A group of some 20 conservative activists gave two Republican senators an earful last Thursday evening, demanding that the Senate spend less time criticizing now-departed staffers and more time blasting Senate Democrats for the sleazy content of the Democratic memoranda that the departed staffers perused.
But the activists came away unsatisfied. And one activist who did not attend, Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation, is firing some verbal bazookas at Senate Republicans.
According to several sources, conservative Sens. John Kyl of Arizona and Jeff Sessions of Alabama spent an hour and a half with conservative activists representing groups such as such as the American Conservative Union, the Committee for Justice, and the American Center for Law and Justice. The senators firmly, and repeatedly, emphasized that they could not condone the staffers’ snooping through the Democratic memoranda, and asked the outside groups to hold off their criticism at least until the Senate Sergeant at Arms issued his report on the subject.
And while Sessions went on record in Saturday’s Mobile Register (in comments actually made on Wednesday, before meeting with the activists) with harsh words for the Judiciary Committee Democrats, no other Republican senators have yet taken up much of a cudgel to attack the memos’ content.
What Sessions had said Wednesday is the kind of thing conservatives want to hear more of: “These memos are a smoking gun that demonstrates the [Democrats’] connection with, this slavish following of, these groups” of left-wing activists.
“I’m a steadfast critic of the actions of the Democratic Senate members. They are not making independent analyses of the merits of the nominees. They just follow the directives of the outside groups. Whatever the outside groups asked for is what they did.”
Sessions said the result is a series of “inaccuracies and distortions of [judicial nominees’] records, and hearings turn into theater directed by Ralph Neas of People for the American Way.”
For longtime activist Paul Weyrich, the failure of other Senate Republicans to echo those remarks is an outrage. He particularly was critical of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, who ordered the investigation that so far has resulted in two staffers’ leaving the Senate.
“Orrin Hatch is driving this vehicle,” Weyrich said, “Everybody is afraid to cross him…. Everybody dutifully falls in line when he goes out on a limb.”
Weyrich said Hatch has “a congenital need to be loved by his opposition. He thinks that by being nice to people who don’t like him, they’ll cooperate.”
But he said the other senators are just as feckless. “It’s absolutely symptomatic. They don’t seem to believe in what they say, by and large. So when there is a challenge to it, they don’t defend their position.”
Weyrich said that if the situation had been reversed and the Democrats had found memos highly embarrassing to Republicans, “a special prosecutor would be hired by now. You’d have hearings… a media circus. And if Republicans had said one reason to oppose a nominee was because ‘he is Latino’ [as one Democratic memo said about former nominee Miguel Estrada], can you imagine what would have happened by now?”
Weyrich was one of some two dozen activists who signed a Feb. 10 letter to the chief of the Public Integrity Section, Criminal Division, of the U.S. Department of Justice, asking for an investigation into allegations of ethics violations by Senate Democrats that are evidenced in memos contained in computer hard drives now controlled by the Sergeant at Arms. Departed staffer Manuel Miranda has charged that the unreleased filed show “evidence of the direct influencing of the Senate’s advice and consent role by the promise of campaign funding and election support in the last mid-term election.”
Fox News reported last week what for days had been the word among interested conservatives, namely that one memo allegedly recounts how Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina urged Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, then the Judiciary Committee chairman, to delay a vote on a nominee because if the vote took place, Edwards supposedly said, trial lawyers would curtail campaign donations for Democratic candidates in North Carolina.
An already-released memo does indeed show how much weight the plaintiffs’ bar carries. Amidst example after example of how other leftist groups called the shots for Senate Democrats, one incident stands out because it is virtually the only one where the other groups clearly lost a battle for the Democrats’ allegiance. “The [leftist] groups have strong concerns about [Judge Dennis] Shedd,” said one memo. “The groups are opposed to having a hearing on him this month.” But Leahy, the memo said, was inclined to ignore the groups this one time because he was “under pressure from Senator Hollings–who apparently is backing Shedd because the trial lawyers want him off the district court bench.”
How rich! The pressure group with the most money, the trial lawyers, wanted Shedd moved off to a district court, where most of their cases take place, to a higher court where he could do them less damage but where he would presumably be more of a thorn in the side of the other leftist groups. Faced with a clash of puppeteers, Chairman Leahy originally was inclined to be pulled by the big-money ones.
Eventually, Leahy reached a clever compromise: Shedd’s confirmation was moved back until after November’s election, thus giving at least part of a bone to all the Democratic constituencies.
Republican senators ought to gird up their loins. They should remember that the reason Democrats gave for blocking Estrada’s nomination was that the White House would not release memos Estrada wrote while working for both Republican and Democratic solicitors general. Those memos, unlike the Senate ones in question, are legally protected from disclosure, and every living solicitor, of both parties, condemned the Democrats’ request. Moreover, no Democrat alleged that the Estrada memos contained any evidence of criminal or ethical transgressions.
Now, Republican staffer Miranda demands an investigation of Democratic memos that are not legally protected, and in which he says there are legally actionable transgressions.
Miranda’s snooping aside, why should those Democrat documents be immune from investigation by an outside, nonpartisan official, whether the Sergeant at Arms or the Justice Department? And either way, why should Republican senators refrain from criticizing the Democrats for the awful contents of the 14 memos already made public? Serious transgressions are serious transgressions, no matter how they come to light.
–Quin Hillyer is an editorial writer for the Mobile Register.