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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Miers Is Asked to Redo Reply to Questions - New York Times

Miers Is Asked to Redo Reply to Questions - New York TimesOctober 20, 2005
Miers Is Asked to Redo Reply to Questions
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK

WASHINGTON, Oct. 19 - The Supreme Court nomination of Harriet E. Miers suffered another setback on Wednesday when the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked her to resubmit parts of her judicial questionnaire, saying various members had found her responses "inadequate," "insufficient" and "insulting."

Senators Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the committee chairman, and Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the senior Democrat, sent Ms. Miers a letter faulting what they called incomplete responses about her legal career, her work in the White House, her potential conflicts on cases involving the administration and the suspension of her license by the District of Columbia Bar.

Their letter also asked her to provide detailed accounts of private reassurances about her views given by the White House or its allies to some conservative supporters who have been anxious about her positions on abortion and other social issues.

The letter asked Ms. Miers to respond within a week. Mr. Specter said he had scheduled hearings on her confirmation to begin Nov. 7, overruling Democratic objections that they did not have enough information to evaluate her because of her scant record on constitutional issues before joining the White House. Both Mr. Specter and Mr. Leahy said they would not set any deadline for the conclusion of the hearings.

"If the questions are not answered or their answer is incomplete, as they have been, then it's going to be a long hearing indeed," Mr. Leahy said.

Veteran senators and aides said they could not recall another occasion when the committee had sent back a nominee's answers to a questionnaire because they were incomplete. Former Senator Daniel R. Coats of Indiana, the administration's appointed guide for Ms. Miers on Capitol Hill, defended her answers in the Senate questionnaire as a work in progress.

"From the very first, Harriet Miers told Senator Specter that she had years of files to go through and that there would likely have to be a follow-up on some of the questions," Mr. Coats said. "She's more than willing to diligently provide the information as soon as possible. As you know, it's mountains of information."

Mr. Specter, however, has said that Ms. Miers told him last week that she would complete the questionnaire by last Friday.

The do-over of the questionnaire is the latest in a series of problems for Ms. Miers's nomination. Conservative intellectuals have said she is unqualified and have called for her withdrawal. Social conservatives have withheld their support because she lacks a clear record. And this week liberal groups set off alarms over her past opposition to abortion rights.

Ms. Miers sent the senators her own letter acknowledging a separate omission. She wrote that after submitting her answers on Tuesday, "I became aware that, as a result of administrative oversight, my Texas Bar license was suspended from Sept. 1 to Sept. 26, 1989, due to late payment of my bar dues."

Dana Perino, a spokeswoman for the White House, said the late payment was the result of an error by Ms. Miers's law firm, which paid its partners dues.

Some of the new questions may be politically challenging for Ms. Miers and the White House. One inquiry in the original questionnaire pointedly asked her about reports that in conference calls with conservative supporters the administration and its allies had offered private assurances about her views on abortion and other matters.

The first part of the question asked if she had made any statement to anyone about how she might rule from the bench, and a second part requested information about "all communications by the Bush administration or individuals acting on behalf of the administration to any individuals or interest groups with respect to how you would rule."

Ms. Miers's one-word answer to both was "No."

The senators repeated the inquiry in their new letter. "This would include any and all communications, including those about which there have been recent press reports, in which friends and supporters of yours, among others, were said to have been asked by the White House to assure certain individuals about your views," they wrote. "If you do not have firsthand knowledge of these communications, please endeavor to determine what sorts of communications, if any, took place."

In a news conference on Wednesday, Mr. Specter said, "It's been a chaotic process, very candidly, as to what has happened because of all of the conference calls and all of the discussions which are alleged in the back room."

Mr. Leahy vowed not to allow "quiet promises over conference calls" in the debate on her nomination.

In their letter, Senators Specter and Leahy asked for a more detailed explanation of the constitutional issues Ms. Miers handled as a senior aide or lawyer in the White House. Another question sought related documents that she had helped prepare there. If most of her experience with constitutional law "was gained during your years in the White House," the senators wrote, "it is important that we know more about the specifics of that experience."

The requests could step up a potential clash with the White House, which has sought to withhold such details to protect the confidentiality of its deliberations.

The letter also faulted Ms. Miers, who was President Bush's personal lawyer before entering the White House, for answering a question about potential conflicts of interest on the bench by merely citing ethics laws.

"We are aware of statutes and codes that generally govern these matters," the senators wrote, "but recusal decisions of Supreme Court justices are more complicated because they are not subject to further review."

"Please be more specific," the senators wrote, referring to how she might handle recusals in "cases arising out of matters on which you worked at the White House, or as a lawyer for President Bush in his personal capacity, or in service to his various campaigns."

Democratic aides, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the inquiry, said they had in mind cases arising from antiterrorism legislation or the torture of prisoners of war, among others.

The letter also shined a new light on Ms. Miers's disclosure on Tuesday that while she was in the White House, the District of Columbia Bar suspended her law license briefly for nonpayment of dues.

The senators requested documentation, correspondence and "canceled checks" that might "help us understand the facts and circumstances of your suspension."

The letter repeated a request to list "all litigated matters in which you were involved" and the senators said aides had identified many other cases not in her original reply.

Elisabeth Bumiller contributed reporting for this article.

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