Democrat staffers obtained Maryland lt. governor's credit report illegally

Thursday, October 6, 2005

Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele

Two Democrat aides working on the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), Katie Barge, the committee's research director, and her deputy, Lauren Weiner are alleged to have fraudulently used Social Security numbers from court records, to illegally obtain Republican Lt. Governor Michael Steele's confidential credit report.

Senator Charles Schumer

The aides worked for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), run by Democrat Senator Charles Schumer from New York. The two apparently engaged in "opposition research" for the DSCC, investigating records of Lt. Gov. Steele's previous personal debt and other financial troubles, a month after Steele formed a committee investigating a run for the Senate seat of Senator Paul Sarbanes. The pair admitted the act in July, were suspended August 31, and resigned earlier this month. The DSCC fired the aides earlier this month and also reported the incident to the U.S. Attorney's office which, along with the FBI, is investigating. Lt. Governor Steele wants the aides prosecuted.

Under federal law, it is illegal to willfully obtain a credit report under false pretenses, and imposes a maximum 2-year prison sentence under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Senator Schumer, who runs the DSCC, and is a longtime advocate against identity theft, denies any knowledge of the scheme, and has not offered any apology for the theft of Lt. Governor Steele's personal data, nor given any indication of what his staffers were after or why they did it.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), the counterpart to the DSCC, had its attorneys send a letter to the Democratic committee requesting information on which candidates' credit information had been accessed by Democrat staffers. The letter, from William J. McGinley and Cleta Mitchel, asked for information on "how the credit report(s) were accessed, which credit report(s) were accessed, whether any other forms of private financial data were accessed and [whether staffers accessed] any other relevant information related to this serious situation."

Marc E. Elias, an attorney for the Democratic committee has responded to the letter, stating "This was a single incident involving two staffers who demonstrated poor judgment," and "No other candidates or senators had their credit reports accessed." Mr. Elias also said that the committee "took appropriate action to ensure there was neither use of the credit information nor any additional access to it."

Republicans have questioned the characterization of the event by Democrats, that it was "isolated" and that the staffers had a "lapse in judgment." Maryland Governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. added that both parties were guilty of unsavory tactics, but that that is "Capitol Hill politics."

Lt. Governor Steele is a Catholic, who earned his bachelor's degree from Johns Hopkins in 1981 and his law degree from Georgetown University Law Center in 1991. The Lt. Governor also spent three years preparing for the priesthood. He is the highest-ranking African-American Republican elected official in the country.