In complying with White House “ground rules” on Roberts docs, Wash. Post again ignored Democrats' arguments for full disclosure

Complying with “ground rules” set by Bush administration officials, The Washington Post published a July 26 article that presented the White House's arguments for withholding documents written by Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. during his tenure as the Justice Department's deputy solicitor general under President George H.W. Bush -- without any Democratic rebuttal.

Under a purported embargo, which the Post said prevented reporters from revealing the administration's decision until midnight -- “too late” to contact Democrats for a response -- staff writers Peter Baker and Charles Babington quoted anonymous White House officials spinning the decision regarding the documents. But while other contemporaneous print media reports noted Democrats' previously stated arguments for full disclosure of the documents, the Post omitted them for the second day in a row.

The Post article, headlined “White House to Release Early Roberts Papers,” reported that the White House will provide materials from Roberts's time in the White House counsel's office while withholding the Justice Department documents. Noting only that Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) had earlier “urged the representatives of the White House to be as cooperative as they possibly could” in providing documents, Baker and Babington justified excluding any Democratic response to the decision by noting that Bush administration officials “disclosed the new policy under ground rules requiring anonymity and an embargo until midnight, too late for Democratic reaction.” But other media outlets reporting on the administration's decision to withhold the documents, including The New York Times and the Associated Press, noted previous Democratic arguments for full disclosure, including their claim of historical precedent and the need to supplement Roberts's thin paper trail.

The Post cited several arguments put forth by anonymous officials in the current Bush administration for withholding the Justice Department memos, including that the documents the White House will provide from Roberts's tenure in the White House counsel's office under President Reagan are “sufficient” and that the Justice Department memos are “key to the solicitor general's deliberations over legal strategy, and releasing them would damage traditional privilege.”

But unlike the Times and the AP, the Post failed to report that Democrats have argued that there is significant precedent for turning over internal memos from the Justice Department. In recent days, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has cited numerous examples of previous administrations turning over comparable documents during Senate nomination proceedings.

In addition to ignoring the Democrats' argument that there is precedent for releasing Justice Department documents, the Post portrayed the Democrats' request for the documents as an indirect attack on the nominee: “Rather than launch a frontal attack on Roberts, Democrats have focused on pressuring the administration for documents, expecting to use any refusal against him as they have with other Bush nominees.”

By contrast, the Times reported that while Democrats “must be careful to avoid the perception that they are on a partisan witch hunt,” Roberts has “produced a scant record of judicial opinions after only two years on the federal bench” and the Democrats “want as much information as possible about Judge Roberts's record.” Similarly, the AP reported that “since his [Roberts's] two-year tenure on the federal bench has left him with a limited public record, they [Democrats] have hinted they may seek memos, briefs and other documents he wrote as an administration lawyer in the Reagan and first Bush administrations to shed more light on his stands on such issues as abortion, the environment and federal jurisdiction.”