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by Andy Obermann
1 December 2003

Leaked memos show that Senate Democrats have turned the Senate Intelligence Committee into a tool of political weaponry, and left-wing special interest groups have hijacked the confirmation of federal judges.

Once again, partisan politics has won out in Washington.  Memos from and to many top Democrats, detailing dishonest practices ranging from the blocking of judicial nominations, to the exploitation of sensitive intelligence information, have leaked like rain in the monsoon.  As revealed in these memos, both the Senate Intelligence Committee and judicial confirmation process have been compromised to a great extent.  The Democratic hierarchy has attempted to downplay the significance of the documents as nothing but advice from their constituency.  The actions of the party, however, lead one to believe that rather than advice the party was receiving instructions from its leadership and various special interest groups. 

On November 5, a memo, later found to have been ordered by co-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee (SIC), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), detailed the plans of the Democratic Party for politicizing evidence found in the SIC’s ongoing study into intelligence presented by the Bush Administration in the buildup before the Iraq War.  The memo described the deceitful methods Democrats would stoop to in order to gain power in the 2004 elections. 

Members of the committee were instructed to, “Pull the majority [Republicans] for as long as we can on issues that may lead to disclosures of…questionable conduct by Administration officials,” in an obvious attempt to undermine the committee and use this highly-sensitive information for political gain.  To this end, the memo outlined plans for launching an independent counsel investigation at the most opportune time, “probably sometime next year,” during the 2004 presidential race. Beyond the issue of political gain, the author(s) of the memo expressed a blatant disregard for the American public.  The information Democrats intended to collect should be “secondary to the public’s concerns in Iraq.” 

The haunting reality of this is that the Senate Intelligence Committee, the committee most responsible for dealing with sensitive issues in national security, has been compromised to no end.  Thought once to be above party partisanship, the vitally important committee has been degraded into a tool of Democrats for political weaponry in 2004.

When it rains, it pours, the old adage goes, and this is not an exception. In another set of leaked memos, special interest groups have dictated to Senate Democrats the importance of obstructing the confirmation of several of President Bush’s key judicial nominations.  Affected by this are Judges Caroline Kuhl (nominated for the 9th Circuit), Priscilla Owen (5th Circuit), and Charles Pickering (5th Circuit). 

One of the targets of this onslaught, Miguel Estrada (D.C. Circuit), pulled his nomination several months ago after waiting nearly two years on a confirmation vote.  In Estrada’s case, as outlined in a November 7, 2001 memo to Senator Richard Durban (D-IL), “various civil rights groups” opposed Estrada’s nomination because, “he has a minimal paper trail [meaning that nothing has been unearthed that can be used to question his character], he is Latino, and the White House seems to be grooming him for a Supreme Court appointment.” 

Those same “civil rights groups” in a memo to Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Feb. 4, 2003, expressed that Estrada could not be allowed confirmation because, “We can’t repeat the mistakes we made with Clarence Thomas.”  Whether this statement is racially motivated (both Estrada and Thomas are minorities, Latino and African-American, respectively), or based solely on the influence of special interest money remains to be seen.  Either way, it is a definite contamination of the Senate’s constitutionally expressed power to “advise and consent” on presidential nominations.

Another memo, again to Senator Kennedy on April 17, 2002, spells out the wishes of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for the 6th Circuit Court nominees.  In the memo, Elaine Jones of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund dictates the position of the group stating, “We (the NAACP) would like the Committee (Senate Judiciary) to hold off on any 6th Circuit nominees until the end of the University of Michigan case regarding the constitutionality of affirmative action in higher education is decided by the…6th Circuit.” 

The reason behind this: “…if a new judge with conservative views is confirmed before the case is decided, that new judge will be able to…review the case and vote on it.”  Sure enough, Judge Julia Scott Gibbons’ confirmation vote was pushed back several months to ensure a verdict favorable to the NAACP, with no tampering from a “conservative” justice.  

Continuing the saga, another memo demonstrated the power of special interest groups over Democratic Senators.  NARAL (National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League) director for government relations, Allison Herwitt (on April 2, 2003) issued an email to undisclosed Senators offering incentives in return for halting the confirmation of Judge Priscilla Owen, “NARAL…strongly opposes this nomination and will score this vote in the 2003 Congressional Record on Choice.” 

Obstructing judicial confirmation for political and financial support?  Sounds like bribery to me.  The real hitch here is that a memo released five days later (April 7, 2003), shows that Democrats actually bit on the offer.  The memo cites that, “Owen is extremely bad on choice issues, worker’s rights, civil rights, and environmental protection,” and is “one of the worst of Bush’s nominees.”  Consequently, she is one of the President’s nominees held out from a confirmation vote because of Democratic threats of filibuster.

All of this really makes one wonder who’s pulling the strings of the Democratic Party -- the party leadership, or special interest groups.  To me it is highly evident that it is the latter.  By throwing gobs of money in the right directions, these groups have been able to infiltrate the hallowed halls of Congress and influence Senators in crucial positions of power.  This is nothing new, but in this case the result of the influence has created a new precedence.  Never before, when the votes needed for confirmation were present, have judges been denied an up or down vote, let alone in the face of opposition filibuster.  This could potentially lead to a grinding down of any judicial nominee that does not meet the litmus test of the minority party.

Notwithstanding the obvious partisanship, the recent actions of Democrats as demonstrated in these memos have been deplorable.  By taking part in such actions, these liberals have failed the American people.  Not only do these memos warrant an inquisition by the Senate Ethics Committee, but brandish a signal to Americans that new leadership is needed on Capital Hill.

Andy Obermann is majoring in History and Secondary Education at Missouri Valley College

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