Judiciary

Santorum Wants Senate to Investigate Democratic Nominations Memoranda

Sen. Rick Santorum (R.-Pa.) says he wants an investigation of the content of controversial memos produced by the Democratic staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee to determine whether the Democrats committed any wrongdoing in their efforts to block President Bush’s judicial nominees.

Meanwhile, Majority Leader Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.) and Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah) appear content to let Senate Sergeant-at-Arms William Pickle investigate only how the memos came into the hands of Republican staffers–a probe that was inspired by the Democrats, serves the interests of the Democrats, and turns attention away from the far more serious question of whether the Democrats did anything improper in their efforts to thwart conservative nominees.

Some of the Senate Judiciary Committee staff memos were leaked to the press last November. These suggested that Democratic senators cooperated with liberal interest groups to stop the confirmation of Miguel Estrada partly because he was an Hispanic who looked like a potential Supreme Court nominee, and to delay the confirmation of another judge to affect the outcome of the University of Michigan affirmative action case.

Manuel Miranda, former legal counsel to Frist, alleges that there is information in unreleased memos indicating that Democratic judiciary staff believed there was a link between potential campaign contributions from trial lawyers and Democratic efforts to obstruct a judicial nominee.

Santorum, chairman of the Republican Conference, is the only GOP leader so far to publicly take a stand in favor of the Sergeant-at-Arms investigating the actual content of the Democratic Judiciary Committee memos. Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Tex.), a freshman member of that committee, has also suggested this be done.

“That to me is sort of the missing element to this investigation, and that is, what is in these memoranda. Some of them have clearly implicated people at least outside of Congress in requesting things of Congress and trying to influence things in Congress in a way that is certainly unethical and potentially illegal,” Santorum told HUMAN EVENTS on February 19. “This is an issue of legitimate inquiry where you have now a record of some pretty egregious actions on the part of outside organizations and, successfully, improperly influencing members of the Senate Democratic Judiciary Committee and members of the Senate Democratic leadership.”

Asked whether Hatch wanted an investigation into the content of the Democratic memos, Hatch’s communications director Adam Elggren said, “No comment while the investigation [into how the memos were obtained by Republican staffers] is proceeding.”

When asked the same question, Frist spokeswoman Amy Call said, “I have not heard him discuss that.”

Asked if he will personally, formally request an investigation of the content of the memos, Santorum said, “I’ve been talking to our leadership and our leadership has decided to try to get this initial investigation out of the way and that air cleared first, and then we’ll assess options afterwards.”

Sergeant-at-Arms William Pickle’s report is expected within two weeks.

In a February 18 interview, Miranda, who worked for Hatch before he worked for Frist, outlined the sequence of events that led to the controversy.

“In early June 2002, a young colleague brought to my attention the fact that we could access some of the Democrats’ folders on our shared computer system,” he said. “Accessing those documents was not against the law or ethics rules. We were authorized to go all places [on the computer system] that our user names and passwords would let us go. There was no hacking.”

“We read government documents on a government server,” he said. “You might have an obligation to inform the other side.” That was done by “our computer consultant, Ryan Davis, in July 2002,” he said. “After being informed, the Democratic staff did not protect their files, but we protected our files locally. Before then, the Democrats could access our files just like we could access theirs.”

At the time, said Miranda, he did not consider that the content of the memos might point to potential wrongdoing. “I wasn’t looking at them for that,” he said. “I was trying to figure out when hearings would be.” Democrats controlled the Senate then, and “they would tell liberal groups months in advance when hearings on particular nominees would be, giving them plenty of time to prepare, and tell us a week in advance,” he said.

An unnamed young staffer downloaded thousands of documents out of personal interest, Miranda said. “Other Republican staffers may have downloaded some, too.”

Then, in November, 14 of the memos were quoted in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times. “I don’t know how they got them,” Miranda said.

Judiciary Committee Democrats, including Ranking Member Pat Leahy (D.-Vt.), were furious and asked Pickle’s staff to investigate. “They’re investigating how the right does business,” Miranda complained. “They asked me which conservative groups are involved [in the confirmation process], how the whip’s office relates to the leader.”

Miranda left Frist’s office on February 9, writing in a statement that day that he wanted to return the focus to the content of the memos and be able to speak out publicly. He also has written a letter to the Senate Ethics Committee saying that Pickle has copies of other, undisclosed memos. These memos contain evidence of a linkage between campaign contributions and confirmation politics, said Miranda in his interview.

“It was made clear that certain judges should not be supported because it would dry up trial lawyer contributions in at least one state,” he said. “In one case, a published memo said trial lawyers wanted a judge confirmed to the circuit court in order to get him off the district court. Another, unpublished memo said that support from another group of trial lawyers and the grassroots could dry up if he was confirmed before the election. The judge in question was Dennis Shedd.” After the election and delaying tactics by Democrats, Shedd was eventually confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which is based in Richmond, Va.


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