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Kagan's e-mails show dry wit, political savvy

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JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS
June 19, 2010
— Newly released e-mails from Elena Kagan's time as an aide to President Bill Clinton portray the Supreme Court nominee as a driven and opinionated person with a flair for political tactics and little tolerance for high-flying rhetoric.

The e-mails among tens of thousands of pages of her e-mails released Friday also show how Kagan often had to place political considerations ahead of policy views.


Shortly after Clinton gave his second inaugural address, Kagan e-mailed her boss, Bruce Reed, the director of the Domestic Policy Council, to say she thought one of the president's marquee lines quoting the prophet Isaiah was "the most preposterously presumptuous line I have ever seen."


The line often referenced in discussions of mending racial discord is "Thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations, and thou shalt be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in."


Kagan tells Reed in the note that Clinton would deserve it if "the press really came down on him" for delivering it.


In one e-mail, Kagan called herself one of the Clinton administration's biggest fans of a law to protect religious freedom but warned then-Vice President Al Gore against endorsing it for fear of creating "a gay/lesbian firestorm."


In a 1999 e-mail, Kagan said the White House was meeting with religious and gay groups to try to smooth over their differences on the matter.


"We'll let you know as soon as it's safe to go back in the water," she wrote to Ron Klain, who was Gore's chief of staff and now holds the same job for Vice President Joe Biden.


At the beginning of her stint as a domestic policy aide, Kagan described her management style to a colleague this way: "I want to be kept generally up to speed on everything. Thanks."


Later, she suggested transforming what was supposed to be a routine literacy event at a Maryland school into a chance to score points against the Republican Congress. At the time, the administration was pushing for a national standardized test to measure student progress and the GOP was expected to try to block funding for the exam.


"We are in a fight for our lives on the testing initiative," Kagan wrote. "We cannot waste Sept. 8 on a sweetness-and-light literacy event. We're all going to have to work together to make this problem disappear."


The e-mails were part of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library's final release of documents related to Kagan's service as a domestic policy aide and White House counsel. The Senate Judiciary Committee requested the documents in preparation for its hearings on Kagan's nomination, scheduled to begin June 28.


It's the third week in a row the files were made public on a Friday afternoon the customary time in official Washington for dribbling out unfavorable information or disclosures one hopes won't draw too much attention.


The e-mails give a sense of Kagan's personality, showing glimmers of a dry but playful sense of humor and the hard edges that come with a job at the top echelons of the White House.


"Eeks" is a favorite expression in those e-mails to show surprise or consternation.


When Clinton scratched a note on child support enforcement in the margin of a New York Times article, Kagan wrote sarcastically to Reed, "Hasn't anyone told him not to believe our soundbites?"


And among the messages is one intriguing but impossible-to-decode exchange Kagan had with three other colleagues. In December 1998, she sent an e-mail titled, "Re: Is this broad wearing a spiked colar?" The body of the note was garbled when the Clinton library converted it for release, leaving the contents to the imagination.


Paper documents released earlier revealed a bit about Kagan's role managing the scandals of the Clinton administration, and showed her pragmatic streak dealing with complex issues such as tobacco regulation and her political instincts weighing in on issues such as abortion, gun control and drug sentencing.


The White House and Clinton kept a fraction of the information private, allowing only Judiciary panel members and their top aides to see some documents and keeping secret anything of a strictly personal nature. But the 160,000 pages of information including some 80,000 pages of e-mail is far more than the committee received for other recent high court nominees.


"The evaluation of her record and qualifications has been the most open and transparent in history," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the Judiciary Committee chairman. "There is no chapter from her professional life for which we do not have significant records to review."


However, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said he was "concerned by both the pace and the timing of document production," adding that the documents have shown a "troubling pattern" about Kagan.


"Throughout her career, she has demonstrated a willingness to make legal decisions based not on the law but instead on her very liberal politics," Sessions said.


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Associated Press writers Jim Abrams, Matt Apuzzo, Jill Zeman Bleed, Jim Drinkard, Adam Goldman, Henry Jackson, Laurie Kellman, Larry Margasak, Stephen Ohlemacher, Ann Sanner, Mark Sherman, Sharon Theimer, Hope Yen and Pete Yost contributed to this report.



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