Monthly Archives: August 2007

Investigation into Gonzales’ ‘misleading’ testimony launches

The Justice Department’s Inspector General has launched a probe into the allegedly misleading or inaccurate testimony that Alberto Gonzales gave to the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year.

Here’s the reaction from Sen. Patrick Leahy, the chair of that body.

“I am pleased that Department of Justice Inspector General Glenn Fine will look into my concerns about potentially false, misleading or inappropriate testimony by the Attorney General.  I look forward to the Inspector General’s findings on the unprecedented firings of nine United States Attorneys, the improper political hiring of career officials within the Justice Department, the misuse of National Security Letters, and the efforts to bypass the Department’s finding that a warrantless surveillance program was without legal basis.  These actions have eroded the public’s trust and undermined morale within our justice system, from the top ranks to the cop on the beat.  The current Attorney General is leaving, but these questions remain.  It is appropriate that the Inspector General will examine whether the Attorney General was honest with this and other Congressional committees about these crucial issues.  His investigations can help restore independence and accountability, which have been sorely lacking at the Justice Department.”

-Dan Barlow

Leahy to Bush: Talk to me about the new AG

Sen. Patrick Leahy is openly inviting President Bush to chat with him about possible replacements for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who announced this week that he would step down in September amid several scandals at the Justice Department.

Here’s what Leahy’s letter to the president says.

August 29, 2007

The Honorable George W. Bush

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, D.C.  20500

Dear Mr. President:

I look forward to working with you in your selection of a nominee to serve as the next Attorney General of the United States.  I hope that you will engage with Senate leadership and share your thoughts so that meaningful consultation can result and the Senate will be better able to fulfill its constitutional advice and consent role.  I am available to meet with you in Washington after Labor Day and urge that Senator Specter be included as well.   

There are a number of candidates any one of whom could be a unifying nominee and serve as an outstanding Attorney General.  Many have significant law enforcement experience and have demonstrated leadership ability.

Now that there will be a vacancy, we have a chance to work together so that your selection will unite the nation.  Bipartisan consultation can help achieve that goal.  We all want a Department of Justice worthy of its name and great tradition.  The American people we represent and serve expect no less.

Respectfully,

PATRICK LEAHY                            

Chairman

-Dan Barlow         

“I will not sing with Senator Jeffords anymore.”

So said now-disgraced Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, whose secret guilty plea this summer in a bathroom sex sting may end his two decade-long political career, when the Vermont senator bolted the Republican Party early in President Bush’s first term.

The two men were members of the famous Singing Senators barbershop quartet, which then dwindled down to a trio and now presumably a duo.

An eagle-eyed blog reader (or is that eagle-eared?) sent me a Mp3 of one of the group’s tunes from their CD. Thanks. Not really my thing, but it sure is fun to see politicians doing something besides pontificating on the chamber floors.

That same reader also pointed me to the Wikipedia entry for the song, "Let the Eagle Soar," which was apparently written by former Attorney General John Ashcroft when he was a senator and member of the singing group. The reader noted that the song was a staple of the Singing Senators set list and they even performed it in 2000 during a show at Rutland’s Paramount Theater.

-Dan Barlow

Sen. Larry Craig and Sen. Jim Jeffords were once bandmates

Idaho Sen. Larry Craig’s name may be familiar to some Vermonters and not just because news of his arrest in June for lewd behavior in a men’s room is all over the news.

For years, Craig was one of four Republican senators that made up the famous Singing Senators group, which also included now-retired Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords. The two of them were joined by John Ashcroft and Majority Leader Trent Lott.

The group sort of disintegrated in 2001 after Ashcroft became President Bush’s attorney general and Jeffords fled the Republican Party. Late in 2006, three members announced the intention to reform the group, this time as a trio and without the vocal assistance of Jeffords, who was not running for another term.

Interestingly, this new Singing Senators line up made its debut on June 12, 2007 for a brief concert in Washington, D.C. This was, of course, one day after Craig was arrested in a men’s room airport for trying to have sexual relations with an undercover police officer.

A CD of the group’s music, recorded during the happier times of the late 1990s, is available, but unfortunately I could not find an on line retail outlet that carries it.

-Dan Barlow

Oops

When Sen. Patrick Leahy sat down at his desk in his Burlington office Monday morning to chat with the press about the sudden resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the mood in the room was serious and a bit solemn.

That was quickly shattered when Leahy tried to exchange his large and bulky chair for one of the smaller wooden ones and knocked down the decorative curtain that provided a backdrop behind his desk.

"Looks like you guys have something for the Christmas blooper special," Leahy joked as he and his aides quickly moved to put the curtain back up.

The rest of the press conference went without a hitch.

-Dan Barlow

Members of the Vermont Telecomm Authority appointed

Gov James Douglas, Senate President Peter Shumlin and House Speaker Gaye Symington jointly announced early Friday afternoon the members of the state’s new Telecommunications Authority, which will be charged with spreading high-speed Internet and cell phone coverage across the state by 2010.

Mary Evslin will be the chair of the authority. She co-founded ITXC Corp. and is the co-founder of the Internet For All Now Committee. I remember seeing her around the Statehouse as the telecom bill made its way through the Senate and the House earlier this year.

The co-chair is Peter Meyer, the former executive director and environmental analyst for the Vermont Public Service Board. Before that, he spent 10 years as the chief coordinator for the Vermont Environmental Board.

Other members include State Treasurer Jeb Spaulding; Joe Bradley, the CEO of the Vermont Economic Development Authority; Al Brisard; Jerry Johnson; Robin Lane; Thomas Murray, the commissioner of the Department of Information and Innovation; Janitech Inc. owner Dawn Terrill; CJ Vadnais and Signal Advertising President David Zahn.

No word yet when they will meet for the first time.

-Dan Barlow

Tell Brian Dubie that rumors of my demise …

Jim Douglas arrived at today’s meeting of the state’s Emergency Board a minute or two late and out of breath.

"I just had my annual physical," the governor said. "Tell the Lieutenant Governor I am in great shape."

- Louis Porter

Gay marriage commission meets for the first time

No fireworks. No fights. Not even a raised voice.

Vermont’s cautious step toward considering gay marriage began very quietly Thursday morning as the so-called Vermont Commission on Family Recognition and Protection held its first meeting.

After the meeting – the only real controversy came at about 9:30 a.m. when gay marriage opponents held a short press conference explaining why they are boycotting the hearings – I chatted with a few political observers who were around the Statehouse seven years ago during the civil unions debate.

And what struck them was how low-key the whole thing was. They didn’t expect the room to be full, but at least packed. A few signs maybe too. Some activists maybe, both for and against. But nothing like that happened and nothing resembling the circus in 2000.

It gave me some pause and some hope. No matter where someone falls on the touchy subject of gay marriage, it is clear that most people don’t want to fight over it. I think we can welcome the discussion and the debate, but not raised voices, clenched fists and off-color signs.

-Dan Barlow

Gay marriage opponents will turn out for the Vermont commission’s first meeting tomorrow

Looks like there will be some protesters tomorrow.

Several traditional marriage organizations announced Wednesday that they will hold a press conference Thursday morning to outline their opposition to extending marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples. Members of the groups Center for American Cultural Renewal, Vermont Renewal and Take It to the People will be present.

The fun starts at 9:30 a.m. just outside of Room 11 at the Statehouse, where the commission is set to hold its first meeting 30 minutes later. Here’s what the groups said in a joint statement today:

We respectfully submit genderless marriage advocates must soundly demonstrate that gay marriage offers the same proven benefits to society as traditional marriage, without doing harm to the existing institution of marriage, children, or society at large.  To date, this essential requirement has not been – and we believe cannot be – satisfied.

-Dan Barlow

Vermont’s Gay Marriage Commission meets Thursday

The Legislative Committee considering the possibility of expanding marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples will hold its historic first meeting Thursday morning at the Statehouse in Montpelier.

Of course, part of the committee’s charge is to hear from Vermonters on the subject, although that’s not what they’ll be doing during their first meeting. Still, if you’re in town between 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., swing by Room 11 at the Statehouse. I’ll try to be there early for a good seat.

Also, if you want to write to the committee to tell them your thoughts, here’s the address:

The Vermont Commission on Family Recognition and Protection, c/o Legislative
Council, 115 State Street, Montpelier, VT 05633-5301.

-Dan Barlow

Details on the Dubie-O’Reilly meeting

Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie and FOX News personality Bill O’Reilly apparently chatted about sex predators during their brief meeting in New York City last week. And then Dubie gave him some Vermont maple syrup.

Martha Hanson, Dubie’s chief of staff, wrote in this week to explain the meeting that O’Reilly alluded to in his on-line column last week.

Dubie was in the city last week to meet with executives from TerreStar, a company that is working on a major telecommunications project up in the Northeast Kingdom. He’s met O’Reilly several times, Hanson said, and a quick scan through various news stories during the two judicial controversies that O’Reilly was a part of it shows that Dubie was trying to talk the host down a bit.

Now, O’Reilly has rarely been friendly toward Vermont in recent years. But aside from the obvious political differences, the television personality has rallied against the state for allegedly having weak laws protecting children from sex predators. And during the legislative session this year, one of his film crews essentially sabotaged Rep. Bill Lippert in the Statehouse cafeteria while he was eating breakfast.

This is not exactly the picture of a good relationship. But Dubie tried to straighten things out and met with the man on Thursday, Aug. 16th for a few minutes.

Here’s how Hanson described the conversation:

Brian made a few points – like about how the statistics show Vermont is one of the safest states in the U.S. for raising children. He also wanted to remind O’Reilly that it’s well-documented — child sexual predators are very rarely are strangers “hiding in the bushes” (as Sen. Sears would say) – but most often family members, close friends or trusted adults in positions of authority. Brian suggested the best way to protect children from these unspeakable crimes might be to make sure all parents know know what signs to look for and are alert about what may be going on right in their homes, at friends’ or at relatives’ houses.

Thanks for clearing that up, Martha. Maybe this means that the long-running feud has cooled down?

-Dan Barlow

Did Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie meet with Bill O’Reilly this week?

That’s what the FOX News personality says on the network’s Web site today. Check it here.

Time now for "The Most Ridiculous Item of the Day." President Bush has visited more than 60 countries and 49 states during his tenure in office. The one state he has not been to, Vermont.

Now, I’ve been tough on the state for failing to pass Jessica’s Law and for its loopy media. But I like Vermont.

In fact, Vermont Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie stopped by today to chat. Dubie is a pro-life Republican who supports Jessica’s Law, proving there is diversity in the land of Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders and far-left Senator Patrick Leahy.

And Dubie brought me some great maple syrup, which is never ridiculous.

I have a message waiting at Dubie’s office. I can’t wait to hear the story about how this happened.

-Dan Barlow

When is a tour of Vermont not just a tour of Vermont?

Gov. James Douglas announced today a six-day tour of the state later this month that he is dubbing, "Set the Agenda Tour." From Aug. 16-25, he will visit at least eight towns across the state to chat with residents as the administration prepares for the second half of the legislative session early next year.

And that’s just the start. Douglas plans more events throughout the state this fall. Like the early fall jam band tours, watch for him to visit your hometown soon!

"I am looking forward to spending the next several months hosting events all over the state, listening closely to Vermonters and hearing their priorities for the coming legislative session," he said in a statement.

Some grumbling from the state Democratic Party was evident soon after word got around concerning the announcement. House Speaker Gaye Symington issued the first shot at this tour by noting that she hopes it will be different than his previous tour last year, which she said were "advertised … as if they were part of a campaign tour," according to her statement.

"It is my hope that the Governor will listen to a wide range of voices rather than a selection of those who agree with his views," Symington added.

-Dan Barlow

Darren Allen says goodbye to state government

DMA, we hardly knew ye.

Former Vermont Press Bureau Chief Darren Allen – yes the guy whose departure elevated me to my current lofty position – is leaving the Agency of Natural Resources where he has been a spokesman since January.

Where is he headed? To the Vermont National Education Association. You know, the teachers’ union that loves to hate the limits on property tax increases supported by the administration of Gov. James Douglas – where Darren now works.

Will he suffer ideological whiplash? Well, he will at least be able to sooth the hurt with a good benefits package. Allen said the pay would be "a little more" than the $62,000 he earns as spokesman for ANR Secretary George Crombie.

"The compensation and benefits are quite good and they represent a level of security for me and my family,” Allen said. Well, good to see the spin cycle is still working in any case.

Allen assured me his decision is prompted by where he is headed not where he is at.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed working with George Crombie and I think his vision of the agency is a sound one and will ultimately lead to the further protection of the natural resources of the state of Vermont.”

In any case don’t fear. I don’t plan on using Darren’s moving up in the world to forward my own career – at least not again.

- Louis Porter

Rove’s Republican legacy

I read with interest this morning the story my colleague, Bureau Chief Louis Porter, wrote regarding Sen. Patrick Leahy’s presser in Montpelier on Tuesday. But not because of what Leahy said, but because of what Rob Roper, the chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, said.

"Karl Rove has served this country for the past seven years," Roper said. "This is a moment we should take a moment to thank him for what he has done whether we agree with him or not."

Reaction to Rove’s departure, which was announced Monday, has been pretty muted. Aside from President Bush and a handful of other White House officials, the talk from "on the ground" Republicans has been less glowing.

Several conservative blogs have openly attributed the Republicans’ loss of both chamber of Congress last year to the failure of Rove’s political plans. After winning three elections in a row and increasing GOP majorities across the board, the party lost big last year, both in terms of congressional seats and support of independent voters, many of whom are now calling themselves Democrats.

So, in that context Roper’s comments were interesting. But maybe more so because one day earlier he declined comment when I e-mailed when about Rove’s resignation. Here’s what he wrote to me Monday afternoon:

"I’m focused on VT. I wish him well in whatever he decides to do from here on out."

Of course, his comments Tuesday came in response to comments that Leahy had about Rove. Maybe that did change the dynamics slightly.

-Dan Barlow