Senators Want AG to Handle Judiciary Memo Leak

The Senate investigation into how Republicans got access to Democratic computer memos should be turned over to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution, senators said Thursday.

The Senate Judiciary Committee (search) planned to decide later on exactly how they want to ask Attorney General John Ashcroft (searchto handle the matter. Some senators want to just turn over Sergeant-at-Arms William Pickle's report to the U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia and let that office decide how to proceed from there. Others want to ask Ashcroft to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the matter.

Pickle's investigators have blamed two former GOP aides for snooping through a shared Judiciary Committee computer and downloading memos from Senate Democrats and Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah (search). Pickle suggested Thursday that the committee hand over his report to the U.S. attorney.

But Democrats - and some GOP senators on the committee - think a special prosecutor would be a better idea. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., (search) said one of his staffers who had his documents taken was married to a staff member in the local U.S. attorney's office, creating a conflict of interest there.

Other former Senate staffers also now work in the Justice Department, which could create a conflict of interest there, too, senators said.

"It might be in everyone's best interest if a special counsel handles this," said Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio (search).

Pickle reminded senators that even if the Judiciary Committee asked, the Justice Department would not be required to appoint a special prosecutor.

Pickle's report, which was released last week by the committee, faults two of Hatch's former staffers for the intrusion. It says 4,670 files were found on a GOP aide's computer, "the majority of which appeared to be from folders belonging to Democratic staff." The memos concern political strategy on blocking confirmation of several judicial nominations.

Democrats want an outside investigator to see whether any of President Bush's judicial nominees profited from the files, and if anyone in the White House or the Justice Department saw the memos.

Manuel Miranda, who worked for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (search) and Hatch and was named in the report, said last week that Pickle's investigation "fails to find any criminal hacking or any credible suggestion of criminal acts."

He also called for an investigation of what he called the "unethical substance" of the Democrats' memos.

Meanwhile, the committee sent to the Senate the nomination of William James Haynes II (search), currently general counsel at the Defense Department, to be U.S. circuit judge for the Fourth Circuit. That court hears federal appeals from Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

It also sent to the full Senate the nomination of Wisconsin judge Diane Sykes (search) to work on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That court handles appeals of federal cases in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.