Leahy Cleans House at Justice | Seven Days Vermont

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Leahy Cleans House at Justice 

Inside Track

Bernie Sanders

Published August 29, 2007 at 4:00 a.m.

Patrick Leahy
  • Patrick Leahy

A month ago, on national TV, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy looked across the Judiciary Committee’s hearing room, directly into the eyes of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

“I don’t trust you,” said the Vermont committee chairman.

Enough said, eh?

It was a powerful, stunning moment in the historic crisis of deceit, deception and disgrace the administration of President George “WMD” Bush has inflicted on America, and a moment, we predict, historians will cite as marking the turning of the tide.

St. Patrick even gave Alberto extra time to correct the obvious untruths in his sworn testimony and repair his embarrassing inability to remember key meetings and conversations with other administration officials.

As everybody knows, Leahy has taken plenty of criticism — from the left and the right — for his dogged pursuit of truth regarding the Bush folks’ firing of eight U.S. attorneys for political, election-related reasons.

That’s a major no-no in the American system of justice, because when politics infects law enforcement, justice evaporates.

A month ago, you’ll recall that a few diehard Republicans scoffed at St. Patrick’s “impertinence.” But this week, the invincible Mr. Gonzales finally pulled the chute, suddenly and quickly (in under two minutes, with no press questions) resigning his generalship in disgrace.

“I think what probably brought about the [Gonzales] resignation,” said Sen. Leahy, “was the fact that there has been such a crescendo of criticism from both Republicans and Democrats about the way the Department of Justice was led. I think most people who have an interest in impartial, professional law enforcement knew that this Department of Justice was damaging law enforcement throughout the country.”

Leahy made his remarks in the measured tones of an old Vermont prosecutor who knows how the game is played. It wasn’t easy being muzzled, for the first six years of Bush’s Reign of Terror, by a Republican House and Senate that did not permit investigations or inquiries. Patience is indeed a great virtue.

The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter every day.

The fact is, Sen. Leahy has been very much aware of the deterioration of the Justice Department. “Totally dysfunctional” is how he described it. Many U.S. attorneys have contacted him, he said.

“They want to go back to where it was considered a professional place,” Leahy said. “It used to be that when a U.S. Attorney came into court, their word on what they were doing and their motivation for doing it was kind of the gold standard. And the federal judges gave it credibility based on that. They said that’s not happening anymore,” said Chairman Leahy. “And it takes a long time to get that back.”

Two observations from Resignation Monday.

One, the TV news networks treated NFL quarterback Michael Vick’s plea deal on dogfighting charges as a more important story than the disgraceful resignation of the nation’s chief law-enforcement official, and . . .

Two, the national news media also appeared to think that Alberto’s successor — nominated by our reigning Liar in Chief — will be installed without delay.


We love football, but Vick’s plea deal simply doesn’t compare, and we’d put the betting line as 50-50 at best that a full-time replacement will ever fill Gonzales’ shoes. Why?

Because everything is frozen until the Vermont chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee decides to schedule a hearing.

“I want it to be a case where the White House seeks not only the consent, but some advice,” said St. Patrick. “Sen. Specter [the committee’s Republican co-chair] and I, working together, could easily, if the White House wanted, give them a list of people who would have no problems being confirmed.

“If they would like that advice on the advise part of ‘advise and consent,’ I think with such a short time left in their administration, they’d be well advised to seek that,” said Sen. Leahy.

“Short time left?” Hint? Hint? Yes, indeed, there was a touch of ol’ country-boy Vermont sarcasm in his voice.

Leahy said he hoped President Bush would sit down with him and Arlen Specter, as well as Democratic Leader Harry Reid and Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

“I would hope he would talk with us,” said Chairman Leahy. “I would hope, instead of having confrontation here, that there would be cooperation.”

The tall, bald, one-eyed former Vermont prosecutor also responded to the criticism he had moved “too slowly” in pursuit of the Bush administration’s transgressions since he became Judiciary Chairman last January.

“On the question of taking time, yes, it took time,” he acknowledged. “I began my career trying cases and, unlike what you see on television, it’s not done between the first and last commercial. You build your cases, and that’s what I tried to do here, was build a case.”

And the Vermonter took the time he needed to build a case with Republican as well as Democratic support for committee subpoenas.

“I did not want this to be a partisan issue,” said St. Patrick. “I don’t want law enforcement to be a partisan issue.”

That means it takes a bit longer than “simply going out there and doing a press conference, which gets you great headlines but doesn’t do a darn thing about getting results. I wanted results more than the headlines,” said Leahy, “and every subpoena had Republican and Democratic votes. Every hearing had Republican and Demo-cratic participation.”

Nice work, eh?

P.S. And what does our state’s top Republican, Gov. Jim Douglas, chairman of the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign in Vermont, think?

Gentleman Jim was busy on what sure looks like the re-election campaign trail this week, doing ribbon cuttings and county fairs, things he does very, very well.

Asked for comment, his spokesman Jason Gibbs replied, “The Governor believes that Congress has every right, and the responsibility, to ask questions and get honest answers. He’s hopeful that this resignation will help both the Congress and the administration to put aside the seemingly constant and increasingly unproductive partisan sniping.”

Gibbs also told us via email that GOP Jim wants Congress to focus now on more important issues, including “an expeditious conclusion to the war in Iraq.”

Whoa! Sounds like a Democrat.

What do you think?


Déjà Vu All Over? — Actually, it wasn’t. Seven years after the halls of the Vermont Statehouse were packed with folks expressing their opinions on same-sex marriage, things sure felt different the other day.

The occasion was the first organizational meeting, in Room 11, of the 11-member Vermont Commission on Family Recognition and Protection, a.k.a. the Gay Marriage Commission.

Chaired by Tom Little, the former Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee who wrote the landmark civil-unions bill back in 2000, the panel met for the first time to plan their future. At least six public hearings around the state are expected. The commission will issue a report to the legislature next spring. No action is expected on a move from civil unions to gay marriage in the year ahead.

Chairman Little, a calm, thoughtful, mild-mannered kind of guy, told reporters he’s well aware that many think the commission members’ minds are already made up and a pro-gay-marriage report is inevitable.

A few, he acknowledged, have already expressed their support for moving on to gay marriage. But not everyone is so sure.

“I know the press and the public are of the impression everything on the commission is stacked in that regard,” said Little, “but we’re trying to hew to the line that our job is not to make a recommendation about gay marriage but to report what we find the people of Vermont think about civil unions and gay marriage.”

Little is a respected husband and father. Those who know him regard Little as anything but small. He said the blue-ribbon panel will produce a final product around the end of next April, and it will be as “data-driven and objective” as it can possibly be.

We’ve got seven years of civil unions under our belt, and Big Tom of Shelburne says the commission is all about finding out the impact of that.

“It’s going to sound like a broken record,” said Little. “My plan is to really focus on the listening process and taking testimony, letting people have their say, and giving as unvarnished and objective a report back as we possibly can.

“If we don’t do that,” he said, “all the work we’re gonna do is going to have been a waste of time.”

Good point, eh?

On first blush, yours truly was among many who thought Democrat Statehouse leaders Gaye Symington, the house speaker, and Peter Shumlin, the senate president pro tem, were crazy to stir up the hornets’ nest of homophobia that buzzed through the building seven years ago.

But maybe we were wrong?

Only two of the closed-minded, holier-than-thou antigay crusaders of yesteryear showed up for the TV and radio microphones: Stephen Cable, from an outfit called the “Center for American Cultural Renewal” in Rutland, and Rev. Craig Bensen from Cambridge, whose group was called “Take It to the People.”

“It appears that, from their side,” said Cable, “it is a battle of semantics, and being in a position of being more accepted in terms of the word ‘marriage.’ From our perspective, ‘marriage’ is drastically different. The word marriage,” he said, “implies, you know, it implies [the] opposite sex can form a union. So it’s very, very different from our perspective.”


Rev. Bensen was more blunt. God bless him, eh?

The Reverend called the panel “a political farce” and a “kangaroo commission.”

But, we asked, aren’t you refusing to acknowledge the fact that the Vermont Supreme Court has ruled same-sex couple have the same rights to marry as opposite-sex couples? You guys are on the run, right?

“What’s 39 states against same-sex marriage?” Rev. Bensen fired back. “Who’s on the run?”

Sorry, Reverend. Bigotry just doesn’t sell well. Not around here, anyway.

The fact is, outside of the state’s politicos, no one appears upset by the formation of the legislature’s gay-marriage study commission. Civil unions, by all appearances, have had no negative impact whatsoever on Vermont or on Vermont families. Other states have even followed our lead, with Massachusetts going the whole nine yards to gay marriage without any signs of the state crumbling.

Heck, the Red Sox are even in first place, by eight games!


Media Notes — Vermont’s Independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is blowing the whistle on the Bush-Cheney propaganda machine, a.k.a. Fox News. That is, he publicly endorsed documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald’s whistleblowing on Fox News for beating its war drum 24/7 against another country that is not a threat to the U.S. — Iran.

And the “entertaining” editorial page of the Caledonian-Record in St. Johnsbury once again abandoned all pretense of credibility by swiftly smearing Landslide Bernie for telling the truth about Fox News, which apparently is the newspaper’s TV news bible!

The Cal-Record accuses Ol’ Bernardo of “prostituting his election to the most prestigious body in the world by flacking for the rabble.”

His crime?

According to the Cal-Record, it’s “joining his raucous voice to a radical propagandist’s and attacking a national news network that millions and millions of Americans pay attention to every day.”

Thank God, eh?

“Every American should watch Robert Greenwald’s short video [http://foxattacks.com/ iran],” says Sen. Sanders, “for it shows us that the current Fox drumbeat for war is almost exactly the same as what Fox did, and most of the American media did, in the days before we invaded Iraq. ”


Correction: Last week we got the time wrong for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ appearance on the nationally syndicated Thom Hartmann radio show. Ol’ Bernardo appears “live” every Friday at noon, not 11 a.m. The show is available online at http://www.thomhartmann.com.

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About The Author

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne, 1949-2009, wrote the weekly political column "Inside Track," which originated in the Vanguard Press in the mid 1980s; he brought it to Seven Days in 1995. He retired it shortly before his death in January, 2009. We all miss him.


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