOPE Academy student sees Thomas and asks, “Is he a book writer?” Another student responds, “He’s a Supreme Court justice.”
6:46 p.m. There is a traffic jam on the VIP pathway and no one can move. A stuck female guest observes the well-manicured garden and remarks dryly, “This looks like a garden that was mulched four hours ago. It’s too perfect.”
6:55 p.m. “Ignore the media, read it yourself,” Thomas tells his guests concerning his book.
6:56 p.m. Thomas tells The Hill he started working on his tome in 2003, writing at night and on weekends. “When you were sleeping, I was working.” Asked whether writing the book was cathartic, Thomas said, “I don’t know what that means. I wasn’t ill.”
6:57 p.m. Juan Williams gets chatty with Alito.
6:59 p.m. Thomas to guests: “I’m not a media guy. This is foreign.”
7:00 p.m. Hatch arrives. He and Thomas share a long embrace. “It’s really great, really eloquent,” Hatch says, complimenting Thomas on his book. Hatch continues: “You’ve got to sit down with me. I could tell you some stories that will shake you up. We’re going to get together.” Thomas replies, “Don’t shake me up any more!” The men burst into laughter.