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As Momentum Grew Against Her, a 'Good Soldier' Acted

Sources say two factors sealed Miers' fate: lackluster meetings with senators and a reluctance to release White House records.

October 28, 2005|Maura Reynolds | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — On Wednesday, shortly before midnight, weary White House aides traveled up to Capitol Hill with boxes of documents sought by senators considering the nomination of White House Counsel Harriet E. Miers as an associate justice of the Supreme Court. At 7:30 a.m. Thursday, they were busy conferring with Senate staffers on the logistics of distributing the papers.

They were apparently unaware that 11 hours earlier, Miers had pulled the plug on her own nomination.

About 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, from her office in the West Wing, Miers telephoned President Bush in the White House living quarters, White House officials said. Bush was "deeply disappointed," said White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.

McClellan and others in the White House insisted that the decision had been Miers' alone. But interviews with White House officials, senators and congressional staff indicated her action was the culmination of a long day in which information and opinion moving between the White House and Congress coalesced into a sense that the nomination -- troubled from the start -- could not be rescued.

Most individuals interviewed for this article declined to speak for attribution -- in part out of respect for Miers, saying they did not want to suggest that she had been pushed by the White House or by congressional leaders to take her name out of consideration.

But a source close to the White House said that when Miers learned that her nomination was not being received favorably by senators, she offered to step aside.

"Harriet, being a good soldier, knows the president would never ask her on his own to withdraw," the source said. "So she saluted and fell on her sword."

On Wednesday morning, congressional leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), went to the White House and met with Bush before he was to sign a gun liability bill. As they talked, Frist raised the issue of Miers' nomination, telling the president that it was running into difficulty with Republicans.

Shortly thereafter, former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, who was directing the confirmation effort for the White House, headed to Capitol Hill, where he talked with about half a dozen senators. He buttonholed Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) -- an influential member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was considering Miers' nomination -- during the recess of a subcommittee hearing.

At a previously scheduled lunch, Gillespie was joined by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), another Judiciary Committee member and Miers' chief Senate champion, and two advisors to the White House on judicial matters -- Leonard A. Leo, on leave from his position as executive vice president of the Federalist Society, and former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, the liaison between Miers and the Senate.

When Cornyn was called to the Senate floor for a vote, the others followed, resuming their discussion in Vice President Dick Cheney's office in the Capitol. An aide to Cornyn said the four men were working to rally support for Miers.

"It wasn't an 'end it' meeting," said Cornyn spokesman Don Stewart. "It was a 'make it better' meeting."

After the meeting, Coats spent an hour in the Washington office of Concerned Women for America, one of the nation's largest Christian advocacy organizations. The organization boasts 600,000 members, and had rallied them in the 2000 and 2004 elections on the president's behalf.

Before he arrived, the group's senior staff had concluded over lunch that they had more than enough information to formally oppose her nomination.

All they needed was permission from the group's founder, evangelical author Beverly LaHaye, who was on a plane to Palm Springs.

When LaHaye arrived home, she was told that the group's staff was recommending to oppose Miers, and she phoned to give her approval.

At the same time, Coats was urging the organization's general counsel, Jan LaRue, to hold back on any statement until after Miers' confirmation hearings, scheduled to begin Nov. 7. She was called out of the room to get LaHaye's message.

"I went back in and told him, and told him I didn't want him to be blindsided," LaRue said. "He was obviously disappointed that we weren't able to wait until the hearing."

Coats returned to the White House and related the news.

Meanwhile, staff members on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue also had been conferring.

"We were all feeding information into the White House -- how it was going, where the problems were. I was one of those," Coats said. But he denied playing a role in Miers' withdrawal, saying he did not speak with her directly before departing for the day.

"Between the time I left, around 6:30 p.m., and the time she submitted her resignation to the president at 8:30 p.m., I don't know what happened -- although I realized the hurdle had gotten very high," he said.

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