By Bill Theobald
Tennessean Washington Bureau
June 28, 2008
WASHINGTON -- The question is whether Rep. Jim Cooper broke the law when
he logged on to a Web site of a trade group he is accusing of
And the answer is that he could have, but he may be protected from legal
action because he is a member of Congress.
What's more, Cooper contends that the flap over his perusing the Web
site is a "smokescreen" intended to deflect attention from the
activities of the organization he is investigating. And he is backed up
by a powerful California congressman who described the actions of the
trade group as "antics."
The Nashville Democrat was accused this week by the National Rural
Electric Cooperative Association of breaking the law when he used a
password he said was given him to access a members-only association Web
site and download documents.
Cooper showed and discussed the documents during a hearing on problems
within the electric cooperative industry held by the House Government
Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Thursday. The documents, he
said, included legal advice given by the trade group to member
Cooper has declined to identify the person who gave him the password. A
statement from his office Friday described the person as an "industry
whistleblower" who helped Cooper gain access to internal documents that
show the national group "knew about the many problems plaguing its
The issue of potentially illegal access to the site was raised Thursday
at the conclusion of a hearing on electric cooperatives held by the
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Cooper long has
contended that some cooperatives are mismanaged.
Nick Akerman, a legal expert on computer crime who was hired by the
cooperatives' trade association, said Friday that Cooper violated a part
of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The law says that "whoever ac
cesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access''
and "obtains information from any protected computer'' may be committing
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