Senate ex-staffers blamed in GOP computer snooping

Democrats' memos lifted from Judiciary server

March 05, 2004|By Kristina Herrndobler | Kristina Herrndobler,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - Two Republican staff members who worked for the Senate Judiciary Committee improperly downloaded thousands of documents from the computer files of their Democratic counterparts, revealing Democratic strategies for opposing President Bush's judicial nominees, according to a report released by the committee yesterday.

Over a period of 18 months, material was taken from the files of some staff members without their knowledge or permission, including more than 2,000 documents from the staff of Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the report said.

Republican committee Chairman Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah condemned the actions of the staff members, who no longer work for the Senate.

`Improper, unethical'

"I am mortified that this improper, unethical and simply unacceptable breach of confidential files occurred," Hatch said yesterday as he released the report.

"There is no excuse that can justify these improper actions."

Democrats said they believe the action of the former staff members was criminal and they are considering sending the case to the Justice Department.

They also questioned whether more staff members might have been involved in the scheme.

"There can no longer be any doubt now, if there ever was, that these files were stolen," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the senior Democrat on the committee.

"The evidence unequivocally confirms that some Republican staff conspired to spy on and steal from their Democratic colleagues."

The revelations added fuel to a battle that has raged for months between Democrats and Republicans over Bush's judicial choices.

Democrats have prevented the Senate from voting on four of Bush's nominees; a fifth withdrew his name.

Republicans believe that if Democrats would allow a vote, the nominees would be approved.

Bush has since installed two of the judges - William Pryor on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Charles Pickering on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals - using "recess appointments," temporary assignments that do not need the Senate's approval.

Thousands of files

According to the Senate investigation led by Sergeant-at-Arms William Pickle, from the fall of 2001 until the spring of 2003 clerk Jason Lundell downloaded more than 4,670 files, many from Democrats' computer folders.

Lundell reportedly had watched a system administrator gain access to files on the committee's computer system and repeated the process himself.

Lundell said he gave the memos to Manuel Miranda, who helped guide Lundell on which documents were most helpful, the report said.

At the time, Miranda served as counsel to Lundell's section of the committee, which dealt with nominations.

Miranda later joined the staff of Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, where he continued to get documents from Lundell, the report said.

Miranda has resigned from Frist's staff, according to the Associated Press.

According to the report, Lundell said Miranda told him that it was common knowledge that staff on the committee could access each other's files.

`Any means necessary'

"Furthermore, Mr. Lundell recalled that Mr. Miranda had told him that Sen. Hatch wanted the staff to use any means necessary to support President Bush's nominees," the sergeant-at-arms reported.

Miranda issued a statement to the Associated Press saying the report "fails to find any criminal hacking or any credible suggestion of criminal acts."

He asked for an investigation of the "unethical substance" of the downloaded memos.

At the news conference, Hatch pointed out that the committee managed yesterday to reach bipartisan agreement to send to the full Senate nominations for 12 federal judges selected by Bush.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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