- The Washington Times - Friday, January 19, 2001

Angry Senate Republicans yesterday charged that the confirmation hearing for Attorney General-nominee John Ashcroft has exposed Democrats' empty promises of cooperation, from filibuster threats to power plays with hostile witnesses.
"We had hoped to gain some comity and bipartisanship," said a visibly annoyed Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, during a break in the Ashcroft hearing yesterday. "A filibuster would be extraordinary and divisive."
Meanwhile, the Democrats' chief witness against Mr. Ashcroft, Missouri Supreme Court Judge Ronnie White, muted his criticism of the nominee yesterday. Judge White said Mr. Ashcroft had distorted his record when the Senate voted down his appointment to the federal bench in 1999, but he stopped short of asking the committee to reject Mr. Ashcroft.
"It will be up to you," Judge White told the panel. "I don't think Senator Ashcroft is a racist, and I wouldn't attempt to comment on what's in his mind or what's in his heart."
Civil rights groups, who are lobbying Democrats intensely to reject the pro-life nominee, have accused Mr. Ashcroft of racism in rejecting the judge while he served in the Senate. The judge is black.
The hearing resumes this morning for a fourth day.
The confirmation of Mr. Ashcroft as President-elect George W. Bush's choice to lead the Justice Department is viewed as a certainty even by many Democrats. But in the process, Democrats led by Sens. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, Charles E. Schumer of New York and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois are exacting what Republicans say is too steep a political price.
Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican and a centrist, said the partisan tone of the evenly split Judiciary Committee this week exceeds the bitter confirmation hearings for Judge Robert Bork in 1987 and Judge Clarence Thomas in 1991.
"This has been the most heated confirmation process that I have seen," said Mr. Specter, who has served 21 years on the panel. "There have been threats of filibuster. And if John Ashcroft is … as bad as the [Democratic] senators have characterized him … they know how to stop him."
Mr. Kennedy threatened Wednesday to filibuster the Ashcroft nomination on the Senate floor. Kennedy spokesman Jim Manley said yesterday he "hasn't ruled it out" and will consult with Democrats next week.
If Mr. Kennedy carries out his threat, said a veteran Senate Republican aide, "that'll be the end of bipartisanship."
Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota has told Republican leaders publicly and privately that Democrats would not filibuster the Ashcroft nomination.
"There's definitely a contradiction between Senator Daschle promising a clean Ashcroft confirmation and Senator Kennedy thumping his chest, threatening a filibuster," said a Senate Republican source. "It begs the question of who's really leading Senate Democrats."
Mr. Kyl complained bitterly yesterday that Mr. Leahy, temporary committee chairman, had steamrolled Republicans by insisting late Wednesday night that Judge White appear alone at the witness table yesterday. Normally at least one witness for the opposing party is permitted at the table.
"That's a breach of protocol of this committee," said Mr. Kyl, adding that Mr. Leahy wanted "the show aspect" for television of Justice White appearing alone.
"He was pretty upfront about what he intended to do," Mr. Kyl said of Mr. Leahy.
Mr. Ashcroft objected to Judge White's nomination because of the jurist's dissents in several high-profile death-penalty cases, and all Senate Republicans voted with Mr. Ashcroft against the judge.
But yesterday, committee Republicans treated Judge White gingerly, lining up to shake his hand and praising his background.
"I'm happy to have you before the committee, and I want you treated fairly, as always," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican. Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, called the judge "a real success story."
"The Senate owes you an apology for not having more of a focus," said Mr. Specter.
Mr. Durbin said Republicans "didn't want to take on someone who was prepared to rebut Ashcroft's position."
But Mr. Kyl said Republicans eased up on Judge White "because he did not hurt John Ashcroft very much as a witness."
"The feeling was, if he wasn't going to have a detrimental impact on John Ashcroft, it would be better to simply acknowledge his achievements and move on," said Mr. Kyl.
Judge White said being nominated for the federal bench by President Clinton was "the high point of my professional life."
Of Mr. Ashcroft's contention that he was soft on the death penalty, Judge White said, "I deeply resent those baseless [accusations]. According to my records at the time of my hearing, I had voted to affirm the death penalty in 41 of 59 cases that I had heard."
He found a sympathetic audience among the Democrats. Mr. Kennedy told the judge, "What happened to you is 10 times worse than anything that's happened to Senator Ashcroft in the current controversy. In my view, what happened to you is the ugliest thing that's happened to any nominee in all my years in the United States Senate."
Mr. Kennedy then accused Mr. Ashcroft of exploiting the record of the judge, an appointee of former Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan, "to help win his hotly contested Senate seat in Missouri" against Mr. Carnahan.
Mr. Durbin said Judge White was a "victim" of Mr. Ashcroft's political decision to exploit the death penalty as a campaign issue after Mr. Carnahan pardoned a murderer on death row whose case was championed by Pope John Paul II.
Mr. Carnahan was killed in a plane crash three weeks before the November election and was elected posthumously. His widow, Jean, was appointed to the Senate instead.
The Democrats' accusations were refuted by several witnesses, including Rep. Kenny Hulshof, Missouri Republican who served as a special prosecutor in the case of Jim Johnson, who murdered four persons in a rampage in 1991. Judge White voted to give Johnson a new trial because, he said, his three private lawyers were ineffective.
"It is a message to law enforcement," Mr. Hulshof said. "It's a message to victims like Sheriff Kenny Jones that perhaps their sacrifice has been somewhat in vain."
Sheriff Jones attended the hearing yesterday in uniform, a photograph of his murdered wife pinned to his chest.


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