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The Man in the Mirror

Some questions Senator Chuck Schumer should ask himself about the DSCC's invasions of privacy.

12:00 AM, Sep 28, 2005 • By EDWARD MORRISSEY
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SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER had just finished his last sputtering of outrage at the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court when news broke that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which he chairs, had a small problem. Newsday and the New York Post both reported that the DSCC was in illegal possession of the credit report for Maryland's Republican Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele. Two of Schumer's staffers, Katie Barge and Lauren Weiner, used Steele's Social Security number to fraudulently get his credit history.

The DSCC expects Steele to run for the Senate seat which Democrat Paul Sarbanes will vacate with his retirement next year. Nothing frightens Democrats more than a conservative African-American and Steele demonstrated in his appearance at the 2004 GOP convention that he has charisma, warmth, and a sharp sense of policy.

Making this even more scandalous, it turns out that the DSCC had known about Barge and Weiner's pilfering for over two months, having placed both on a paid suspension since early July, according to the Post. And yet no one gave any indication that the DSCC notified Michael Steele about the invasion of his privacy until this week. Given that federal statutes make the acquisition, distribution, acceptance, and even reading of this data without specific written authorization a federal crime, the theft should have resulted in no small amount of media attention.

The Washington Post did run an editorial scolding Schumer and the Democrats--but then promptly watered it down with a sniff about how everybody does it and a call for both sides to clean up their act. The Washington Times provided some coverage that confirmed that Steele wanted the staffers prosecuted. The New York Times has not yet covered the story at all. The rest of the national media, caught up in coverage of dueling hurricane catastrophes, has written and broadcast almost nothing else.

SO WHAT WOULD IT TAKE to get the media interested? As we saw with the Roberts nomination, nothing gets journalists primed for coverage like a juicy, no-holds barred . . . Congressional hearing. After all, for the Roberts nomination, it held the media's attention for weeks even before the first gavel fell on the Judiciary Committee.

Where would we find experts on data privacy in Congress to hold this hearing? For starters, we would need senators and congressmen like--well, like Chuck Schumer. Schumer, after all, co-authored and sponsored the Schumer-Nelson ID Theft Prevention Bill, introduced in April of this year to discourage the kind of actions that Barge and Weiner took on Schumer's behalf. At the time, Schumer himself said the following, a prescient warning about how someone's personal information could be abused:

[O]ur comprehensive measure focuses on making sure that your personal information isn't surfing the Internet without your permission and that companies handling your Social Security number and other sensitive information should come under the watchful eye of the Federal Trade Commission immediately.

Who knew that within weeks of uttering this statement, his staff at the DSCC would have provided such a compelling example of the problem? Once again, Senator Chuck Schumer was ahead of the curve.

On March 15, after the credit authorization company Choicepoint revealed that it had inadvertently sold hundreds of thousands of identity profiles to scamsters, the Senate Banking Committee called Choicepoint VP Don McGuffey to testify about how the debacle occurred. Schumer peppered the hapless McGuffey with tough questions about the internal practices of Choicepoint--questions that could apply equally to Schumer's direction of the DSCC.

If the March 15 Schumer had the opportunity to interrogate the September 28 Schumer about what Hugh Hewitt has dubbed Chuckaquiddick, he might re-use these same questions and criticisms he lobbed at McGuffy:

Q: Do you have a policy when someone's identity has been stolen--this is a question--about notifying law enforcement immediately?

Perhaps Schumer could then enlighten us about how much time it took between when Steele's SSN and credit report got stolen, and when the DSCC reported it to the federal authorities.

Q: How is it that the CEO of the company didn't know that [Steele's information] had been stolen until a couple of months later?

Or did Schumer know about it all along, and conspire to keep it quiet? We should look forward to Schumer demanding an answer of himself, just as he demanded answers from McGuffey.

Q: Let me ask you another one. Have there been other incidents where [the DSCC and its chair] has been aware that people's identities have been stolen but that hasn't been made public?

Should any other up-and-coming Republican contenders check to see if someone has accessed their records? Perhaps Mark Kennedy, who has already announced for Mark Dayton's open seat in Minnesota, might want to review his records to see if any unauthorized queries have been made into his records.

Q: Let me ask you about your executives. You know, this sort of stinks from the head.

What about the DSCC executives, such as Schumer? After all, they hired Katie Barge as their head of research with quite a substantial résumé in this field of expertise. She led the opposition research team for John Edwards, and before that did similar work for David Brock at Media Matters, according to the leftist website Common Dreams. What exactly did the executives at the DSCC direct Barge to do in regards to Steele and other likely Senatorial opponents? What did she do for John Edwards during the last campaign? Did the DSCC hire her for her ability to dig out dirt using illegal credit reports?

Q: I'll tell you what else I think. I don't know what the law is here, but from an ethical point of view, you're dealing with important valuables about people. Your attitude has been casual, to say the least, and that's putting it kindly.

Keeping two staffers on paid leave of absence after breaking federal laws on privacy--especially when data privacy happens to be a specialty of Senator Schumer--does indicate a casual approach to practicing what Schumer preaches. Schumer should demand to know who made the decision to keep paying two people who committed felonies in the name of the organization he chairs.

Edward Morrissey is a contributing writer to The Daily Standard and a contributor to the blog Captain's Quarters.