January 11, 2006

Alito bristles once, on questioning from Feingold.

In the WaPo, Charles Lane sees a "low-key performance," with Alito heating up only once, under questioning from Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold who "asked if Bush administration officials had helped sculpt his answers about the White House's use of the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on some communications inside the United States."
"Nobody has told me what to say," Alito snapped.
Well, there's a difference between being "told what to say" and receiving help sculpting your answers. You can be your own man and still want to support the President's side. And who doesn't think Alito had help preparing? Let's look at the transcript:
FEINGOLD: As I understand it, you've prepared for these hearings over the past few months with a variety of practice sessions. Some have called them moot courts or murder boards. Was the question of the president's power in time of war to take action contrary to a federal statute ever raised in any way during any of the practice sessions for these hearings?

ALITO: I have had practice sessions on a great variety of subjects, and I don't know whether that specific issue was brought up. It may have been. But what I can tell you...

FEINGOLD: You don't recall whether this issue...

ALITO: No, the issue of FISA certainly has been something that I have studied, and this is not -- FISA is not something that has come before me as a judge.

FEINGOLD: But you don't recall whether or not this was covered in the practice sessions?

ALITO: No, no, the specific question that you raised about the conflicts between the president's authority to say that a statute enacted by Congress should not be followed. But the general area of wiretapping and foreign intelligence surveillance, wiretapping...


FEINGOLD: ... the recent events that have led to this dispute...

ALITO: And the recent events.

FEINGOLD: ... and the possibility that it may come before you. Right, Judge?

ALITO: That's correct.

FEINGOLD: OK. Who was present at these practice sessions where these questions were discussed? And who gave you feedback or suggestions or made any comment whatsoever on the answers you gave?

ALITO: Nobody at these sessions or at any of the sessions that I had has ever told me what to say in response to any question.

FEINGOLD: I just asked -- were there no comments...

ALITO: The comments that I've received...

FEINGOLD: ... or no advice?

SPECTER: Let him answer the question, Senator Feingold.

ALITO: The advice that I've received has gone generally to familiarizing me with the format of this hearing, which is very different from the format of legal proceedings in which I've participated either as a judge or previously when I was arguing a legal issue as a lawyer.

But nobody has told me what to say. Everything that I've said is an expression of my own ideas.

FEINGOLD: And I don't question that, Judge. I asked you, though, whether anybody gave you any feedback or suggestions or made any comment whatsoever on the answers you gave in the practice sessions.

ALITO: In general? Yes, they've given me feedback, mostly about the form of the question, the form of the answers.

FEINGOLD: Have you received any other advice or suggestions directly or indirectly from anyone in the administration on how you should answer these questions?

ALITO: Not as to the substance of the question. No, Senator.

FEINGOLD: Only as to the style?

ALITO: That's correct; as to the format. Not as to what I should say I think about any of these questions. Absolutely not. I've been a judge for 15 years. And I've made up my own mind during all of that time.

FEINGOLD: Again, I'm not suggesting that.

ALITO: I just want to make that clear

FEINGOLD: I asking whether or not somebody talked about the possible legal bases that the president might assert with regard to the ability to do this wiretapping outside of the FISA statute. Was that kind of a discussion held?

ALITO: Nobody actually told me the bases that the president was asserting. I found the letter that was released last week or the week before by an assistant attorney general setting out arguments relating to this on the Internet myself and printed it out.

And I studied it to get some idea of some of the issues that might be involved here. And I looked at some other materials that legal scholars have put out on this issue. But nobody in the administration actually has briefed me on what the administration's position is with respect to this issue.

FEINGOLD: Does it strike you as being inappropriate for members of the Department of Justice or the White House staff who are currently defending the president's actions in the NSA domestic spying program to be giving you advice on how you might handle questions about that topic in the hearing?

ALITO: It would be very inappropriate for them to tell me what I should say. And I wouldn't have been receptive to that sort of advice. And I did not receive that kind of advice.
Nice interchange. Feingold deserves a lot of credit for listening to the answers and following up aggressively, and Alito interacted with him well. Does this count as "bristling" as Lane has it, or is this just real debate, and it overexcites us because we don't get to see enough of it?


Joan said...

Reading the transcript, Feingold comes off (to me) as rather dim: how many times, and in how many different ways, does Alito need to assert that no one in the administration "prepped" him? I think the exchange reflects better on Alito than it does on Feingold.

Henry said...

I don't think Feingold comes across badly, though this seems a little McCarthyite to me:

Who was present at these practice sessions where these questions were discussed? And who gave you feedback or suggestions or made any comment whatsoever on the answers you gave?

But I get Feingold's overall point. In my mind it was a pretty sophisticated way to push the idea that Alito could be rolled by executive influence.

But I also wonder if Feingold was thinking ahead to Congressional hearings on the NSA program and hoping to get a little "conflict-of-interest" ammunition to use against Justice Dept. witnesses.

DJ Ninja said...

Let me get this straight: he went and searched out on the internet a letter written by an assistant attorney general setting out the government's wiretapping arguments, but doesn't feel he was familiar enough with Bush v. Gore to comment on that case?

Ann Althouse said...

DJ Ninja: You, like most people, don't realize how incredibly complex the state and federal statutory law and the state and federal constitutional law were in that case. Virtually no one who freely talks about that case bothers with the actually legal details, I can tell you (because I had to write long articles to make sense of these provisions, something Alito hasn't done).

Coco said...

Feingold's question in this instance is the precise sort of questioning that should take place here and not the rambling diatribes that truly aren't meant to elicit any information. As any lawyer whose been through many depositions or trials knows, the "I don't have a specific recollection" or "I don't recall" (especially about important subjects that circumstantial facts suggest were indeed discussed very recently) followed by answers to specific questions that really answer a different questions are all clear clues that the witness (or nominee) here has been carefully coached. This is the best questioning I've read about so far. There's no doubt in mind that he was prepped on this subject (and probably very carefully so as to allow him to say for example, that he pulled information on his own) and Feingold was just doing what a good lawyer would do.

I wish more of these sessions were like this - i.e., the questioner has specific information in mind when he asks a question and cogently follows-up on his question.

Simon Peter said...

That seemed like a fairly decent political debate to me. Feingold is expected (if he likes the idea of support from the "base" in 2008) to go after Alito and Alito has to keep his claws in when answering if he's going to get any of the public opinion favour that will be needed to overcome the liberal bias of the MSM. Decent execution by both sides.

Jinnmabe said...

I agree. I'd score it Alito 10, Feinstein 9, but it's close. And they both sounded like they were listening to each other. Which I don't get enough of.

mnnngc said...

Too bad that Alito did not actually answer the question of who prepped him for the hearings. He managed to say that his opinions were his own without giving his opinion.

I don't understand these nominations. Apparently they don't have to answer any questions if they have the votes. These republicans seem to be lemmings they will just follow Bush right off a cliff.

Slac said...

Maybe it's because I didn't see the hearing, but reading the transcript, I thought Feingold was pretty sleazy.

Gossipy, even. Like a schoolgirl saying, "who was all at the party??! What did you guys talk about! Was Brad there? Did he mention me? Did he mention that thing I'm working on, the Patriot Act, because I'm working on that, you know."

"What??! You shouldn't be talking to him! Are you on his side? That's it. We're not friends anymore."

Okay - maybe I have an overactive imagination.

Dr. Miller said...

The comment by mnnngc is very funny! Bush isn't going over any cliff. He has a higher IQ than Kerry, and he made better grades than Kerry at Yale. The smarter man won the election! Judge Alito is what makes America the Shining City on a Hill. He got where he is the same way I did. He worked his ass off, and he treated other people with fairness. Can't you see that? You Libs are lucky Bush nominated a guy who will protect your right to whine in 4-year increments. Talk about lemmings!

madcat said...

I can't believe for a moment that Alito only received feedback on style, not substance.

Nor can I believe that others actually believe that.

Netpowersoft said...
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