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Senator Asks Fiske to Withdraw From Consideration for Justice Job

June 23, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A leading Republican senator is trying to persuade Robert B. Fiske Jr. to withdraw from consideration for the Justice Department’s second-ranking job to avoid a bitter Senate confirmation fight.

Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., the ranking GOP member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, warned Fiske that conservatives could wage a filibuster against his Senate confirmation if he is nominated to become deputy attorney general.

Fiske has been the object of conservative criticism for the role he played in screening the professional qualifications of judicial candidates for the American Bar Association.

Some conservatives argue that when he chaired the ABA’s Standing Committee on Federal Judiciary, Fiske improperly applied ideological standards to evaluate some of President Reagan’s choices for the federal bench.

Thurmond, one of 14 Senate Republicans who have urged President Bush not to nominate Fiske, made his appeal to the New York lawyer at a meeting on Capitol Hill earlier this week.

″Sen. Thurmond is very concerned that a divisive, protracted debate about this nomination would not be in anybody’s best interests,″ Christopher Simpson, the senator’s press secretary, said Thursday.

Thurmond did not threaten to wage a filibuster but warned Fiske that his conservative opponents might do so, Simpson said.

The meeting on Wednesday was convened by Minority Leader Robert Dole, R- Kansas, to give Fiske an opportunity to talk with senators who had expressed opposition.

Fiske’s secretary at his New York office said he was traveling Thursday evening and couldn’t be reached.

Also present were Sens. Alfonse D’Amato, R-N.Y., and John Danforth, R-Mo., who are among 18 moderate and liberal GOP senators who signed letters this week urging Bush to nominate Fiske, a prominent New York lawyer who once was U.S. attorney there.

Sen. Gordon Humphrey, R-N.H., who opposes Fiske and attended the meeting, said, ″The issue is causing an increasing polarization among Senate Republicans.″

″That is something we can ill afford as the minority party in the Senate,″ Humphrey said. ″There is no need for it. There are lots of well- qualified people. Why should we have someone against whom there is strong opposition?″

″Based on our concerns, the White House so far has declined to make such a nomination. It is the Justice Department which is lobbying for this candidate,″ Humphrey said.

″I haven’t heard boo from the White House,″ he added.

The intra-party squabble comes against the backdrop of a dispute between the White House and the Justice Department over remarks about Fiske that were inserted in a speech Bush made to U.S. attorneys last week.

A White House source, speaking Thursday on condition of anonymity, said presidential aides were ″flabbergasted″ when Bush told the federal prosecutors that he hoped Fiske would soon be joining his administration.

The Washington Post, in Thursday editions, quoted unnamed White House sources as saying someone from the Justice Department inserted the remark into the speech without the permission of Chief of Staff John H. Sununu.

David Runkel, chief Justice Department spokesman, disputed the account, saying: ″I just don’t think it happened the way it was described.″

The issue of whether to send Fiske’s name to Capitol Hill is still an open question at the White House, the source said.

Despite the problems Fiske has encountered with conservatives, Runkel said: ″I still believe that he is going to be nominated and confirmed.″

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