Two opposition researchers working for Sen. Charles Schumer at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee obtained copies of a confidential credit report on Maryland's Republican lieutenant governor, prompting calls for their prosecution.
In July, committee research director Katie Barge and Lauren Weiner, a junior staffer, used Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele's Social Security number to get his credit report, according to a Democratic official familiar with the case.
The committee, which works to elect Democrats to the Senate, has been compiling research on Steele, Maryland's highest-ranking African-American official, a GOP contender for the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by Democrat Paul Sarbanes in 2006.
Barge, a Democratic operative who led the research unit for a liberal media watchdog group run by journalist David Brock before joining the committee in February, reported her actions to the committee's executive director, J.B. Poersch Jr., within hours. Poersch relayed the information to the U.S. attorney's office and suspended the pair with pay until Aug. 31, the official said.
Barge and Weiner resigned earlier this month after an internal investigation. Calls to the FBI, which is probing the case, weren't returned last night.
"The lieutenant governor is the victim of identity theft and would like these people prosecuted to the full extent of the law," Steele's chief of staff Paul Ellington said. "They posed as him to get his credit report. We're not going to say they were going to buy a car with the information they got, but a crime was committed."
Fraudulently obtaining a person's credit report is punishable by a maximum of 2 years in prison, according to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act.
Phil Singer, a spokesman for the campaign committee, said Schumer, who took over the committee in November 2004 and was chairman when the two staffers were hired, had no knowledge of the actions. "Chuck's only involvement was to report this matter to the authorities immediately after first learning about it," Singer said.
"The DSCC immediately ensured that Mr. Steele's credit report was not used or disseminated to anyone," added Singer, who called the matter an "isolated incident."
Singer offered an apology to Steele and said the committee has put in safeguards to ensure that incident isn't repeated.
But Ellington said the credit report incident was part of a larger Democratic effort to uncover derogatory information on Steele.
"In July, these two staffers basically requested every document the lieutenant governor ever signed and every document pertaining to travel while he was in office," Ellington added.
At the time the two staffers viewed the credit report, Steele's office demanded the committee pay $15,000 for copying and clerical costs associated with the request, Ellington said.
Attempts to contact Barge and Weiner were not successful.