Skip to comments.GOP scapegoat now hero to conservatives
Posted on 03/31/2004 12:11:23 AM PST by JohnHuang2
Republican leaders have broken a promise they made to expose the shocking contents of memos exchanged among Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats, says Manuel Miranda, the former GOP aide who is the whistleblower at the center of the so-called Memogate scandal.
Miranda told Insight in an exclusive interview that both Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, broke clearly stated promises to expose collusion between top Democrats and special-interest groups seeking to thwart President Bush's nominees to federal courts.
"Sen. Hatch told me specifically, point blank, that if I resigned he could then talk about the substance of the memos," Miranda tells Insight. "I was told by the Frist office that, if I resigned, the Democrats would basically calm down" and the Republicans could make the memos public.
Miranda said the same promises were made to conservative groups that assist the Republicans in gaining support for judicial nominees.
At the heart of the scandal, which many believe has been spiked or overlooked by the mainstream press, are thousands of Democratic memos that were viewed and subsequently downloaded from a computer server shared by both Democrats and Republicans on the Judiciary Committee.
These memos, which were not password protected, outlined Democratic talking points and strategies for blocking judicial nominees at the behest of special-interest groups.
In November, some of the memos were leaked anonymously to the Washington Times and Wall Street Journal for publication. In the memos that were published, readers were exposed to behind-the-scenes dealings on Capitol Hill that included appeals by a special-interest lawyer to Senate Judiciary Democrats to delay the nomination of a particular judge long enough for the interest group to gain a favorable ruling, and threats to make funding disappear if certain judges ever reached the bench.
Promises to expose this weren't kept, but were they actually made? Kay Daly, president of the Coalition for a Fair Judiciary, works with Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans on the nomination process. Daly says she knows of the many meetings between Miranda and Hatch and Frist, and confirms that the understanding between Senate Republicans and grass-roots organizations such as hers was indeed that once Miranda resigned an investigation would ensue that would focus on the content of the memos.
Daly says she suspects Hatch gave in to Democratic demands that someone be held accountable for what they were spinning as theft and Kennedy was comparing with the Watergate break-in.
Another conservative strategist who works closely with Senate Republicans on the nominations process spoke with Insight on condition of anonymity. The strategist says that two choices were presented concerning Miranda.
The first was to wait until an investigation was completed and then, if any wrongdoing was found, Miranda would be asked to step down. The second option came after a closed-door meeting among Senate Republicans. The message sent out to the conservative groups was that it had been decided Miranda would resign to allow Republicans to "turn back to the substance of the memos."
The strategist insider told Insight that Miranda in effect became a "scalp" Republicans offered Democrats to make the scandal disappear.
"He's [Hatch] in his last year as chairman of the committee and he wants to enhance the New York Times ... write-up he'll get in history," says the conservative strategist.
Another take being kicked around Capitol Hill is that Frist and others saw Miranda's whistleblowing as an inconvenience in an already-heated battle over the country's courts. As a result they chose to get rid of the squeaky wheel rather than deal with the unpredictable consequences of such a scandal in an election year.
Paul Weyrich, chairman of the Free Congress Foundation and often spoken of as the conservative conscience of the GOP, tells Insight that Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans might fear revealing the outrageous Democratic memoranda lest their own memos come under scrutiny.
Weyrich says he had "no knowledge" of the promises alleged to have been made by Hatch and Frist to Miranda, and added that Frist had in fact expressed a desire to investigate the content of the memos.
After the memos were leaked to the press, Senate Democrats declared themselves to be outraged and charged the perpetrators of the leak with "hacking" and "theft." An investigation by the Senate Sergeant at Arms, or SAA, ensued to try to determine how these proofs of political misfeasance by the Democrats got into the hands of Republican staffers.
Two men, Miranda and Jason Lundell, came forward at the outset of the investigation to cooperate with the SAA, explaining how they learned of the memos. Lundell, a nominations clerk for the Senate Judiciary Committee and a staffer of Chairman Hatch, told the SAA investigators he had discovered that he had been provided with access to both Democratic and Republican files after watching a systems official operate his computer.
"He made this discovery after watching the Committee's Systems Administrator, Brian Wilker, perform some work on his computer. ... Mr. Lundell attempted to duplicate what the System Administrator had done," says the SAA report.
Lundell told investigators that all he had to do was access an icon on the desktop called "My Network Places/Entire Network/Judak." Once inside this common area, which was not password protected, he could click on files belonging to both Democrats and Republicans that contained talking points, schedules, hearing minutes and those politically sensitive Democratic memos concerning harassment of judicial nominees and efforts to manipulate pending court cases. Lundell or anyone else with normal access could copy the files to his computer and read them at leisure.
The nominations clerk told the SAA investigators that he presented two superiors with some of the shocking information he had downloaded, which they rejected. When Miranda began working for Hatch in December 2001, Lundell passed on the downloaded material.
Miranda told Insight most of what he reported was "stuff that you just want to stick needles in your eyes" rather than read. Miranda says he told Lundell he was only interested in knowing dates and times of nomination hearings and that even then Lundell brought him documents of his own accord. Nonetheless, the SAA report indicates Miranda "guided" Lundell.
Miranda used information concerning dates and times of nomination hearings to help mount appropriate defenses for nominees, as was within the scope of his duties. As for the Democratic charges of hacking and theft, he tells Insight, the memos were so clearly available for review that "it was exactly two clicks" to obtain them. The SAA reached the same conclusion in a very official and lengthy report. And Miranda says that he never directly copied any of the files onto his computer. What is disturbing to Miranda, and to everyone else who has seen them, is what is in those Democratic memos.
The memos leaked to the Washington Times and Wall Street Journal are hard evidence, smoking guns, of the high level of collusion between Senate Judiciary Democrats and lobbyists for special interests.
In one memo addressed to Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., Elaine Jones of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People asks him to "hold off" on the installation of any Bush nominee to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals until litigation with which she was involved could be decided.
The case was the landmark University of Michigan affirmative-action case, and Jones feared that if a judge with "conservative views" was put on the bench it would affect the outcome. The memo states that her request would be sent along to Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, with a recommendation that the committee manipulate the hearings schedule to be sure the Michigan case was decided before Bush's nominees could reach the bench of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
This wasn't the only disturbing sign of collusion with special interests by Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In another memo, Allison Herwitt of NARAL Pro-Choice America, a leader in the abortion lobby, tells Democrats to reject a well-qualified 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals nominee, Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen. Herwitt threatens that the vote on Owen will be scored for NARAL's 2003 Congressional Record on Choice.
An even more disturbing memo to Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., refers to a meeting between Kennedy and "various civil-rights groups" that warned against confirming Miguel Estrada, a nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, because he is Latino and could be nominated by Bush for the Supreme Court.
The SAA investigators have the rest of the Democratic memos confirming the degree to which Leahy, Kennedy, Durbin and others have been playing politics with the federal judiciary system some 4,670 memos in all.
The contents of the still unreleased memos have not been made public, but Miranda claims they contain even more incriminating information than those memos already released.
He told Insight that, while collusive rather than unlawful, revelation of the contents of those memos would so "corrode public trust" in the judicial system that he would never reveal all that he knows about them. Even so, neither GOP senators nor the media have focused on the contents of the memos, released or unreleased. Miranda says he thought the focus would shift at some point, but so far it hasn't.
Miranda and Lundell agreed to cooperate with SAA investigators. As soon as they gave their statements, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Hatch called a press conference to claim that those who had downloaded the Democratic memos had been found out.
Miranda says that, shortly thereafter, Hatch staffers gave his name as well as Lundell's to the press. And all of this came just as the SAA investigation began, apparently a breach of Senate Rule 29.5, which requires that the subject matter of an internal investigation be kept confidential.
Miranda told Insight that this changed the scope of the investigation and caused all attention to be focused on himself and Lundell.
"The best conclusion was, simply, focus all your attention on the two guys who have stepped forward," Miranda says. The whistle-blowers were left slowly to twist in the wind.
Further complicating the investigation, say close observers, was a message sent through the ranks of Hatch's staff that indicated anyone with knowledge of the alleged memo snooping would be fired. Not surprisingly, after this, no other Hatch staffer came forward.
And insiders told Insight a whisper campaign attempted to divert attention from the memos' content by suggesting that the "two clicks" worth of alleged "hacking" was deeply nefarious. The decision apparently having been made to protect the contents of the Democratic memos, and the scapegoats having been selected, Hatch and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist are said by Miranda to have promised that in exchange for his resignation they would expose the evidence of Democratic misbehavior.
Spokesmen for many of the grass-roots organizations that work closely with Republicans, as well as a surprising number of senators, are concerned to know why the Hatch/Frist promise has not been honored and the incendiary nature and content of the memos addressed.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who went to the Senate floor to try to address the contents of the outrageous memos, did not have knowledge of any promises made, according to his communications director, Don Stewart. But Stewart reports Cornyn is "frustrated" that the contents haven't been addressed and doesn't know why Hatch and other senators will not hold the Democrats accountable.
"The content needs to be robustly discussed," Stewart says.
Hatch and Frist did not return repeated telephone calls seeking responses to Miranda's claims and asking why the contents of the memos still have not been discussed.
The issue assuredly is building a head of steam. Though Miranda may have been offered as a "scalp" for Democrats, he has risen to hero status with the grass-roots conservative groups that have focused on the Democratic filibustering of President Bush's judicial nominees.
"In any other institution, Manuel Miranda would be hailed as a whistleblower. ... Manuel, as an officer of the court, did his duty and reported a crime. And for his trouble he was shown the door," says Daly.
Who was sending those memos? Special interest groups? Or judges?