Friday, November 28, 2003

Republicans say there is a double standard in the way the press has covered the story about internal Democratic memos that revealed the coziness between liberal interest groups and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

While many newspaper and broadcast journalists have done stories about how the memos wound up in the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Times, few have covered the content of the memos.

In addition to providing a glimpse into how special interest groups exert influence in the judicial nominations process, the memos also point to something more sinister, sources who have read the documents say.

One memo, written by two staffers of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, outlines a strategy for stalling one of President Bush’s nominees to the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals until after the panel had ruled on the landmark University of Michigan affirmative action case. The staffers endorse the plan and explain the concerns that a Bush nominee on that panel might vote against the affirmative action case.

The nomination of Judge Julia S. Gibbons was held up until after the 6th Circuit ruled 5-4 in support of affirmative action.

Tim Graham, a journalism expert for the conservative Media Research Center, blames a liberal bias by reporters and editors for the dearth of stories about the content of the memos.

“Leaks which make liberals look bad aren’t as interesting or newsworthy to liberal reporters as leaks that make the Bush administration look bad,” he said.

Many Judiciary Committee Republicans recalled this summer when a cache of internal documents purloined from the Republican Attorneys General Association wound up in the hands of Democrats on the committee. After being leaked to the Washington Post, the paper published an extensive story — one that was later corrected — based on the documents. Barely mentioned were the furious calls by Republicans that an investigation be made into how the documents were obtained.

Some Democrats on the committee defended the woman who took the documents as “a whistleblower.” In the case of the leaked judiciary memos, Democrats have demanded an extensive investigation.

“There’s a more fundamental issue here,” said Joe Shoemaker, spokesman for Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat and member of the Judiciary Committee. “There’s a serious breach of security with regards to the Senate computer system.”

Now it appears the memos may have been improperly downloaded from a Senate computer network, and Democrats worry that confidential information about nominees gleaned from background checks could be vulnerable as well.

Some Republicans see the same double standard between the judiciary memos and the stories earlier this year that led to former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, resigning his leadership post after he suggested America would be better off if former Sen. Strom Thurmond had been elected president in 1948 when he ran as a segregationist.

They point to a memo written by a Durbin staffer that provides an evaluation of a number of Bush nominees from the perspective of “civil rights leaders.” One of those nominees is District attorney Miguel Estrada, who withdrew his nomination to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia after an eight-month Democrat-led filibuster.

“I’m surprised that the media has not picked up on the fact that Sen. Durbin opposed Miguel Estrada because he is Hispanic,” said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch who has read the memos. “That to me is a big story.”

“Trent Lott was knocked out of office for much less,” Mr. Fitton said. “His remarks, however incorrect, didn’t touch directly on race. Sen. Durbin’s do.”

Mr. Shoemaker called the comment “spurious” and “race-baiting,” pointing out that Mr. Durbin has enjoyed many endorsements from the Hispanic community and recommended a Hispanic nominee that President Clinton named to the Illinois federal bench.

“Lott made those remarks and Durbin didn’t make these,” he said, noting that it was a memo written by a staff member.

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