Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Who vetted the vetters?

Conflict of interest in the Miers vetting process?
"The Miers pick had its origin in the selection of John Roberts last July. Ms. Miers was praised for her role in selecting him and the wildly positive reaction. At that point, a senior White House official told the Washington Post that William K. Kelley, the deputy White House counsel who had been appointed to his post only the month before, stepped in. The Post reported that Mr. Kelley 'suggested to [White House Chief of Staff] Andy Card that Miers ought to be considered for the next seat that opened.'

To most people's surprise, that happened with stunning swiftness when Chief Justice William Rehnquist died Sept. 3. Judge Roberts's nomination was shifted to fill the vacancy for chief justice, thus opening up the seat of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. A quick political consensus developed around the White House that the nominee should be a woman.

Even though several highly regarded female lawyers were on Mr. Bush's short list, President Bush and Mr. Card discussed the idea of adding Ms. Miers. Mr. Card was enthusiastic about the idea. The New York Times reported that he 'then directed Ms. Miers' deputy . . . to vet her behind her back.'

For about two weeks, Mr. Kelley conducted a vetting he has described to friends as thorough. It wasn't. A former Justice Department official calls it 'barely adequate for a nominee to a federal appeals court.' One Texas lawyer called by the White House was struck by the fact 'that the people who were calling about someone from Texas and serving a Texas president knew so little about Texas.' (Mr. Kelley didn't return my telephone calls.)

It is unlikely that the vetting fully explored issues surrounding Ms. Miers that are sure to figure in her confirmation hearings, such as her work as Mr. Bush's personal lawyer. Another issue will involve Ms. Miers's tenure as head of the Texas Lottery Commission, where lottery director Nora Linares was fired in a scandal involving influence-peddling and lottery contracts. In a curious move, the White House announced this week that regarding the Linares matter, "Harriet Miers has never commented and will not now on what was a personnel matter." That is unlikely to remain a tenable position.
Then, there is this little tidbit:
A last minute effort was made to block the choice of Ms. Miers, including the offices of Vice President Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. It fell on deaf ears. First Lady Laura Bush, who went to Southern Methodist University at the same time as Ms. Miers, weighed in. On Sunday night, the president dined with Ms. Miers and the first lady to celebrate the nomination of what one presidential aide inartfully praised to me as that of "a female trailblazer who will walk in the footsteps of President Bush.