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Ex-solicitors general weigh in on Estrada probe

From Terry Frieden
CNN Washington

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- All seven former solicitors general of the United States signed a letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy Tuesday urging him to drop his request for confidential documents in his probe of judicial nominee Miguel Estrada.

Leahy, D-Vermont, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee which considers the nominations of federal judges, has demanded Justice Department documents containing the internal recommendations made by Estrada when he served in the solicitor general's office during Janet Reno's tenure as Attorney General.

Late Tuesday Leahy's spokesman David Carle said the senator's office had not yet received the letter but will look for it Wednesday morning. Carle also defended Leahy's request for the documents.

Three of the solicitors general served under Democratic administrations, four under Republican presidents.

"Any attempt to intrude into the Office's highly privileged deliberations would come at the cost of the Solicitor General's ability to defend vigorously the United States' litigation interests -- a cost that also would be borne by Congress itself," the former officials said in a copy of the letter obtained by CNN,.

The Justice Department's solicitor general decides when and how to appeal cases on behalf of the government, and represents the interests of the entire government including both the Executive Branch and the Congress in federal courts.

"Although we profoundly respect the Senate's duty to evaluate Mr. Estrada's fitness for the federal judiciary, we do not think that the confidentiality and integrity of internal deliberations should be sacrificed in the process," the letter concluded.

Several weeks ago the Justice Department refused to release the documents. Carle defended Leahy's request, saying, "similar requests have been made on earlier occasions, and the Justice Department response to Senator Leahy several weeks ago grossly misstated the facts and ignored precedent."

Leahy argues that such records are needed to check Estrada's fitness, and that similar processes were followed in the investigations of Supreme Court nominees Robert Bork and William Rehnquist.

The letter was written by Seth Waxman, the last of three solicitors general under the Clinton administration. The letter was sent on behalf of Waxman, Walter Dellinger, and Drew Days of the Clinton administration; Kenneth Starr from the George H.W. Bush administration; Charles Fried who served under Ronald Reagan; Robert Bork who also served under Reagan; and Archibald Cox who served under President John F. Kennedy.




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