- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2004

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee fiercely denounced staffers in their own party yesterday for secretly accessing computer files of their Democratic colleagues.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and member of the Judiciary Committee, said that acquiring the Democratic memos was “an unethical or illegal wrong.”

He was referring to the 14 Democratic memos at least two Republican staffers have told Senate investigators they viewed on the Democratic computer server. Those memos — outlining cozy relations between Democrats on the committee and liberal special interest groups — eventually became public.

“The conservatives who offer a justification for this based on politics have missed the boat,” Mr. Graham said. “We are a rule-of-law nation, and as a conservative, I think that type of thinking is abhorrent.”

Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, has been criticized by fellow Republicans for his early support of the investigation by the Senate sergeant-at-arms. By yesterday, Mr. Hatch was enjoying praise from both sides of the aisle.

“He is the only Republican senator who has apologized to the senators on this side of the aisle for this wrongdoing and I appreciate that,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat. “I know the anguish in his voice and the anger in his soul.”

Mr. Hatch said his two former staffers — both of whom resigned amid the investigation — violated “the golden rule.”

“Do unto others as you’d have done unto yourself,” said Mr. Hatch, who conservatives say plays nicely with Democrats on the committee. “Accessing the files of other staffers fails this test,” he added.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat whose memos were exposed, called the episode a virtual Watergate.

“Thirty years ago, a president had to leave office because his agents were caught breaking into the opposition’s offices to get confidential information,” he said. “In those days, break-ins required physical presence, burglar’s tools, lookouts and getaway cars.

“Today, theft may only require a computer and the skills to use it — and the will to break in,” Mr. Kennedy added.

No Republican senator disputed Mr. Kennedy’s assertion or those leveled by any other Democrats on the committee.

Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, agreed they would return each other’s memos if they had found them.

“We don’t all enjoy that sense of absolute trust with each other, but it would be wonderful if we did,” Mr. Kyl said. “But in those situations where it does exist, it is a very comforting thing.”

Mr. Graham said blame also lies with Democratic and Republican senators who have intensified the ideological battles over judicial nominations.

“In the culture we have created,” he said, “I think we have some responsibility ourselves.”

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