WSJ hires conservative activist Miranda despite ongoing criminal probe into his role in "Memogate"
Research ››› ››› JOSH KALVEN
The Wall Street Journal recently announced that Manuel Miranda, an activist working for the confirmation of President Bush's judicial appointments and former staffer to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), has joined the roster of columnists at OpinionJournal.com, where he will "report" on the Senate proceedings over the nomination of John G. Roberts Jr. to the Supreme Court. But the Journal has released no similar plans to include a columnist "reporting" from a different perspective. Further, the Journal's introduction of Miranda to its readers briefly noted the "Memogate" affair -- which involved the alleged improper access and subsequent misuse of thousands of Democratic memos on controversial Bush judicial nominees and resulted in Miranda's resignation from Frist's staff -- but failed to disclose that he is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation in connection with the case.
An "editor's note" preceding Miranda's first column on July 20 disclosed that he is currently the founder and chairman of the Third Branch Conference, describing it as "an ad hoc coalition set up to educate leaders of grassroots conservative organizations on judicial issues and coordinate action strategy." More specifically, Miranda assembled the National Coalition to End Judicial Filibusters in early 2005 to mobilize grassroots support for the so-called "nuclear option" -- the Republican-led proposal to ban Senate filibusters on judicial nominations. He has since boasted that he "organized 200 groups nationwide to pressure Frist to settle for nothing less than total victory," according to a July 21 article in The New Republic. The article reported that after the filibuster fight subsided, Miranda "renamed his operation the Third Branch Conference and reorganized it around the battle for the Supreme Court."
Indeed, Miranda has already begun to weigh in on the Roberts nomination on behalf of the Third Branch Conference. A July 20 Newsweek article reported his response to the President Bush's announcement: "In naming John Roberts, the president hit it out of the ballpark."
In addition to obscuring Miranda's current advocacy work on behalf of Bush's Supreme Court nominee, the "editor's note" made only brief mention of his involvement in the Memogate controversy, stating: "Readers of OpinionJournal will remember Manny from last year's Memogate scandal." As a supplement, the note included a link to a March 5, 2004, op-ed, titled "Memogate: Why won't the Senate GOP stand up to Democratic Judiciary Committee shenanigans?" in which Journal associate editorial page editor Melanie Kirkpatrick downplayed reports of Miranda's role in the scandal:
The man at the center of the story takes a different view. Manuel Miranda avers that he committed no wrongdoing -- no hacking, no ethical lapses.
He says he read some Democratic memos, passed along by a colleague, but vigorously denies any wrongdoing. The memos fell into his hands as a result of Democratic negligence, he says -- the computer-age equivalent of "leaving sensitive materials on the table of the lunchroom used by both sides."
The key point here is that Mr. Miranda wasn't the only one who knew about the computer glitch. He found out about it in June 2002, when a co-worker handed him a stack of Democratic memos.
But in linking to Kirkpatrick's op-ed, the Journal failed to provide an up-to-date and comprehensive explanation of the story. Shortly after the publication of Kirkpatrick's piece, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms William Pickle released the findings of his six-month long investigation into the scandal, which contradicted the assertion that Miranda simply "read some Democratic memos" handed over by a fellow Judicial Committee staffer. According to a March 7, 2005, Roll Call article, the investigation found:
[D]uring an 18-month period, from late 2001 into early 2003, Miranda and a junior Judiciary staffer, Jason Lundell, accessed at least 4,670 documents from a computer server that was left without safeguards. Only a few of the documents were from Republicans, and the report portrayed Miranda as the leader of the effort in which he instructed Lundell to look through the Democratic files.
Pickle's report outlined a handful of possible criminal violations, including making false statements to federal agents. That crime would apply to any false statement made to the Secret Service detailees.
Additionally, a March 5, 2004, Los Angeles Times article reported that Miranda "continued to receive information from Lundell even after transferring last year  to Frist's staff." Pickle also stated there existed "circumstantial evidence" that Miranda leaked some of the documents to several newspapers and conservative groups, including The Wall Street Journal editorial page, which published numerous excerpts in November 2003.
On April 26, 2004, the Justice Department launched an investigation into the matter, following a referral from Pickle and a bipartisan letter from six members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. According to the March 7 Roll Call article, the probe is currently open and active under the direction of U.S. Attorney David Kelley of the Southern District of New York. Miranda is reportedly the primary focus of the investigation:
The probe, according to those who have spoken with investigators, is focusing on the actions of Manuel Miranda, the former Judiciary staffer who also worked for Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). Last fall Miranda filed a civil suit in a long-shot bid to convince a federal judge to shut down the investigation, a bid that the judge rejected in a scathing opinion only two weeks later. Miranda's appeal of the ruling is now before a federal appellate court.