Senate Seizes Judiciary Data

Posted November 21, 2003 at 6:24pm

The Senate Sergeant-at-Arms took possession of the Judiciary Committee’s four computer servers Friday and formally opened an investigation into how more than a dozen memos written by two Democratic Senators ended up in the hands of a pair of newspapers.

Democrats suspect the memos, which detailed political strategy on how to block or delay confirmation of several of President Bush’s judicial nominees, were stolen from the servers and subsequently given to The Wall Street Journal editorial page and The Washington Times. Both newspapers published excerpts of the memos.

Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Pickle said the four servers and computer backup tapes would be examined by an “outside forensic team” to see if the memos were in fact stolen from the server. The Capitol Police secured the backup tapes last Monday at the request of the Judiciary Committee leadership after Democrats called for an investigation into their alleged theft. Pickle, the chief law enforcement official in the Senate, said he received a bipartisan directive from Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and the panel’s ranking member, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), to launch the investigation.

“The direction I got was very clear, they want a thorough investigation done and they want to make sure the integrity of this institution, and in particular this committee, is above scrutiny,” he said.

Pickle said he is not sure how long the investigation would take, but noted it would include using both the private forensic experts as well as internal resources to determine if the memos written to Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) by their respective staffs were stolen.

“I think this is an extremely important issue,” Durbin said in an interview Friday. “It is not only a question about whether the security of the Senate has been compromised, but also whether the integrity of the Senate and its committees have been compromised. I just think we have to understand that this institution depends on trust and cooperation among its Members.

“When anyone’s computer has been compromised, I think it is a terrible thing that has to be viewed very seriously,” Durbin added.

Republicans seized on the memos written in 2001 to Durbin and in 2002 to Kennedy as evidence that Democrats were trying to politicize the issue because they outlined the concerns and wishes of several liberal-leaning interest groups that opposed a number of Bush’s nominees.

“Reports of these memos, if accurate, document our longstanding concern that many Democrats are under the thumb of left-wing special interest groups,” Hatch said in a statement released early last week.

While Hatch is supporting the investigation, the Judiciary chairman made it clear last week that talk of the alleged theft would not prevent Republicans from talking about the contents of the memos.

“No attempt to direct attention to how these memos surfaced can change what they say and will not prevent discussion of their implications,” he warned.

News of the alleged pilfering of the Judiciary memos comes just weeks after conservative talk show host Sean Hannity obtained another memo written by a Democratic staffer on the Intelligence Committee. Republicans charged that the memo was proof Democrats were trying to politicize intelligence failures in advance of the 2004 presidential election.