Struggle Over Access to Roberts' Memos Intensifies

By Maura Reynolds
Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The White House and Senate Democrats parried Wednesday over the Senate's right to review documents from Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr.'s service in the first Bush administration, with the White House continuing to take a hard line on release of executive branch materials.

Democrats stepped up their demands for access to memos Roberts wrote while working as deputy solicitor general from 1989 to 1993, which they thought would help them determine whether he was a conservative ideologue. Roberts at the time was a political appointee working as principal deputy to Solicitor General Kenneth W. Starr.

"The president alluded to this work in his statements as contributing to his basis for selecting Judge Roberts as his nominee," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.). "It clearly is appropriate that the Senate also be entitled to vital information the White House weighed in making its decision about this nomination."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said not even officials in the White House had reviewed documents from that period of Roberts' career because they were covered by attorney-client privilege. "We haven't seen or reviewed any of those documents," McClellan said. "It wouldn't be appropriate for us to do so. That's privileged information that is related to the confidential deliberative process between attorney and client." Senate Democrats said they found that assertion unusual, arguing that attorney-client privilege was a legal doctrine covering courts, not Congress.