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Ethics group revokes Hatch award

An ethics watchdog group has revoked an "Ethics Hero" award bestowed last year on Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, saying "though Senator Hatch was right about the principle involved, it has become increasingly clear that his handling of the matter, as is usually the case on Capitol Hill, was motivated by expediency and not heroic ideals."

In February 2004, Ethics Scoreboard praised Hatch for refusing to support a member of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's staff who without authorization reviewed e-mails to and from Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and who then leaked some details to the press.

At the time, Hatch, who was repeatedly quoted as saying "gentlemen do not read other gentlemen's mail," was criticized by conservatives "for turning on a devoted paladin of the Right who had exposed some genuinely shady tactics employed by the Judiciary Committee Democrats to block Bush conservative nominees for judgeships," Ethics Scoreboard reported.

Since that time, "discussions with those in a position to know have revealed that Senator Hatch's handling of this incident was in truth an example of a leader throwing a subordinate to the wolves in order to burnish his image. Hatch himself has a well-earned reputation as a prolific leaker of confidential and even classified information, and also had a role in creating the atmosphere of bitter ideological combat on the Judiciary Committee that led to the incident."

Ethics Scoreboard said there is also inconclusive evidence that Hatch encouraged the inaccurate perception that Manuel Miranda had actually "hacked" the e-mails, when in fact they were simply improperly stored so that others could gain access to them.

Miranda, the staffer who was subsequently fired over the incident known as "Memogate," has since gone on to be an oft-quoted conservative commentator on judiciary issues.

Ethics Scoreboard said Hatch was correct in his assertion that it is unethical to read other people's e-mails, and the revocation of the award because of Hatch's motivation was not intended to suggest that Miranda's actions were appropriate.

"And though the Scoreboard will not retract its assessment that reading the e-mails was wrong, it does regret the harshness of its rhetoric in the original piece," Ethics Scoreboard wrote. "Miranda behaved in a manner that reflects the toxic environment of ideological warfare in Congress these days, an ethically barren environment in which the Golden Rule seems as quaint and irrelevant as a Mother Goose rhyme."

And in the Memogate affair, the organization concluded, "Hatch was no hero."

Hatch's office had no comment on the report.