Uncritically echoing Specter, Harwood suggested Schumer has a conflict of interest on attorney issue

››› ››› RYAN CHIACHIERE

On the March 18 edition of NBC's Nightly News, while discussing the congressional investigation into the Bush administration's controversial dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys, CNBC chief Washington correspondent John Harwood asserted that "[o]ne danger for Democrats is whether they look too political in exploiting this." Harwood then cited the fact that Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) -- who has raised questions about whether the firings were politically motivated -- serves both as the Administrative Oversight and the Courts Subcommittee chairman on the Senate Judiciary Committee and as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC). But in raising the issue of Schumer's possible conflict, which Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) brought up during an earlier appearance on Fox News Sunday, Harwood left out of his report Schumer's direct response to the charges that morning on NBC's Meet the Press; Schumer said that he is probing only the administration's conduct and that he intends to leave any issues involving lawmakers to the congressional ethics committees.

On the March 18 edition of Fox News Sunday, Specter told host Chris Wallace, "I think that the inquiry by the Judiciary Committee ought to have at least a modicum of objectivity," and characterized the fact that Schumer is on the Judiciary Committee and also "is doing a job to defeat Senator [Pete] Domenici [R-NM]" as a "conflict of interest."

While interviewing Schumer on the March 18 edition of Meet the Press, host Tim Russert addressed such charges: "There are some supporters of the president who are saying ... 'Chuck Schumer's a member of the Judiciary Committee, but he's also chairman of the campaign committee to elect Democratic senators, and this is all about politics.' " Schumer responded by asserting that his committee "is simply looking into the misdeeds in the executive branch, in the Justice Department, in the administration." He further noted that "[a]nything that has to do with any elected official, any congressman, any senator, will be handled by the ethics committee." Schumer concluded by saying, "[T]here's no conflict whatsoever."

From the March 18 edition of NBC's Nightly News:

JOHN SEIGENTHALER (anchor): With the Democrats now in charge, is this just a sample of what the Bush administration can expect from Congress?

HARWOOD: Without question, and that may be the most dramatic consequence of the 2006 elections. Investigating the Bush administration is a lot easier than passing new laws, as Democrats are discovering in their struggle over exactly what to do about Iraq. One danger for Democrats is whether they look too political in exploiting this. Senator Schumer sits on the Judiciary Committee; he also chairs his party's Senate campaign machinery for 2008.

From the March 18 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:

WALLACE: Senator, do you think that the administration used its emergency powers under the Patriot Act to get around sending at least some of the replacements for these U.S. attorneys to the Senate for confirmation? And if so, was that appropriate?

SPECTER: I don't think -- I don't think they did. The provision in the Patriot Act which expanded the attorney general's power was not noticed by anybody, and it was in the conference report for some three months. It was only when it was put into effect and we saw its harmful application that we saw it was a bad change in law, and Senator [Dianne] Feinstein [D-CA] took the lead, and I have co-sponsored her legislation to change that back.

WALLACE: This week, you said that New York Democratic Senator Schumer -- that his role leading the investigation into the U.S. attorneys at the same time that he's running the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee is a conflict of interest. Has he crossed a line here?

SPECTER: I think he has. And I confronted Senator Schumer on it eyeball-to-eyeball on Thursday in the Judiciary Committee meeting. But let's look at what the facts are. Senator Schumer is leading the inquiry, and the day after we have testimony about Senator Domenici, he puts his name up on the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee criticizing or, really, making the argument that he ought not to be re-elected.

Now, I think that the inquiry by the Judiciary Committee ought to have at least a modicum of objectivity, and if Mr. Schumer is doing a job to defeat Senator Domenici, which he is now -- that's his job as chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee -- that he puts it up on their website the very next day, and then he has made very conclusory and judgmental statements all along.

And I challenged him on that a week ago in the Judiciary Committee, and he calls it a purge, and he's taken a very political stance. Now, he's got a right to do that. He's a politician and I'm a politician. But I don't think he can do both things at the same time without having a conflict of interest, but that's up for him to decide.

WALLACE: Senator, we only have about 30 seconds left. Are you calling on Senator Schumer to step down -- if he's going to continue this political effort, are you calling on him to step down in terms of leading the investigation?

SPECTER: Nope, I'm calling on him to use his own judgment on that. If I call him to step down, somebody's going to say Arlen Specter is trying to stifle this investigation, and I'm not. I've been totally cooperative, as all of my Republican colleagues have been, with this investigation. But when he has a conflict of interest, I'm not going to be afraid to say so.

From the March 18 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:

RUSSERT: There are some supporters of the president who are saying, "Sure, Chuck Schumer's a member of the Judiciary Committee, but he's also chairman of the campaign committee to elect Democratic senators, and this is all about politics."

SCHUMER: Yeah, this is much too serious to be about politics, and the bottom line is our committee is simply looking into the misdeeds in the executive branch, in the Justice Department, in the administration. Anything that has to do with any elected official, any congressman, any senator, will be handled by the ethics committee. So there's no conflict whatsoever.

Posted In
Elections, Government, Ethics
Network/Outlet
NBC
Person
John Harwood
Show/Publication
NBC Nightly News
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