Opinion Journal On Miers Nomination

Opinion Journal On Miers Nomination

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John Fund is on the war path. I don’t blame him in the least.

Not only did the vetting fail to anticipate skepticism about her lack of experience in constitutional law or the firestorm of criticism from conservatives, but it left the White House scrambling to provide reporters with even the most basic information about the closed-mouthed nominee. Almost every news story seemed to catch the White House off guard and unprepared.

And it could all go back to how Cheney picked himself as Vice President.

How could this have happened? In his Harvard Business School courses, Mr. Bush was taught the importance of fully vetting job candidates. In 2000, when he was preparing to name his running mate, he conducted a months-long vetting process that had a couple of dozen top political players copying tax records, speeches and medical files and filling out an exhaustive questionnaire. In the end, Dick Cheney, the man in charge of the vetting, got the job. To preserve the secrecy Mr. Bush loves, he wasn’t replaced when he was asked to consider joining the ticket. So Mr. Bush relied upon his friend to evaluate his own shortcomings.

A real vetting process involves sitting down with potential nominees and grilling them with hard-charging and probing questions that go beyond the existing paper trail–or, in the case of Harriet Miers, the lack of a paper trail. In picking his No. 2, Mr. Bush personally handled the questioning of Mr. Cheney. But the strong “comfort level” he had with him would have predisposed him to avoid no-holds-barred questions. “I expect Cheney tried to be candid, but no one can truly scrutinize their own past–there is too much room for judgment, interpretation, wishful thinking, self-deception,” says Steven Lubet, a professor of legal ethics at Northwestern University.

And Robert Novak gives Fund some perspective on how something like this could happen.

In Mr. Cheney’s case, Mr. Bush was lucky. He picked someone who had previously been vetted for secretary of defense, someone who had a 30-year public record and a nationwide reservoir of respect. But mistakes were made. No one anticipated all the questions about Halliburton, the construction company he led as CEO. Columnist Robert Novak reported that no one had even checked Mr. Cheney’s House voting record, which included votes against South African sanctions and funding for Head Start. “But in the end, Bush thought the Cheney pick worked out so well the seeds for the Miers decision were sown in that impulsive process,” Mr. Novak told me.

The words, “Mr. Bush was lucky” just keep ringing in my head.