Sunday, March 7, 2004

Senate staffers were stunned to learn that more than a dozen names of fellow aides and former staffers were printed in what was supposed to be a confidential investigation report into how Republicans obtained Democratic Judiciary Committee computer files.

Democrats are concerned that this new information about the leak could ruin any hopes for a criminal prosecution against the Republican snoopers.

After deciding Thursday afternoon to release the report, senators on the Judiciary Committee ordered Sergeant-at-Arms William H. Pickle, who had conducted the three-month investigation, to prepare and photocopy a version of the report with all names and sensitive information deleted for distribution to reporters.

Only after several dozen copies of the 65-page report had been distributed did senators realize that staffers in Mr. Pickle’s office had photocopied and helped distribute the confidential version intended only for top Senate leaders.

“It was released inadvertently, as I understand it,” said Mr. Pickle’s assistant, Al Concordian, who referred further questions to the Judiciary Committee. “It’s the Judiciary’s property.”

“I’d say Mr. Pickle is in a pickle,” said one Republican staffer, who added that numerous colleagues cooperated in the inquiry with the specific understanding that their names would never be made public.

“There was no intention on anyone’s part to release this version at this time,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said in a joint statement. “We believe this report is accurate, but the version released contains sensitive information and we ask that any members of the media and the public respect the privacy of individuals named in the report, who were inadvertently identified.”

The report, which received nationwide attention, found that two Republican staffers — Manuel Miranda and Jason Lundell — had snooped on Democrats over an 18-month period and may have been involved in distributing memos downloaded from Democratic computer servers.

“It’s a rich irony that these [investigators] who spent all this time investigating these two people for improperly distributing information that was supposed to be confidential turned right around and distributed confidential information themselves,” said one person involved in the investigation who was not named. “They can’t even shoot straight on getting [photocopies] of the report with the names redacted.”

Earlier, Mr. Hatch labeled the full report that was ultimately released “committee confidential,” prohibiting it from being released beyond the committee.

According to Rule 29.5 of the Standing Rules of the Senate, a senator can be expelled from the Senate and an employee can be fired for disclosing “confidential business or proceedings of the Senate, including the business and proceedings of the committees, subcommittees and offices of the Senate.”

The version that was eventually posted on the Judiciary Committee’s Web site not only had all the names redacted, but also was nearly 50 pages shorter than the full version, suggesting that far more sensitive information than just names got divulged.

Democrats may no longer have a criminal prosecution against the Republicans accused of reading the memos and leaking them to the press.

“Obviously, I don’t expect there to be a criminal referral because my client’s cooperation is the primary source for 80 percent of the report,” said Robert N. Driscoll, a lawyer with Alston & Bird who represents Mr. Lundell. “Only with his cooperation were they able to get to the bottom of this so quickly.”

Because of poor security features on Judiciary Committee computers, according to the report, investigators relied almost entirely upon people admitting that they accessed files that weren’t supposed to be viewed.

In the end, they fingered Mr. Miranda as the person who leaked the Democratic staff memos, a charge he denies.

“Several individuals who were interviewed, both Republican and Democratic, implicated Mr. Miranda,” investigators wrote. “While there is no definitive evidence pointing to Mr. Miranda … there is a substantial amount of circumstantial evidence implicating him.”

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