Sen. Ken Salazar expressed doubts about Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers on Thursday, saying she remains a “mystery woman” following their nearly one-hour meeting in his office.
Salazar, D-Colo., stressed that he is far from reaching a final decision on Miers’ nomination to succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Still, he said he was disappointed that he learned very little from his questions about her experience, legal views and recent role as White House counsel.
“I just don’t feel comfortable saying I know this person,” Salazar told a gaggle of reporters who followed him to the Senate chambers following the meeting.
Salazar said he asked Miers about judicial precedents, about how personal beliefs would affect her legal rulings and about her role as top White House counsel during an ongoing investigation into the disclosure of a CIA agent’s identity.
Salazar said Miers provided very little information beyond what is publicly known. On the advice of a federal prosecutor, she would not answer any questions about a grand jury investigation into whether top administration officials leaked the identity of a covert CIA operative in order to discredit her husband, who questioned the weapons of mass destruction claims used to justify the Iraq war.
“I think the major problem with Harriet Miers is she’s still a mystery woman,” Salazar said.
Miers has faced skepticism or outright opposition from both liberals and conservatives who worry about her lack of a clear paper trail suggesting how she would act as a judge.
She has practiced law for three decades and has advised President Bush since his days as governor of Texas, but she has never been a judge. Salazar said that fact should not disqualify her, but that it adds impetus for the White House to release more records about her past legal work, particularly in her role as the president’s top legal adviser.
Salazar raised a similar concern about releasing records prior to his vote to confirm then-circuit court Judge John G. Roberts as Chief Justice. He said the need for information is even greater in Miers’ case.
“I think the White House will play a very dangerous game if they try to play a rope-a-dope game with the Senate” and refuse to release records, Salazar said.
It took two face-to-face meetings before Salazar was comfortable with Roberts.
“I felt I had more substance with Judge Roberts coming out of the first hour-long meeting than I did with Harriet Miers,” Salazar said. “He was answering more of my questions. I think the dialogue was easier.”
Asked if her nomination was gaining or losing momentum in the Senate, Salazar drew a comparison to Roberts.
“In contrast with Judge Roberts, his nomination drew a tremendous amount of support from many different walks of life,” Salazar said. “The momentum with Judge Roberts continued to build for a favorable (confirmation). I haven’t seen that same momentum build with Harriet Miers.”
Salazar and fellow Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard, a Republican, both are undecided on Miers’ nomination. But Allard said he mostly was comfortable with the way Miers answered his general questions about her background and legal approach during a meeting earlier this week.
“I think I’m getting to know her better,” Allard said Thursday.
He said it was unfair to draw comparisons between Miers’ and Roberts’ personal styles.
“You can’t compare her and Judge Roberts,” Allard said. “He’s an extremely articulate individual. . . . You can’t judge her on that.”
Unlike Miers, Roberts already had gone through one judicial confirmation process before his nomination to the Supreme Court. Allard said that’s why many senators are waiting to take a stand on her.
“I think there are a lot of people who are holding on, because they’re like me,” Allard said. “They want to get to know her.”