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.
March 22, 2007; 5:00 PM ET
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