Judiciary Deadlocks on Olson; Vote Moves to Senate Floor

In the first test of the rules set for a split chamber, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 9-9 Thursday to confirm Theodore Olson as Solicitor General.

The committee deadlock forces Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., to pull the appointment out of committee and usher the confirmation vote to the floor.

Olson, who represented President Bush during the Florida election recount, was tapped by Bush to be the nation's chief lawyer in cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

But severe opposition to Olson sprang from allegations that he was part of the so-called "Arkansas Project," an effort by the American Spectator magazine to investigate possible financial wrongdoing by former President and First Lady Bill and Hillary Clinton, and that he lied about his involvement with the project.

Olson, who was a member of the board of directors of the American Spectator Educational Foundation and represented the magazine, said he was not involved in the Arkansas Project.

Conservative-turned-liberal reporter David Brock, who was an investigative journalist for the American Spectator in the 1990s, wrote in The Washington Post that Olson was a board member for the magazine when it decided to investigate the Clintons' finances.

Democrats argued Olson was evasive about his connections to that group during his confirmation hearing last month and in subsequent written inquiries. Ranking Member Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., wanted a bipartisan investigation into Olson's participation in the "Arkansas Project," but said he would not hold Olson's nomination up in committee.

The vote on Olson's nomination had been delayed four times before Thursday.

Committee chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, declined to convene the investigation, arguing that Olson had sufficiently responded to Brock's charges.

"We have Mr. Olson's sworn testimony along with the statements from key players in the project and numerous letters by Democrats and Republicans who praised Mr. Olson's integrity and honesty against the lukewarm allegations of one former staffer who recently backed away from his remarks," Hatch stated. "Even if Mr. Brock's factual allegations were true, they do not contradict Mr. Olson's testimony."

But Leahy said that without some better answers, he could not support Olson.

"I have become increasingly concerned that he has not shown a willingness or ability to be sufficiently candid and forthcoming with the Senate," Leahy said. "Without that candor and without being so forthcoming, I would have difficulty in having the confidence in his ability to carry out the responsibility of the Solicitor General and to be the voice of the United States, not the voice of the president, but the voice of the United States, before the United States Supreme Court."

During this year's organization of the Senate, which is split 50-50, members agreed to evenly divide committees, meaning that all committee ties could be sent to the floor on request of the majority or minority leader. If the Senate is tied on the vote to confirm Olson, Vice President Dick Cheney would be called in to be a tie-breaker.