Senator Martinez’ Office Source of Schiavo Memo

Senator Mel Martinez (R, FL) says his office is the source of the infamous Terri Schiavo talking points memo.

Senator’s Office Source of Schiavo Memo (AP)

Florida Republican Sen. Mel Martinez says an infamous unsigned memo passed around on Capitol Hill emphasizing the politics of the Terri Schiavo case originated in his office. The memo — first reported by ABC News on March 18 and by The Washington Post and The Associated Press two days later — said the fight going on then over removing Schiavo’s feeding tube “is a great political issue … and a tough issue for Democrats.” “This is an important moral issue and the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue,” said the memo, which was described at the time as being circulated among Senate Republicans while legislation was being considered to place the Schiavo case under the jurisdiction of federal courts.

Martinez said in a written statement that he discovered Wednesday that the memo had been written by an aide in his office. “It is with profound disappointment and regret that I learned today that a senior member of my staff was unilaterally responsible for this document,” Martinez said. He said he accepted the resignation of the staffer who drafted and circulated the memo. “This type of behavior and sentiment will not be tolerated in my office,” he said.

Martinez did not identify the aide, but The Washington Post said he was the senator’s legal counsel, Brian Darling. “Until this afternoon, I had never seen it and had no idea a copy of it had ever been in my possession,” Martinez said of the document. He had previously denied knowing anything about the memo and condemned its sentiments.

So much for claims that this memo was a forgery.

Michelle Malkin has an excellent historical roundup on this topic. She’s right, too, that the Left’s celebrations on this (see Jerome Armstrong for a reasonably sober example) are mostly unfounded.

While some on the Right have made claims that the memo was a Democratic forgery, that’s not what the story was about. Rather, the argument was that the source of the memo was unknown but was played in such a way by ABC News and others as to give the impression that it came from the Republican leadership and was widely circulated. Neither of those seems to be true.

My initial post on this looks good in hindsight:

The actual origin of the memo will likely come out soon enough, especially with the blogospheric attention it’ll receive. Still, not to get too Dan Rather here, the essence of the memo is true even if it was forged. That is, there’s no doubt that the Republican leadership in Congress is using the Schiavo case as a political wedge issue. (And, for that matter, so are the Democrats.) That’s not the same thing, by the way, as saying that they don’t honestly believe allowing her feeding tube to be removed is wrong or that they don’t genuinely care about her fate, as I’ve argued previously. But everything is politics the world of politics.

Even though I opposed what the Republicans (and a not insignificant number of Democrats) in Congress did on the issue, the above isn’t a criticism. Aside from being politically embarrasing, there was nothing unethical about the memo in question. Politicians considering the political impact of their votes is a good thing in a representative democracy.

Update (1019): The WaPo story: Counsel to GOP Senator Wrote Memo On Schiavo (p. A1)

The legal counsel to Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) admitted yesterday that he was the author of a memo citing the political advantage to Republicans of intervening in the case of Terri Schiavo, the senator said in an interview last night. Brian H. Darling, 39, a former lobbyist for the Alexander Strategy Group on gun rights and other issues, offered his resignation and it was immediately accepted, Martinez said.

Martinez, the GOP’s Senate point man on the issue, said he earlier had been assured by aides that his office had nothing to do with producing the memo. “I never did an investigation, as such,” he said. “I just took it for granted that we wouldn’t be that stupid. It was never my intention to in any way politicize this issue.”

Martinez, a freshman who was secretary of housing and urban development for most of President Bush’s first term, said he had not read the one-page memo. He said he inadvertently passed it to Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who had worked with him on the issue. After that, officials gave the memo to reporters for ABC News and The Washington Post. Harkin said in an interview that Martinez handed him the memo on the Senate floor, in hopes of gaining his support for the bill giving federal courts jurisdiction in the Florida case in an effort to restore the brain-damaged Florida woman’s feeding tube. “He said these were talking points — something that we’re working on here,” Harkin said.

While I don’t think the memo itself is problematic beyond political embarrassment, the conflicting stories of Martinez and Harkin should be brought before the Ethics Committee for investigation. If Martinez in fact presented the memo to Harkin as a means of lobbying on the bill but is proclaiming publically that he’d never seen the memo before, he should be censured. If Harkin is lying about this, then he should be censured. Yet again, it seems that the cover-up is worse than the “crime.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mark J says:

    Hrm… well if it isn’t shameful to describe a family squabble as a “great political issue,” why did the guy who wrote the memo resign?

  2. James Joyner says:

    Doing stuff that’s embarrasing for the boss is cause for resignation, especially in politics.

  3. oceanguy says:

    Sadly, it’s all too likely that Martinez didn’t know what the document was that he gave to Harkin. To me this is a lesson on the dangers of poor staff work. You can even take it to be a warning on the dangers of any staff work.

    Martinez trusted his staff… didn’t read a memo he was given that likely was similar in appearance to another he HAD read. As he said, “I just took it for granted that we wouldn’t be that stupid.” Well, they were that stupid.

    Why the idiot, Darling, didn’t own up to it right waway is a question we’ll likely never know the answer to.

  4. McGehee says:

    The staffer should have been fired, and the best anyone can say for Martinez is that he’s unqualified to be a Senator.

    Sadly, that applies to a veto-proof majority of his colleagues, but be that as it may…

  5. McGehee says:

    Lest anyone misunderstand, there is a difference between being fired and being allowed to resign.

  6. slickdpdx says:

    I was right about the “talking points” memo! It was real and it WAS a big mistake to make a big deal out of it because it made it seem like a big deal if real. Hah! See comment #1 on the initial post.

    P.S. I wouldn’t be reading your site if I didn’t love it.