Perhaps we need to freep Orin Hatch?
A Violation of Trust by Judiciary Panel Staffers
On Dec. 2, Associate Editorial Page Editor Melanie Kirkpatrick, in writing about the leaked Democratic memos and notes on President Bush's nominees to the federal courts, lamented that "a young man in Washington is in danger of losing his job because of something this page published. . . ." Sorry, not true. The fact that these staff members confessed to improperly and intentionally accessing restricted material on the Judiciary Committee's computers is why they stand to lose their jobs. Your newspaper simply served as an enabler -- a conduit for the fruits of their unethical activity.
The individuals in question (note the plural -- so far, two Republican staffers were found to have had improper and unauthorized access to the Judiciary Committee's computers and the investigation isn't over) are temporarily on administrative leave, with full pay, because it appears they electronically stole documents belonging to someone else. The notion that the Democrats invited this illegal electronic theft is as weak as arguing that a homeowner invites burglary because he has windows that allow prospective crooks to see the valuables inside. The shared computer system was designed under Republican control of the Senate so that senators and their staffs have access only to their own files. And security walls were erected for that purpose.
And in contradiction to Ms. Kirkpatrick's assertions, it was Sen. Patrick Leahy who for more than five years made repeated requests for separate servers and computer systems for Republican and Democratic committee staff -- precautions that were rejected as unnecessary and wasteful by the Republican leadership. Regardless of whether a determined staffer was technically capable of defeating computer firewalls or authorization restrictions, the fact is that someone knowingly stole confidential material and made it public. That violation of trust is at the heart of this investigation.
Why is that important? Well, for one thing, confidential information on every Bush nominee for the federal bench is stored in the Judiciary Committee's files, some on the very computer from which these documents were stolen. There are summaries and actual detailed investigative files provided by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, evaluations by state bar associations, by friends, enemies, acquaintances, business partners and employees, even current and former spouses. All that information is just as vulnerable to theft and abuse as the stolen documents the Journal published. Imagine the damage that could be done to someone's career or life if a Senate employee were to leak allegations of criminal activity from a nominee's FBI file? Or the intimate details of a bitter divorce proceeding or custody battle?
The stolen documents, many never seen by a Democratic senator, date from the fall of 2001 to the spring of 2003. And they show that senators on the Democratic side of the aisle met with groups concerned about conservative activists nominated for appointment to the federal bench. Some of these groups went so far as to suggest that Democrats should work to defeat these nominees, not on the floor of the Senate, but by slowing down their nominations in committee. Where would these groups come up with such a strategy? Perhaps from observing the same tactic as it was perfected by Republican senators for nearly six years during the Clinton administration when only 46 out of 84 circuit court nominations made it to the Senate floor for a vote.
The idea that Democratic senators are under the thrall of People for the American Way, NARAL or the NAACP is as fallacious as the notion that the American Conservative Union, the National Right to Life Committee or the Cato Institute dictate the agenda for Republicans. Don't take my word for it -- just look at the record.
The oft-cited Nov. 7, 2001, memo relays the groups' recommendation that 19 contentious judicial nominees be closely scrutinized, and in some cases, delayed. How has this battle plan been followed by Democrats?
Of those 19 nominees, 18 have had hearings and have been voted out of the Judiciary Committee, and 14 have been confirmed by the Senate and are now federal judges. In one case -- Deborah Cook, a nominee to the Sixth Circuit -- I cast one of only three Democratic votes in committee to move her nomination to the full Senate. Fourteen out of 19 nominees cited as controversial by civil rights groups are now judges. Apparently, Democratic senators listened to the concerns expressed by these groups and then voted their conscience -- exactly what most Americans expect of their senators.
Ms. Kirkpatrick ignores the truth of this matter. The problem with the judicial nominations process isn't stolen documents that discuss scrutinizing right-wing candidates, it is the fact that too often this White House is intent on forcing conservative activists through the nomination process. The solution is equally clear: Mainstream judicial nominees of good character and legal competence will be confirmed in a bipartisan manner.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.)
Updated December 15, 2003
That needed to be said!