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Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter on Thursday granted Democrats a hearing to question White House aide and judicial nominee Brett Kavanaugh on his role in the administration’s secret wiretapping program, its torture policy and any relationship with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The move put off, for now, a repeat of last year’s parliamentary showdown over President Bush’s nominees. “I don’t want to place the Senate in the position we were in a year ago at this time,” Specter, R-Pa., said. Democrats lauded the decision. “It’s the least that can be done for the nominee to the second highest court in the land and a controversial nominee,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “There are a lot of things that have happened since the last hearing, in the administration of which he is a part.” The White House accepted it. “While we’d prefer to avoid a second hearing, we have a common goal of confirming good, fair judges who share the president’s judicial philosophy,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. “We’re willing to do what is necessary for his confirmation.” Specter said he would call Kavanaugh before the panel on Tuesday and call for a committee vote on Thursday. That would put Kavanaugh on track for a confirmation vote by the full Senate before Memorial Day, as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist intends. Specter said he made the decision in part because of a letter this week from the seven Democrats of the so-called “Gang of 14″ that mediated the standoff last year. In the letter, the seven requested that Kavanaugh be called for another hearing. Several Democrats speaking on background Wednesday said a hearing might elicit answers from Kavanaugh that would avert a filibuster. Specter also presented recommendations for Kavanaugh by two judges for whom he had clerked. Judge Edward R. Becker of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals said Kavanaugh “was not ideologically driven” during his clerkship. Becker’s colleague, Judge Walter Stapleton, described Kavanaugh as “brilliant, an adjective I rarely use.” “Mr. Kavanaugh’s perspectives on both life and the law will result in his becoming what I regard as a ‘judge’s judge,’” Stapleton wrote. Democrats had complained that Kavanaugh’s nomination was being moved without much information about his role in developing administration policies on wiretapping and torture. Kavanaugh worked in the White House counsel’s office when those policies were developed, which came after the committee’s questioning of him in 2004. Democrats also want to know what, if any, part Kavanaugh played in the administration’s relationship with Abramoff. In private meetings with Democratic senators this week, Kavanaugh said he played no role in the wiretapping policy or in any White House dealings with Abramoff. White House spokeswoman Perino, meanwhile, said Kavanaugh played no role in developing the White House’s policy toward detainees. The exchange came two days after Senate Democrats said they were considering filibusters against Kavanaugh and Terrence Boyle, whose nomination to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Frist also said he will move. Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada told reporters this week that members of his caucus are considering filibustering the nominations of both men. He told reporters Wednesday that a deal on Kavanaugh was possible, but that Boyle certainly would be filibustered because of reports that he ruled on cases in which he had conflicts of interest. Republicans have widely defended Kavanaugh — but not Boyle — in recent days. Several senators interviewed on Wednesday, including Specter, declined to support Boyle’s nomination, saying they wanted to read more about the conflict of interest allegations. Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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