Democrats on Judiciary Scoff at Hatch’s Overture

Posted February 3, 2004 at 6:01pm

Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has scheduled a Senators-only briefing for Tuesday on the investigation into how internal Democratic committee memos were taken by GOP staffers and distributed to the media.

While the briefing is an attempt to settle demands from the minority for an update, Hatch’s overture was met with derision by Judiciary Democrats, who have demanded the briefing happen sooner and they be allowed to meet themselves with the lead investigator, Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Pickle.

“It’s far too late,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the ranking member on Judiciary, said of the Feb. 10 briefing.

Leahy pulled Hatch aside Tuesday afternoon for an impromptu, contentious discussion outside Majority Leader Bill Frist’s (R-Tenn.) office about when the briefing would take place, but the briefing is still scheduled for Tuesday.

Hatch said he felt a briefing any time sooner than next week would be premature, given that in previous briefings — with Hatch, Leahy, Frist and Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) — Pickle indicated a final report would not be ready until later this month.

“Mr. Pickle said he needed a couple more weeks,” Hatch said in an interview.

The chairman said he was moving a planned executive committee session from Thursday — an event that might not have been able to happen anyway because of ricin-related office closings — until just after the Pickle briefing Tuesday. He expected at least part if not all of the briefing to be Senators only.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a senior Judiciary member, said the offer from Hatch was insufficient because Democrats want to meet with Pickle by themselves.

“We want a briefing of just the Democrats because we were the aggrieved ones,” he said.

The ongoing investigation started in mid-November after portions of more than a dozen memos from Judiciary Democrats were published in a Wall Street Journal editorial, a few days after which Hatch admitted that his committee staff had been accessing the minority staff’s memos.

One of his staffers was placed on leave and has subsequently left the committee staff.

A second staffer linked to the probe is Manuel Miranda, a former Judiciary aide who is now Frist’s top adviser on judicial nominations.

Miranda, who has admitted publicly to accessing the memos but denies giving them to the media, is on paid leave from Frist’s office pending the results of the investigation.

Miranda and other conservatives contend there was no wrongdoing because the memos — which detailed liberal interest groups’ efforts to get Democrats to block President Bush’s nominees — were on a jointly shared server with majority and minority staff.

Conservative legal experts also contend there was no breach of Senate rules regarding confidential memos because the memos in question were not covered by confidentiality clauses.