Wednesday, April 6, 2005

All 55 Republican senators say they have never seen the Terri Schiavo political talking-points memo that Democrats say was circulated among Republicans during the floor debate over whether the federal government should intervene to prolong her life. A survey by The Washington Times found that every Republican said the memo was not crafted or distributed by him or her. Every one of them said he or she had not seen it until the memo was the subject of speculation in major news organs, particularly ABC News and The Washington Post. Democrats said Republicans distributed the memo, and one Democratic official told The Post that a Republican senator gave it to a Democratic senator. The Times surveyed all 44 Democrats and the chamber’s one independent, and only one of them, Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, said through a spokeswoman that he saw it circulated on the Senate floor. “He said that the memo was being circulated by Republican members on Thursday before we went out of session, and that is when he saw it,” said his spokeswoman, Allison Dobson. Two Democratic offices refused to respond — Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat — the latter even as he continued to accuse Republicans of being behind it. “We will not participate in the survey. News outlets have investigated and authenticated the memo was real and came from Republican sources. We have no further comment,” said spokeswoman Tessa Hafen. “If you want more information on the memo, you should work on finding the Republican who wrote it.” She did not respond to a request to name the newspaper or network that had “authenticated” the memorandum. ABC News first reported on March 18 that talking points were circulated among Republican senators, and The Washington Post two days later called the document “an unsigned one-page memo, distributed to Republican senators.” Neither report cited its 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. Sen. Robert F. Bennett, Utah Republican, said the issue “stinks” of a news fabrication similar to the one that engulfed CBS anchorman Dan Rather during the 2004 presidential campaign, after he reported that President Bush did not fulfill his duties while in the National Guard, citing documents that CBS later admitted could not be authenticated. “I’ve never seen it, and nobody ever gave it to me,” Mr. Bennett said of the purported Schiavo memo, adding: “As far as I’m concerned, it is an invention of the press.” Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat, has called for the Senate Rules and Administration Committee to investigate. “Those who would attempt to influence debate in the United States Senate should not hide behind anonymous pieces of paper,” he said in his March 23 letter asking for the inquiry. Mr. Lautenberg said yesterday that he never saw the document on the floor. Staffers in his office said they got a copy of it from a Web site and passed on copies to the rules committee. Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican and chairman of the rules committee, said yesterday that he would look into who, how and when the document was produced, although he is skeptical of the Democratic charges. “We have not been able to find the source and I was on the floor the whole time until 10 o’clock that night and I never saw it,” Mr. Lott said. The Post, in a dispatch last week, cited a “Democratic Senate official” who said, “It’s ridiculous to suggest that these are some talking points concocted by a Democratic staffer. The fact is, these talking points were given to a Democratic member by a Republican senator.” The memo has been cited repeatedly by columnists as evidence that Republicans were trying to exploit the dispute over Mrs. Schiavo, who died last week — 13 days after her feeding tube was removed. Some press reports also said the memo was distributed by Republican leaders — a notion the leadership offices strongly denied. “In a nutshell, I can just simply tell you that no, we have nothing to do with that memo; no we have not seen that memo; we have nothing to do with circulating that memo,” said Robert Traynham, spokesman for Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. “Senator Santorum had nothing to do with it. Neither did any member of his staff at the personal level or the leadership level.” Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, who is up for re-election next year, is specified in the memo as someone who could suffer political damage if he opposed saving Mrs. Schiavo. Asked whether he’d seen the memo, Mr. Nelson said to talk to Mr. Harkin. “Ask Senator Harkin. He saw it, and he told me about it because my name was on it,” Mr. Nelson said. Mr. Nelson’s fellow Florida senator, Mel Martinez, a Republican, also has been the focus of some scrutiny in press accounts because passages of the disputed memo appear to have been lifted from a press release posted on his Senate Web site. He denied any involvement. “Senator Martinez has never seen the memo and condemns its sentiments,” spokeswoman Kerry Feehery said. “No one in our office has seen it, nor had anything to do with its creation.” Joe Shoemaker, a spokesman for Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said in several conversations over three days that his boss saw the memo on the floor. Asked independently, however, Mr. Durbin said he never saw it. “No, I did not see it,” he said. “I heard about it reported on the news.” Asked about the discrepancy, Mr. Shoemaker later said that the senator’s floor staff thought he had seen it. The staffers saw a “gaggle” of senators standing around discussing a document during floor debate, and Mr. Durbin walked over to them. Amy Fagan and Charles Hurt contributed to this report.

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