WASHINGTON – A fact-finding report by the Senate sergeant-at-arms draws no conclusions about whether two Republican staffers committed any crimes when they read files by Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee about their strategy for handling President Bush's judicial nominees.
The report, released Thursday, said security on the committee's computer system was "insufficient," easily allowing two Republican aides to access a shared computer server from which they took 4,670 documents in a compressed zip file. Some of those documents later ended up in the hands of reporters with The Washington Times and Wall Street Journal.
The 60-page plus report by Sergeant-at-Arms William Pickle (search) does not name the two aides and the report, released by the committee chairman and ranking Democrat with blacked-out portions, does not assert that the memos were stolen.
Committee leaders decided to release the report because they wanted "to give out as much information as possible, but we don't want to hamstring a possible prosecution," said ranking member Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
The report does list several criminal statutes that may or may not have been violated. It also discloses that some committee members asked about the possibility of pursuing a "false statement case" against Manuel Miranda (search), a former committee lawyer and aide to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who admitted reading the memos but insisted it did not require any hacking nor was it unethical.
The members seeking a false statement case accused Miranda of being "untruthful with investigators."
Leahy left little doubt what action he will urge during an executive session next week in which the committee will decide whether to refer the matter to the Department of Justice for a criminal investigation.
"I feel it is not difficult to conclude that this was criminal behavior. And the Senate investigation has established the basic facts. First, we have to achieve accountability for the wrongdoing, but more remains to be done about how these stolen files were taken, and how they were used," Leahy said.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the investigation was incomplete, and said he would support an inquiry by the DOJ.
"It is my view and the view of a few others, that the only way to get to the bottom of this is a special counsel with full investigative powers," Schumer said. "If there were people in the executive branch, if there were people in outside groups involved, Pickle had no way to go talk to them."
Democrats said they are curious to learn whether the White House or the Justice Department got copies of the memos and used them to coach Bush's nominees for confirmation hearings.
In his investigation, Pickle seized committee hard drives, questioned dozens of Hill staffers and traced the dissemination of the memos.
In an exclusive interview with Fox News after the release of the report, Miranda said he's confident prosecutors will see the legality of his actions differently than politicians on the committee.
"My password gave me authorization to go anywhere my mouse and click would take me, and that has to be understood by people, and is understood by most people that are watching now," he said.
Senate Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, declined to repeat earlier assertions that Republican staffers "stole" the memos. He urged both sides to look past the affair and get back to evaluating the president's judicial nominees.
Hatch added that the "memogate affair" deepened divisions among committee members who weigh whether to recommend Senate confirmation of Bush's nominees.
Senate Democrats have been holding up many of Bush's nominees since Sens. Richard Durbin of Illinois and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts first declared that memos had been stolen. Senators said last month the computer intrusion began as far back as 2001.
Conservatives say the memos are proof the Democrats colluded with liberal groups concerning which Bush nominees to block, and at least one ethics complaint has been filed against Durbin and Kennedy based on the leaked information.
With the report completed, the committee sent to the full Senate the nominations of Raymond W. Gruender for 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Franklin S. Van Antwerpen for the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Gruender, if confirmed, would work on the St. Louis-based court that encompasses Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa and Arkansas. Van Antwerpen, if confirmed, would work on the Philadelphia-based court overseeing Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the Virgin Islands.
The "memogate" matter could go to any number of entities, including a state bar association, the Senate Ethics Committee or the Department of Justice. Senators also have the option of dropping the matter.
Hatch, who earlier claimed that more than 100 of his computer files were "improperly accessed and transmitted outside the Senate," said it is not a forgone conclusion that the matter will be forwarded to a special prosecutor at the Justice Department.
"The odds are it will," he said.
Fox News' James Rosen and Julie Asher and The Associated Press contributed to this report.