The Attacks on Caroline Kennedy

There remain many questions regarding the bizarre final hours of Caroline Kennedy’s attempts to be appointed to Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat. The information which has leaked out seems to show an attempt by Governor Paterson to discredit Kennedy when choosing someone else. The New York Times writes:

Indeed, much remains unknown about what happened between Mr. Paterson and Ms. Kennedy, especially in the final days of Mr. Paterson’s selection process. But, based on the public comments and interviews with people involved — who insisted on anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject — a few essentials are clear:

One of the administration’s central claims to reporters was that Ms. Kennedy had, in the words of a person close to the governor, “a definite tax issue” and “a nanny problem” that “she didn’t want to become public.”

But that story was inaccurate. The governor and his aides now acknowledge that those issues — a tax lien of a few hundred dollars in 1994, and a lapsed visa for a foreign nanny who worked for Ms. Kennedy during the late 1980s — had been resolved years earlier and were never considered disqualifying during the vetting process…

According to advisers to the governor who were involved in the process, the leaks against Ms. Kennedy were coordinated by Judith A. Smith, a consultant who has been acting as the governor’s top communications strategist.

On Jan. 22, the morning after Ms. Kennedy withdrew, Ms. Smith spoke to Mr. Paterson, then went to the governor’s Midtown Manhattan offices, the advisers said.

There, she told at least two people to call major media outlets around the state. She instructed them to tell reporters that the governor had been dismayed by Ms. Kennedy’s public auditioning for the job, that he never intended to select her as senator, and that the tax and nanny issues had led her to pull out of consideration.

It is not clear how Ms. Smith would have known about those issues; she was not authorized to have access to Ms. Kennedy’s confidential application. Mr. Paterson was briefed on the application’s contents the night of Jan. 21, hours before Ms. Kennedy officially withdrew…

Ms. Kennedy, according to her advisers, had been promised by the governor’s legal counsel that access to her questionnaire would be restricted and that “all legally permissible steps” would be taken to keep the form “strictly confidential” — those words appear in boldface letters atop the document.

The administration also refused to release the information to reporters, saying it was protected by privacy exemptions in the Freedom of Information Law. The state’s Public Officers Law bars an official from releasing “confidential information” in order to “further his personal interests.”

In addition, the administration, in its media blitz, also told reporters that Mr. Paterson had never intended to select Ms. Kennedy.

But in the weeks preceding her withdrawal, Mr. Paterson had been hinting to people in her inner circle, and to some of his own closest allies and friends, that he was set on picking her.

With all the publicity surrounding Caroline Kennedy there was some political risk in turning her down. Paterson seems to have made the decision that he could not turn her down without giving the appearance than there was something in Kennedy’s background which would disqualify her from the post.

I  wonder if Paterson overestimated the risks of choosing someone else and underestimated the risks of attacking Kennedy in this manner. Paterson might have received some opposition for turning down Kennedy in any situation, but there were numerous reasons which could have been cited without resorting to such attacks which most people would have accepted. Many people would understand that Caroline Kennedy might not have been the best choice to be appointed to the Senate. Far fewer understand why Paterson would resort to such attacks on her.

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