More Accusations Trail Memo Report

Posted March 9, 2004 at 6:31pm

In another sign of the strained tensions on the Senate Judiciary Committee, a key Republican panel member is demanding to know whose “mismanagement” led to last week’s release of the unredacted report on thousands of improperly accessed Democratic memos.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) fired off a letter to Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Pickle on Tuesday demanding to know, by name, who released the unredacted report and “what action will be taken against them.”

“If you can’t rely on the confidentiality of the Judiciary Committee, what committee can you rely on?” Sessions asked in an interview Tuesday.

This may not be a firing offense, Sessions said, but “maybe” a suspension should occur. “There are other ways to discipline somebody, and discipline is required,” he said.

So far, no one will say for the record whose mistake led to the release, although Sessions said he was led to believe Pickle’s staff is to blame, and Democrats are privately pointing the finger at aides to Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

The release of the unredacted report was the latest embarrassing revelation for the committee and Hatch, who has repeatedly said he was “mortified” to learn that 4,670 internal documents were taken over an 18-month period by two former committee staffers working for him at the time.

After a nearly four-month investigation into how the documents were taken and which ones were leaked to the media, Hatch led two closed-door sessions of the Judiciary Committee last Thursday with the primary purpose of determining what should be released to the media. In his letter to Pickle, Sessions described it as an “intense discussion.”

Sessions said he was against releasing even the redacted report, that a summary of a few pages would have been sufficient. Sessions said he was particularly angry with Hatch’s reasoning for releasing the full report with names redacted: The full report was likely to be leaked to the media anyway so the committee ought to just give out a redacted version.

“We should not even suggest that members of our committee would not comply with disclosure rules,” Sessions wrote of the debate.

After an hourlong meeting Thursday afternoon, Hatch announced that his view had won out and a redacted version of the report would be given out in the early evening.

Hatch explained that names would be blackened out because so many good staffers worked for the committee and didn’t deserve to have their names in print.

The problem was, by the time copies of the report landed in the press galleries and were being beamed across the Internet and discussed on television, staffers for Pickle and Hatch realized there had been a big mistake — not a single name had been redacted. The wrong version was delivered to the media.

Pickle’s office declined to comment on the matter Tuesday, saying a response would be forthcoming to Sessions.

Hatch’s office declined comment as well.

After realizing the mistake, Hatch and the panel’s ranking member, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), sent out a joint statement citing “an administrative error” for the mistaken release. They asked the media to “respect the privacy of individuals named in the report.”

Instead of complying, the media (including Roll Call) finally reported names of individuals involved in the case that most members of the press following the story knew all along. Such as Jason Lundell, a late 20-something former aide to Hatch who did most of the downloading of the Democratic documents. Lundell worked closely with Manuel Miranda, a former staffer to Hatch and Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), in downloading the documents from Democratic staffers’s files that were mistakenly left unprotected by Leahy’s systems administrator, according to the Pickle report.

With his high profile on the issue of judicial nominations — he was a staff ringleader of the nearly 40-hour marathon debate on judges in November — Miranda was publicly named in the case back in January. Lundell, a lower-level staffer whose family in Utah had gone through tragedy in 2002, had not been named in any media outlet — until he was officially named in the unredacted report.

Many other aides and former aides had their names appear in the unredacted version, including former staffers such as Makan Delrahim, the committee staff director for Hatch who is now at the Justice Department. Delrahim volunteered to be interviewed, while other unnamed Justice officials who had contact with Lundell were not permitted to be interviewed, and were not named in the report.

Sessions said the committee needs to send a signal by finding out how the unredacted report went public. “This committee is not going to accept mismanagement,” he said.