Senators Ponder How to Handle Memo Theft
By JESSE J. HOLLAND
The Associated Press
Friday, March 5, 2004; 4:29 AM
WASHINGTON - Democrats are calling for an outside investigation into the theft of memos from their computer files since a new report blames two Senate Republican staffers for the intrusion.
The Senate Judiciary Committee spent half of Thursday in closed-door meetings discussing the report by the Senate sergeant-at-arms but has yet to come with a plan on what to do now that the report is finished.
The report, released Thursday by the committee, faults two of committee chairman Orrin Hatch's staffers for the intrusion. It says 4,670 files were found on a GOP aide's computer, "the majority of which appeared to be from folders belonging to Democratic staff."
The memos concern political strategy on blocking confirmation of several judicial nominations.
Democrats want an outside investigation to see whether any of President Bush's judicial nominees profited from the files, and if anyone in the White House or the Justice Department saw the memos.
"More remains to be done to answer questions about how these stolen files were used, and by whom," Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the committee's ranking Democrat, said. "Referring this report to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation is one of the next steps we must consider."
Hatch wouldn't commit to the idea but said prosecutors likely will handle the issue. "Certainly whether there was criminal conduct here or not is going to have to be determined by people outside of the committee," he said.
The report by Senate Sergeant-at-Arms William Pickle's office blamed the intrusion on former GOP aides Manuel Miranda, who worked for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, and Jason Lundell, a clerk who worked on nominations for Hatch. Miranda recently resigned amid the dispute. Lundell left last year.
No address was available for Lundell. Miranda responded to the report with an e-mailed statement, saying it "fails to find any criminal hacking or any credible suggestion of criminal acts." He called for an investigation of what he called "unethical substance" of the Democrats' memos.
Conservatives say the memos prove the Democrats colluded with liberal groups over which Bush nominees to block. One ethics complaint has been filed against Democrats Sen. Richard Durbin, of Illinois, and Sen. Edward Kennedy, of Massachusetts, based on the leaked information.
Hatch called for an investigation after both senators told him that they believed memos had been stolen from their computer files and leaked.
"Regardless of how these memos were obtained or what Sergeant Pickle's report reveals, the corruption and manipulation of the judicial confirmation process highlighted in the memos must not be lost," said Jeffrey Mazzella, executive director of the conservative Center for Individual Freedom.
Lundell was able to get into the Democratic computer in 2001 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.
Lundell printed out more than 100 documents dealing with the nomination battle over Mississippi judge Charles Pickering, and searched Democratic files almost daily as he worked on the nomination of Texas judge Priscilla Owen, the report said. Both were being blocked by Senate Democrats.
Bush gave Pickering a recess appointment in January. Owen still is being blocked in the Senate.
Miranda worked for Hatch from December 2001 to January 2003 and worked for Frist until he resigned in February. Lundell was accepted into graduate school in Texas and left in January, the report said.
Senate Democrats have held up many of Bush's nominees in committee since the revelation of the computer snooping. But with the report's completion, the committee sent to the full Senate the nominations of Raymond W. Gruender for 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Franklin S. Van Antwerpen for the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
© 2004 The Associated Press