Let me share a thought with you.
As you know, there's a been a scandal bubbling in the Senate Judiciary Committee since late last year over whether Republican staffers stole Democratic staff memos covering judicial appointment strategy. Now, for some time, this whole matter has been a sort of side light to the bigger stuff going on in politics. In fact, Republicans in government and out came up with a whole series of theories to explain why this theft really wasn't a problem. Most came down to the argument that the Dems didn't have sufficient security on their computers to keep the GOP staffers out -- sorta like how if there's no lock on my pocket you're allowed to steal my wallet so long as I don't notice.
In any case, outside of most people's notice, this has all changed of late. Senate Sergeant-at-Arms William H. Pickle has been conducting an investigation into the matter. And a few weeks ago it emerged that the infiltration had been far more extensive than earlier believed. For at least a year, and probably more like eighteen months, GOP staffers accessed the Democrats confidential files. And they snatched approximately 5,000 of them, give or take.
But the big change came last Thursday at an open hearing of the Judiciary Committee. Faced with the new evidence, pretty much every Republican on the committee gave up on offering any justifications or excuses for what had happened. And even those who had been most aggressive in fighting off Democratic attacks conceded that what had happened was quite possibly criminal and should be pursued by law enforcement authorities.
This week a trio of Republican senators on the committee felt compelled to hold a closed door meeting with conservative activists to tell them to back off. To quote The Hill: "[S]enators, who received last week a closed-door briefing on the investigation from Senate Sergeant at Arms Bill Pickle, warned conservatives they might come to regret their position when the results of the probe are fully known. Pickle is expected to finish his investigation by March 5."
Now here's where this gets interesting. The report from the Sergeant at Arms is coming down the pike really soon. (Let's call it the Pickle pike.) And most of the Republicans on the committee seem to agree now that this is a criminal matter, at least in the sense that there were probable illegalities committed. It's hard to see how that won't lead to a criminal referral when the report comes in.
So say a referral is made to the Justice Department. If that happens, how can they not appoint a special counsel? Not only is the issue at hand inherently political, but the political appointees at the DOJ work with the White House Counsel's office and the Judiciary Committee Republicans to plan and coordinate strategy for judicial nominations. The whole issue here is whether their colleagues on the Senate staff side were purloining Democratic staff memos to aid that planning. It seems like a classic case where the folks at Justice would need to recuse themselves.
Now we come to the White House Counsel's office. Remember, what we're talking about here is planning and strategizing on how to get judicial appointments through the Senate confirmation process. On the Republican side that involves Senate staffers, people at Justice, and the White House Counsel's office. Indeed, the whole process is quarterbacked out of the Counsel's office.
We already know that at least two Senate staffers accessed and archived the Democratic staff memos for more than a year. We know that thousands of documents were involved. And we know that the contents of at least some of those memos were leaked to conservative journalists. Those memos provided invaluable assistance in planning strategy on the Republican side.
How likely is it the existence and/or contents of those memos were discussed in the regular meetings Senate staffers held with members of the White House Counsel's office to plot strategy for getting through their judicial nominees?
And if a special counsel is appointed ... well, you see where this is going.
More on this later.