Washington Prowler

Hillary’s Offensive Holding

Why isn't she being penalized? Plus: Schumer and NSA turf wars. McCain reachout for 2008.

By 1.2.06

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STEALTH PAYBACK
Sources on both sides of the Senate aisle say that, her denials aside, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was at the very least the most influential voice in sending the D.C. Circuit Court nomination of White House adviser Brett Kavanaugh back to the desk of President Bush.

"She has had a hold on his nomination in the past," says a Senate Democratic leadership source. "At the time that Senator Frist asked that the nomination be extended, I don't know that it was her hold, but she surely had influence over the decision. Everyone on our side knows why she was less than thrilled with Kavanaugh as a nominee."

Another Democratic staffer says that his boss, a Democratic Senator from a Western state, told staff that it was a "Hillary Hold" or objection that killed the Kavanaugh nomination. A Republican Senate staffer also confirmed that that her boss had confirmed Senator Clinton's involvement in the Kavanaugh nomination's death.

The reason for Hillary's hostility, of course, is Kavanaugh's former role as a deputy to former Clinton Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr. Kavanaugh's nomination has been stalled for years; at times Democrats have complained that he was too young for the D.C. Circuit, or pointed to his political past. But in the end, it was Clinton's holds and passive aggressive stance on the nominee that kept Democrats opposed.

Republican sources say that they do not know who had the final hold on Kavanaugh, or who raised final objections to Kavanaugh, though one knowledgeable GOP source says that Republican Senators on the Judiciary Committee discussed the nomination's failure, with one member saying that he was certain that it was Clinton's hold based on conversations with Democratic colleagues.

"If it wasn't her hold, it was a hold placed on Brett at her or her staff's behest. You can split hairs over just whose name is on the slip, but when it comes down to it, the Democrats in the Senate believe this is a hold that Senator Clinton wants and supports wholeheartedly," says a Democratic staffer on the Judiciary Committee. "This was a team thing, like a lot of the holds have been."

In fact, Democrats have increasingly been turning to so-called "rolling holds" on nominations as a strategy to stall nominations and relieve pressure from being placed on a single member of the caucus from outside groups lobbying on the nominee's behalf.

Republicans expect Kavanaugh to be re-nominated sometime this year by the White House.

TURF LEAKS
Sen. Chuck Schumer took to the airwaves on Sunday saying that the leakers of the story about NSA data mining for al Qaeda operatives within and beyond U.S. borders, may have been whistleblowers rather than breakers of national security law, a point almost every knowledgeable source says is just not believable.

"Whoever the leaker was knew about the established law related to Presidential powers. If it didn't come from the NSA, it came from a handful of people who would have known about the program, understood what it did and did not do, and still leaked it to create political controversy, because there is no legal controversy," says a Senate Intelligence Committee staffer. "People here were briefed on this program for years and there was no crisis of conscience, because there was no crisis to be created. We are fighting the bad guys. And this program is helping us. It's that simple."

On Sunday, the New York Times went with a story that reported that the Department of Justice had been pursuing an ongoing audit of the NSA data mining project, and "[t]hat review is not known to have found any instances of abuses."

That fact was buried in the story, which instead focused on the internal Bush Administration debate over the NSA operation. Given the turf warfare such a program could engender -- Department of Justice, NSA, NSC, CIA, DOD, Homeland Security -- it shouldn't have been a surprise that there were ongoing debates and infighting.

"The New York Times is making this out to be the mother of all fights, but this kind of stuff always creates debates and turf fights," says a current Department of Homeland Security staffer. "Everyone wants their opinion on the record, they want their guy at the table, and this was one of those situations. Unfortunately you have people with axes to grind leaking and making it appear that this particular situation was somehow different."

DOWN TO BUSINESS
Look for shakeups on Sen. John McCain's staff in the coming weeks as he begins to strategize about deploying an organization leading into his decision to run for President in 2008. Based on less than stellar results from fundraising forays in New York and elsewhere in the past six months, McCain is looking to strengthen his outreach to conservatives, and to shore up his financial standing compared to Republican challengers.

Right now, the only stated candidates focused on making plans for a run are Sen. George Allen and Gov. Mitt Romney. Others are exploring the possibility, including former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Sen. Sam Brownback, and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

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