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Specter's Sphinx-Like Vote

As the Senate Judiciary Committee approved subpoenas for top White House aides today, no Senator seemed more conflicted than Arlen Specter (Pa.), the panel's top Republican and former chairman.

In fact, Specter was so troubled that he refused to tell reporters how he voted after the committee approved subpoenas to White House political adviser Karl Rove, former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and deputy White House Counsel William Kelley to get them to testify about their roles in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys last year.

After 90 minutes of heated debate, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) went along with Republican requests not to hold a roll-call vote. So, Leahy ordered a voice vote and barked out for all those in favor of the subpoenas to say "aye" - and all 10 Democrats clearly yelled "aye", as did Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa).

Specter, who is advocating a compromise in which Rove would testify publicly but not under oath and without being subpoenaed, clearly opened his mouth and seemed to move his lips.

Then Leahy asked for the "nays", and Specter's mouth didn't open a sliver. Capitol Briefing convened a meeting of reporters afterward to decide whether Specter had voted in favor of the subpoenas. There was no clear answer, no one could actually confirm whether they heard him say "aye".

We pounced on Specter and demanded an answer. But Specter refused to say which way he voted. He said he did what he did and if we didn't notice he wasn't going to help us. After trying a number of different ways to get him to show his hand, we gave up and left.

But Specter had a change of heart and decided to clear the air, tracking down a few reporters. He did not deny that his mouth might have opened during the call for "ayes", but Specter denied saying anything, uttering any sound.

"The fact of the matter is that I did not say anything. I did not vote and say either 'aye' or 'nay'. I just sat there hoping that it would all go away through negotiations," he said. "Factually, I did not say a thing."

Is it clear then?

He simply has no position. The mouth might have opened, but nothing was said.

(A cheerful Capitol Briefing thank-you to Steve Tetreault of the Las Vegas Review-Journal for providing a taped version of Specter's final comments, as yours truly had given up on linguistical jousting by the time Specter tried to clear the air.)

Splitting hairs is nothing new for Specter, who in 1999 cited Scotish law in his vote of "not proven" in the President Clinton impeachment trial, while the other 99 senators took the senatorial route of saying "guilty" or "not guilty".

For those keeping score at home, the vote - if a roll call had been taken - appears to have been 11 committee members in favor of subpoenas, 7 opposed and one inaudible.

The next issue facing the committee is next Thursday's hearing with the former chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, D. Kyle Sampson, who was at the center of the plan to oust U.S. attorneys as far back as December 2004.

It's still unclear how forthcoming Sampson will be, given that some lawmakers have questioned whether Sampson may have obstructed justice by helping department officials craft testimony before the House and Senate Judiciary committees who gave statements that Sampson knew were misleading.

By Eric Pianin  |  March 22, 2007; 5:00 PM ET
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senator spector can be excused for his unintelligible response; he is a chronic mumbler like a certain hawkish senator from connecticut.

mumbling is often a defense mechanism for middle-aged men who use it to mask their response to questions from reporters and from their wives of 30 - 40 years

Posted by: charles jackson | March 22, 2007 5:28 PM | Report abuse

I think Patrick Leahy's next move should be very simple:

"There will be no further action on any judicial appointments until this matter is resolved to the Congress' satisfaction."

Posted by: Influential Thinker | March 22, 2007 5:51 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: David | March 22, 2007 6:08 PM | Report abuse

I use mumbling to hide the fact that I don't know the words.

Posted by: Not yet middle aged | March 22, 2007 6:09 PM | Report abuse

Senator Specter,

I have no idea if you follow your own media coverage to the degree that you actually read these comments, but as a constituent, I am deeply disappointed.

What we need is leadership. All I see is equivocation.

Not only is your legacy being irreparably compromised, but if you sign on with the administration's divisive and partisan agenda, your chances of reelection will surely be slim to none.

Damian Dressick
Pittsburgh, PA

Posted by: Damian in Pittsburgh | March 22, 2007 6:14 PM | Report abuse

Mr Dressick:

What partsian agenda are you talking about from the adminstration? It is the Democrats in Congress who have a very partsian agenda. Going fishing for something when nothing has been done that is illegal.

Posted by: Matt | March 22, 2007 6:28 PM | Report abuse

"Nothing has been done that is illegal" is not true (It is illegal for Senators to influence US Attorneys, as both NM Senators tried). That's the kind of slimey statement, ignoring ethics, that Bill Clinton might have made, and is surely the motto of Karl Rove, looking at all the election campaigns he has ruined with lies and innuendo.

Posted by: Linda Braun | March 22, 2007 6:43 PM | Report abuse

Specter is a sneaky, dishonest, spineless coward. We can thank him for his part in this mess from the beginning. Guys like Specter need to go find themselves a job they're more suited to. I wonder if there's such a thing as a professional p*ssy.

Posted by: Mark F. | March 22, 2007 6:51 PM | Report abuse

Of course he's conflicted on this.

Specter's the guy who trusted the Administration's "good intentions" on its expansion of executive power into the justice system, at the expense of Congress -- and wound up giving away the farm and the cows and the milk.

And now he must face how wrong he was, and how right Leahy has been all along.

He's still shaken because they ran someone against him from the right to intimidate him.

And it worked, even thought hose folks are losing, losing, losing.

He's a wagon hitched to two trains travelling in opposite directions.

No wonder it's hard to speak.

Posted by: Richard B. Simon | March 22, 2007 8:22 PM | Report abuse

The Senator is afraid that Rove will put a block on any money for reelection. That's the real deal. The Seantor has just screwed up. What heck does he mean by no oath?

Posted by: Alfred | March 22, 2007 9:34 PM | Report abuse

I would not hold this against Specter. I know that later, if the evidence is proven, he'll do the right thing. Well, I hope he will.
My guess is that the Administration has done everything it can to put pressure on Republican senators or representatives. Specter would head the list.
Kyle Sampson will undoubtedly be offered immunity because he would have undoubtedly been the middle man between Gonzales and those lower who had to do the dirty deed. And, if he, or anyone else, has fragments of the email traffic from those missing 16 days ... well, Id guess he'll deservedly be given that protection for his testimony.
In fact, one wonders whether the offers of immunity haven't already been discussed ... hence, the rejection of the White House offer. What kind of idiot would take a deal like that when a full 2 weeks of email traffic, which must be enormous ... can ALSO now be subpoened.
Anything that has an emanation point from the Justice Department, and it's email system, can be subpoened. Or, I would guess, there will be obstruction of justice charges bandied about. Traffic emanating from the White House would be covered, I'd guess, under their claims of executive privilege.
Traffic analysis would give any investigator sufficient information to conclude that x, y or z number of emails would have emanated from Justice to White House. And, if Justice was the agency designated to do the majority of the work ... then one would assume that this will help in trying to analyze where to look for missing evidence.
My guess would be that there are more than a few players out there who are working WITH the fired attorneys, not against them. That can only help their case.

Posted by: Ramparts | March 22, 2007 10:35 PM | Report abuse

What do you expect from an original signatory of the Warren Commission report? This guys been a crooked corporate wonk from day one. He is the worst example of a lifelong politician.

Posted by: JL | March 22, 2007 10:43 PM | Report abuse

Spector is one of my senators, and I am deeply disappointed. His "compromise" offers so often are pointless and useless. I remember vividly that when the Senate was voting on whether to deny habeas corpus to the Guantanamo detainees, Spector said publicly that it was patently unconstitutional (a quote), but then voted FOR it - so much for his oath to protect and defend the Constitution. As for any compromise, if a compromise is necessary, they ought to testify under oath and with a transcript - I'm willing to forego public testimony as long as all testimony is under oath and recorded. That would eliminate any appearance of a show trial while being able to hold them accountable for what they say.

Posted by: vklip | March 23, 2007 3:44 AM | Report abuse

Specter has just announced he intends to seek reelection in 2010. That puts him at the mercy of Republican powerbrokers (read Rove) who could easily run a well-funded someone against him. Another Sen. Santorum anyone? Specter is skirting along the razor's edge here, so, fellow Pennsylvanians, be careful what you wish for. Would you rather he voted on this and then lost his seat to some bible-thumping neo-con; or would you prefer he sit this vote out (knowing that the vote would pass without him) and stayed on fighting for the moderate Americans who are so pathetically under-represented in Congress?

To ramparts...
Its refreshing to read a post by someone who is capable of making intelligent commentary, as opposed to just whining and calling names or reiterating partisan talking points. Thanks.

Posted by: patrick huss | March 23, 2007 10:15 AM | Report abuse

Yes, Specter's been making BIG mistakes trying to have it both ways from 'way back. I didn't live in PA when he posited that a bullet could turn around in its trajectory... and I had to come to Philadelphia to learn that he had let murderer Ira Einhorn out (which let him elude justice for a long, long time) as D.A. But over the 20 some years I've lived in this area, I have seen the man talk out of both sides of his mouth so often, I'm not surprised that his mouth could move without anything coming out. For me, after he said he didn't think Gonzales was qualified, but he was going to vote for him anyway, I would hardly be surprised if he started speaking in tongues on the floor of the Senate.
As to the GOP running someone else against him and spitefully toppling the man, that just might give Joe Hoeffel another run at it. If there hadn't been so much money poured into Specter's last run and so much support from the party hierarchy, we just might have a true progressive representing this Commonwealth alongside the Democrat-as-usual we have in Casey.

Posted by: Lynn C. Jaeger | March 23, 2007 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Froomkin today:

"Sampson was the Bush administration's choice for Warner's replacement. But Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett backed former Senate Judiciary Committee staffer Brett Tolman.

"The contest resulted in a standoff of sorts. Bush ultimately picked Tolman last summer."

And who is Brett Tolman? None other than the staffer for Senator Arlen Specter who snuck that provision into the Patriot Act that allows Bush to appoint interim U.S. attorneys indefinitely -- thereby allowing him to circumvent the traditional process that calls for approval by home-state senators and requires Senate confirmation.

Posted by: RICO | March 23, 2007 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Senator Specter has turned into a clown.

Posted by: Terry Green | March 24, 2007 12:13 AM | Report abuse

Specter in 2010 - not a chance. Like all Republicans, he is tied to the Bushies. Specter talks like a moderate but can't break away from the money from the RNC needed for his reelection. Pennsylvanians showed Santorum the door and will do the same with Specter in 2010, thus the Keystone State will play a pivotal role in breaking the chains of political bondage that was once controlled by Rove and the RNC.

Posted by: Steve K | March 24, 2007 12:53 AM | Report abuse

1.Specter's aide was the one who slipped in the provision in the patriot act and who is now a US Attorney by abusing the rule--I don't think there was a national security threat in Utah, which was the only reason for the provision to be used.

2. Senator Specter has been implicated in e-mails released indicating him colluding with the administration on how to handle this fiasco.

3. Senator Specter has been advocating taking the White House offer and THEN subpoenaing officials if the judiciary committee doesn't get what it wants. Except if the senate accepts the offer, it precludes subpoenas in the future. He knows that and he is lying to the American public. If he isn't lying, he is severely incompetent since the offer isn't very complicated.

Those aren't partisan assertions. Those are the facts. This guy has zero credibility and why the MSM continues to use this guy as a source of sound bites is sickening.

Posted by: Mark | March 26, 2007 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Spector is a FRAUD. He claims to be a moderate but always goes along with Bush whenever it matters. Remember, a true Bush conservative would have defeated Spector in the Republican primary in 2004 but for the intervention of Bush who supported Spector. That is because in truth, whenever it matters, Spector is no more moderate the Trent Lott.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 26, 2007 2:37 PM | Report abuse

The US Attorney issue is an excellent event to allow repubs to remove themselves from the bush veil, to stand up as real men, not slaves to a political party and give them the break they need to reestablish PARTIAL credibility with the american people. Specter is the type of man who watches a house burn to the ground while not believing its actually happening and then goes over to the house and removes a burnt stud for evaluation to prove the house really did burn down. Leahy is the kind of man who smells smoke, calls the fire dept. and grabs a hose to help put it out. Immediate detection, immediate response. Thats what we expect our elect to do. How dumb are these people that keep saying that nothing was done wrong here? Would it not make more sense to remove the attorney general and US attorneys from presidential appointment? This scam needs to end. The attorney general has opposite and diametrically opposed loyalties and duties that are directly created by the appointment process. If something stinks in my refridgerator, I throw it out.

Posted by: alarmlv | March 27, 2007 1:05 AM | Report abuse

TO alarmlv:

I have been saying for some time: Let an incoming president appoint one/third of the USAs when elected. Rotate their terms so that the next batch can be appointed after the next election. Or, let the minority party in the Senate appoint them. Human nature being what it is, there always needs to be watchdogs guarding the hen house, on watch for skunks, foxes, and chicken snakes! Dr. Jerry W. Reeves, Chaplain Retired

Posted by: Dr. Jerry W. Reeves | March 27, 2007 5:43 PM | Report abuse

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