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Durbin Demands Probe

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) plans to ask for an investigation into how two of his memos addressing President Bush’s judicial nominees landed in the hands of The Wall Street Journal editorial page, which published them in Friday’s editions.

Durbin said he is concerned someone might have hacked into one of his staffer’s computers to obtain the memos. He was deciding over the weekend whether to make the formal request for an investigation to the Ethics Committee, Sergeant-at-Arms or the Capitol Police.

The back-to-back memos, written by Durbin’s staff on Nov. 6 and Nov. 7, 2001, prep and then later debrief the Illinois Senator about a meeting he held with Democratic activists, who oppose several of Bush’s picks for the federal bench.

The Journal published the memos along with three others written to Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) by his staff in 2002, in an editorial criticizing Democrats for allowing “liberal interest groups” to dictate which judges they should approve.

“I don’t know which way to even turn at this point, but we are going to ask for an investigation into this,” Durbin said in an interview Friday, after voting with a majority of his Democratic colleagues to block three of Bush’s judicial nominees from receiving confirmation votes.

Two of those appellate court nominees, Priscilla Owen and Caroline Kuhl, were named in the 2001 memos.

Durbin’s call for an investigation comes two weeks after conservative talk show host Sean Hannity obtained another memo written by a Democratic staffer. Republicans charged that the memo was proof Democrats were trying to politicize intelligence failures in advance of the 2004 presidential election.

How Hannity obtained the memo, which was written by a Democratic Intelligence Committee aide, has never been determined.

Senate Intelligence Vice Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said in an interview Friday that he believes the memo was taken from his committee office and is looking into what options are available to him to determine who stole it.

“We are going through a series of things right now,” Rockefeller said. “I don’t want to say a whole lot more about it, but I am focusing a little bit more on that now.”

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said “he is very concerned about the implications of what is going on here” and endorsed Durbin’s call for an inquiry.

“What kind of place is this? What kind of country is this, if private materials from Senator’s offices are being stolen,” Daschle said. “I think it warrants an investigation.”

Rockefeller would not explicitly name Republicans as the suspects regarding the leak of the Intelligence memo, but added, “Nobody on our side had seen it, and why would they [leak] that?”

Upon its release, Republicans seized upon the Intelligence memo and criticized Democrats for trying to use the issue for their political advantage, a charge Rockefeller said is baseless because it was a draft memo that was never distributed.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) described talk of an inquiry into how the Intelligence memo was leaked as a distraction from the real issue of Democrats playing politics with national security.

“The Intelligence memo outlined an unprecedented attempt to use the Intelligence Committee for partisan, political purposes,” said Bob Stevenson, Frist’s spokesman. “We asked the Democratic members of that committee to disavow the memo. They have not done so, and no amount of political slight of hand should distract the American people from that reality.”

Stevenson said he did not know about Durbin’s situation and could not comment about it.

The Journal editorial on the judicial memos appeared on the morning the Senate was wrapping up its nearly 40-hour debate on the qualifications of some of Bush’s judicial nominees.

The Nov. 6 memo informs Durbin he is meeting with representatives from People For the American Way, NARAL [now known as NARAL Pro-Choice America], Alliance for Justice, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, American Association of University Women, National Women’s Law Center and the National Partnership.

“The primary focus will be on identifying the most controversial and/or vulnerable judicial nominees,” the staffer writes Durbin. “The groups would like to postpone action on these nominees until next year, when (presumably) the public will be more tolerant of partisan dissent.”

The next day, the Illinois Democrat received another memo from a staffer saying the organizations opposed Kuhl, Owen and Jeffrey Sutton, who had been nominated for 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Senate approved Sutton on April 29, 2003, but Durbin joined 40 of his colleagues in casting a dissenting vote.

The Nov. 7 memo also references Miguel Estrada “as especially dangerous, because he has a minimal paper trail, he is Latino, and the White House seems to be grooming him for a Supreme Court appointment. They want to hold Estrada off as long as possible.”

Estrada withdrew his name for a seat on the U.S Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit after waiting 28 months for a vote on his nomination.

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