The U.S. attorney’s office for the District and the FBI are investigating the theft of Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele’s credit report by two Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee staffers, law-enforcement officials confirmed yesterday.
Democrats characterized the action as an isolated incident and a lapse in judgment by two young staffers who have since resigned.
Republicans questioned whether the staffers were indeed Katie Barge, the committee’s research director, and her deputy, Lauren Weiner, as reported by The Washington Post.
Employees in such jobs would be considered senior staffers and managers, said state Republicans and National Republican Senatorial Committee staffers.
The Democratic staffers reported their actions in July, about a month after Mr. Steele formed a committee to explore running for the U.S. Senate seat left open by retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Democrat.
Mr. Steele is the first black elected to statewide office in Maryland and is considered a rising star in the Republican Party. He also is considered the party’s best candidate for the U.S. Senate seat in the heavily Democratic state. Mr. Steele has been urged to run by President Bush and Sen. Elizabeth Dole, North Carolina Republican and chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Phil Singer, communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said the staffers had obtained Mr. Steele’s credit report unlawfully and that the committee turned over the matter immediately to the U.S. attorney’s office. He characterized the action as an “isolated incident.”
Mr. Singer would not say whether the investigation was expanding, but Channing D. Phillips, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, said it was limited to the conduct of the two former 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 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.
Steele spokesman Paul Ellington said the staffers should be prosecuted to the “full extent of the law.”
“He feels that identity theft is a serious situation and he feels that he is a victim,” Mr. Ellington said.
Under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, knowingly and willfully obtaining a credit report under false pretenses is a felony punishable with a fine and a maximum two years’ imprisonment.
Sen. Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican fighting a re-election battle, said he was “disappointed but not overly surprised” by the incident.
“I’d better check on my credit report,” he said.
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, called the incident “deceitful, despicable and wrong,” but applauded committee leaders for recognizing the mistake and encouraging the staffers to resign.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, who is chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, is also the lead sponsor of a bill to prevent identity theft.
In June, he demanded that Congress act on his bill in light of a MasterCard breach that exposed millions of credit card records.
Mr. Singer said yesterday that Mr. Schumer was not involved in the incident but urged others to “report it immediately to the authorities.”