WASHINGTON — The cover-up is over at the Justice Department.
With barely a word about it, workers yesterday removed the blue drapes that have famously covered two scantily clad statues for the past 3 ½ years.
"Spirit of Justice," with one breast exposed and her arms raised, and the bare-chested male "Majesty of Law" basked in the late-afternoon light of Justice's ceremonial Great Hall.
The drapes, installed in 2002 at a cost of $8,000, allowed then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to speak in the Great Hall without fear of a breast showing up behind him in television or newspaper pictures. They also provoked jokes about and criticism of the deeply religious Ashcroft, who said at the time that the move was made for "TV aesthetics."
The 12-foot, 6-inch aluminum statues were installed after the building opened in the 1930s.
With a change in leadership at Justice, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales faced the question: Would they stay or would they go? He regularly deflected the question, saying he had weightier issues before him.
Paul Corts, the assistant attorney general for administration, recommended the drapes be removed and Gonzales signed off on it, spokesman Kevin Madden said, while refusing to allow The Associated Press to photograph the statues yesterday.
In the past, snagging a photo of the attorney general in front of the statues has been somewhat of a sport for photographers.
When Attorney General Edwin Meese released a report on pornography in the 1980s, photographers dived to the floor to capture the image of him raising the report in the air, with the partially nude female statue behind him.
The first attorney general to use the blue drapery was Republican Richard Thornburgh, attorney general under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He had the drapery put up only for a few occasions.
Most news conferences now are held in a conference room.
The sculptures were created by Prix de Rome winner C. Paul Jennewein and cost $7,275 when they were commissioned in 1933
Material from Reuters and The Washington Post is included in this report.