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Miers Withdraws Under Fire From Both Sides of the Aisle

By David Stout 
and Timothy Williams
THE NEW YORK TIMES


WASHINGTON

Harriet E. Miers withdrew her nomination for the Supreme Court Thursday morning after weeks of increasingly heated debate over the depth of her conservative beliefs and her qualifications to fill the seat to be vacated by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Miers, President Bush’s White House counsel, told the president in a letter Thursday morning that she feared that the confirmation process “presents a burden for the White House and our staff that is not in the best interest of the country.” She said that even though her long career offered enough basis for senators to consider her nomination, “I am convinced the efforts to obtain executive branch materials and information will continue.”

Bush issued a statement in which he accepted Miers’ decision with regret, praised her “extraordinarily legal experience” and her character, and said he agreed that senators were intent on gaining access to internal White House documents about her service. Surrendering such paperwork would undercut any president’s ability to get frank and unfettered advice from key aides, Bush said.

“Harriet Miers’ decision demonstrates her deep respect for this essential aspect of the Constitutional separation of powers — and confirms my deep respect and admiration for her,” the president said. Bush said he would announce a new nominee “in a timely manner.”

Miers’ withdrawal is a severe political blow to President Bush, who had vowed to stand behind his nominee. The withdrawal comes as senior members of the Bush administration face possible indictment growing out of the disclosure of the identity of a CIA officer two years ago. Public opinion polls also show that the president’s popularity has fallen dramatically as the war in Iraq continues to claim Iraqi and American lives with no end in sight. Miers called President Bush at 8:30 Wednesday evening to inform him she had decided to step aside, the president’s chief spokesman, Scott McClellan, said Thursday. McClellan said the decision was hers alone, in recognition of the “unresolvable impasse” over the issue of separation of powers. As he has repeatedly, McClellan described Miers as “extraordinarily well qualified.”

Although the president and Miers cited the principle of separation of powers as the basis for her withdrawal, there appeared to be much more to it than that. The nominee had been severely criticized by senators of all political stripes — by conservatives who doubted her commitment to their cause, especially her feelings about abortion, and by moderates and liberals, who said they knew too little about her, especially since she had never been a judge.

That lack of a “paper trail” was the reason that senators offered for seeking documents related to her White House service — documents that Bush said he would never submit. Indeed, not many days ago Bush said that principle was “a red line” that he would never cross.

Coincidentally or not, Miers’ withdrawal, ostensibly over the principle of separation of powers as it relates to White House papers, is the very scenario that some conservative commentators have suggested as a face-saving ploy for the nominee and the White House.