Say It Ain't So, Senator Pat

Article excerpt

What has gotten into my old pen pal Senator Patrick Leahy? As our wartime president, George W Bush, asks for more stringent powers to deal with today's unprecedented threat to American security, Senator Pat has become a strict civil libertarian. Specifically, the President wants to haul non-citizens suspected of terrorism before military tribunals. Senator Pat is shaken. According to other Democrats on his Senate Judiciary Committee, he is apprehensive that the administration's pursuit of terrorists is becoming a threat to "civil liberties."

Is this the same Senator Pat who was writing me last spring? In those days he was demanding that I send him all manner of private papers from The American Spectator's board meetings. Senator Pat wanted to scotch the nomination ofThe Spectator's lawyer and former board member Theodore B. Olson as solicitor general.

Back then William Safire, The New York Times's stalwart libertarian columnist, charged the Senator with "trampling on the First Amendment." He urged the Senator to lay off a little magazine of opinion and not to persist in "waving a vacuum cleaner at an editorial office." "Come back to the Constitution, Pat," Safire wrote. The "vacuum cleaner" reference adverted to the letter Senator Pat wrote me demanding"copies of the internal audit, board books and minutes... and all notes and records of Board discussions...." In the prosecutorial business, defense lawyers call that a "fishing expedition." Because of such rapacious demands, those targeted by the likes of Senator Pat are left with large legal bills if we choose to defend ourselves and the First Amendment. Senator Pat does have a puckish wit. Across the bottom of his letter he scrawled to me "all the best."

Safire called Senator Pat's demands an "outrageous intrusion. …