- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Republican Party started its own inquiry yesterday into whether the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee accessed credit reports on more people than Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a potential candidate in the upcoming U.S. Senate race.

National Republican Senatorial Committee attorneys took the first step by sending a letter to the Democratic committee that asks which candidates have had their credit information accessed by committee staffers.

The letter from William J. McGinley and Cleta Mitchell requested information on “how the credit report(s) were accessed, which credit report(s) were accessed, whether any other forms of private financial data were accessed and [whether staffers accessed] any other relevant information related to this serious situation.”

The letter also states concerns about whether the committee destroyed its copy of Mr. Steele’s credit report, despite federal prosecutors’ ongoing investigation. The potential mishandling of the document was reported first by WBAL-TV.

Marc E. Elias, an attorney for the Democratic committee, responded yesterday with a letter stating the staffers accessed only Mr. Steele’s report.

“This was a single incident involving two staffers who demonstrated poor judgment,” Mr. Elias stated. “No other candidates or senators had their credit reports accessed.”

Mr. Elias also stated the committee “took appropriate action to ensure there was neither useof the credit information nor any additional access to it.” However, he did not directly address the issue of whether the committee destroyed its copy of Mr. Steele’s report.

The U.S. attorney’s office for the District and the FBI are investigating the two former staffers who apparently obtained Mr. Steele’s credit report after finding his Social Security number on court documents.

The committee reported the incident to the U.S. attorney in July. The staffers resigned earlier this month, according to a statement issued Tuesday.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney said yesterday the investigation now is focused on the conduct of the two researchers, but he declined to say whether there was evidence that candidates other than Mr. Steele had their credit information accessed.

Republicans have questioned the Democrats’ characterization of the incident, that it was isolated and that the young staffers had a lapse in judgment, since the staffers have been identified as Katie Barge, the committee’s research director, and her deputy, Lauren Weiner.

Employees in such jobs would be considered senior staffers and managers, said state Republicans and National Republican Senatorial Committee staffers.

Miss Barge previously worked as a researcher for presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, and as a research director for Media Matters for America, a Web-based enterprise founded to combat the influence of conservative news commentators.

Miss Weiner had been at the forefront of the committee’s research on Mr. Steele, signing off on numerous requests filed under the Maryland Public Information Act.

The two researchers obtained Mr. Steele’s credit report about a month after he formed a committee to explore running for the U.S. Senate seat left open by retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Democrat.

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