Judiciary Republicans Wary of ‘Fishing Expedition’ Object to Probe

Posted November 24, 2003 at 3:15pm

Several Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have raised objections to the investigation into Democratic allegations of leaked internal memos, prompting a meeting Monday morning with Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Pickle and Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to review the probe.

“We strongly object to allowing anyone to read backup tapes or other electronic media from the Judiciary Committee server, the Exchange server or otherwise breach the privacy of our electronic files and communications,” Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) and other GOP committee members wrote to Pickle on Friday. “We have been given no notice, our consent was not solicited and we are not aware of even a basic showing of cause to warrant such an inquiry,”

One GOP panel member warned of a potential “fishing expedition” and some have privately raised concerns over Hatch’s decision to allow the probe without first seeking input from other committee Republicans.

But Democrats countered that the investigation should not be limited in scope, and Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) suggested it would look beyond just the Judiciary Committee and possibly into other panels, including the Intelligence Committee, which erupted in partisan warfare several weeks ago after a leaked minority memo laid out the political rationale for conducting an independent investigation into intelligence regarding the war on terror.

Cornyn, the lead signatory on the letter, said his group wants to make sure the investigation is limited in nature to the 14 Democratic memos that have ended up in publications in recent weeks, beginning with the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page Nov. 14.

“As long as it’s focused on that, that’s fine,” Cornyn said of those 14 memos, which Republicans have alleged demonstrate the Democrats’ reliance on outside interest groups for direction on judicial nominees. Cornyn said the meeting with Pickle and Hatch, which included a few other Senators, was designed to make sure “that this would not just be a fishing expedition.”

Without specifically criticizing Hatch, Cornyn expressed a general bewilderment at how Republicans on the committee were unaware of where the investigation was headed. “We just asked to be advised of what’s going on. I didn’t know what the scope of the investigation was,” Cornyn said, requesting a “more formal process so we don’t have to learn things through word of mouth.”

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), also on Judiciary, didn’t sign on to the Cornyn letter, but said he sent Hatch a “separate note” asking about the investigation. He agreed with Cornyn that the probe should be limited to the memos already in public: “It ought to be limited to the inquiry at hand.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), one of the two Judiciary Democrats whose memos on nominations ended up in the media, rejected any attempt to limit the probe just to those already in the press. “I don’t know how many were taken. I just know they released 14,” Durbin said.

Hatch said he agreed that the investigation should be limited in nature, but added that he has not so far put any explicit limits on Pickle’s investigation, which moved forward last week when the Sergeant-at-Arms seized the committee’s four computer servers and began considering hiring an outside computer forensic expert to determine if the memos were stolen from Democratic computers.

“I’m just going to let the chips fall where they may,” Hatch said.

Pickle said today that the “support from both sides” was critical to the investigation’s success, adding that neither Hatch nor either parties’ leaders had placed limits on the probe. “Chairman Hatch has directed us to leave no stone unturned.”

Hatch denied that his decision to request Pickle conduct the probe — which was made after consulting with Judiciary ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Daschle — had strained any tension with the conservatives on his panel. “I’ve talked to all of them, and they understand,” he said today.

But one GOP committee member said the Cornyn letter was prompted by what the Republicans on the panel considered a lack of consultation on a very fiery issue — particularly on Judiciary, which has generally been the Senate’s most bitterly partisan panel for the past half-decade.

Daschle suggested today that the investigation is much more broadly covering the issue of privacy of internal memos. Asked if those conducting the probe are looking at Intelligence Committee and the partisan memo, Daschle said, “They are.”

“They’re looking at a broader scope, but I don’t want to comment further,” he said.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), ranking member on Intelligence, declined to comment on the matter.

Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), however, said there would be no further investigation into the memo, in terms of why it was prepared — as some Republicans had suggested — or how it ended up in the media — as Democrats had suggested.

“I don’t anticipate any further action on this. I think we’ve moved on, which is good,” Roberts said, noting that even if a probe was to be called, Pickle could not be involved. Any review of the committee’s computers, e-mail and other technical information would have to be conducted by someone with the highest levels of clearance for reviewing intelligence, something Pickle and the Sergeant-at-Arms officers lack.

“Our security officer [on the committee] would be the person to do that,” Roberts said. “That’s not happening.”