Justice Dept. to Investigate Memogate

The new U.S. attorney in New York will decide whether any crimes were committed when Republicans got access to Democratic memos on a Senate Judiciary Committee (search) computer.

The Justice Department (search) on Monday asked David Kelley, the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, to follow up on Democrats' complaint that two of committee chairman Orrin Hatch's (search) former employees intruded into their computer files.

Democrats argue that the intrusion was a crime while one of those aides said he did nothing wrong. "I expect that any fair-minded, apolitical law enforcement professional will quickly conclude what legislators could not ... that no crime was committed," Manuel Miranda (search), one of the former aides, said Monday.

The Justice Department said it expected a fair investigation from Kelley, who replaced James Comey after he left to become deputy attorney general, the No. 2 job at the Justice Department.

Kelley is "an experienced prosecutor of the highest integrity and independence," said Assistant Attorney General William Moschella in a letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. "We are confident the investigation will be handled in a thorough, fair, impartial and professional manner."

Democrats wanted the investigation to be conducted outside the Justice Department, which is led by former GOP Sen. John Ashcroft.

The Justice Department would not comment beyond the letter to Leahy.

"This is a serious matter that deserves and requires careful investigation," said Leahy, who requested the investigation. "The Senate sergeant-at-arms (search) made a good start with his investigation and report. With the powers available to a federal prosecutor, this matter can now be more thoroughly investigated, so that those who engaged in criminal conduct may be brought to justice."

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called the appointment "a very good first step." He said Kelley is "independent" and "without conflicts."

"The only thing missing is for John Ashcroft to recuse himself to avoid any potential conflict of interests," Schumer said.

Added Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas: "If there is to be an investigation, I'm encouraged to know that the decision will be made by professionals, not partisans. Now, perhaps, the Senate Judiciary Committee can get back to work."

The report by Senate Sergeant-at-Arms William Pickle's office blamed the intrusion on former GOP aides Miranda, who worked for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Hatch, and Jason Lundell (search), a clerk who worked on nominations for Hatch. Miranda resigned during the dispute. Lundell left last year.

Pickle's report said 4,670 files were found on a GOP computer, "the majority of which appeared to be from folders belonging to Democratic staff."

"I hope that this referral includes the charges of corruption filed against Democrat senators with the DOJ Office of Public Integrity (search)," Miranda said.

Conservatives say the memos prove the Democrats colluded with liberal groups over which Bush nominees to block. An ethics complaint based on the leaked information has been filed against Democrats Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois and Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts.