February 06, 2004,
Manuel Miranda, the Senate staffer who until today was Majority Leader Bill Frist's top adviser on judicial nominations, has left his post with a massive parting blast that should put to shame Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch.
The substance of his contentions that Democratic senators engaged in violations of the public trust that may be legally actionable makes Hatch's utter capitulation to Democrat demands look craven by comparison.
Miranda's letter to the Senate ethics committee, drafted earlier this week and delivered this morning, alleges that a series of Democratic memoranda that were not (and have not been) leaked will show evidence of leftist groups' "direct influencing of the Senate's advice and consent rule by the promise of campaign funding and election support in the last mid-term election."
One source not the Miranda letter says that the unreported memos also contain more examples of the merely distasteful variety of comments, as in pointedly noting for whatever reason that now-confirmed nominee Dennis Shedd is "a Southern white male."
Miranda's complaint of Democratic ethics violations comes on top of 14 previously leaked memos that Republicans say show collusion between Senate Democrats and those leftist groups. In one of those first set of memos, Democrats indicated former federal judicial nominee Miguel Estrada should be opposed because "he is Latino."
Here's where Hatch's judgment comes into question. First, let it be understood that the substance of the infamous 14 Democratic memos is highly embarrassing to Senate Democrats, and serious enough in itself that Hatch should have ordered an investigation into the Democratic activities described therein. But now we learn that Senate Sergeant-at-Arms William Pickle, under Hatch's direction, has possession of a hard drive containing dozens, perhaps even more than a hundred, other memos, including some that Miranda says are even more damning than the reported memos. And what was Hatch doing?
Investigating only the Republican staff for its alleged role in leaking the documents, without publicly giving a second thought to looking into the Democratic skullduggery as well.
The Nov. 20 letter Hatch sent to Mr. Pickle demanded an investigation so broad-ranging as to virtually hand the keys to the kingdom, as it were, to ranking Judiciary Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont. Hatch demanded the "retrieval of the old hard drives of the servers that were recently replaced," and asked "that Senator Leahy and I be given an opportunity to review and comment upon the scope of work contained in any contract you negotiate" in pursuance of the investigation. In short, in the course of trying to find out which Republican accessed the Democratic memos, Hatch might effectively allow the Democrats to review Republican documents as well.
In the same Nov. 20 letter, Hatch repeatedly condemns, in advance of the investigation's own findings, the leaking of the Democratic memos. Noting complaints from Democratic Sens. Leahy, Kennedy, and Durbin, Hatch wrote: "I agree with their assessment that this is a very serious matter which deserves immediate attention." Later he confesses "the serious nature of the allegation." And Hatch's public comments have repeatedly echoed these condemnations.
Which may be all well and good. One man's noble "whistleblower" may be another man's unprincipled political operative. But nowhere not once did Hatch demand an investigation of the major improprieties evidenced in the Democratic memoranda themselves.
Miranda's allegations are serious. And they raise this question: If Hatch (and Frist, for that matter) is willing to forfeit Miranda's scalp to the Democrats, why did he not demand a scalp in return? Or, better yet, why not demand that the Democrats relinquish a hostage? "You want Miranda?" he should have asked. "The man doesn't appear to have broken any laws. I'll give you Miranda only if you agree to drop your filibuster of one of our nominees."
All of which, of course, applies only if Hatch and Frist were willing to sacrifice Miranda at all.
Nobody knows for sure, of course, what the Pickle investigation will say about Miranda's activities. But it's already clear from the published memos that the Democrats used sleazy methods aplenty to block judicial nominees. And if Miranda's new allegations are accurate allegations that Pickle can easily check if he's ordered to do so then the unpublished memos could show still worse Democratic behavior.
If Hatch doesn't play a little hardball of his own, he'll have lots to answer for. Conservatives will have a field day putting his letter to Pickle, so obsequious to Democratic sensibilities, next to Miranda's letter alleging Democratic activities far worse than "leaks" of unclassified, unprotected documents.
The whole battle over judicial nominations long ago turned sleazy, with plenty of allegations back and forth. Why Orrin Hatch should sweep the Democrats' sleaze under the rug is both a mystery and a shame.
Quin Hillyer is an editorial writer and columnist for the Mobile Register.