The Bush administration does not intend to release all memos and others documents written by Supreme Court nominee John Roberts during his tenure with two Republican administrations, a White House representative said Sunday.
Fred D. Thompson, the former Tennessee senator who is guiding Roberts through the nomination process on behalf of the White House, said material that would come under attorney-client privilege would be withheld.
He said previous administrations, both Republican and Democrat, have followed that principle.
A leading Senate Democrat disputed the assertion that privacy was at stake and called such a position a “red herring.”
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said requests for documents would be considered on a case-by-case basis from the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will consider the nomination.
“There is often an accommodation that is reached with respect to requests for information, and I suspect that’s going to happen in this case,” Gonzales said on “Fox News Sunday.”
The committee has yet to make a request. But some Democrats, including Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, have urged the White House to release such documents “in their entirety.”
Roberts worked in the Reagan White House counsel’s office from 1982-1986. Roberts also was principal deputy solicitor general in the administration of the first President Bush.
“We hope we don’t get into a situation where documents are asked for that folks know will not be forthcoming and we get all hung up on that,” Thompson told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said other nominees, including Chief Justice William Rehnquist, have provided material they wrote in confidence while working in the Justice Department.
“There’s so much precedence for that,” said Leahy, the senior Democrat on the committee.
“It’s a total red herring to say, ‘Oh, we can’t show this.’ And of course there is no lawyer-client privilege. Those working in the solicitor general’s office are not working for the president. They’re working for you and me and all the American people,” he told ABC’s “This Week.”
Part of process?
The Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, said documents could be an important part of the confirmation process when little is known about a nominee.
Roberts now is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Nominated by Bush on Jan. 7, 2003, Roberts was confirmed by the Senate for that court on May 8, 2003.
“When you look at John Roberts, who has risen to the highest levels in terms of the practice of law in private sector and public sector, I think there have been important questions raised about things that he said and things that he wrote when he was working for the government,” Durbin told NBC.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he thought some documents about work Roberts did in the solicitor general’s office probably could be turned over, but not material when he was one of the lawyers for the first President Bush.
“If we’re going to set a precedent that those communications between someone who works for the president and the president of the United States are some day going to be made public, I think it could have a real chilling effect on the kind of candor in communications that people would have with the president,” McCain said on ABC.