State Journal Register
March 5, 2004
Panel: Ex-Senate staffers stole memos
Workers for GOP senators accessed Durbin's files
By DORI MEINERT
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON - Two former Republican Senate staffers deliberately and secretly accessed nearly 4,700 Democratic computer files on judicial nominees, including more than 2,000 belonging to Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., a Senate investigation concluded Thursday.
But the computers also weren't adequately protected, it found.
The Senate Judiciary Committee postponed until next week a decision on whether to refer the case for criminal prosecution, but chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said, "Odds are that it will."
"I am mortified that this improper, unethical, simply unacceptable breach of confidential files occurred," Hatch told reporters. "There is no excuse that can justify these improper actions. I have to say that none of us would walk into another person's office and take papers from their desk - this is, in a
sense, exactly that."
Durbin, who said he clearly was targeted by the two GOP staffers, is pushing for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of Illinois to be appointed by the Justice Department to review the case.
"I think because of the partisan nature of this, it would be better to bring in an independent person," Durbin said. "There is clear evidence of criminal misconduct here. Documents were stolen from my computer ..."
The report released by the committee Thursday is the culmination of a four-month investigation led by Senate Sergeant-At-Arms William Pickle. It was requested by Durbin and other Democrats after 14 of their computer memos
were leaked to the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times. Hatch angered conservatives when he agreed.
The report blames two former GOP staffers - Manuel Miranda, who worked for Hatch and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist before resigning last month, and Jason Lundell, a clerk who worked for Hatch until he quit to go to graduate school late last year.
Lundell learned how to access Democrats' files when he watched a systems administrator work on his computer. Miranda also admitted accessing Democrats' files, the report said.
Memos belonging to Durbin and other Democrats were given to several outside groups that support President Bush's judicial nominees. They first appeared on the Coalition for a Fair Judiciary Web site. Lundell believed Miranda to be the "middle man," the report stated.
Hatch said about 100 of his files also were improperly accessed and transmitted outside the Senate.
The report added "there are likely to be others" who had access to the computer system. But the Senate investigators have no subpoena powers to compel testimony as a grand jury would.
Durbin and other Democrats recently have written the White House and the Justice Department to determine whether the Democrats' memos were used to prep judicial nominees.
Hatch said the harsh partisan atmosphere surrounding the judicial-nomination process contributed to the two former GOP staffers believing that "anything goes. Well, anything doesn't go. This shouldn't have been done."
He put some of the blame on "inside-the-beltway special-interest groups" that pressure members of Congress and staff.
Durbin praised Hatch's handling of the matter.
"I really think this is about the integrity of the committee and the trust that members have for one another," Durbin said.