The field for Alberto Gonzales' replacement has narrowed to two, with Ted Olson remaining the front runner, The New York Times reports
this morning. Olson in unequivocally not the nonpartisan pick Democrats had urged
President Bush to make.
As Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) puts it to the Times
âClearly if you made a list of consensus nominees, Olson wouldnât appear on that list.... My hope is that the White House would seek some kind of candidate who would be broadly acceptable.âHow staunch
of an opposition to Olson's candidacy Democrats would offer is an open question. The Times
reports that the administration is betting that Democrats "will pay a political price if they try to block confirmation of a new attorney general. The thinking inside the White House is that Democrats cannot call for new leadership at the Justice Department, then block it."
The case against Olson is considerable. The chief issue driving opposition to Olson's nomination as solicitor general back in 2001 (he very narrowly passed, 51-47) was his role in the so-called Arkansas Project, the well-funded and unscrupulous effort to unseat the Clintons via scandal. Olson sat on the board of directors for The American Spectator
, the organ for the effort, but when he was questioned about his role, he downplayed it, leading to accusations that he'd lied
to the Senate Judiciary Committee. So you have a confirmed partisan (don't forget his role as representing the administration in Bush v. Gore
) who was less than candid in testimony to Congress. Hardly much of an improvement from Gonzales.
But there are some mitigating factors. Olson lost his third wife, Barbara Olson (author of a screed
against Hillary Clinton) on 9/11. The Wall Street Journal reports
today that the administration could thus gain "an emotional political advantage," with Olson's nomination.
More considerable is Olson's role in the administration as solicitor general. James Comey testified to Congress, for instance, that he'd sought out
Olson to serve as a kind of backup for him after the infamous Ashcroft/Gonzales hospital showdown in March, 2004. Because Olson is someone that Comey "respects enormously," as Comey testified, he asked Olson to accompany him to his late-night meeting with Andrew Card in the White House to serve as a witness. Olson's role in that showdown -- he backed Comey in the dispute -- might serve to temper Democrats' view of his past.
On the other hand, the position of solicitor general is much different from that of attorney general. And Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) opposed Olson's nomination as solicitor general back in 2001 because he was unconvinced that Olson's "sharp partisanship over the last several years might not be something that he could leave behind." That doesn't sound like a person who could fix the Justice Department.
Olson isn't the only nominee in the running. George Terwilliger, George H.W. Bush's former deputy attorney general, is still in it. Though the Times
reports that Leahy is "cool" to that option and that Terwilliger "may also be criticized for partisanship, given his association with conservatives who have embraced the administrationâs expansion of executive powers during wartime."
reports that the other three names floated in the past week have all bowed out. So it seems fair to conclude that this is not a nomination that will go smoothly.