Hatch, Leahy Anticipate Criminal Investigation

Posted March 4, 2004 at 4:45pm

Both the chairman and ranking member of the Judiciary Committee expect a federal criminal inquiry will follow the Senate investigation into the unauthorized accessing of thousands of Democratic documents.

Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) both suggested today that the internal probe, completed Wednesday by Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Pickle and distributed to the full committee this morning, would grow into a criminal case, but it was unclear which level of federal prosecution would handle the case.

With a redacted version of the report being distributed publicly today, the Senators said the full committee would meet next week in closed session to determine what route to take.

Leahy left no doubt that he thought the case is criminal in nature. “It’s not difficult to conclude that this is criminal behavior,” he said.

Hatch, who had previously maintained that no “reasonable prosecutor” would bring a case, reluctantly admitted that a federal investigation would occur.

“The odds are that it will,” he said, adding that the committee could not yet determine if the actions were criminal. “It’s going to have to be determined by someone outside the committee.”

Hatch indicated that he felt the case was limited to two staffers, both of whose names have been redacted in the report. Both have since resigned their positions in the Senate, including Manuel Miranda, who worked for the committee and then last year for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

In the report, Miranda is fingered as the ringleader directing a younger staffer. Without naming the younger legislative assistant at a press conference, Hatch referred to the aide as the person “who seemed to be fairly much under the influence of the other.”

Miranda has maintained his innocence, contending the files were taken from a jointly shared server. He has two attorneys working pro bono for him.

There are three prosecutorial options for the committee to consider: the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, the Justice Department’s Office of Public Integrity or a special prosecutor appointed by Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Since the Judiciary Committee has oversight of the Justice Department, some Democrats are leery of having Ashcroft supervise an investigation into files that may deal with Democratic opinions or strategies regarding his department.

In addition, Ashcroft served on the Judiciary Committee for six years, and some of his top staffers worked on the committee with GOP aides who may be involved.