An Interior Department official conducted political research on a range of Republican lawmakers while on the job, according to documents compiled by the House Resources Committee.
Memos retrieved from the computer of David North, public affairs officer of Interior's Insular Affairs Office, detail an elaborate campaign in which North distributed information to Democratic candidates on House Republicans' relationship with the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory exempt from federal labor and immigration laws.
In one document, for example, North sent the election opponent of Rep. Phil English (R-Pa.) a five-page press release criticizing English's ties to Willie Tan, who owns garment factories in the Northern Marianas.
"The question is, do the voters of the 21st District want to be represented in Congress by someone with this kind of relationship to Saipan's sweatshop and slot machine king?" the release read. Saipan is one of the islands that make up the Northern Marianas.
North, who retired last week, emphasizes his Democratic credentials in communications with campaign officials, noting that he once ran for Congress from New Jersey. In a letter to the campaign of Christine Kehoe, who lost to Rep. Brian P. Bilbray (R-Calif.) last year, North wrote: "Your opponent is vulnerable to criticism on the grounds of his friendship with the Marianas sweatshops operators, and their allies, the crooks that run the CNMI government.
"My motivations are: to help elect Democrats to the House and punish the handful of obvious GOP sweatshop allies, such as Mr. Bilbray. . . . My long-term reward, Mr. Bilbray's defeat by Ms. Kehoe."
Although North wrote in the Kehoe memo that he was faxing the sample release from home and prepared it on his own time, a Resources Committee aide noted that the document was retrieved by a computer forensics expert from North's office computer.
"This guy was drafting press releases and doing opposition research for Democratic campaigns. That's pretty serious stuff," said the aide, who asked not to be identified. "This is not what public employees are supposed to be doing."
North declined to comment on the matter when reached at his home Friday.
House Republicans compiled the documents as part of an ongoing probe of whether North conducted political and lobbying activities on government time and misused official resources.
Republicans have sparred with the Clinton administration over the Northern Marianas during the past few years: Clinton and House Democrats have proposed imposing U.S. labor and immigration standards on the Pacific archipelago, while prominent Republicans such as House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (Tex.) and House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (Tex.) have resisted such efforts.
North specifically cites Armey and DeLay in a memo to Matt Angle, then executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).
House Resources Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) has threatened to cite the current DCCC executive director, David Plouffe, who has not yet responded to a subpoena in the North matter, for contempt of Congress this week. But attorneys for the DCCC and the committee plan to meet Monday in an effort to resolve the dispute, according to both sides.