As opposition mounted from President Bush’s right flank over his selection of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, the White House and key senators nervously monitored WorldNetDaily stories that uncovered day-by-day the nominee’s relationship to Texas scandals threatening not only her confirmation but the president’s political fortunes.
The investigative series that began the day after the Oct. 3 announcement of Miers’ nomination had “Unfit for Command” co-author Jerome Corsi effectively swapping political sides with a Bush nemesis in a “plot twist worthy of Dallas,'” wrote John Fund, columnist for the Wall Street Journal’s OpinionJournal.com, last Friday.
Fund told WND yesterday that the White House and senators “paid a lot of attention” to Corsi’s stories.
“Senators in particular were surprised that the White House had not communicated that this issue could come up and had given them nothing to respond to on it,” Fund said.
“I think they felt they were flying blind, and weren’t looking forward to the hearings.”
Corsi, whose 2004 best-seller was credited widely with helping Bush stay in the White House, found serious trouble for Miers and the president in his investigation of scandals surrounding the White House counsel’s term as chairwoman of the Texas Lottery Commission and as managing co-partner of a Dallas law firm.
The investigative reporting culminated with news last Friday that Larry Littwin – the controversial former lottery director under Miers – had been released from a gag order, freeing him to appear at the confirmation hearings to give “potentially explosive” testimony damaging both to Bush and Miers.
The Senate Judicial Committee hearings were set to begin Nov. 7.
Corsi believed that Littwin, according to an examination of hundreds of contemporary Texas newspaper accounts, would have been able to establish under oath that a contract with the firm hired to operate the lottery was preserved on a no-bid basis by Miers in order to “keep the lid on” the National Guard controversy involving then-Gov. Bush.
In his column, Fund wrote that if Democrats had tried to subpoena Littwin, they would have put Republican senators in a “fix.”
“GOP senators can use their committee majority to block any subpoena but would come under withering fire over accusations they were aiding a cover-up of Ms. Miers’ days at the Lottery Commission,” Fund wrote. “If Republicans go along with a subpoena, the hearings become a circus.”
In an interview, Corsi clarified that his reporting had nothing to do with Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group opposed to Sen. John Kerry’s candidacy that spawned “Unfit for Command.”
However, it was research he came across during the 2004 campaign – concerning former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes and the Texas Lottery Commission scandals – that led to his pursuit of the story.
“It was with no particular enthusiasm that I was investigating this,” Corsi said. “I was trained as a young man in the discipline of investigative reporting, and I did the best I could to report what I was finding out, wherever the chips may fall. It was not an axe to grind, to get Harriet Miers. These were issues of interest to the public that need to be reported.”
Corsi’s series began with a report that the nomination of Harriet Miers as associate Supreme Court justice may have an unintended consequence for President Bush – renewing questions about the long-forgotten issue of his National Guard service and charges of influence peddling by Barnes, the man who raised those allegations in a CBS News interview in 2004.
Corsi explained that in 1995, the year Bush won the governorship of Texas, Barnes – who later claimed in a “60 Minutes” interview with CBS’ Dan Rather that George H.W. Bush approached him to secure a National Guard appointment for his son – secured a contract for a company called GTECH to run the Texas Lottery.
Barnes was granted a contract worth about 4 percent of the revenue generated by GTECH – some $3 million a year. But, by 1997, with the company embroiled in controversy over allegations of political kickbacks, payoffs and overcharges, his contract was bought out by the company for $23 million.
Two years later, Littwin, the former lottery director, filed a lawsuit alleging he lost his job as a result of political influence wielded by GTECH. He alleged in his lawsuit that much of GTECH’s clout was the result of the work of Barnes, who affirmed under oath he had helped get the governor into the National Guard and out of military service in Vietnam.
The Littwin lawsuit was settled out of court with a $300,000 payoff – and an unusual agreement that he would destroy all documents produced by the litigation, including any copies of the Barnes deposition, Corsi reported.
GTECH moved to settle with Littwin only after its ability to defend itself was damaged when a federal judge ruled that Miers, then chairwoman of the Lottery Commission, did not have to give a deposition in the case.
In an Oct. 6 story, Corsi reported Miers was at the center of an investment fraud as co-managing partner of Locke, Liddell & Sapp in Dallas. Miers firm was involved in a $30 million scam for which it had to pay $22 million to settle a suit charging the firm aided in defrauding the investors.
While there is no evidence Miers knew about the actions of partners who represented the clients until investors began filing lawsuits against Locke Liddell, she publicly defended the firm’s actions, saying it never should have been named as a co-defendant in the case.
A WND story Oct. 7 reported GTECH had been hounded – and sometimes successfully prosecuted – for years by charges of improper influence peddling and money laundering schemes by its consultants. Another report by Corsi provided further details.
WND later obtained the original petition filed on behalf of the defrauded investors, which charged that Lock Liddell’s lawyers were a knowing part of the scheme.
“All the White House had to do was go to the Internet, but then the person vetting Supreme Court candidates was none other than Harriet Miers, at least up until the point where she got the nomination,” Corsi wrote.
In an Oct. 11 story, Corsi recounted how Miers’ Texas law firm was investigated by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations for agreeing to write favorable tax opinions for clients regarding Ernst & Young tax schemes that are now under criminal investigation.
The next day, Corsi filed a report based on a Texas Lottery Commission interoffice memo he obtained. The memo – written days after Miers’ unexpected March 21, 2000, resignation – was a message from the finance director to the executive director arguing changes needed be made to stop short-changing winners. A little more than a month later, the controversy over Lock Liddell’s $22 million settlement hit the local newspaper.
By Oct. 13, the White House’s impatience with challenges to the Miers’ nomination from both the right and the left began to show as presidential press secretary Scott McClellan shot back at reporters, asking rhetorically, “Isn’t it my right to talk and say what I want to?”
The verbal jousting began as a reporter asked about a possible withdrawal by Miers.
McClellan bristled at the suggestion, saying, “Those who know Harriet Miers are strongly supportive of her nomination, and strongly support her being confirmed to the United States Senate [sic].”
President Bush pointed to Miers’ record managing Locke Liddell as one of the major qualifications for her Supreme Court nomination, but further reports by Corsi showed how her tenure at the helm was “rocked by one investment scam scandal after another.”
Based on the Corsi series, WND CEO Joseph Farah declared in his Oct. 13 column: “Harriet Miers is never going to be grilled by the Senate Judiciary Committee. She is going to withdraw her name from consideration before such hearings ever begin. You can take that to the bank.”
Then on Oct. 21, Corsi reported Littwin had been freed to testify at the planned confirmation hearings in November.
In addition to the potentially “explosive testimony” concerning Bush’s National Guard controversy, Littwin also would have shed new light on allegations that the approximately $160,000 in payments to Miers’ law firm made by Bush’s gubernatorial campaigns were to keep the lid on the Guard scandal.
On Monday, Corsi reported the FBI is investigating Miers’ role in the Texas lottery scandals that resulted in the firing of a director, the decision to halt the process of accepting competitive bids and the quashing of an audit.
WND also revealed lawyers and investigative staff for the Senate Judiciary Committee were preparing to question Littwin.
Bush base cries foul
When Bush announced his choice of Miers, many of the president’s most loyal supporters immediately reacted with anger and dismay, saying they felt betrayed after campaigning for a president who claimed his models for a Supreme Court justice were Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas – “originalists” and “strict constructionists” with a bold, unapologetic conservative judicial philosophy.
The Miers opponents from the right believed Bush was unwilling to engage in a serious battle with Senate Democrats and moderate Republicans over a strong conservative nominee and, instead, decided on a “stealth” pick with a minimal paper trail who stood a better chance of being confirmed.
Bypassed were conservative favorites such as appeals court judges Michael Luttig, Samuel Alito, Janice Rogers Brown and Edith Jones.
“Trust me,” Bush urged his supporters, pointing to his record of appointments to federal court positions.
Focusing on the abortion issue, the White House tried to allay the fears of conservatives by highlighting Miers’ membership in a pro-life, evangelical church and, according to some sources, by privately assuring key leaders of her determination to overturn Roe v. Wade. Evangelical leader James Dobson, after a phone conversation with top Bush adviser Karl Rove, initially declared “tentative” support for Miers but voiced doubts as more information emerged and a groundswell of conservative opposition developed.
Yesterday, Dobson said the president’s acceptance of Miers’ withdrawal was “a wise decision.”
Emergence of speeches made by Harriet Miers in the 1990s further eroded Republicans support for her nomination to the Supreme Court
“In recent days I have grown increasingly concerned about her conservative credentials, and I was dismayed to learn this week about her speech in 1993, in which she sounded pro-abortion themes and expressed so much praise for left-wing feminist leaders,” Dobson said.
Conservatives were upset this week by the emergence of a speech in which Miers said “self-determination” should guide decisions about abortion and warned against “legislating religion or morality.” She also cited liberals Janet Reno and Justice Ginsburg as female role models.
Dobson concluded, “Based on what we now know about Miss Miers, it appears that we would not have been able to support her candidacy. Thankfully, that difficult evaluation is no longer necessary.”
Perhaps more important to the success of Miers’ nomination, her visits to the offices of 28 senators reportedly did not go well as criticism emerged she was being vague about her judicial philosophy. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., ranking minority leader on the judicial panel, called her answers to a 57-page committee questionnaire incomplete to the point of being insulting.
Byron York of National Review said that according to informed sources, the last day of the Miers nomination, Wednesday, began with President Bush meeting with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Majority Whip Mitch McConnell and others at the White House to discuss the problems facing the nomination.
Staff conversations between the majority leader’s office and the White House took place throughout the day, York said. At a meeting in Vice President Cheney’s office in the afternoon – which included the vice president and nomination strategists – the fading support for the nomination was discussed.
Then in the early evening, according to York, Frist had a phone conversation with White House Chief of Staff Andy Card in which the majority leader gave “what’s being called a frank assessment of the nomination’s prospects.”
A final decision was made shortly thereafter, York said, and Miers called the president at 8:30 p.m. to say she would withdraw, setting up the formal announcement for yesterday morning.
When the president issued a statement announcing he had reluctantly accepted the withdrawal, he emphasized he could not give in to demands from the Senate to release White House documents protected by executive privilege.
“It is clear that senators would not be satisfied until they gained access to internal documents concerning advice provided during her tenure at the White House – disclosures that would undermine a president’s ability to receive candid counsel,” Bush said.
That particular “exit strategy” was outlined last Friday by veteran columnist Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post, who called the document standoff “the perfectly honorable way to solve the conundrum.”
Krauthammer, one of a number of prominent conservative pundits who opposed the nomination, set up the solution this way:
Miers withdraws out of respect for both the Senate and the executive’s prerogatives, the Senate expresses appreciation for this gracious acknowledgment of its needs and responsibilities, and the White House accepts her decision with the deepest regret and with gratitude for Miers’ putting preservation of executive prerogative above personal ambition.
Faces saved. And we start again.