Monday, October 24, 2005

President Bush said yesterday that he will not release White House records of his private conversations with Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, despite demands from Democrats and Republicans who want the documents before her Senate confirmation hearings begin Nov. 7.

Releasing documents that include Miss Miers’ recommendations would compromise the ability of future presidents to get confidential advice from top aides, including their White House counsels, Mr. Bush said.

“Recently, requests … have been made by Democrats and Republicans about paperwork,” he told reporters in the Oval Office. “They may ask for paperwork about the decision-making process, what her recommendations were and that would breach very important confidentiality. And it’s a red line I’m not willing to cross.”

Such a refusal makes the confirmation of an already troubled nomination even tougher, said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter.

“These hearings pose a difficulty for the nominee on how much she’s going to be able to say,” said the Pennsylvania Republican, noting Miss Miers’ limited paper trail. “And if you have a nominee who … declines or is precluded from answering many, many, many questions, that makes it hard on the nominee and makes it hard on the ability of the Senate to evaluate it.”

Asked whether Mr. Bush’s outright refusal bodes poorly for compromise — especially considering that both Democrats and Republicans have requested the documents — Mr. Specter replied: “I don’t know to what extent he is focused on it.”

Mr. Specter and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat and ranking member of the committee, asked Miss Miers to deliver more documentation from her tenure at the White House by Wednesday. Mr. Specter said he’s “hopeful” that a compromise will be reached, but Democrats were less optimistic.

“The president says people need to learn more about Harriet Miers, and senators on both sides of the aisle agree,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. “That is why we have asked for documents from her time in the White House that aren’t covered by any privilege, and it is disappointing to me, and I am sure to all of us, that it looks like the White House is now refusing to agree to those requests.”

Meanwhile, Miss Miers continued with her previously scheduled meetings with senators on Capitol Hill yesterday.

Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican who has said he wants someone with a clear record of conservative jurisprudence, declined to speak to reporters after meeting with Miss Miers. In a written statement, however, he said the meeting was “cordial and another step in the Senate’s advice and consent process.”

“My standards for a nominee to the Supreme Court have not changed,” Mr. Coburn said. “A nominee should have personal integrity, a demonstrated commitment to judicial restraint and life experiences that have equipped them appropriately for a lifetime term on the bench. I look forward to joining my colleagues on the Judiciary Committee in exploring these issues with Ms. Miers during her confirmation hearing.”

After a similar meeting in July with then-Judge John G. Roberts Jr., Mr. Coburn told local reporters that he “feels comfortable right now” with Judge Roberts. Mr. Coburn had declined to endorse Judge Roberts until after the hearings.

“He’s obviously very bright,” Mr. Coburn told the Daily Oklahoman after his meeting. “He’s a very meek man, which I like.”

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