Senator Patrick Leahy (right) with Norwich University President Richard Schneider. Photo by Taylor Dobbs
In Sen. Patrick Leahy’s first public appearance since his office publicly parted with the White House over whether the U.S. has suspended military aid to Egypt, Vermont's senior senator stuck to his guns.
“It’s not being sent,” Leahy said Thursday in an interview after announcing new federal funding for Norwich University.
The answer came on the heels of a Daily Beast story published Monday quoting Leahy spokesman David Carle as saying, “[Sen. Leahy’s] understanding is that aid to the Egyptian military has been halted, as required by law.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest refuted that report Tuesday — calling it “not accurate” — and said the administration's review of its Egyptian aid policy was ongoing.
But, according to Leahy, it was accurate.
The senator said he’d spoken with President Obama about the matter earlier in the day, and they were on the same page. The money is “not being sent,” Leahy clarified, though that doesn’t mean it’s been “cut off.”
To Leahy, the difference between his office's comments and the White House's may be a matter of semantics. Whatever you call it, less U.S. money is heading to Cairo.
“If you’re hoping to have money, and the money doesn’t come, does it make a difference whether it’s not being sent or it’s been cut off?” Leahy said. “The fact is — and I talked to the president again about this this morning — they’re looking at that whole issue."
As chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over foreign aid, Leahy is in the middle of crafting a budget bill that would subject Egypt to new conditions.
"In the new fiscal year, which is September 1, there’s going to be a whole new regime on this under the bill I wrote, which will allow money only in specific tranches based on what their performance is," he said.
Even without American money, Egypt still has plenty of sources for cash: Saudi Arabia promised $12 billion shortly after the July 3 coup that toppled the Morsi regime. Leahy says America’s real source of influence isn't the $1.3 billion in funding it pledges each year — chump change, by military standards — but our ready supply of toys.
“The generals in Egypt like very much our technology,” Leahy said. “F-16s, the helicopters, the equipment that we have, all the rest. That they don’t want to get cut off. But $1.3 billion, one way or the other, will not make that much difference to them.”
That’s why Leahy thinks the best move the U.S. made was to cancel the joint military exercise scheduled for next month.
Leahy’s remarks came as he traveled to Northfield to congratulate Norwich University on a $9.9 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security.
The money will help the school expand its expertly acronymed DECIDE program. That stands for Distributed Environment for Critical Infrastructure Decision-making Exercises, which is essentially a massive online video game that helps banks and federal agencies run drills to practice for a massive cyber-attack on the American economic infrastructure.
While Leahy is all about protecting American institutions from malicious attacks by foreign states and non-state actors, he’s also charging ahead in his efforts to crack down on the other NSA: the National Security Agency.
For most Americans, it took a leak by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden to shine a spotlight on domestic spying. But Leahy said Thursday his fellow senators shouldn't have needed a massive, illegal leak to know what the agency was doing.
“They didn’t need something leaked. I mean, I read highly classified material, but enough classified material is available to senators that want to sit down and do it,” Leahy said, to have reached these conclusions earlier. “You go through a lot of drudgery,” he said, “but you reach a conclusion.”
Whatever the case, senators are doing their homework now, Leahy said, and “a number of people who wouldn’t vote with me before now tell me they’re prepared to vote with me” in favor of more oversight of the nation's intelligence programs.