News reports suggest ethical questions about Miers, but fail to place them in broader context

››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

Several news reports about President Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement have noted Miers's lack of judicial experience and her role as chairwoman of the scandal-plagued Texas Lottery Commission during Bush's time as Texas governor. Some have also reported her involvement in the Bush National Guard controversy.

But most of these reports have not connected possible ethical questions about Miers, or questions about her lack of judicial experience, to the broader political context surrounding her nomination. Miers's nomination comes at a time when Bush is under fire for putting unqualified but well-connected people -- such as former Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director Michael D. Brown -- in high-level government positions, and when the Bush administration and the Republican Party are enmeshed in a lengthy list of ethics and legal controversies.

CNN correspondent Jeffrey Toobin did place Miers's nomination in the context of broader questions about the Bush administration on the October 3 edition of CNN's American Morning:

TOOBIN: You know, Soledad [O'Brien, anchor], I think this might be a very controversial nomination. She is the White House counsel, the chief lawyer for the president at the White House. She was former deputy domestic policy adviser. She was head of the Texas Bar Association, a lawyer in Dallas. Most importantly, and you're certainly going be hearing a lot about this, she was President Bush's personal lawyer when he lived in Texas. This is a president who has been accused of cronyism at FEMA, in other settings recently. This, I guess, will be raised here.

She has no judicial experience. She's never been a judge. She has virtually no public positions that we know of. So it's very much, I would say, a stealth nominee in terms of someone with a record on much of anything, particularly legal issues, like privacy, like affirmative action. But she's pretty much a blank slate. She served on the Dallas City Council, I believe, for just one term. That is the extent of her public record. But it's pretty thin.

Philadelphia Daily News senior writer Will Bunch explained Miers's role in the Texas Lottery Commission and the Bush National Guard scandal.

In an October 3 article posted to its website after Miers's nomination, The New York Times omitted any mention of the questions raised in a profile of Miers it published in November 2004 -- much less the political context in which the Miers nomination was made -- instead reporting that Bush "gave her the task of cleaning up that scandal-plagued agency."

Below are excerpts from other news reports that have touched on the ethical questions surrounding the Miers nomination without placing them in broader context.

The October 3 edition of ABC News' political newsletter The Note mentioned in passing Miers' involvement in the Bush National Guard story:

We expect to hear more about this July 17, 2000, Newsweek story about the President's service in the National Guard:

"The Bushies' concern began while he was running for a second term as governor. A hard-nosed Dallas lawyer named Harriet Miers was retained to investigate the issue; state records show Miers was paid $19,000 by the Bush gubernatorial campaign. She and other aides quickly identified a problem -- rumors that Bush had help from his father in getting into the National Guard back in 1968. Ben Barnes, a prominent Texas Democrat and a former speaker of the House in the state legislature, told friends he used his influence to get George W. a guard slot after receiving a request from Houston oilman Sid Adger. Barnes said Adger told him he was calling on behalf of the elder George Bush, then a Texas congressman. Both Bushes deny seeking any help from Barnes or Adger, who has since passed away. Concerned that Barnes might go public with his allegations, the Bush campaign sent Don Evans, a friend of W's, to hear Barnes's story. Barnes acknowledged that he hadn't actually spoken directly to Bush Sr. and had no documents to back up his story. As the Bush campaign saw it, that let both Bushes off the hook. And the National Guard question seemed under control."

The New York Times reprinted a November 2004 profile of Miers that noted that her tenure as chairwoman of the Lottery Commission ended when she "unexpectedly resigned after five years that were marked by controversy":

In 1995, Mr. Bush, then in his first months as governor of Texas, appointed Ms. Miers to a six-year term as chairwoman of the Texas Lottery Commission. Ms. Miers unexpectedly resigned after five years that were marked by controversy and the dismissal of two executive directors of the commission. The first executive director, Nora Linares, was fired in 1997 when it became public that her boyfriend had worked for the company that held the contract to operate the lottery. Ms. Linares's successor was dismissed after only five months when he began reviewing campaign contributions of state legislators without the commission's knowledge. Despite the problems, as well as the lottery's declining sales, The Dallas Morning News praised Ms. Miers when she resigned in 2000 for ''preserving the operations' integrity.''

The Houston Chronicle reported:

During her five years as chairwoman of the Texas Lottery Commission, Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers played a key role in firing two executive directors and was known for her no-nonsense approach.

[...]

Eighteen months after Miers' appointment, reports surfaced that lottery director Nora Linares' boyfriend had been employed as a consultant for the lottery's main contractor, GTECH Corp.

Although Linares said she didn't know he worked for GTECH until shortly before the arrangement became public, the Miers-led commission fired her in January 1997, saying she couldn't be an effective leader because she'd been so damaged by the scandal.

Linares filed a lawsuit over her firing against the Texas Lottery Commission. She later dropped that lawsuit and instead sued GTECH, claiming it caused her to lose her $82,687-a-year job. An agreement ending a dispute with the three-member commission exonerated Linares of any wrongdoing, saying her firing was not based on anything she had done.

The commission fired Linares' replacement in October 1997, four months after he was hired. Lawrence Littwin's dismissal came amid a decline in sales, but the commission wouldn't say why he was fired. He had ruffled feathers for ordering lottery security officers to research campaign finance records of 30 current and former state officials.

Posted In
Government, Nominations & Appointments
Stories/Interests
Supreme Court Nominations, Miers Nomination
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