GOP senators seeking Schumer's guarantee

Republican senators seeking reelection in 2006 are sending Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), a letter asking him to guarantee that Democratic campaign aides will not access their credit reports.

Republican senators seeking reelection in 2006 are sending Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), a letter asking him to guarantee that Democratic campaign aides will not access their credit reports.

It is unclear who first drafted the letter, but Republican sources on Capitol Hill said all 13 GOP senators who face reelection battles this cycle were asked to lend their support.

“While the DSCC press secretary and counsel have publicly denied that the DSCC accessed the personal credit reports of any other Republican senators or candidates, 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,” a copy of the letter circulated yesterday morning at a meeting of Republican press secretaries states.

“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 original version of the letter also included this sentence: “In fact, we must confess our personal disappointment that we are forced to reach out to you on this matter and that you did not contact us and offer such assurances on your own volition.” That sentence was stricken from a later draft.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) said the senator would sign the letter. Santorum, who has lost ground to his Democratic opponent, state Treasurer Bob Casey, in recent months, is one of the Democrats’ top targets next year.

Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who is unlikely to face a serious challenge, also plans to sign the letter, a spokeswoman said.

Other senators up for reelection who Republican sources say support the letter include Lincoln Chafee (R.I.) and Olympia Snowe (Me.). Chafee faces a tough campaign; Snowe does not look to be in danger.

Several GOP senators, including Snowe and Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.), declined to discuss the letter.

At least one Republican senator, Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), has opted not to sign the letter. He will “wait and see whether or not his records have been accessed, and if they have, then we’ll deal with it,” said Burns spokesman Grant Toomey.

In a letter of response to the senators, Schumer wrote: “This was a single incident and no other senator or candidate’s credit report was accessed. This has been stated repeatedly by the DSCC.”

NRSC spokesman Brian Nick reiterated Republican requests that Schumer guarantee there will be no future violations of anyone’s privacy.

The letter stems from allegations that a DSCC official illegally obtained Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele’s credit report. Steele (R) is running for the seat being vacated by Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.). The FBI is investigating.

One Republican official said the investigation is particularly serious because it involves an African-American, Steele.

Republican campaign officials in the past week have sought to capitalize on the DSCC investigation, saying this should neutralize ethics attacks on House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.).

Talking points circulated by Republicans lambaste Schumer for, they say, ducking responsibility, and contend a senior DSCC official, not a junior staffer, as Democrats insist, was to blame.

In a Senate Banking Committee hearing last week, Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), who is also chairwoman of the NRSC, made identity theft and the security of financial records the centerpiece of her remarks.

Lindsay Taylor Mabry, a spokeswoman for Dole, said that the senator made the comments as a member of the Banking Committee and that there was no connection between the hearing and political activities at the DSCC or NRSC.

Mabry added that the timing of the remarks, in the immediate wake of the credit-report allegations, was coincidental. “The hearing was delayed by Shelby because of Hurricane Katrina,” she said, referring to Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).

The DSCC investigation, and the Republican response to it, comes at the same time that many Senate races are beginning to take shape: In West Virginia, Sen. Robert Byrd (D) is widely expected to announce today that he will seek reelection. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) is likely to announce within weeks whether she will challenge him. In Florida, Rep. Katherine Harris (R) looks to be her party’s presumptive nominee to challenge Sen. Bill Nelson (D).