Facing threats that the Senate Judiciary Committee might subpoena him, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson has disclosed details of a private conversation with presidential adviser Karl Rove. Dobson denied there was a “backroom deal” offering assurance that Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers would vote against abortion in exchange for his support.
Last week Dobson endorsed Miers, while telling listeners he could not fully disclose all his reasons for breaking rank with some fellow conservatives who oppose Bush’s nominee.
“It was leaked to the media that I’ve had conversations with Karl Rove, and the White House, which is true, but I have not revealed those conversations,” Dobson said last Wednesday.
Saying he knew some things about Miers “that I probably shouldn’t know,” Dobson said he supported Miers because she is an evangelical Christian, he had talked to people who say she is pro-life, and he didn’t believe Bush would appoint someone whom he believed would turn out to be a liberal jurist.
Dobson said he had other reasons that he would not share.
“I can’t reveal it all, because I do know things that I’m privy to that I can’t describe, because of confidentiality,” he said. “And there’s some things I can’t go into.”
“I can only say so much and after that say those are confidential conversations and contacts and I can’t go very far in that direction, and I won’t violate that.”
That prompted senators to say they wanted the same information and threaten to subpoena Dobson to find out.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he may call Dobson to testify about what confidential information he was given by the White House that makes him support Miers’ nomination.
“If Dr. Dobson knows something that he shouldn’t know or something that I ought to know, I’m going to find out,” Specter said on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.”
The panel’s leading Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, also said he would consider calling Dobson as a witness.
Specter said he wanted to know if any “backroom deals” were made to win support, including how she might vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a woman’s right to abortion.
According to a transcript of this Tuesday’s broadcast posted on the Focus on the Family Web site, Dobson said he was telling listeners what he would say if he were sitting before the judiciary committee about the essence of his conversation with Bush’s deputy chief of staff.
Rove, Dobson said, told him the day before the president made his decision that Miers’ name was on a short list and that she was a member of an evangelical church that opposed abortion.
Dobson insisted that Rove did not promise him that Miers would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, as some have speculated.
“We did not discuss Roe v. Wade in any context or any other pending issue that will be considered by the Court,” he said. “I did not ask that question. You know, to be honest, I would have loved to have known how Harriet Miers views Roe v. Wade. But even if Karl had known the answer to that, and I’m certain that he didn’t, because the president himself said he didn’t know, Karl would not have told me that. That’s the most incendiary information that’s out there and it was never part of our discussion.”
Dobson said everything Rove told him about Miers has now been widely reported but was confidential at the time because her name had not been announced.
He did reveal for the first time, however, that Rove told him some of the other individuals on the short list refused to be considered, because they didn’t want to face a divisive confirmation process.
Conservative critics of the president’s choice say Bush betrayed his conservative base by not putting forth a nominee with a clear judicial philosophy, fearing a repeat of his father’s pick of Justice David Souter, an unknown quantity who turned out to be one of the court’s more liberal justices.
Supporters, however, such as Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, say they trust the president in his court picks.
Dobson suggested the revelation that some other candidates removed themselves from consideration, along with the fact that he wanted to appoint a woman, which shortened the list even more, might help account for Miers’ surprise nomination.
Observers predict that Miers would be confirmed by the Senate, but some conservatives hope she will back out on her own because of concerns voiced by conservatives.
Jan LaRue, chief counsel for the Washington-based Concerned Women for America, a conservative Christian group, said the fact that Miers is an evangelical and personally opposes abortion does not guarantee she would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.
“Jimmy Carter claims to be an evangelical,” she said, quoted in Time magazine, “and I wouldn’t want to have him on the Supreme Court.”
Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics said Dobson should still be required to testify under oath.
“Senator Specter should call Dobson to testify about what he asked Rove, what Rove told him and when they talked,” Parham said. “Dobson’s explanation of the exchange fails the smell test. On one broadcast, he claims insider information from the president’s most trusted political adviser as the basis of his support for Miers. On a later broadcast, he shifts direction and downplays his special briefing. The public needs to know how the White House used a religious leader to do its bidding and how a religious right leader served as court prophet for the White House’s agenda.
“The Dobson/Rove episode offers a sad example of spoiled religion—religion in which religious leaders get so close to political operatives that they lose discernment.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.