The office of Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) is investigating whether an aide who resigned this week distributed a memo about the Terri Schiavo case to other Senate offices, and whether any other aides in the senator's office had seen it, his staff said yesterday.
A Martinez aide who refused to be named said the departed aide, counsel Brian H. Darling, "may have disseminated to other offices" a memo that discussed the political ramifications of intervening in the case of Schiavo, the brain-damaged Floridian who died last month after she was taken off a feeding tube. The memo said it was "a great political issue" and "a tough issue for Democrats."
Kerry Feehery, Martinez's communications director, said she could not answer a question about the possible roles of other senior aides. "We're still investigating this matter internally, and we aren't going to comment further at this time," Feehery said.
Martinez said in a statement Wednesday night that one staff member "was unilaterally responsible for this document." He said the memo "was not approved by me or any other member of my staff, nor were we aware of its existence until very recently." Martinez said in an interview that until Wednesday, he had been reassured by aides that his office had not been involved.
Martinez flew to Rome on Wednesday night with a congressional delegation for the funeral of Pope John Paul II. Feehery did not say who was conducting the investigation beyond calling it "the leadership of the office."
"Brian Darling unilaterally drafted an unapproved working document," Feehery said. "Our internal investigation is into that issue and the issue of how this document ended up in the hands of Senator Martinez."
Martinez said in his statement that he had "conducted a full internal investigation on how this memo came into my possession" and that it was "not a document that would have been approved in this office for circulation under any circumstances."
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who had asked for a Senate investigation into the memo's origins, said he will ask for a "look at the rules for Senate conduct and see if there doesn't need to be a specific regulation written that says that under no conditions can anything like this occur."
Contacted yesterday, Darling said: "It would still be inappropriate for me to discuss this matter at this time."
Darling, 39, has been an active conservative for more than 15 years and is a former board member of Young Americans for Freedom. He was co-chairman of Conservative Working Group, an organization for Republican Senate aides.
Darling has an undergraduate degree from Salem State College in his native Massachusetts and a law degree from New England School of Law. He worked for former senator Steve Symms (R-Idaho) and the late Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-Ga.), then was counsel to former senator Robert H. Smith (R-N.H.).
Darling briefly detoured to lobbying as a partner at Alexander Strategy Group, from 2003 until he joined Martinez's office in January. The firm's chairman is Edwin A. Buckham, who was chief of staff to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) when he was majority whip.
Buckham said Darling worked with a coalition of airline pilots on the guns-in-the-cockpit issue. "He would take making a mistake very hard," Buckham said. "Our staff loved Brian. We didn't want to lose him, but he loves the Hill. He is still going to have a bright future in this town."