Senators Questioned on Clinton-Era ‘Memogate’ Controversy

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WASHINGTON (Talon News) — The scandal has become known as “memogate.” Democratic staffers to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee drafted a series of memos which outlined efforts by liberal special interest groups to influence committee activities and delay action on President Bush’s judicial nominees. The memos, obtained by a Republican staffer through an unsecured computer network, were the subject of intense media scrutiny and comments by senators, but not because of what the memos revealed. Rather, the focus was placed on how the memos were acquired. The scandal and its ongoing aftermath stand in sharp contrast to a similar incident involving memos and unsecured computers.

Democrats have loudly complained about the way in which the memos became public but have offered no comment about the memos’ content. According to the documents that were released to the Wall Street Journal and Washington Times last year, liberal special interest groups met with Democratic senators to develop strategies to defeat President Bush’s judicial nominees.


One memo suggested that former Bush nominee Miguel Estrada be opposed because “he is Latino” and that he might give a Republican president the opportunity to appoint the first Latino to the Supreme Court. Another memo shows that Elaine Jones, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, prevailed upon Democrats to delay hearings on nominees for the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals until the University of Michigan Affirmative Action case was decided.

Jones announced her retirement after a complaint was filed against her with the Virginia Bar Association for her role in affecting the selection of judges that were hearing a case in which she was a litigant.

However, rather than pushing for an investigation of possible ethics violations by the Democratic staffers, senators on both side of the aisle instead leveled criticism at Manuel Miranda, a former aide to Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN) and the Senate Judiciary Committee. Miranda admitted to reading the memos on the shared network and using them to get information the Democrats were freely sharing with special interest groups.

At the time, in addition to Miranda being removed from his position, then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) placed an aide on leave, calling the matter “unethical.”

An investigation was ordered which resulted in a report by Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Pickle. The report was released in March of last year, and Miranda said at the time that the report “ignores entirely the ethical agency given to government employees by Clause 9 of the Code of Ethics for Government Service.”

Miranda called on Sen. Hatch to investigate the “unethical substance of Democrat memos,” and added that Sen. Hatch “cannot admit that he was hasty in his earliest statements about the impropriety of merely reading memos.”

The public ostracizing of Miranda stands in stark contrast to a similar incident in which a Democratic staffer accessed memos from Republicans on the House Committee on International Relations.

In a letter obtained by Talon News and dated February 20, 1996, then-International Relations Committee Chairman Benjamin Gilman (R-NY) wrote to the committee’s ranking member, then-Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-IN), regarding the faxing of documents to the Department of State which were “prepared solely” for Gilman’s “personal use.” The two committee documents were obtained by Hamilton staffer Dan Restrepo through an insecure computer backup system.

Gilman enumerated in detail how Democratic staffers including Restrepo could access personal files from the Republican majority. Gilman went on to say that he and Hamilton “managed to maintain a collegial relationship over the years, notwithstanding the political environment in which we work.”

“The facts outlined [in this letter] are inconsistent with that collegial spirit,” Gilman wrote in the letter to Hamilton.

It is there that the similarities end between the two memogate controversies. Gilman ended his letter to Hamilton by stating that steps would be taken “to modify the Committee computer system to prevent any future unauthorized ‘perusal’ of Committee documents.”

“I would hope that … you would take appropriate steps to ensure that there are no further leaks by your staff of sensitive Committee documents,” Gilman wrote.

The scandal was addressed out of the public eye, and no staffer was publicly asked to resign or became the subject of an ethics investigation. In particular, the staffer in question, Dan Restrepo, went on to law school and now serves as chief lobbyist for Democrat John Podesta’s Center for American Progress. Hamilton, who went on to serve as the vice chairman of the 9-11 Commission, and Gilman handled the incident in private.

The contrast is particularly noticed by Miranda who was removed by Hatch and was publicly rebuked by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Even now, during the confirmation hearings for Bush Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales, Leahy has mentioned Miranda and the “stolen” memos.

In questions to Gonzales, Leahy said, “[I]n November 2003, we learned that for more than a year, a Republican staff member named Manny Miranda had stolen computer files from Democratic staffers on the Judiciary Committee, especially on matters relating to judicial nominations. Did you know about that file theft before it was publicly uncovered in November 2003?”

Leahy added, “And do you know of anybody at the White House who received copies of those stolen memos?”

Upon the release of the investigation findings by the Senate sergeant-at-arms, Miranda noted in a statement that the report “fails to find any criminal hacking or any credible suggestion of criminal acts.”

However, the scandal of “memogate” continues as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, David Kelley, is currently investigating the matter.

In letters sent on Monday to Sens. Leahy and Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Center for Individual Freedom President Jeffrey Mazzella questioned whether either senator knew of the previous memo scandal in the U.S. House. Mazzella noted that such information should have been a “matter of significance” to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s “deliberations on the memogate matter, and indeed to the question you posed to Judge Gonzales.”

Miranda put it more bluntly, telling Talon News, “It is inconceivable that Democrats were not told, that Pickle was not told, or that even certain Republicans were not told of the House incident. I have no doubt in my mind that there was a cover up all around.”

“Unfortunately, the example that Hamilton and Gilman gave was a lesson in Leadership and Loyalty 101, the difference between great and petty,” Miranda added.