Arkansas Project Should Haunt Olson

Just what did Theodore B. Olson know about the Arkansas

Project, and when did he know it? Those simple questions have complicated the

confirmation of the Bush administration’s choice for Solicitor General, whose

shifting, carefully parsed answers have raised real doubt about his candor.

Three months ago, President George W. Bush selected the

right-wing legal luminary who had represented him in Bush v. Gore to serve as Solicitor General, a top Justice

Department position once held by Mr. Olson’s friend and former law partner,

Kenneth Starr. Sometimes called “the 10th justice,” the Solicitor General’s

chief responsibility is to represent the executive branch before the Supreme

Court; the occupant of that office is often considered a potential future

nominee for a seat on the highest bench.

Although Mr. Olson is well regarded as an attorney, his

nomination has been stalled by concerns about his ultra-partisan activities.

Specifically, he has been asked by the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary

Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, about his role in the covert, $2.4

million anti-Clinton crusade mounted by The

American Spectator magazine between

1993 and 1997, with tax-exempt funds provided by conservative billionaire

Richard Mellon Scaife’s foundations.

Unconvinced by his responses, Mr. Leahy and other members of

the committee have at least twice postponed votes to confirm Mr. Olson. They

are disturbed by recent reports in The

Washington Post which have contradicted his denials that he played any part

in the “origin and management” of the Arkansas Project.

Having agreed in early May that this topic deserved further

scrutiny, committee chairman Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican, abruptly

reversed himself and declared the matter closed on May 14. But the committee’s

Democrats are resisting Mr. Hatch’s attempt to push the nomination through.

(Incidentally, readers who rely upon The

New York Times for national news are probably unaware of these events-the Times Washington bureau has for some

reason virtually ignored its main rival’s news breaks-and may want to consult

Washpost.com or Salon.com for thorough coverage.)

The evidence of Mr.

Olson’s involvement in the Arkansas Project is substantial and still expanding.

Financial records of the American

Spectator Educational Foundation show several payments in 1994 to his law

firm, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, listed explicitly as Arkansas Project

“expenses.”

Former Spectator reporter

David Brock has told Judiciary Committee staffers and Post reporters that on several occasions in 1995, Mr. Olson came to

dinner meetings at the suburban Virginia home of Spectator editor R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., where Arkansas Project

editorial ideas were discussed. Also in attendance at those dinners was David

Henderson, a Spectator foundation

director who served as an overseer of the project.

Mr. Brock’s assertion is

corroborated by a letter in which The

Spectator ‘s publisher named persons who regularly attended such meetings at

Mr. Tyrrell’s house. The first name on that list-which includes Mr. Brock and

Mr. Henderson-is “Ted Olson.”

According to Mr. Olson, however, he knew nothing about the

project until the summer of 1997, when alleged irregularities in its finances

were brought to his attention as counsel to The

American Spectator and a member of

its board. Until then, he insists, he was wholly unaware of the Arkansas

Project or its lavish Scaife funding. Having originally testified that he

didn’t learn about the project until the summer of 1998, he changed his story

in written responses to additional queries from Senator Leahy.

Similarly, Mr. Olson has revised his original answer about

how he came to represent David Hale, the Little Rock swindler who eventually

became Mr. Starr’s chief Whitewater witness against the Clintons. He first

testified that Mr. Hale was brought to him by two

attorneys whose names he didn’t recall. Then he said the introduction

had been made by some other gentleman, whose name he likewise couldn’t

remember.

But Mr. Henderson, a longtime Scaife associate and no

stranger to Mr. Olson, has now admitted that it was he who arranged for the

conservative attorney to represent Mr. Hale. And during the period when Mr.

Olson represented both him and The American Spectator , Mr. Hale was the key source for the Arkansas Project. It

seems strange that Mr. Olson would have forgotten all those intriguing

coincidences.

Now the Senate Judiciary Committee must determine whether

Mr. Olson’s testimony is credible or contemptuous, and whether additional

investigation is needed. Most likely, Mr. Hatch will succeed in stifling any

further inquiry by the Democrats.

But just imagine the uproar if the press had discovered that

a liberal activist lawyer, nominated by a Democratic President for an important

Justice Department post, had once joined a secret, four-year,

multimillion-dollar campaign to smear a Republican President. Then imagine the

fury which would erupt if that nominee had attempted to conceal and obfuscate

such dubious conduct in sworn testimony during his confirmation hearings.

Under those circumstances, the loudest voice demanding an

unsparing and unobstructed probe would no doubt be the honorable Senator Hatch.