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Martinez says his staffer produced Schiavo memo

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Sen. Mel Martinez said tonight that he passed the anonymous political talking-points memo on the Terri Schiavo situation to Sen. Tom Harkin, doing so after Mr. Harkin had told reporters earlier in the day that his Florida colleague was the source of the memo.

Mr. Martinez, a Republican, said that unbeknownst to him, one of his staffers had produced the memo and it came into his possession. He said the staff member, whom he did not name, has resigned.

He said though, in response to repeated inquiries by The Washington Times, that he did not know he even had the memo or had passed it on until Mr. Harkin told him about it today. Mr. Martinez said he had meant to give Mr. Harkin a document describing Mr. Martinez's bill to prolong Mrs. Schiavo's life while federal courts reviewed her situation.

"Until this afternoon, I had never seen it and had no idea a copy of it had ever been in my possession. I have vehemently denied the memo and its sentiments, as has my staff," he said in a statement released tonight.

"As I have stated numerous times, I vehemently condemn this memo's sentiments. This memo in no way reflected my motivations for being involved in this legislation whatsoever," Mr. Martinez said.

He said an internal office investigation determined that "a senior member of my staff was unilaterally responsible for this document."

"It was not approved by me or any other member of my staff, nor were we aware of its existence until very recently. This is not a document that would have been approved in this office for circulation under any circumstances," he said.

Mr. Martinez and his office earlier had denied any involvement with the memo.

"Senator Martinez has never seen the memo and condemns its sentiments," spokeswoman Kerry Feehery told The Washington Times on Friday, during a survey of all 100 senators or their offices to find out who had seen or produced the memo. "No one in our office has seen it, nor had anything to do with its creation."

In the survey, only Mr. Harkin, Iowa Democrat, admitted to having seen the memo, though at the time his spokeswoman wouldn't say who passed it on.

Asked today, however, spokeswoman Allison Dobson told The Washington Times it was Mr. Martinez.

"Senator Harkin received it from Senator Martinez on the Senate floor," she said, though she wouldn't say anything more about the memo, including what Mr. Harkin did with it after he received it.

The document described the Schiavo situation, involving a brain-damaged Florida woman and the legal battle over her husband's efforts to remove her feeding tube, as a "great political issue" and a "tough issue for Democrats."

The memo also said the issue could cause political trouble for Sen. Bill Nelson, the Florida Democrat who is up for re-election next year.

Parts of the memo follow word for word a press release from Mr. Martinez's office summarizing his bill to intervene to save Mrs. Schiavo's life. But the most politically charged part of the memo, which says the case could be used for Republican political advantage, was not on that press release.

Asked today, before Mr. Harkin's office made its statement, whether Mr. Martinez was interested in pursuing an investigation into the memo and who crafted it, Mrs. Feehery said he was not, "because we know we didn't produce it."

Mr. Martinez's explanation still doesn't square with the contention of some Democrats that the memo was knowingly given by a disgruntled Republican to a Democrat.

"A Democratic senator received the memo from an outraged Republican senator," a Senate Democratic aide said yesterday, on the condition of anonymity.

Democrats have accused Republicans of politicizing the Schiavo case and cited the memo as a key example.

Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat, has asked the Rules and Administration Committee to investigate the memo's origins and whether it was circulated on the Senate floor in violation of the chamber's rules.

Committee Chairman Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said his staff had been polling Senate offices, but with little success.

Mr. Lautenberg, who said he did not see a copy of the memo being circulated and forwarded a copy taken from the Internet to the committee, said he hopes that the culprit can be found. He also asked that if necessary Senate rules be changed to bar anonymous materials from being circulated on the floor.

"We have made our feelings known and we have a lot of people cheering us on, but we'll have to wait and see," he said.

ABC News first reported on March 18 that the talking points were circulated among Republican senators.

The Washington Post two days later called the document "an unsigned one-page memo, distributed to Republican senators." An early version of the story, distributed on The Post news wires and printed by other newspapers nationwide, specified that Republican leaders distributed the memo.

In the survey by The Washington Times, all Republican leadership offices denied any knowledge of the memo.

Neither the ABC nor The Post reports cited sources, but a later article in The Post quoted a Democratic Senate official saying, "The fact is, these talking points were given to a Democratic member by a Republican senator." That article and another in the New York Times said the memo was then given to reporters by Democratic aides.