- The Washington Times - Monday, September 26, 2005

Republican senators yesterday petitioned Sen. Charles E. Schumer for his personal assurance that Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) staff has not accessed their credit reports, as the committee’s opposition researchers did to Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele.

In a letter to Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat and DSCC chairman, the Republican senators said previous denials of such conduct from the DSCC’s spokesman and attorneys are insufficient.

“The security of our families’ finances is too important to rely on the assurances of professional political staff and consultants whose primary focus is defeating us next November,” the senators said.

“Therefore, we are seeking your personal assurance, as a colleague, that employees or agents of the DSCC did not access our personal credit history or the personal credit history of any of our family members.”

The letter was signed by Sens. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, John Ensign of Nevada, Trent Lott of Mississippi, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District and the FBI are investigating two former DSCC staffers who obtained credit data for Mr. Steele, after finding his Social Security number on court documents.

Mr. Steele is a potential Republican candidate to replace retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, Maryland Democrat.

Mr. Schumer yesterday responded with a terse letter to the Republicans.

“This was a single incident and no other senator or candidate’s credit report was accessed,” he said. “This has been stated repeatedly by the DSCC.”

Mr. Schumer is the lead sponsor of a bill aimed at preventing identity theft. In June, he demanded that Congress act on his bill in light of a Master Card security breach that exposed millions of credit-card records to would-be identity thieves.

A DSCC spokesman last week said Mr. Schumer was not involved in obtaining the credit data on Mr. Steele.

Mr. Schumer urged others to “report it immediately to the authorities” when he learned of the incident, DSCC spokesman Phil Singer said.

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

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

Democrats have characterized the incident as an isolated event by two young staffers who suffered a lapse in judgment. The staffers have been identified as Katie Barge, the DSCC’s research director, and her deputy, Lauren Weiner.

Republicans have questioned the Democrats’ characterization, saying employees in such jobs would be considered senior staffers and managers.

Miss Barge previously worked as a researcher for former 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 DSCC’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 Mr. Sarbanes’ retirement.

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 of two years imprisonment.

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