WASHINGTON – A top Senate attorney who resigned under pressure this month following a controversial leak inquiry says he will continue to bring attention to the Democratic memos at the heart of the investigation despite focus on the questionable acquisition of the documents.
Manuel Miranda (search), who worked for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, has filed a complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee charging that hundreds of damning memos currently in the hands of investigators prove serious public corruption by Democratic senators and their aides.
"I have knowledge of other still unpublished documents that evidence a violation of the public trust in the judicial confirmation process on the part of Democratic senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee," Miranda wrote in a complaint to the ethics panel on Monday.
"This includes evidence of the direct influence of the Senate’s advice and consent role by the promise of campaign funding and election support in the last mid-term election."
Miranda, who was put on paid leave last November, admits to reading the memos he says were passed along to him by a colleague, but disputes they were unlawfully or unethically obtained.
But in a joint statement released during a rancorous Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday, Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and ranking Democratic Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., said wrongdoing occurred in how the memos were made public, suggesting that is where attention will stay for now.
"While it is premature to judge whether any crime has been committed, it is clear that unethical conduct has occurred," Hatch said, referring to a closed-door briefing earlier this week by Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Pickle, who is charged with investigating the matter.
Pickle also told an Associated Press reporter this week that he believed there was indeed impropriety involved in the leaks.
But Democratic senators have gone much further than to suggest impropriety. They say a theft has occurred and some type of action — whether congressional or criminal — must be taken against the offenders.
"This was no accident, this was no isolated inadvertent happenstance ... this was concerted, intentional, malicious action," said Sen. Edwards Kennedy, D-Mass., the recipient of some of the memos in question.
"From what we already know from the still incomplete investigation, it seems that criminal violations have been committed here," he added, likening the leak to the Watergate scandal 30 years ago.
But Miranda, whose work with Frist included minority outreach and shepherding judicial nominees through the process, said the documents were not accessed illegally, given that they were left unprotected in a shared file on the computer server, and that Leahy’s staff had been aware of the lack of security in the computer system.
Meanwhile, groups like the Committee for Justice (search), the Coalition for a Fair Judiciary (search), and the Center for Individual Freedom (search) are also putting heat on Republicans to try to shift attention back to the memos' content. The groups have filed formal complaints and are blaming internal pressure and capitulation by the GOP leadership for Miranda’s resignation.
"He's being used as the sacrificial lamb here for reasons that are beyond any of us," said Jeffrey Mazzella, director of the Center for Individual Freedom, which on Tuesday signed onto a complaint filed with the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice.
"Manny [Miranda] is one of the biggest advocates for getting rid of corruption in the judicial process and what is being lost here is the content of these memos," he added.
The complaint, signed by representatives of nearly two-dozen conservative groups, alleges that the content of the Democratic memos may warrant a criminal investigation.
"It strikes me that the Democrats are trying very hard to change the subject, and having Senate Republicans follow their lead is bizarre," said Kay Daly, spokeswoman for the Coalition for a Fair Judiciary, which has published the original 14 memos on its Web site.
Peter Kirsanow, one of the GOP members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, has publicly defended Miranda in recent weeks. He called the content of the memos "frankly startling."
Kirsanow said he was especially concerned about an April 17, 2003, memo that recommended a Bush nominee’s hearing be stalled in order to affect the outcome of an important affirmative action case.
The memo, written by an unidentified staff member to Kennedy, endorsed a request by NAACP National Legal Defense and Education Fund President Elaine Jones to delay the confirmation of judge Julia Gibbons to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals until that panel ruled on the University of Michigan affirmative action case.
The NAACP organization had filed a brief on behalf of the school’s affirmative action policy. The memo suggested that Jones believed Gibbons would rule against their position if she were confirmed in time.
The 6th Circuit ruled 5-4 to uphold the school’s affirmative action policy on June 29, two months before Gibbons’ scheduled confirmation hearing.
Jones, an attorney, resigned her post in January. The Virginia State Bar is reviewing a complaint regarding her alleged lobbying of Kennedy in this matter.
Other memos suggest a handful of liberal organizations tried to influence which judicial nominees would get a hearing and when, with an eye on scuttling Bush’s nominees, several of whom have been subjected to a Democratic filibuster in the Senate since early 2003.
One Nov. 7, 2001, memo from staff to Sen. Richard Durbin, R-Ill., suggested that the "groups" would help stall the nomination of Miguel Estrada (search), a Bush nominee to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The memo called him "dangerous," in part because he "has a minimal paper trail, he is Latino and the White House seems to be grooming him for a Supreme Court appointment."
But Durbin’s spokesman Joe Shoemaker said Republicans are desperate to spin the story away from what he calls a theft of personal property by taking content out of context and conflating meaning.
"They’ve tried to twist and turn and spin their way into a scandal over content," said Shoemaker.
Shoemaker said no one intended racist remarks against Estrada, who ended up stepping down from the nomination. The memo meant he was "politically dangerous" because Democrats knew he was an attractive candidate.
In addition, Gibbons' hearing was held up because of internal GOP squabbles, not because of anything the NAACP had suggested, he said..
"Just look at the facts," Shoemaker said. "They’ve tried to make a number of allegations that just aren’t true."
Hatch and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have deflected criticisms from conservatives, saying the investigation was warranted.
"Somebody needs to be fired," Graham said in Thursday's hearing.
Other groups are lining up against Miranda. The non-profit Citizens for Responsible Ethics in Washington (search) is filing a complaint against Miranda with the New York Bar, claiming he broke the rules when he read the memos. They said in a statement carried by Businesswire.com that as an attorney, he should have known he was not authorized to read anything that appeared confidential.
"Rather than blaming his Democratic counterparts for his own criminal conduct," said Melanie Sloan, CREW’s director, "Mr. Miranda should be thanking his lucky stars that he has not been led off in handcuffs."
Miranda told Fox News that he is prepared to defend himself against any such complaint.
"I welcome the opportunity to address the question of ethics," he said. "And I hope Businesswire and CREW welcome the opportunity to defend a libel suit."