Dobson, Bauer Face Questions
Judiciary May Seek Testimony On Miers
Conservative activists including James Dobson and Gary Bauer are facing questions from a bipartisan team of Senate Judiciary Committee investigators in advance of the high-stakes confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers.
As part of the process of considering whether to call Dobson, Bauer and other conservatives involved in conference calls about Miers nomination, Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the ranking member, are contacting those activists and asking them to explain what happened in the immediate aftermath of the Oct. 3 announcement.
Specter’s chief counsel, Michael O’Neil, has sent Dobson a letter asking him to spell out exactly what he has been told by White House officials about Miers, according to Specter’s staff. The chairman has instructed O’Neil or other aides to follow up in conversations with Dobson to discuss the matter, which first came to light when Dobson told media interviewers that Bush adviser Karl Rove had given him private assurances that Miers would be a conservative judge.
And Bauer, head of Campaign for Working Families, alerted his supporters in an e-mail that he had been interviewed Monday by committee staff in relation to an Oct. 3 conference call Bauer participated in with Dobson and other high-level conservative activists.
While he denied that listeners on the call were assured of how Miers would vote on abortion issues, he said the interview was part of the process that could lead to him, Dobson and others appearing before the panel in two weeks.
“So, as of now, Dr. Dobson may be dragged up to the hearing with me and others. Meanwhile, no one on the Left, not the ACLU or the abortion-on- demand crowd or the homosexual rights groups, is being threatened by the committee,” Bauer wrote.
Referring to Dobson’s comments — in which he said initially that Rove had told him things he “probably shouldn’t know” — Specter is first seeking to understand what exactly was said between the two.
“If Dr. Dobson shouldn’t have known about it, I sure want to know what it is he knew that he shouldn’t have known, and I intend to find out,” Specter said in a statement provided by his staff.
Dobson’s aides at Focus on the Family, a social-conservative group he founded in Colorado, declined to comment. But Senate aides said they expected the talks with Dobson to be held this week. In addition, sources indicated that other activists would be receiving similar inquiries from Judiciary Committee staff.
The most likely targets for interviews would be those who joined Dobson and the two Texas judges — state Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht and U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade — in a conference call that was first reported in a Wall Street Journal op-ed article by John Fund, aides said. That call included some of the nation’s top conservative activists: Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, the Rev. Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association and Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation.
Aides to each of those men did not return calls Monday seeking comment about whether the Judiciary Committee has sought to interview them about what was said on that call. Hecht and Kinkeade reportedly assured the listeners on the call that Miers would be an anti-abortion vote if confirmed to the court. Other conservative writers have since confirmed Fund’s account of the call.
These interviews are being treated as information gathering for the committee, which could then lead to Dobson and other activists being called as witnesses at the hearings, which are slated to begin Nov. 7. If they are called before the panel to explain what was said in private about Miers’ views, they would be considered “fact witnesses” at the hearing, according to a Democratic aide, as opposed to the sort of conservative and liberal activists normally called to testify about a nominee’s judicial philosophy during the last day of Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
Specter has been saying for weeks that Dobson could be called to testify before the panel to explain his public comments, giving his strongest hint yet on last weekend’s Sunday talks shows. And he alluded to the interviews with Dobson and the Texas judges that his staff would be conducting in an interview with Wall Street Journal columnist Melanie Kirkpatrick published over the weekend.
An aide familiar with the interviews said that only aides to Specter and Leahy were involved in talking to Dobson and other officials regarding the various conference calls. These talks are part of a normal bipartisan investigation and may lead to information simply being shared with other Senators on the panel and their staffs, or could result in several of the activists being called to the hearings, the aide said.
The decision to conduct the interviews with the conservatives comes as Specter and Leahy have hit a stalemate with President Bush over the committee’s request for documents regarding her tenure as a White House aide since 2001.
Bush adamantly refused Monday to release documents regarding the advice she gave him, calling it privileged, but Specter countered that nothing he was requesting should fall under that category.
“I don’t believe we’ve asked for anything that’s privileged,” Specter told reporters Monday evening. He added that in some cases, he and Leahy were merely asking for the White House to spell out which issues she advised the president on, not the advice she gave.
With such a lack of information regarding her legal experience and views, Specter said her entire confirmation prospects now appear to rest solely on her performance at the hearings.
“The whole confirmation process is in her hands,” he said.
Meanwhile, conservatives that are opposed to her nomination have officially launched a campaign to pressure Bush to withdraw the nomination, WithdrawMiers.org.
And in one of her last meetings with Senators before spending time to prep for the hearings, Miers met Monday with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), one of the most conservative members of Judiciary. He issued a mild statement regarding the meeting, calling it “cordial.”