Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Conservative judicial groups yesterday asked for a criminal investigation into possible collusion between Democrats and special-interest groups as claimed by a top Senate Republican’s former staffer.

The investigation request made to the Department of Justice is based on an ethics complaint filed by Manuel Miranda, whose work for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, concentrated on judicial nominations.

Mr. Miranda filed the complaint before resigning his position last week amid the investigation into how internal Democratic memos outlining the suspected collusion were obtained and eventually published in The Washington Times and Wall Street Journal.

The letter to the Justice Department, from a consortium of 23 conservative groups headed by Coalition for a Fair Judiciary, comes just days after several Democratic senators suggested to reporters that criminal charges might be filed against Republican staffers who accessed their computer files.

The groups, such as Coalition for a Fair Judiciary, which posted the Democratic memos on its Web site, have been trying to shift the focus away from the manner in which the memos were obtained to the content.

The “United States Department of Justice has both a statutory duty and moral imperative to probe the relevant criminal misconduct that is manifested by and memorialized through these memoranda,” wrote Kay Daly, president of Coalition for a Fair Judiciary.

David Carle, spokesman for Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, dismissed the calls for an investigation as well as the group requesting it.

“Stealing is stealing,” he said in a statement.

“This is a group that reveled in this wrongdoing before there was an investigation,” said Mr. Carle, referring to the posting of the memos on the group’s Web site. “Their efforts to excuse or whitewash it can’t change the fact that it was wrong.”

In one of the memos made public, staffers for Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts advised the senator — at the urging of a lawyer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People — to stall one of President Bush’s nominees to the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals until after the court ruled on a landmark affirmative-action case.

In the memo, the staffers said they shared the concerns of NAACP lawyer Elaine Jones — who was involved in the case — that a conservative appointment to the panel might alter the outcome of the case against their favor.

The request for an investigation by the Justice Department relies heavily upon Mr. Miranda’s written complaint to the Senate Select Committee on Ethics, which also alludes to thousands of other memos that haven’t been made public.

“I have knowledge of other still unpublished documents that evidence a violation of the public trust in the judicial confirmation process on the part of Democratic senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee,” Mr. Miranda wrote. “This includes evidence of the direct influencing of the Senate’s advice and consent role by the promise of campaign funding and election support in the last mid-term election.”

Those memos, Mr. Miranda said, are under the control of Senate Sergeant-at-Arms William Pickle, who has been handling the investigation into how the memos were obtained.

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