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Thursday, March 18, 2021

Leahy Reintroduces Bill to Clean Up EB-5 Foreign Investor Program

Posted By on Thu, Mar 18, 2021 at 7:31 PM

In 2016, then-Department of Financial Regulation commissioner Susan Donegan pointing to a chart detailing suspected EB-5 fraud - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BROEDER
  • File: JEB WALLACE-BROEDER
  • In 2016, then-Department of Financial Regulation commissioner Susan Donegan pointing to a chart detailing suspected EB-5 fraud

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is co-sponsoring a new bill to clean up the scandal-plagued federal program that resulted in what officials have called the largest financial fraud in Vermont history.

Leahy, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is again teaming up with fellow committee member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to introduce a suite of reforms to the EB-5 investor program.

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Monday, March 8, 2021

Vermont Small Businesses Will Have to Wait Months for Relief Money, Lawmakers Warn

Posted By on Mon, Mar 8, 2021 at 10:47 PM

TIM NEWCOMB ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Tim Newcomb ©️ Seven Days
Members of Congress are putting the finishing touches on a $1.9 trillion relief package, which could get final approval in the U.S. House on Tuesday.

But Vermont lawmakers are already warning small business owners that it could be midsummer before they see any cash relief. Legislators must decide how and through what programs they will divvy up their expected $1.3 billion share of the pot, a process that could take months, House Speaker Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington) cautioned during a virtual Vermont Chamber of Commerce meeting on Monday.

“This is the part we really struggled with last session: The time that it took for [federal officials] to put the rules together,” Krowinski said.

Last year, Vermont received a $1.25 billion share of the $2 trillion CARES Act that Congress passed in March 2020. But it wasn't until early last July that the first business grants started accepting applications.

A similar scenario could also play out this time around, Krowinski said.

“Even if the money is approved in April or May, we may not get that until later in the summer,” she said.

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Thursday, March 4, 2021

Leahy: Vermont Would Receive $1.3 Billion Under Proposed Relief Bill

Posted By on Thu, Mar 4, 2021 at 7:26 PM

Sen. Patrick Leahy - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Sen. Patrick Leahy
A new stimulus proposal working its way through the U.S. Senate this week would net Vermont $1.3 billion, about $400 million more than what the state could expect from a House-passed version of the bill, according to Sen. Patrick Leahy's office.

The potential windfall comes after Leahy — who chairs the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee — successfully tweaked the $1.9 trillion relief proposal to beef up aid to small states and ensure they take in at least the same share they received under the initial COVID relief bill passed last March known as the CARES Act.

Vermont received $1.25 billion from that bill and used the money to fund a wide range of initiatives, from housing and rental assistance for the homeless to business grants and hazard pay.

"Vermonters can be confident that our state is getting its fair share in this package," said Leahy, who noted that the rest of Vermont's congressional delegation also pushed for the changes.

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Friday, February 12, 2021

Officials Say Company Is Failing to Deliver Emergency Food for Vermonters

Posted By on Fri, Feb 12, 2021 at 8:15 PM

Cars line up to get food during a Farmers to Families Food Box drop last year - JAMES BUCK ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • James Buck ©️ Seven Days
  • Cars line up to get food during a Farmers to Families Food Box drop last year
A federal contractor overseeing a pandemic food insecurity program has failed to live up to its obligations in Vermont, potentially leaving hundreds of families without access to emergency supplies, according to the state's congressional delegation.

In a joint letter on Friday, Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) slammed New Jersey-based Global Trading Enterprises over its performance during the most recent round of the Farmers to Families Food Box program and urged the Biden administration to select another vendor to complete the contract.

"The failures of Global Trading [Enterprises] have made the program nearly inoperable in Vermont, leaving hungry Vermonters without the food they need," the lawmakers wrote in a press release, describing the company's service as "disorganized, inadequate, and opaque."

The Farmers to Families Food Box program was designed to address a pandemic-related spike in food insecurity by connecting needy families with American-grown products. The program has distributed more than 130 million boxes since May 2020.

The Abbey Group, an Enosburg Falls company, landed Vermont's first two delivery contracts and successfully delivered more than 550,000 boxes last summer. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded the last three contracts to out-of-state companies "solely based on the lowest bid," the lawmakers said, and advocates have since reported distribution challenges.

The latest contract was announced January 19, the last full day of the Trump presidency. Global Trading Enterprises is now being paid $25.2 million to deliver the food boxes in Vermont, New York and Pennsylvania through April 30.

Though it's common for the federal government to award contracts to the lowest bidder, Vermont's federal lawmakers argue that Global Trading's bid was too low.

Their reasoning? The company is delivering boxes to only seven locations in just five of Vermont's 14 counties, they said. One local food shelf leader — who is not named in the letter — was even told that she would need to drive to the next county and wait in line for hours, the lawmakers wrote, "just for the possibility of receiving boxes when the delivery arrived."

"We are sure you will agree that this is a complete failure on the part of the vendor, which is required under their contract with the USDA to provide last mile delivery," the lawmakers wrote.

Leahy, Welch and Sanders are now asking the Biden administration to end the contract early and "thoroughly" investigate any violations to date. They said the contract should be put out to bid again to cover the last two months, and called on the USDA to consider past performance and prioritize vendors with successful track records when awarding the next bid.

Correction, February 22, 2021: Due to a source error, Global Trading Enterprises was misidentified in an earlier version of this story. The company is based in New Jersey.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Impeachment Trial Begins With Leahy at the Helm — and in the Spotlight

Posted By on Tue, Feb 9, 2021 at 4:23 PM

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Tuesday - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Tuesday
Casting himself as reluctant but duty-bound, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) gaveled in the start of former president Donald Trump's second impeachment trial on Tuesday.

"As many of you know, I did not ask or seek to preside over this trial," Leahy wrote in a letter to his colleagues released just before the trial commenced on Tuesday afternoon. "Yet while I occupy the constitutional office of the President pro tempore, it is incumbent upon me to do so."

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Vermont U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan to Resign

Posted By on Tue, Feb 9, 2021 at 3:39 PM

Christina Nolan, U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Christina Nolan, U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont
U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan will resign from her position in Vermont by the end of the month as part of the transition to the administration of President Joe Biden.

“It has been the honor and privilege of a lifetime to serve in the role of U.S. Attorney for Vermont, to serve the state I love, the office I love, and the mission I love — seeking justice,” Nolan said in a statement Tuesday.

Nolan was confirmed by the U.S. Senate and sworn in as Vermont’s top federal prosecutor in November 2017, becoming the first woman to hold the job. The Vermont native grabbed headlines with several high-profile cases during her three-plus years in the post.

In 2019, her office brought financial fraud charges against Ariel Quiros and Bill Stenger for their roles in the Northeast Kingdom EB-5 scandal. Quiros has since pleaded guilty. And in October, Nolan was part of the team that secured a record $8.3 billion settlement with Purdue Pharma for its part in a scheme to push its highly addictive opioid pills on patients.
Though Nolan had been recommended for the post by Republican Gov. Phil Scott and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), she’d ultimately been nominated by former president Donald Trump. Her resignation announcement on Tuesday came shortly after acting U.S. Attorney General Monty Wilkinson said he’d begin to clean house of Trump-appointed prosecutors.

“Until U.S. Attorney nominees are confirmed, the interim and acting leaders in the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices will make sure that the department continues to accomplish its critical law enforcement mission, vigorously defend the rule of law and pursue the fair and impartial administration of justice for all,” Wilkinson said in a statement announcing the transitions.

It’s unclear how long the nomination process would take and who would take over in Vermont. Eric Miller resigned as Vermont’s U.S. attorney in February 2017. An acting top prosecutor led the office until Nolan’s confirmation that November.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Leahy Visits Hospital After Feeling Ill, Gets Released

Posted By on Tue, Jan 26, 2021 at 6:26 PM

Sen. Patrick Leahy - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Sen. Patrick Leahy

Updated on January 27, 2021.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) was taken to a Washington, D.C.-area hospital Tuesday afternoon after feeling ill at his Capitol office and was sent home hours later.

Leahy spokesperson David Carle wrote at 6 p.m. that the senator had been examined by the Capitol's attending physician while suffering from an undisclosed ailment and went to George Washington University Hospital "out of an abundance of caution."

Leahy underwent tests and an examination, then headed home. "He looks forward to getting back to work," Carle wrote in a statement at 8:30 p.m. "Patrick and [Leahy's wife] Marcelle deeply appreciate the well wishes they have received tonight."

Those wishes came from friends and colleagues, including Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). Grassley called Leahy a “tough Vermonter.”

“Barbara & I send our prayers + know he will be back to work as soon as he can,” Grassley tweeted.

Leahy, who will turn 81 in March, is the chamber's longest serving member, having been first elected in 1974. He currently chairs the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and is often credited with steering significant amounts of federal funding to his home state.

On Wednesday morning, Leahy was back at work in the Capitol, where he opened the Senate session around 10:30. He later told reporters an intense bout of muscle spasms had sent him to the hospital. The senator said he was given a "clean bill of health."

Leahy’s health has long been a matter of speculation due in part to his gravelly voice, which his staff has long blamed on chronic laryngitis. He has already received two doses of a coronavirus vaccine.

His hospitalization comes at a pivotal time for both the Senate and his role in it. Vermont's senior senator was sworn in as president pro tempore last week — placing him third in line for the presidency — and he was chosen to preside over former president Donald Trump's upcoming impeachment trial. The senator presided over the body while his colleagues voted on rules for the upcoming trial on Tuesday afternoon.

On Wednesday, Leahy tweeted two photos of himself signing Trump's "official Summons" to the trial.

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Friday, January 15, 2021

Political Parties, Public Officials Urge Caution Ahead of Possible Statehouse Protests

Posted By on Fri, Jan 15, 2021 at 2:56 PM

The Vermont Statehouse - DREAMSTIME
  • Dreamstime
  • The Vermont Statehouse
Updated at 4:04 p.m.

Public officials, police, and Vermont's Republican and Democratic parties are urging caution ahead of what law enforcement authorities have called possible plans for armed protests at the Vermont Statehouse.

The potential threat prompted the Montpelier City Council on Wednesday to pass a resolution recommending the closure of schools, the Statehouse and city hall on January 20, the date president-elect Joe Biden is sworn in. And on Friday, the Vermont Judiciary announced it would cancel all in-person hearings and meetings scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday.

“The Judiciary is taking these precautionary steps to ensure continuity of operations and safety in light of reports that public gatherings during the federal inaugural week carry a risk of vandalism or violence in some parts of the country,” Patricia Gabel, the state court administrator, said in a statement.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has warned local law enforcement in all 50 states about potential threats by armed pro-Trump extremists who falsely claim that President Donald Trump won reelection in November.

Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, an insurrection that led to the killing of a police officer and four other deaths.

Law enforcement officials have flagged Sunday, January 17, and Wednesday, January 20, as two dates of potential armed protest.

The Montpelier resolution calls for “residents and visitors to make the safe choice and refrain from direct in-person counter-protest activity due to the risk of violence.

“There are other ways, safer ways to make your voice heard and to stand up for what you believe in,” the resolution reads. “We’re asking you to consider safety first during these events. In addition, there is neither need nor necessity to be armed at a peaceful protest, and anyone coming to any of these events, please do so without firearms.”

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Thursday, January 14, 2021

Vermont National Guard Will Help Secure D.C. for Biden's Inauguration

Posted By on Thu, Jan 14, 2021 at 10:58 AM

Police guarding the U.S. Capitol on January 6 - JULIAN LESHAY, DREAMSTIME
  • Julian Leshay, Dreamstime
  • Police guarding the U.S. Capitol on January 6
About 100 members of the Vermont Army National Guard will join 20,000 troops in Washington, D.C., in the days leading up to president-elect Joe Biden’s January 20 inauguration.

The timeline is fluid, but Vermont soldiers are expected to arrive in D.C. by Tuesday, a Guard spokesperson said Thursday morning. Most of those headed south are from the 1st Squadron, 172nd Cavalry, 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain).

The soldiers are among tens of thousands deploying to D.C. in the aftermath of the January 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump extremists, who falsely believe outgoing President Donald Trump won reelection in November. A bipartisan coalition of members from the U.S. House of Representatives, including Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), impeached Trump for the second time on Wednesday for his inflammatory speech ahead of last week’s insurrection.
The National Guard members headed to the nation's capital will be “deployed to provide security, communications, medical evacuation, logistics, and safety support to district and federal agencies,” the Vermont Guard said in a press release. “The public’s safety is the top priority of the National Guard, members will meet the requirements of the supported civil authorities, posturing with protective equipment, weapons and live-ammunition.”

Gov. Phil Scott, a frequent critic of Trump who has called for the president’s removal from office for inciting the insurrection, approved the mission, which takes some soldiers out of state at a time when they are also supporting COVID-19 relief efforts in Vermont.
“After the tragic events at our Capitol on January 6, we must do all we can to secure a peaceful transition of power on Inauguration Day,” Scott said in a statement. “I am grateful to the brave men and women of the Vermont National Guard for their service and doing their part during this deployment to protect our republic and the democratic values we hold dear.”

Thousands of National Guard members are already in Washington. Photos on Wednesday showed soldiers sprawled out in the Capitol rotunda, guarding the beacon of American democracy for the first time since soldiers defended the building during the Civil War.

“We swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America,” Maj. Gen. Greg Knight, adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard, said in a statement. “We are honored to play our part in securing one of the most time honored traditions in American history: the Presidential Inauguration.”

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Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Welch Calls On Colleagues to Impeach Trump — Again

Posted By on Wed, Jan 13, 2021 at 12:00 PM

Vermont Rep. Peter Welch speaks in favor of impeachment Wednesday morning. - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Vermont Rep. Peter Welch speaks in favor of impeachment Wednesday morning.
Vermont’s lone member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrat Peter Welch, exhorted his colleagues to impeach Donald Trump for a second time Wednesday for his role in inciting a mob of loyalists to storm the U.S. Capitol last week.

Standing on the floor of the chamber he was forced to flee one week ago, Welch made a clear and direct case that the president must be held accountable for his role in the violence that left five people, including a Capitol police officer, dead.

“The question before this Congress: Will Congress condone through acquiescence, or condemn through impeachment, Donald Trump’s violent acts to overturn the election?” Welch said. “Congress must impeach.”

The House initiated an impeachment vote Wednesday morning after Vice President Mike Pence declined Tuesday to use his power to remove the president as unfit for office under the 25th Amendment.

The single article of impeachment, which accuses Trump of “inciting an insurrection,” was expected to pass Wednesday afternoon with support of all Democrats and even some Republicans.

Its passage would make Trump the first president in history to be impeached twice. When and whether the Senate would conduct a trial remains unclear.

During his one-minute remarks, Welch, wearing a blue mask, said Trump had challenged the principle that “all power flows from the people,” using lies and violence.

“The deceit — his repeated and baseless assertion of electoral fraud. The violence — the attack on the United States capitol on January 6,” Welch said.

The rioters’ goal was to “obstruct the peaceful transfer of power,” an effort clearly and deliberately orchestrated by the president, Welch asserted.

“The mob was assembled by Donald Trump, incited by Donald Trump and in service of Donald Trump’s effort to overturn, through violence, what he lost at the voting booth,” Welch said.

Watch his remarks here:

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