A document dispute forced Miers' withdrawal? Don't believe it

The right forced Bush's hand on the nominee. A dispute over documents gave him cover for getting out.

Published October 27, 2005 1:37PM (EDT)

George W. Bush is blaming his withdrawal of Harriet Miers' nomination on senators who sought documents reflecting her work at the White House. "It is clear that senators would not be satisfied until they gained access to internal documents concerning advice provided during her tenure at the White House -- disclosures that would undermine a president's ability to receive candid counsel," Bush said.

If the White House has ever floated a more transparently false cover story, it's hard to remember it. The fact is this: Opposition from the right, and not a dispute with the Senate, forced Bush to bail on Harriet Miers. The right was always iffy on Miers. Pro-Bush groups began running anti-Miers TV ads this week, and -- after the Washington Post unearthed a 1993 speech in which Miers seemed way too squishy on abortion rights -- Concerned Women for America called for the nominee's withdrawal yesterday.

With the Valerie Plame scandal threatening to hurt Bush further with the middle of the country, the White House needed to move quickly to keep its base on board. Charles Krauthammer laid out a plan for an exit strategy last week, and the White House has followed it to a "T": Manufacture a dispute over White House documents, declare an impasse and let the honorable Harriet Miers spare the nation an irreconcilable dispute between the legislative and executive branches by graciously withdrawing her nomination. When the president was asked Monday about a report that the White House was considering a contingency plan for Miers' withdrawal, Bush blurted out instead that he would never turn over documents from the White House "about the decision-making process, what her recommendations were." It wasn't an answer to the question Bush had been asked, and yet it was: The trumped-up, or at least not yet fully realized, document dispute was, in fact, the "contingency plan."

That dispute still hadn't come to a head this morning, when the White House announced Miers' withdrawal and said that the dispute was the cause. Indeed, in the last day or so, Republican Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter was still talking about ways to work with the White House to limit the Senate's document requests in such a way as to avoid problems of executive privilege.

But Bush didn't need a solution. He needed an out. The document dispute, such as it was, provided him one, and now he has taken it.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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