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Call it “RotundaGate” if you want, but the nonprofit National Archives Foundation said in a lengthy statement on Wednesday night that the Saturday, Nov. 24, wedding of Morning Joe anchors Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski at the National Archives building in Washington, D.C., was completely aboveboard.
“The Scarborough-Brzezinski wedding event was approved through the normal process and Scarborough-Brzezinski followed all of the procedures that the Foundation outlined and required in advance,” said executive director Patrick Madden.
The controversy is a convoluted one, but it began on Sunday afternoon, when a Vanity Fair reporter exclusively published the details of the previously unannounced wedding. Emily Jane Fox, an MSNBC contributor, wrote that Scarborough and Brzezinski married in the Rotunda of the building, saying that “each entered from a separate end of the Rotunda, walking toward each other to meet in a bronze circle in the center of the main room, with inlays that read ‘history,’ ‘justice,’ and detail the Ten Commandments.” (The Rotunda of the National Archives displays the Declaration of Independence, Constitution of the United States and Bill of Rights.)
On Tuesday afternoon, the local Washington City Paper pointed out that a rule in the federal register appears to preclude private events from being held in the Rotunda. Federal regulation §1280.84 says clearly that “the use of the Rotunda for private events is not permitted.”
But Madden said in the statement that the ceremony, which was officiated by a sitting U.S. congressman, “took place in the Rotunda Galleries, not the Rotunda where the Charters of Freedom are located.”
According to the website of the National Archives, the Rotunda Gallery, “just steps away from the centerpiece of the National Archives Museum,” is available to be rented “for receptions and seated dinners.” (The Scarborough-Brzezinski wedding reception was held elsewhere, at a local restaurant.)
The other controversy stemmed from photographs taken during and after the ceremony, which show the couple embracing (with the documents in the background) and then posing in the Rotunda with friends and family. The National Archives announced in 2010 that “filming, photographing, and videotaping by the public will be prohibited in all exhibition areas in the National Archives Building” due to concerns that “original documents on display in the National Archives Experience were at risk from exposure to flash photography.”
On Tuesday afternoon, the conservative Daily Caller published a story asking, “DID JOE AND MIKA’S WEDDING DAMAGE AMERICA’S FOUNDING DOCS?”
Madden addressed the controversy in his statement: “There was no flash photography during the Scarborough-Brzezinski event. The Foundation staff provided guidance to Scarborough-Brzezinski’s professional photographer prior to the event and clearly outlined where photography would be allowed to ensure standard building practices were followed. All Foundation guidance was followed.”
A spokesman for the National Archives told The Daily Caller that the wedding photographer did not enter the Rotunda and used a high-powered telephoto lens that “has high dynamic range capabilities and adjusted for the low lighting situation.”
The event also seemed to violate a rule against holding private events on the weekend, but the Foundation said the guidelines on the books are out of date and that “NARA has initiated the process to update its regulations to reflect current policy.”
Meanwhile, MSNBC declined comment on the controversy, saying the couple is taking the week off for a “mini-honeymoon.”
Asked by a Vanity Fair pool reporter why the couple chose the Rotunda location for the wedding, Brzezinski said: “It makes sense now more than ever, given what we stand for as a couple, what we do for a living, and what we’re worried about as a country.”
“The Foundation wishes Mr. Scarborough and Ms. Brzezinski many happy years together and looks forward to welcoming more couples in the future to host their nuptials at the National Archives,” Madden said.
The Hollywood Reporter received statements from two good governance groups about the event: “The policies concerning the use of government facilities should be clearly and publicly defined and uniformly enforced by officials,” said Dave Vance, spokesman for Common Cause.
The president of the conservative-leaning Citizens Against Government Waste, in a statement sent before the Foundation clarified what happened, called it “a classic case of smug, self-important Washington elites bending the rules for their own benefit in ways average taxpayers could never fathom.”
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