"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

The mystery senator?

UPDATE: We’ll leave the post here intact, partly because the national issue is still worth noting. However, the premise – a question about whether Idaho Senator Mike Crapo is the senator who placed a secret hold on a contractor database bill – appears to have been resolved. His communications director, Susan Wheeler, just sent us this note: “Senator Crapo does not normally confirm or deny if he is the Senator who placed a hold on legislation. However, given that the Majority Leader has asked Senators to disclose such information, Senator Crapo has instructed me to let you know that he is not the Senator who placed the hold.”

Could Mike Crapo be the mystery senator? The one the whole blogosphere, left and right, has been trying to track down and wail upon if cornered?

Idahoans may want to know.

Here’s the background. Earlier this year two U.S. senators from distant poles, Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn and Illinois Democrat Barack Obama, got together on a bill to bring some transparency to the federal government. It would set up an online database, accessible to and searchable by the public, of all federal contractors – who gets the money, how much and for what. It would be free to the public. A lot of people from the left and right quickly seized on the idea as a way to monitor spending and possible corruption. It got widespread support in the Senate, cleared the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee with a unanimous vote in favor, and seemed set for a favorable Senate floor vote. But then a senator placed a “secret hold” on the bill – a procedural that freezes it in place for the rest of the term, unless the senator releases the hold. No reason need be given, or was (as is usual in these cases).

Who was the senator? No one would say. So a bunch of national political blogs, some each from the left and right, began collecting, and urging their readers to collect, statements from senators either acknowleding the secret hold or flatly denying having done it.

Over the last few days, senator after senator has been crossed off the list, having issued clear denials. Washington’s Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and Oregon’s Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden, were quickly eliminated. When a caller contacted Idaho’s Larry Craig, spokesman Dan Whiting’s response was, “of course not.”

But then, on the tally web page, there was this: “Sen. Crapo’s spokeswoman Susan Wheeler tell us ‘It’s not Sen. Crapo’s practice to confirm or deny any hold on any bill.’ So that’s a refusal to answer.”

Among the 100 members of the Senate, there are four others – Robert Byrd, Judd Gregg, Orrin Hatch and Ted Stevens – for whom answers have not been obtained. Mike Crapo at present is the only senator, according to the tally, who has refused to answer.

We’ll be watching.

UPDATE: Coburn has accused Stevens of being the secret-hold senator. Stevens isn’t saying.

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