- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Republican senators took to the floor yesterday to express outrage over the internal staff memos that show Democrats planning with liberal interest groups to thwart President Bush’s judicial nominees.

“It’s important that we address these memos and what, in fact, they confirm about the obstruction and destructive politics that have taken hold of the judicial-confirmation process,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican. “These special-interest groups are not only dictating the tune, expecting senators to dance to that tune, they’re telling them that if they don’t, they’ll be punished.”

Of particular note is a memo written to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, outlining efforts to stall one judge nominated to the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals until after that panel had ruled on last year’s landmark affirmative-action case.

“Even acts that are widely recognized as improper and inappropriate seem to have become fair game for obstructionists today,” Mr. Cornyn said.

Frustrated Republicans are trying to return the focus of the recently leaked internal Democratic memos back to the substance of the documents and away from the ongoing investigations into how the memos were obtained by The Washington Times and Wall Street Journal.

But even that effort was overshadowed by news last night that a Republican staffer admitted to accessing the Democratic files and was placed on leave with pay. The admission came during an internal Republican investigation conducted at the request of Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican.

“It is with deep regret I must report today the interviews conducted to date have revealed that at least one current member of the Judiciary Committee majority staff had improperly accessed at least some of the documents referenced in the media reports,” Mr. Hatch said. “I am mortified that this improper, unethical and simply unacceptable breach of confidential files may have occurred on my watch.”

Mr. Hatch said a second former Republican staffer also may have been involved. He declined to say how exactly the Republican staffers were able to access the Democratic files.

“We think this is a very positive first step,” said Joe Shoemaker, spokesman for Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, about Mr. Hatch’s investigation. “Chairman Hatch deserves a lot of credit. He’s clearly taking this seriously.”

But like several Democrats, Mr. Shoemaker said it’s only a first step and awaits the conclusion of the investigation under way by the Senate sergeant-at-arms.

Since early on, Republicans have expressed frustration that Democrats have successfully shifted the focus of the debate from the content of the memos to the manner in which they were obtained.

“They wanted the story to be where the memos came from and not what was in them,” said Don Stewart, spokesman for Mr. Cornyn. “Many in the media just haven’t grasped the importance of these memos.”

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