Nov 25, 2003

Senate Republican staff illegally accessing Democratic files
(11-25) 16:48 PST (AP) -- WASHINGTON(AP) -- Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch said Tuesday he had put one of his staffers on administrative leave for improperly obtaining data from the secure computer networks of two Democratic senators.

Hatch, R-Utah, said preliminary interviews suggested that a former Republican member of the committee staff may have also been involved in penetrating the Democratic computers. "I was shocked to learn that this may have occurred," Hatch said in a statement. "I am mortified that this improper, unethical and simply unacceptable breach of confidential files may have occurred on my watch."

Hatch launched an investigation after Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., protested what they said was the theft of memos from their servers. The memos, concerning political strategy on blocking confirmation of several of President Bush's judicial nominations, were obtained and reported on by The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Times.

Senate Sergeant-at-Arms William Pickle informed Hatch on Monday that the committee's four computer servers had been disconnected and that daily backup tapes had been given to the U.S. Capitol Police for safekeeping. He said an outside expert would conduct a forensic assessment to determine if there had been unauthorized access to files.

Hatch said that, at his direction, two federal prosecutors assigned to the committee had conducted interviews with about 50 people. He said the interviews revealed that at least one current staff member had improperly accessed at least some of the documents that appeared in the media reports and which have been posted on the Internet. The person has denied leaking the information to the press, he said. The staff member, who was not identified, was put on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of Pickle's investigation, Hatch said.



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