Thursday, March 4, 2004

Manuel Miranda, a central figure in what has come to be known among Capitol Hill insiders as “Memogate” or “Mannygate,” is not the sort of guy with whom you want to get into a dispute.

One month after being forced to resign over his role in viewing internal Democratic memos written by Senate Judiciary Committee staffers, Mr. Miranda is leading a spirited battle against Democrats he views as duplicitous and Republicans he sees as wimpy and unprincipled.

Operating out of his Capitol Hill home, Mr. Miranda dispatches press releases and sends e-mails of newspaper stories, editorials and occasional musings about the Democratic memos he helped discover.

The Democratic documents show the close relationship between the party’s Judiciary Committee members and liberal activist groups.

Even as Senate leaders viewed the report yesterday on the Senate memo probe and prepared for closed meetings today, Mr. Miranda was raising the volume and seriousness of accusations against Democrats.

Among the thousands of Democratic memos downloaded but not made public, he says, is evidence that senators on the committee slowed the nomination of Judge Dennis W. Shedd to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for political purposes. According to Mr. Miranda, Democrats wanted Judge Shedd as a boogeyman for fund-raising purposes in the 2002 elections and were afraid that confirming him would hurt them with black voters.

“It was cash for judges,” Mr. Miranda said. “The memos show the price they put on their vote.”

The content of other memos is so incendiary, he said, “I may go to my grave with it because it would so damage the trust of the American people in their judicial system. I wouldn’t reveal it, no matter what the partisan advantage.”

Since resigning his post as legal counsel to Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, Mr. Miranda has developed into something of a martyr among conservatives.

“Manny is a real fighter,” said Kay Daly, president of Coalition for a Fair Judiciary, a grouping of conservative activist organizations involved in judicial nominations. “He’s got that 40-yard stare.”

Meanwhile, he has become equally reviled among some Democrats.

“Manny is a lightning rod,” said Joe Shoemaker, spokesman for Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat and member of the Judiciary Committee. “He has made himself a lightning rod.”

While that has helped Mr. Miranda in battles over President Bush’s judicial nominees, Mr. Shoemaker said, he has since “crossed from being a partisan fighter to having this scorched-earth approach.”

In a Republican Party rarely known for its guile and eloquence, Mr. Miranda has relished tossing colorful grenades in the battles over judicial nominations.

He once compared Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who were blocking Mr. Bush’s minority nominees, to television’s grouchy bigot Archie Bunker. He was instrumental in devising the Republican strategy for attacking Democrats — even Catholic ones — as anti-Catholic for blocking Mr. Bush’s Catholic nominees over their pro-life views.

But as the memo flap mushroomed, Mr. Miranda, a graduate of Georgetown University, found himself with fewer and fewer Republicans supporting him in public. An early defector was Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, who hired Mr. Miranda in 2001.

In a recent TV interview, Mr. Miranda recounted his crusade from his row house. Positioned on a shelf over his left shoulder was “Square Peg,” the autobiography by Mr. Hatch, inscribed: “To Manny, One of my good friends and colleagues in the cause for truth and justice.”

“That’s vintage Manny,” said one Hill staffer who noticed the book in the interview and knows Mr. Miranda well. “Hatch may have seen that as a compliment, but I guarantee you it’s more complicated than that. Manny was saying: ‘Hey, I’ve been loyal to you, and look at what you’ve done to me.’”

Throughout the whole ordeal, Mr. Miranda has refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing — even any unseemliness for reading internal memos written by Senate staffers to their bosses.

Asked if he had violated the rule sometimes taught to children about not reading other people’s mail, Mr. Miranda replied: “My parents never taught me not to read other people’s mail. They always read my mail.”

All the focus on Mr. Miranda’s actions has distracted attention from the content of the memos.

In one memo, staffers to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, urged him to stall the nomination of a Tennessee judge to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals until after that panel had decided a landmark affirmative-action case.

“It’s like a police officer going to the scene of a murder and writing a citation for a car parked out front,” Mrs. Daly said. “There are bigger crimes going on here.”

Asked if Senate Republicans were disloyal for abandoning Mr. Miranda over the snooping charges, she replied: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I think a lot of the Republicans who have spoken out against him had good intentions.”

Mr. Miranda, who has a wife and child, he said he doesn’t enjoy this fight as much as many people involved suspect. He said he keeps it in perspective by thinking about his family, who lived in Spain during the fascist tyranny of Gen. Francisco Franco.

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