- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2004

The Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday released its report on the investigation into how Democratic strategy memos on blocking judicial nominees were obtained by Republican staffers and ultimately printed in The Washington Times and other publications.

The report, prepared by the Senate sergeant-at-arms, details two Republican staffers’ 18-month snooping operation into notes and internal memos written by Democratic Judiciary Committee staffers and stored on the committee’s shared computer server.

Some 4,670 documents, mostly belonging to Democratic staff, were downloaded and stored on a low-level Republican staffer’s computer, the report said. About 100 of those documents belonged to Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican.

“I am mortified that this improper, unethical and simply unacceptable breach of confidential files occurred,” said Mr. Hatch, who first hired the two staffers. “There is no excuse that can justify these improper actions.”

The 65-page report on the three-month investigation includes e-mails and correspondence between former Hatch staffers Manuel Miranda and Jason Lundell, both of whom have since resigned. Mr. Miranda worked for Mr. Hatch and later became judicial nominations counsel to Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee. Mr. Lundell was a clerk in the committee’s nominations unit.

“The clerk who initially discovered how to access the files told investigators that he was not sure what to look for in the files, so Mr. Miranda would guide him as to what information was helpful,” the report says. “Mr. Miranda would often suggest which directories he should concentrate on and would sometimes tell him that there was something new in a particular folder and ask the clerk to print it for him.”

Mr. Hatch said Mr. Lundell “seemed to be very much under the influence of” Mr. Miranda.

Investigators said: “Mr. Miranda was thought of by his peers as having ‘a mole’ on the other side and would smile when he was asked how he knew what appeared to be insider Democratic information.”

The investigation also discovered two high-level Hatch staffers — Alexander Dahl and Rena Comisac — who opposed using the purloined Democratic memos but acknowledged at least seeing some of them during the battle over the nomination of Judge Charles W. Pickering to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Mr. Lundell “printed approximately 100-200 pages of documents pertaining to Judge Pickering’s nomination and gave them to Ms. Comisac in an attempt to get on good terms with her,” the report says. “According to Mr. Lundell, Ms. Comisac appeared pleased with the information and thanked him. He reported that two days later Mr. Dahl and Ms. Comisac admonished him not to use the Democratic documents and Ms. Comisac shredded the materials he had given her.”

Even as the report was being photocopied for distribution to reporters yesterday, Mr. Miranda revealed two previously undiscovered Democratic documents showing that Democratic staffers on the Judiciary Committee in 2001 inadvertently received an internal Republican e-mail that they leaked to the press.

After the report’s release, Mr. Miranda issued a press release calling the report “a big snore,” saying it “merely colors in what we volunteered over three months ago.”

“I commend Senator Hatch for acting promptly given allegations of hacking and am pleased that no hacking occurred,” Mr. Miranda said. “I call on Senator Hatch to act with similar alacrity in investigating the unethical substance of Democrat memos.”

Asked about whether the content of the memos is fair game now that they are public, Mr. Hatch replied: “I don’t think we had a right to read those memos. They should not have done this.”

The report itself caused some commotion around Capitol Hill last night when committee staffers discovered that the version intended for reporters had been switched accidentally with the version intended for committee members. So while senators on the committee got the “confidential” version with names blackened out, reporters were handed clean copies that included all the names and other sensitive details.

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