Senate Republicans==Dishonorable People, Possibly Thieves

Senate courtliness and comity? Bipartisanship? Nah. Try dirty tricks, dishonor and thieving. And don't think for one minute that some Senators didn't know what was going on. If only Senate Democrats had the guts to take scalps.

Infiltration of files seen as extensive. Republican staff members of the US Senate Judiciary Committee infiltrated opposition computer files for a year, monitoring secret strategy memos and periodically passing on copies to the media, Senate officials told The Globe.

From the spring of 2002 until at least April 2003, members of the GOP committee staff exploited a computer glitch that allowed them to access restricted Democratic communications without a password. Trolling through hundreds of memos, they were able to read talking points and accounts of private meetings discussing which judicial nominees Democrats would fight — and with what tactics.

The office of Senate Sergeant-at-Arms William Pickle has already launched an investigation into how excerpts from 15 Democratic memos showed up in the pages of the conservative-leaning newspapers and were posted to a website last November.

With the help of forensic computer experts from General Dynamics and the US Secret Service, his office has interviewed about 120 people to date and seized more than half a dozen computers — including four Judiciary servers, one server from the office of Senate majority leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, and several desktop hard drives.

Don't let anyone tell you this is business as usual. Hacking into federal computers is usually a serious crime. Here, however, the criminal law issue is slightly murky.

Whether the memos are ultimately deemed to be official business will be a central issue in any criminal case that could result. Unauthorized access of such material could be punishable by up to a year in prison — or, at the least, sanction under a Senate non-disclosure rule.

The computer glitch dates to 2001, when Democrats took control of the Senate after the defection from the GOP of Senator Jim Jeffords, Independent of Vermont.

A technician hired by the new judiciary chairman, Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, apparently made a mistake that allowed anyone to access newly created accounts on a Judiciary Committee server shared by both parties — even though the accounts were supposed to restrict access only to those with the right password.

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