GOP groups press Dems on memo

Conservative activists pushing for the confirmation of President Bush’s judicial nominees are attempting to refocus attention on the memo controversy that consumed the Senate Judiciary Committee for much of last year.

The latest tactic is an effort to defend the actions of Manuel Miranda, a senior GOP aide who exposed the content of internal Democratic Judicial Committee memos, by bringing to light an analogous incident involving a senior Democratic aide on the House International Relations Committee in the mid-1990s.

Even though the Senate’s investigation of the memo controversy ended last year, it is still an ongoing political issue. Earlier this year, at a hearing on Alberto Gonzales’s nomination for Attorney General, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) asked Gonzales if he knew of the “theft” of Democratic Judiciary documents before the incident was publicly disclosed. And Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the Democratic whip and a member of the panel, vowed last year to ask certain court nominees if they had prior knowledge of the internal documents.

In letters sent this week to Leahy, ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), a panel member, Jeffrey Mazzella, the president of the Center for Individual Freedom, described the incident that took place almost a decade ago.

Mazzella cited and provided a copy of a letter dated February 1996 from then-House International Relations Committee Chairman Ben Gilman (R-N.Y.) to Rep. Lee Hamilton (Ind.), the panel’s then-ranking Democrat. Mazzella said Miranda provided information used in his letters.

According to Gilman’s letter, Dan Restrepo surreptitiously read internal Republican documents from a shared computer server and in at least one instance faxed to the Clinton State Department information that Republicans considered sensitive.

However, unlike the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republican and Democratic lawmakers on the House international-relations panel nine years ago quietly resolved the complaint among themselves.

Restrepo is director of congressional affairs for the Center for American Progress, a high-profile Democratic think tank headed by former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta.

Restrepo, in an e-mail to The Hill, said, “I cooperated with the review and discussed the matter with Mr. Hamilton. To the best of my knowledge, the matter was resolved to the satisfaction of Mr. Gilman and Mr. Hamilton.”

By contrast, Miranda’s perusal of Democratic Judiciary Committee files saved on a computer server shared by Republicans and Democrats quickly became public knowledge. That was due in large part by then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch’s (R-Utah) decision to conduct an investigation of the file peeking and report his findings in a hastily arranged press conference shortly before Thanksgiving 2003.

Soon thereafter, Miranda’s name was floated to the press, and he subsequently became the public target of an investigation conducted by Senate Sergeant at Arms Bill Pickle at the request of Hatch and committee Democrats.

Several Republicans and Democrats on the committee eventually asked the Justice Department to investigate Miranda’s action, even though it is unclear that his admitted perusal and alleged dissemination of the files violated any laws. The Justice Department is in the midst of its investigation of Miranda, who formerly served as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s (R-Tenn.) aide in charge of strategy on judicial nominees.

Miranda also became the target of a complaint filed with the New York Bar Association by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a group that Republicans often criticize as left-leaning and partisan.

Miranda said that he has received a letter from the state bar informing him of the complaint’s dismissal but that he was unable to provide a copy, explaining that he was bound by a New York law that requires such communications with the bar to remain confidential.

Sloan, however, expressed strong skepticism about Miranda’s claim, arguing that bar complaints usually take a much longer time to be resolved.

In the letter to Leahy, Mazzella asks Leahy if he or his staff was familiar with the similar House incident, an apparent attempt to support the charge often leveled by conservatives that Democrats purposely exaggerated the impropriety of Miranda’s conduct to draw attention away from the content of the internal memos. Republican senators and conservative activists have long argued that the memos offer evidence of corruption of the judicial confirmation process and should be the subject of a Senate Ethics Committee probe. They lament that attention on the content of the memos has been distracted by the investigation of the Republican access of Democratic files.

The latter became a bigger and longer-lived object of media interest.

In a statement to The Hill, David Carle, Leahy’s spokesman, said: “We had not known about the House incident before now, but we did learn about other instances in the Senate on other committees in which staff members had discovered computer security failures and had reported them so they could be corrected. Unfortunately the improper taking of Judiciary Committee documents went on surreptitiously for years and was not voluntarily reported.”

Restrepo corroborated that assertion in his e-mail: “I have not discussed this matter with anyone involved in the current judiciary committee controversy.”

More in House

Boehner expects Dems to support GOP plan for government funding

Read more »