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Republican Aides Read, Copied Democrats’ Files, Report Says

By Neil A. Lewis

The New York Times -- WASHINGTON

For 18 months, at least two Republican Senate staff aides engaged in unauthorized and possibly illegal spying by reading Democratic strategy memorandums on a Senate computer system, according to a report released on Thursday by the Senate sergeant-at-arms.

The 65-page report concluded that the two Republican staff aides, both of whom have since departed, improperly read, downloaded and printed as many as 4,670 files concerning the Democrats’ strategy in opposing many of President Bush’s judicial nominees. The report of an investigation undertaken at the request of the Senate Judiciary Committee suggested that many other Republican staff aides may have been involved in trafficking in the purloined documents.

“I am mortified that this improper, unethical and simply unacceptable breach of confidential files occurred,” Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, who is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters. “There is no excuse that can justify these improper actions.”

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said, “This report indisputably shows that this secret surveillance was calculated, systematic and sweeping in its scope.” He added, “It is not difficult to conclude that this was criminal behavior.”

The report was supposed to be released with the names of people involved redacted, but reporters were mistakenly given a copy with the names included. The two former Republican staff aides were identified as Manuel C. Miranda, who had already been named as a central figure in the investigation, and Jason Lundell, whose name had not previously been known.

Investigators said that an inexperienced computer coordinator did not adequately make files inaccessible and that Lundell observed the coordinator opening files with a few key strokes and then copied what he had done. For the next 18 months, the report said, Lundell supplied documents to Miranda after accessing the files of staff aides for Democratic Sens. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Joseph R. Biden of Delaware, Dianne Feinstein of California, Russell Feingold of Wisconsin and Leahy. The largest share was from Durbin’s office.

Some information sought by Miranda and provided by Lundell, according to the report, was about how Democrats would question some nominees. Leahy wrote to Alberto R. Gonzales, the White House counsel, asking if his office received any of the stolen information.

In response, Gonzales offered a denial that was less than categorical, saying: “I am not aware of any credible allegation of White House involvement in this matter. Consequently, there has been no White House investigation or effort to determine whether anyone at the White House was aware of or involved in these activities.”