Senators seek Miers documents

Bush has resisted calls to release files on Supreme Court nominee

October 24, 2005|By MAURA REYNOLDS | MAURA REYNOLDS,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Republican and Democratic senators called on President Bush yesterday to release documents relating to Supreme Court nominee Harriet E. Miers' service as White House counsel, with some warning that she may not win confirmation otherwise.

In discussions on television talk shows, senators of both parties said that the biggest obstacle to Miers' confirmation is a lack of information about her capabilities.

Sen. Sam Brownback, ordinarily a Bush ally but also a social conservative who is expected to seek the GOP presidential nomination in 2008, warned that the Senate "is not a rubber stamp."

"If we're to give advice and consent, we've got to have a full picture," said Brownback, a Kansas Republican, in an interview on Fox News Sunday.

Brownback, a member of the Judiciary committee, and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the committee's top Democrat, argued that since the president said he nominated her because of her White House experience, he should waive executive privilege and release files on at least some of her work.

"The president has based that decision on what he's seen her do in the White House. We ought to at least know what it was she did in the White House," Leahy said on the same program.

"I do think we're going to have to see more information - not attorney-client privilege-type information, but more information of the work product that she was involved in, in the White House, that's not of a legal nature but that's of a policy nature," Brownback said.

Presidents have a right under a legal principle known as executive privilege to keep secret the inner workings of their staff, including most of the documents they produce. In most circumstances, Bush has been firm in resisting calls to provide information about White House deliberations, and White House spokesman Scott McClellan has said he is not intending to change that policy at this time.

However, Miers' nomination has encountered resistance from lawmakers who in recent days have increased pressure on the White House to provide more information on Miers.

Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, a member of the Judiciary committee, said that Miers' nomination could fail if senators don't learn more about her in the coming weeks.

"I think if you were to hold the vote today, she would not get a majority, either in the Judiciary committee or on the floor [of the Senate]," Schumer said on NBC's Meet the Press.

But he added that could change if she did well in committee hearings scheduled to begin Nov. 7. Judiciary committee chairman Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, said that at the moment, the vote on Miers could go either way.

"It's going to depend upon how well she does [in the hearings]. She's going to have 18 senators well-prepared and it's sort of like a relay interrogation," Specter said on CBS' Face the Nation. "But if she makes her case, she can be confirmed."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and committee member, said she needs to hear more evidence that Miers can rule independently of the president, including administration decisions involving executive power, the fight against terrorism and the role of international law.

"I asked her whether she would recuse herself. She wouldn't answer that question. For me, that has to be yes," Feinstein said. "I think because so little is known about her views, she has an obligation to discuss those views fully." She appeared with Specter on Face the Nation.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said, "My guess is that if we don't get these documents, she can't get confirmed."

"The American people should know what this woman really believes," Dean said on ABC's This Week. "And the only way to find that out, given [the] paucity of her legislative record, is to have the president waive executive privilege and show us what she wrote for him while she was advising him."

During the confirmation process for Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the White House refused to turn over materials from his service in the first Bush administration, but avoided a showdown with the Senate over executive privilege. One reason is that instead of formally invoking executive privilege, administration officials instead claimed "attorney-client" and "deliberative process" privilege.

Maura Reynolds writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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