Two Blamed for Senate Computer Snooping
By JESSE J. HOLLAND
The Associated Press
Thursday, March 4, 2004; 7:39 PM
WASHINGTON - Two former Senate Republican staffers are to blame for distributing Democratic computer memos about judicial nominees to Republicans, but the computer files also were not adequately protected, said a Senate report released Thursday.
Democrats are calling for an outside investigation, but the committee has yet to decide what its next step will be. The report said 4,670 files were found on a GOP aide's computer, "the majority of which appeared to be from folders belonging to Democratic staff."
Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch said the intrusion was inexcusable.
"I am mortified that this improper, unethical, simply unacceptable breach of confidential files occurred," said Hatch, R-Utah.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., who said his office was targeted for the snooping, suggested that Illinois U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald be appointed as a special prosecutor by the Justice Department to review the information uncovered so far and make recommendations on how to proceed.
Added Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.: "It is my view and the view of a few others, that the only way to get to the bottom of this is a special counsel with full investigative powers."
A report released by the Judiciary Committee and authored by Senate Sergeant-at-Arms William Pickle's office faults two former GOP aides: Manuel Miranda, who worked for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, before resigning, and Jason Lundell, a clerk who worked on nominations for Hatch before leaving last year.
The report said the investigation did not identify any other individuals besides Miranda and Lundell "who were accessing other users' files on the Judiciary Committee computer network."
This marks the first time Lundell has been named. Senators had been referring to him as a "young Hatch staffer." No address was available for him.
Miranda, in an e-mailed statement, said the report "merely colors in what we volunteered over three months ago, but does so at the cost of $500,000."
Regardless, "the report fails to find any criminal hacking or any credible suggestion of criminal acts," said Miranda. He also asked for an investigation of what he called "unethical substance" of the Democrats' memos.
Conservatives say the memos prove the Democrats colluded with liberal groups concerning which Bush nominees to block, and at least one ethics complaint has been filed against Durbin and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., based on the leaked information.
Punishment for the snooping was "beyond the scope of this report," but if the Justice Department attempts to prosecute, lawyers could use the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act - a misdemeanor punishable by a fine and a year imprisonment upon conviction, the report said.
Lundell was able to get into the Democratic computer because the folders were not well-protected, the report said. He learned how to get access by watching a system administrator work on his computer, the report said.
© 2004 The Associated Press