Remember when Hillary Clinton dared suggest that a vast right-wing conspiracy was behind the campaign to destroy her husband’s presidency? Well, the troubles besetting the nomination of Theodore B. Olson as US solicitor general provide stunning evidence of what she had in mind.
Olson’s confirmation hearing was abruptly suspended last week by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) after a report in the Washington Post raised questions about Olson’s truthfulness under oath about his relationship to right-wing billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife and the $2.3-million, anti-Clinton Arkansas Project of Scaife’s American Spectator magazine. Olson served as the magazine’s lawyer and on its board of directors, but when questioned by Democratic members of the committee as to his connection with the infamous Arkansas Project, Olson stated: “It has been alleged that I was somehow involved in that so-called project. I was not involved in the project in its origin or its management.”
That statement was subsequently contradicted in testimony before the Judiciary Committee by David Brock, the writer responsible for the key American Spectator articles attacking the Clintons. Brock stated that he was present at “brainstorming” sessions on the Arkansas Project with Olson at the home of American Spectator Chairman R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. Brock connected Olson with the Spectator’s strangest article linking Clinton to the suicide of his close friend and aide, Vincent Foster. According to the Post, Brock said Olson told him that “while he didn’t place any stock in the piece, it was worth publishing because the role of the Spectator was to write Clinton scandal stories in hopes of ‘shaking scandals loose.”‘
That is not the sort of judicious, nonpartisan stance that one would hope for from a nominee to the position of solicitor general, often called the “tenth member of the Supreme Court,” who represents the US government before the Court.
Since judicial objectivity is key to the performance of this all-important job, it was irresponsible of President Bush to nominate Olson, a key leader of the right wing’s nonstop attacks on Clinton. Olson not only was deeply connected with Scaife and the American Spectator but he also represented David Hale, the key witness against Clinton in the Whitewater case, and advised Paula Jones. His partisanship was amply manifested when he represented Bush before the US Supreme Court to halt the recount of Florida ballots.
But the issues now being raised against Olson’s nomination go beyond partisanship and deal with the honesty of his testimony under oath before the Judiciary Committee. In addition to the testimony of ex-Spectator writer Brock, the Washington Post reported that Olson and a fellow law partner at Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher prepared some of the anonymous anti-Clinton material that was published in the Spectator.
The Post reported last Friday that American Spectator documents show that Olson’s law firm was paid more than $14,000 for work on the Arkansas Project. Part of this money was to pay for a hit piece on the Clintons that Olson purportedly wrote under a pseudonym, cataloging all the possible laws that the Clintons might have violated if the unsubstantiated charges hurled at them by their right-wing critics proved true.
After the Post ran its story last week, Hatch conceded “there are legitimate issues” justifying his decision to defer action on Olson’s nomination pending further investigation. One issue concerns Olson’s testimony at an April 5 hearing of the Judiciary Committee as to how he came to represent Hale, a key source for the Spectator. Olson said he couldn’t remember how the contact was made and never mentioned David W. Henderson, the Arkansas Project director. But Henderson last week told the Post he was the person who introduced Hale to Olson.
Even if one assumes that Olson has a conveniently poor memory on key matters relating to his involvement with the American Spectator and its Arkansas Project, his behavior hardly suggests the stellar qualities required of the chief representative of the US people before the highest judicial body. Nor is this the first time Olson’s credibility in testimony before Congress was questioned. The Post article noted that, in 1986, Independent Counsel Alexia Morrison was appointed to investigate whether Olson had provided misleading testimony to a congressional committee when he worked at the Justice Department in 1983. Morrison concluded that Olson’s testimony was “disingenuous and misleading,” but that his statements were “literally true” and therefore he could not be criminally prosecuted.
Pretty slippery for the “tenth member of the Supreme Court,” but, sadly, given the recent shenanigans of the Court’s right-wing majority, Olson should fit right in if he is ultimately confirmed.