- The Washington Times - Monday, February 7, 2005


Transcript of a Feb. 4 interview with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, in his Capitol office:

Q. Were you disappointed by the opposition in the 60-36 vote confirming Alberto R. Gonzales as Attorney General?

A. I had hoped for a bigger vote and a bipartisan vote. The hearing did not go well. Senator [Patrick J.] Leahy initially said he was going to support him and [Sen. Joseph R.] Biden said he was going to support him and I thought if the two of those did, then others on the committee would follow.

But the hearing proceeded in a way that Judge Gonzales was blamed for a lot of stuff he didn’t do. Blamed for a memorandum he didn’t write from the Department of Justice. Blamed for questions which he didn’t structure or ask, made by the FBI and the Department of Defense. And his words were misconstrued. He said that there is a certain deference to be paid to the Department of Justice — otherwise the White House is viewed as dictating to the Justice Department and that would result in politicization, if the White House was viewed as telling the Department of Justice what to do.

His words … about deference [were used] to try to twist them into agreement with the [Justice Department lawyer Jay] Bybee memo, which wasn’t so. He rejected torture. He rejected the idea of the president immunizing anybody. He answered my question head-on where the memo said the president has as much authority on questioning [detainees] as on the battlefield — which was palpably absurd. Gonzales said so.

I got a call from the president about [the confirmation] this morning. He was very pleased with it. He called from Air Force One. He was very pleased. He said he understood the political problems and was glad we worked through them and glad we got it done very promptly.

Q. Could Mr. Gonzales have done anything differently to speed his confirmation?

A. I think [Gonzales] really did about as well as he could under the circumstances.

Q. Do you read anything about Democratic opposition into the 60-36 vote?

A. We have had a pretty cooperative process on getting Judge Gonzales on and off in a day. They could have dragged it out. We had a good executive session on him where we finished him in a tough morning. We had a vote at 11:30. We were able to work through and get that done. We finished the Class Action bill out of committee yesterday where people said we couldn’t get that done. We turned that out. I have started the meetings, as you may know, exactly on time.

Q. I’ve been late a few times.

A. Come at 9:31 and you’ll be late to more. The NPR reporter — what’s her name? Nina Totenberg — complained that I started at 9:29 and we had a little discussion about whether my watch was set by the Naval Observatory. And I told her my watch is exact, because it is. And I limited [Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward M.] Kennedy’s speech. Did you see that sequence? And the person whose remarks I curtailed at the start, the most forcefully, were mine.

People like it. You hate like hell when the other guy goes overtime but if everybody stays within bounds, people are prepared to do it.

Q. Is the opposition to Mr. Gonzales a sign of things to come from Democrats?

A. I don’t think it’s necessarily a sign of the future because I really think it was Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. And those are very, very bad scenes. They found the Gonzales confirmation hearing as a way to dig into that. And if they find a way to dig into anything to embarrass the president they’re going to do it every time. so I don’t think it’s a carryover.

Q. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said if Bush sends over the same judges, Democrats will filibuster. What are you expecting?

A. I think the judges will be coming over soon. I have sat down and talked to every member of the committee, both Democrat and Republican. Had to reach some of them by phone over the recess, but sat down with almost everybody in person. And I’m trying to set the stage to get the job done in without going to the nuclear option.

Be specific. You’ve got [Department of Interior Solicitor William G. Myers nominated to] the Ninth Circuit. Well, Biden wouldn’t support a filibuster on Myers. So we got 55. Then we got [Nebraska Democratic Sen. Ben] Nelson, who wouldn’t support a filibuster. And Biden. And we got the new Senator from Colorado, [Ken] Salazar. We’re up to 58. And I talked to [New York Democratic Sen. Charles E.] Schumer on Schumer’s theory that there ought to be balance and you could use a conservative — more than one — on the Ninth Circuit. So, I’m going to lead with Myers to try to get Myers confirmed.

There have been discussions among Harry Reid and [Republican Whip] Mitch McConnell, and Leahy and I sat down on the Michigan situation. We’re trying to see if we can find a way to work that out. We’re not going to have a blue slip issue with [former Sen. John ] Edwards we had in North Carolina — gonna bring up the North Carolina people. So, one by one, I’m going to try to peel them off.

On the Alabama [judicial nominee, state Attorney General Bill] Pryor, he’s written about a half a dozen very moderate/progressive opinions. I’ve circulated those among all the committee members and asked them to take a fresh look at Pryor. So, I’m going to work at it.

Q. You really don’t want to have to do the “nuclear option” (a rules change to limit filibusters of judicial nominees)?

A. Reid has been very explicit. His language is he’s going to screw things up. And he can. You don’t have to be a leader of 44 Democrats to screw things up. Only one senator can throw the monkey wrench in. I think it’s very much in the interest of the president and the Senate if we can try to work through it.

Q. If that doesn’t work, would you support the nuclear option?

A. I’m not going to jump off that bridge until I come to it and I hope I dont’ come to it.

Q. Do you have the votes for it?

A. You’d have to check with somebody at a higher paygrade.

Q. Do you know why President Bush has not officially renominated his filibustered nominees?

A. No, I don’t.

Q. Do you know when he will?

A. No, I don’t.

Q. When he does, we’ll proceed with Myers first?

A. Yeah, I have a game plan. I had my key people on the committee in this morning talking about that and other things.

Q. Did you agree with the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down sentencing guidelines?

A. Well, I wouldn’t say that I agreed with it. Let me say that I could see it coming. I still have not had an opportunity to go through that opinion line by line because of the very heavy workload we’ve had with class action and asbestos [legal reform bills] et cetera, et cetera. But I could see it coming.

There was a lot of dissatisfaction among the judges. I think we need to see how it plays out. We will definitely have hearings on it later this year.

We really have just a jam-a-roo. [Senate Majority Leader Bill] Frist is really delighted we got class action out of committee. He wanted me to get bankruptcy [reform] out of committee next week. You can push so hard and then it’s going to be counter-productive. I told Senator Frist that and he said, ‘Listen … you’ve got to work with them, you work it out.’ You saw yesterday [Democrats on the Judiciary committee] want two or three hearings. Well, they want one hearing [now]. They didn’t want it for next Wednesday, so we put it on Thursday. We’re going to move through it.

So, I’ve really got to go through the Supreme Court opinion and study it in some detail. But we will definitely have hearings on sentencing guidelines.

Q. You plan to fix it?

A. We can definitely fix it. We can definitely fix it. There has been a lot of reaction in the courts to follow the guidelines even though they’re not mandatory and there’s been some reaction to follow them except in really extraordinary cases.

Some of the judges have complained about some really extraordinary cases. It may be that the guidelines will be observed except with extraordinary cases, which may provide a guidance for legislation. Let us see what the judges do piece by piece. We have a hearing, we really can’t take the temperature and texture of all of these cases. But, with a few months experience, we will know a lot.

Q. Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, said the guidelines have been the most important factor in lowering the crime rate. Do you agree?

A. I wrote the armed career criminal bill, which provides a mandatory sentence of 15 years to life for three-time losers on major felonies caught in possession of a firearm. I think that’s been a big factor. I think our prison expansion has been a big factor. I think the guidelines have been important but I would not place as much stress as Senator Sessions has.

Q. You created some controversy among conservatives by hiring an attorney from the NAACP and the wife of a Democratic candidate for Congress. You had to know that would upset some of the conservatives who didn’t want you to be Judiciary Committee chairman in the first place.

A. It’s kind of died down at the moment. But I did not anticipate that. I made the hire because I think it’s very important for an office like mine to have diversity. When I was elected district attorney I went out and hired minorities. I felt that it was a very important thing to have diversity.

I made the statement in the Gonzales hearings that I couldn’t find any Hispanic lawyer in town — in Philadelphia when I was elected district attorney in 1965. The fellow I hired had nothing to do with any of the NAACP lobbying. He’s a trial lawyer and he’s a very very good one. He’s a real professional.

People complained about Carolyn Short because her husband [former Philadelphia city official Joseph Torsella] was a candidate for Congress on the Democratic ticket. Got nothing to do with her quality to serve on the Judiciary Committee. She took a several hundred thousand dollar pay cut. I don’t know what she was earning but she’s a defense trial lawyer and very well qualified and very lucky to get her to come over.

Q. Did you ask Mr. Leahy to hire them to quiet the outcry from conservatives?

A. Not a chance. Not true. Wouldn’t consider it. They’re both good hires and I’m not going to back down anywhere.

Q. Do you support the president’s immigration plan, which some say amounts to a limited amnesty?

A. I’m going to support the president’s program. His program is not amnesty. He’s agaisnt amnesty and I’m against amnesty. But you have a lot of jobs in America that need to be done. His program of examining these people one by one is the American way. Find a way not to put them ahead of others on citizenship who have obeyed the law. If they haven’t made a contribution, they ought to be ousted. But I think the president has the right idea and I intend to help him.

Q. When do you expect the Judiciary Committee to produce a bill on immigration reform?

A. Late this year. We intend to get into the Patriot Act fairly soon. I think the Patriot Act ought to be made permanent on the separation of the wall where there had been a prohibition against using evidence obtained for intelligence purposes using that in criminal court. Now that has been eliminated.I think the issues that have been raised by Senator Larry Craig [Idaho Republican] — that bill has been opposed from both the far right and the left — I think there are valid considerations about obtaining records or library books without the customary statement of probable cause. I asked Gonzales about that at the hearing, I believe. We intend to have hearings early on on the Patriot Act.

Q. Any other serious reservations about the Patriot Act?

A. The roving wire taps, I think, is something we ought to take another look at. The searches without notifying the people — a long period of delay — I think we need to take a look there to see where they ought to be kept secret and where they ought not to be kept secret. But I think the overall reauthorization is an occassion to take a close look at that.

Q. Do you agree with the president’s plan for changing Social Security?

A. I’m waiting for a specifiation and the details. I have an open mind on it. I’m not going to give the president a blank check, nor am I going to line up with the people who say they’re unalterably opposed. I’m against cutting Social Security benefits. I’m against borrowing extensively. But I want to see what the presient has in mind.

Q. Do you support private accounts?

A. I’m prepared to listen.

Q. You sound skeptical.

A. Well, I’m prepared to listen to see how they would be done. How will they be financed? How much money will it take out of the system? We pretty much a pay-as-you-go program, paying out as the contributions are made. How will it work? People are talking about gigantic borrowing. I’m not for that.

Q. On the class action reform bill, you support the amendment by [New Mexico Democrat] Sen. Jeff Bingaman, which some tort reformers say will gut the class action bill.

A. I support the Class Action bill because I think it is important to take these cases out of some state courts where there has been a very heavy bias if not corruption. But I’m not gonna see this bill used as a vehicle to limit substantive rights and the Bingaman amendment seeks to protect that. The bill now would not only say that states don’t have class action standing, but that cases which could have been brought in state courts may not be brought in the federal courts and I’m against that. I think that anything that could’ve been brought in the state courts ought to be bringable in the federal courts. I think that goes to the substantive issue and that’s my position. I will support the bill if Bingamen goes down. I do not consider it sine qua non.

Q. Did the 2004 election give President Bush a mandate?

A. Will I think he has a mandate. I think it’s largely how he handles it. I think its a maleable mandate. I think he’s making quite a lot of it — his current whisk around the country. When he says he has political capital and he’s gonna spend it, he has as much political capital as he projects. So I think he has a mandate as he is projecting it.

Q. You’ve played crucial roles in two of the most heated Supreme Court confirmation battles ever. What do you expect with the next vacancy?

A. I’m not a betting man and I’m gonna wait to see what happens. I was asked to question professor [Anita] Hill because I’ve had experience as a questioner and I did it. I qestioned [Reagan nominee Robert H.] Bork at length on constitutional doctrine and I spent a long time on constitutional law so I’m ready.

The president said he’s not gong to use a litmus test and the president has all of the factors at hand. Let’s see who the nominee is and we’ll give him a prompt hearing and a fair hearing and hear all sides.

Q. Any other issues you want the committee to deal with?

A. I’d like to move ahead and televise the Supreme Court. It’s a bill I introduced about a decade ago. I’ve talked to people. Some of the conservatives are all for it. I talked to [religious broadcaster] Pat Robertson about it. We intend to move ahead on that when we catch our breath.

Q. You plan on doing that this year?

A. I don’t think it’s something you can do any year, but I’m going to try. The court has the final word.

Q. Has televising Congress made it more effective?

A. I think that I wouldn’t put it in terms of its effectiveness. But I think in terms of its transparency. It’s important. the court makes a decision on all the cutting-edge questions and I think Americans ought to know what the court is doing. I feel very, very strongly about it.

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