Published on Tuesday, February 10, 2004 by the New York Times
Democrats Suggest Inquiry Points to Wider Spying by G.O.P.
by Neil A Lewis
WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats who were briefed Monday about an investigation into how Democratic strategy memorandums dealing with judicial nominations ended up in the hands of Republican staff members said they now believed the problem was far more extensive than previously thought.
Some of the internal memorandums appear to have been used to prepare one or more of President Bush's appeals court nominees to answer specific questions from Democratic senators during their Judiciary Committee hearings, Democrats said Monday.
The Senate's sergeant-at-arms, William Pickle, has been investigating how Republican staff aides were able to view and distribute to conservative news outlets several internal Democratic computer entries dealing with judicial nomination strategy. Mr. Pickle discussed his inquiry with four Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, some of whose memorandums were disclosed last year on The Wall Street Journal editorial page and in The Washington Times and a column by Robert Novak.
Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, said he learned from Mr. Pickle's briefing that the improper reading, copying and distributing of confidential Democratic memorandums had gone on far longer and had involved a greater amount of information than had previously been believed. "The extent and duration of the improper access was both remarkably longer and more widespread than I had ever imagined," Mr. Durbin said.
Previous published reports said the period in which Republican aides read the Democratic strategy memorandums lasted six months to a year.
Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the committee's ranking Democrat, told reporters after the 90-minute meeting that it appeared to him that Mr. Pickle's investigation would lead to a criminal investigation. Mr. Leahy said he would not comment further because he did not want to jeopardize any prosecution. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, similarly said he believed a crime had been committed by one or more people.
One senior Republican staff member, Manuel C. Miranda, has already resigned as a senior adviser to the Senate Republican leader, Bill Frist of Tennessee. Mr. Miranda acknowledged that he had read many of the documents but said that he had not given them to the news media.
Mr. Miranda has insisted that the documents had not been pilfered or improperly obtained. He said that they had been viewed by Republican staff aides because they were freely available on a computer network shared by Republicans and Democrats. "They were inadvertent disclosures that came to me as a result of some negligence on the part of the Democrats' technology staff," he said in an interview last month. He said that the Republicans had informed Democratic staff members of the problem and that ended his legal and ethical obligations.
"I knew our people had told their people about it," Mr. Miranda said. At the time he read the documents, Mr. Miranda was a staff aide to Senator Orrin G. Hatch, the Utah Republican who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Democratic staff aides who were briefed on Mr. Pickle's presentation said senators were stunned to learn that more than 3,000 documents had been improperly read by Republicans. In addition, one aide said Mr. Pickle said the breach in security was the result of a person "hacking," or working to gain entry into the Democrats' files. After that initial hacking, the documents were easily available on the network.
The memorandums included harsh assessments of the Republican nominees and generally reflected the angry partisan battles over Mr. Bush's judicial choices.
Mr. Miranda, who could not be reached for comment on Monday, has filed an ethics complaint with the Senate, asserting that the memorandums demonstrated "public corruption" by the Democrats. He said they showed "a violation of the public trust in the judicial confirmation process on the part of Democratic senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee."
Mr. Hatch has denounced the viewing of Democratic strategy memorandums but in doing so has been heavily criticized by some conservatives who have complained that he and Dr. Frist have been too compliant to Democratic complaints. Mr. Hatch had no comment on Monday.
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