Score One for the Democrats in Memo-gate Spin

The issue of leaked memos from the Senate Judiciary Committee is alive and well on Capitol Hill. However, the scant print and television coverage being generated on the controversy is focusing almost exclusively on how the memos were released to certain members of the media and little on the actual contents of the memos. This is testament to the prowess of the Democrats in spin control and the unwillingness of the Republicans to call them on it.

A key figure at the center of the scandal, Manuel Miranda, resigned from his post last week as counsel to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN). Miranda was the pointman for Republican efforts to move forward on President Bush’s judicial nominees. Miranda was also the man responsible for divulging the contents of memos written by Democratic staffers which outlined a pattern of seemingly unethical and inappropriate actions by Democratic Senators at the request of special interest groups.

Miranda is actually the second casualty of the controversy. In January, Elaine Jones, President and Chief Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, announced her retirement after a complaint was filed against her with the Virginia Bar Association for her role in the scandal. Certain memos show that she sought to delay the confirmation hearing of a judge to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals until after the Michigan affirmative action case was decided.

Another judicial memo to Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) stressed the need to delay action on D.C. Circuit Court nominee Miguel Estrada. The memo labels Estrada as “especially dangerous.” Included in the reasons for this label was the fact that Estrada is “Latino.” The staffer wrote in the memo, “They want you to hold off on Estrada as long as possible.” Miguel Estrada has since withdrawn his name from consideration after years of delay and filibusters by Senate Democrats.

In other memos to both Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Durbin, staffers documented efforts by liberal special interest groups to influence the scheduling of Judiciary Committee hearings in order for the groups to have more time to mount an attack on a particular Bush nominee. In a memo to Sen. Durbin dated October 15, 2001, a staffer wrote, “The groups are asking that the Committee hold a second hearing on Pickering in a few weeks, when they will have had adequate time to research him fully.”

The staffer continued, “The decision to schedule Pickering’s hearing was made by Senator Leahy himself, not his staff, so the groups are likely to ask you to intercede personally. They will also seek assurances that they will receive adequate warning of future controversial nominees.”

Despite the glaring issues raised by these memos — using official Senate activities such as the scheduling of hearings for partisan purposes — the “heat” is not being placed on the Democrats for writing them, but rather on the Republicans for exposing them. An investigation was ordered by the Democrats involving the Senate Sergeant at Arms, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) called for the “heads” of those responsible for the leaks. In comments to the Salt Lake Tribune, Hatch said, “I am mortified that this improper, unethical and simply unacceptable breach of confidential files may have occurred on my watch.”

Is Sen. Hatch serious? What about withholding consideration of nominees to appease special interest groups? What about delaying committee actions until controversial court decisions are rendered? Those are the issues, and Sen. Hatch is doing a disservice to the Senate by not bringing them to light.

Miranda, who issued a statement upon his departure from Sen. Frist’s office, explained that he left his position so that he could “speak freely” about the investigation conducted by Sergeant at Arms William Pickle. Miranda questioned why the Democrats directed the inquiry to the office of the Sergeant at Arms — an office which had never previously conducted such an inquiry. He also questioned events “that have contaminated and stifled the investigation.”

Democrats have complained that the memos were stolen as the result of computer hacking, but Miranda said the access was not unlawful. He claims that his actions were not illegal or unethical since the documents were unprotected on the network.

“I knew that there is no privacy expectation to documents on a government server, documents that are regularly backed up and stored in a government facility,” Miranda said. “I knew that these were not confidential or classified documents.”

Miranda said he was told that the staff of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) had been informed that their files were unprotected, but did nothing to correct the situation.

Miranda stated that the focus of the investigation needed to return to the substance of the memos that he says detail “abuse of the public trust” by the Democrats. He says that he read only a few of the thousands of the documents downloaded from a server shared by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He said his interest in those pages was to learn when hearings would be held on nominees.

Miranda complained, “This was information needlessly withheld from us by the Leahy staff but communicated freely to liberal outside groups so that they could prepare distortions and plan their attacks on judicial nominees.”

It’s time for Republicans to stop allowing themselves to be slapped around by the Democrats. The Democrats are masters of spin and have, so far, successfully kept the attention away from what the memos have to say. The American public should demand a full investigation into the contents of the memos, and Republicans should put the focus where it belongs. Republican grassroots activists are tired of seeing their Republican leaders wilt under hardball tactics from the Democrats. Perhaps, instead of campaign contributions, we should send them all a little backbone.