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Gubernatorial Role Models

Inside Track


Published May 2, 2007 at 4:00 p.m.

Wheelchair-bound New Jersey Gov. John Corzine got emotional Monday as he left the hospital and apologized for the example he set by not wearing a seat belt. The Democratic guv sustained massive injuries in a recent, well-publicized accident in his official gubernatorial motor vehicle.

"I'll work very hard to try to set the right kind of example to make a difference in people's lives as we go forward," said Corzine on Monday.

On Tuesday morning, Vermont's Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican, was not apologetic when yours truly asked him at his weekly presser about the expired license plate on the gubernatorial Impala parked in his reserved parking space. In the accompanying photo, that's Chittenden County State Sen. Jim Condos - who was kind enough to bring it to our attention - bending over to point out the criminal evidence.

Nice work, Senator! Maybe those rumors about Condos wanting to regularly ride in the gubernatorial Impala passenger seat are true after all?

Yours truly asked Gov. Scissorhands if he had picked up his bad habit from Corzine?

"No, I always wear my seat belt," answered Vermont's governor.

"This isn't about the seat belt," we replied. "This is about the license plate."

"Well, I guess we'll have to check," said Douglas.

Asked by another press type if he would contest an expired plate ticket, Douglas had the best answer of all.

"It's not my car," said the guv.

He's right. It's ours. And according to the South Burlington dispatcher, the guv's vehicle could be pulled over and issued a ticket.

On the bigger picture, Vermont's Republican governor is sounding like most GOP officeholders these days on the topic of President George W. Bush and his increasingly unpopular leadership team in the executive branch. He doesn't have a whole lot to say.

Asked if he has confidence in Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, Douglas shucked and jived.

"Well, it really doesn't matter," answered the Republican governor of Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean's home state.

"The president of the United States will decide who works for him," said Gentleman Jim. "I've made it very clear when we've talked in the past that I think it's inappropriate to politicize the United States Attorney's Office to try to influence their decisions in bringing criminal cases. That's wrong. But we should let the hearings conclude the investigations and see what happens."

Don't want to be called turncoat by jumping too soon, eh?

Yours truly pointed out the difference between attorney general and the other cabinet secretaries. We noted that, unlike the Secretary of Commerce or State, the AG works for you and me and has to keep a distance from the White House. That distance is what was lost here in terms of credibility. With the attorney general enforcing the law, it's a higher standard than "the president will decide," isn't it?

"Well, it's a little different, you're right," replied the guv. "But it's a presidential appointee nonetheless, a member of his cabinet, so he obviously has to make that decision."

"Do you have confidence in him?" we asked again.

"Well, I think we should let the whole process work its way through and then make a judgment," said Gov. Douglas.

Decisive, eh?


Leahy in the Eye - On Tuesday, Vermont's senior senator was a pallbearer at the Washington, D.C., funeral of Jack Valenti, a longtime friend and figure on the U.S. political/media stage. You know him - the little guy from Hollywood who's been around forever!

Vermont Sen. Patrick J. Leahy has been on Capitol Hill since the mid-'70s. Jack Valenti was president of the Motion Picture Association of America for 38 years and a well-known lobbyist in Washington.

"Jack Valenti was a great friend," St. Patrick told "Inside Track" this week, "but he was especially nice to my mother and would always single her out at Italian-American functions."

(The original St. Patrick didn't have an Irish mother, either.)

"I still have the touching letter Jack wrote me when she died," Sen. Leahy told us. "She always referred to him as that 'nice young man.' He really was a dear friend."

Valenti passed away on April 26. He was a short guy who stood very, very tall on the public-policy stage, and he was a pilot on more than 50 B-25 missions in World War II.

Leahy, Vermont's half-Italian native of Montpeculiar, has been back in the national spotlight of late - especially with his Senate Judiciary Committee's probe into the firing of the eight United States attorneys for apparent political reasons by Karl Rove's hatchet man - Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez.

That's a no-no in the land of "justice." It also was the first topic we tossed in St. Pat's kisser when the interview began. Does he really want President George W. Bush to replace the current attorney general, who has lost credibility even among several Republicans?


SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Replace Gonzalez?

The only way the White House would replace him is if they thought they could put somebody else that they could control as well as they've controlled him. [Gonzalez] has taken the position that he's a member of the president's staff as well as being head of the Justice Department. He's said so publicly.

Of course, in that regard, the president's absolutely wrong.

We have secretaries of commerce, agriculture and so on. We don't have a "Secretary of Justice." We have an attorney general of the United States. It's a unique position. It's supposed to represent everybody. And it's hard to find, even in John Mitchell's day [he served under Richard M. Nixon, and resigned during the Watergate scandal], anybody who has allowed the White House to pull the strings as much as he has.

The only way they'll replace him is if they can get somebody else they think they can 1. get confirmed, and 2. would do the bidding of Karl Rove.

Another area in which Vermont's senior senator has noticed significant damage to the nation under Bush is a result of mishandling, or ignoring, Katrina aid from countries that once were our loyal allies.


LEAHY: The problem is, it's like all the other messes: The next president is going to have to clean up. We have the horrible disarray in the Department of Homeland Security. Not only haven't they even cleaned up after Katrina, we now find that there were hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars that other countries wanted to donate to us and they never accepted it. Couldn't figure out what to do. Couldn't make the decision. So it went uncollected, making these countries wonder what's wrong with us.

Sen. Leahy also told us about serious dissatisfaction among veteran employees at the Department of Justice - Alberto Gonzalez Land.


LEAHY: Traditionally, there's always been a number of parts of the Department of Justice that are totally nonpartisan: civil rights, antitrust and the criminal divisions.

They've had people there - professionals - who with the change of administrations usually stay there. However, an awful lot of these professionals are leaving because they're being interfered with.

They have a fellowship program in civil rights, begun under Eisenhower's time, that's continued with the very best people coming in. It's continued through Republican and Democratic administrations, and it has been discontinued by this administration. I mean: Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, former Pres. Bush and Clinton. It was a great idea.

This president gets rid of it.


TRACK: Have you read in the Vermont press about the grassroots movement to impeach President Bush?

LEAHY: Yeah, and I've read also the editorials from the Rutland Herald and several others that say that, as much as it's a good, visceral reaction, to spend the next 2 1/2 years into the next presidential term on this, instead of having the time being spent on the things we're doing, may not make sense.

I share the same attitudes of those who want to impeach. This man is horrible. The fact of the matter is, the only way we're now finding out all these things - the cost overruns, the U.S. attorneys, the manipulation by Condoleezza Rice and all the others - is because we have Democrats in control and actually subpoenaing and calling hearings. That was never done before. Never done.


TRACK: Did you watch former CIA Director George Tenet on "60 Minutes"?

LEAHY: I did.

TRACK: I may have met him back in the 1980s. I don't remember back that far.

LEAHY: You have.

TRACK: Was he on your staff before he went on the Intelligence Committee staff?

LEAHY: No, he was on my Intelligence Committee staff when I was vice-chairman - 1985-86. [Leahy left in 1987, two months ahead of his term's expiration. He had released a report to NBC, a non-classified report. Unfortunately for Leahy, the reports were numbered, and the NBC reporter held up the cover page, with Leahy's number, for TV viewers to see. It earned St. Pat the "Leaky Leahy" moniker way back then.] I apologized for releasing an unclassified report. The final report they issued had all that detail plus a lot more.

TRACK: What did you think of Tenet on "60 Minutes?"

LEAHY: I want to read the book [At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA]. I think everybody's trying to cover their backsides. I was disappointed watching it, but I felt that way. I also think it's extremely important that we complete these investigations now so that whoever the next president is will not be tempted to do the same things, just because of the backlash on it.

TRACK: Any concern on your part, as we start high-speed presidential campaigning way, way, way early, that this is gonna end up hurting?

LEAHY: I think that it's a mistake. I think the way the primaries are so bunched together, I think it puts too much of an emphasis on both money and an early start, and that worries me greatly.

I was in California four weeks ago and President Bush asked me what I thought about all this, and I said we pick 'em by conventions.

I think that we will elect a Democrat, but whoever the next president is, is going to have to reintroduce America to the rest of the world. And [I think] that I've become more and more convinced of that as I go around the world. I'm going to be in the Middle East in the next few weeks.

Here we are, the country of the Marshall Plan. The Peace Corps. Great humanitarian efforts. And we're so disliked around the world by countries that had always admired us before. And the same things that make us an admirable country are still there, except for the policies of this administration.

The next president has to do two things:

End the Iraq war, because apparently this president intends to drop the whole mess on [the next administration] instead of doing it himself, even though we've been there longer than in World War II.

And then they're going to have to reintroduce America to the rest of the world, as sad as that is. But it's the most important thing they could do, far more important than who they appoint as the secretary of this or director of that. For the sake of this country, for the security of this country, for the ability of this country to progress, they have to reintroduce us to the rest of the world.

Let's hope they are successful, eh?


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