The Senate Leak Probe

May 19, 1992

Some senators say the press has no right to criticize leakers on the one hand and defend recipients of leaks on the other. That is one way to look at it. Here is another way:

Timothy Phelps of Newsday and Nina Totenberg of National Public Radio gave certain sources a promise of confidentiality in return for information about Anita Hill's testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee. They lived up to their word when they were pressured to reveal their sources. Senators and staff members gave Anita Hill a promise of confidentiality in return for her testimony. Some did not live up to their word and leaked Ms. Hill's testimony, in violation of Senate rules.

Their intent was to block Clarence Thomas' nomination to the Supreme Court. The result instead was to besmirch the reputations of Ms. Hill, Judge Thomas and Judiciary Committee members. Then these leakers lied under oath, which is a violation of the U.S. code, when questioned about this by a "temporary special independent counsel."

The Senate paid several hundred thousand dollars to this outsider to investigate its own committee members and staff. All got for its money (your money, actually), was a finding that "multiple" unknown sources within the Senate were responsible for the leaks -- and a report filled with platitudes about how confidentiality is important if there is to be "plain speaking and individual candor within the Senate" and "simple fairness requires the Senate keep its promises."

Senators already knew that. The problem is some of them refuse to live up to such standards. And some others protect them. This on the Senate committee that has among its many duties deciding if nominees to judgeships have the character to sit on the bench.

Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell once said, "Every leak is to be condemned. Every leak is to be deplored." That simply is not true. Some leaks do not involve a breach of faith or produce unwarranted harm to individuals and institutions. Senators should be able to differentiate among such leaks -- and among such leakers.

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