Patrick Leahy was born in March 1940 in Montpelier, Vermont. He graduated from Saint Michael’s College in 1961 and earned a Juris Doctorate from Georgetown University Law School in 1964. After serving for eight years as State Attorney in Chittenden County, he was elected to the U.S. Senate (representing Vermont) as part of the Democrat class of 1974 that was swept into office as a result of the Watergate scandal that brought down the Nixon presidency. Senator Leahy has been re-elected every six years since then.
While serving as vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee in the mid-1980s, Leahy earned the nickname “Leahy the Leaker” because of his propensity to publicly reveal sensitive intelligence data. In a 1985 television appearance, for instance, he disclosed classified information that had enabled the Egyptian government to capture the Arab terrorists who had hijacked the Achille Lauro cruise ship and killed an American citizen. Leahy’s indiscretion may have cost the life of at least one of the Egyptian operatives involved in that capture.
In 1986 Leahy leaked secret information about a covert plan by the Reagan administration to overthrow Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi. A few weeks later, details of the plan appeared in The Washington Post, and the operation was cancelled.
In January 1987 Leahy was forced to resign as vice chair of the Intelligence Committee after leaking classified information about the Iran-Contra affair. It was considered to be one of the most serious breaches of secrecy in the Committee’s history.
In the 1980s Leahy traveled to Nicaragua and openly opposed U.S. military support for the Contras in their fight against the Marxist, Soviet-sponsored Sandinistas. In 1990 Leahy joined with Senator Robert Byrd in spearheading the fight to cut $500 million out of an emergency aid package that President George H.W. Bush had requested for anti-communist initiatives in Panama and Nicaragua. In addition, Leahy and Senator Chris Dodd co-sponsored legislation to cut U.S. aid to the government of El Salvador, which was at war against Marxist-Leninist militias backed by Cuba and the Soviet Union.
Leahy has long opposed the development of a missile-defense system; when the Senate passed a bill (by a 97-3 margin) to develop such a system in 1999, Leahy cast one of the three ballots against the measure.
According to a 2001 National Review story, Leahy was considered, by a consensus of Capitol Hill Republicans, the “meanest, most partisan, most ruthless Democrat in the Senate.”
Leahy has voted against the confirmation of many Republican nominees for key government posts, including such notables as Attorneys General John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales. He also voted against Republican Supreme Court nominees William Rehnquist, Robert Bork, and Clarence Thomas. On numerous occasions he used filibusters to obstruct the confirmation of George W. Bush nominees, whereas during the Clinton presidency, Leahy had vigorously opposed filibusters.
When President Bush nominated Samuel Alito to replace the outgoing Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court in October 2005, Leahy lamented that with Alito’s confirmation, “the Court will lose some of [its] diversity.” The senator also complained that Bush had bypassed many “highly qualified women, African Americans, Hispanics and other individuals” who “could well have served as unifying nominees” while making the Court’s membership “more reflective of the country it serves.” Many American women, Leahy speculated, were undoubtedly “somewhat saddened that the seat of the first woman [O’Connor] to serve on our highest court is not going to be filled by another woman.”
Leahy opposed the 1991 Persian Gulf War and voted against funding the post-9/11 invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq (all of which were led by Republican presidents). By contrast, he supported President Clinton’s military ventures in the Balkans, and in December 1998 he justified Clinton’s four-day bombing campaign against suspected Iraqi WMD sites, saying: “There is no doubt that since 1991, Saddam Hussein has squandered his country’s resources to maintain his capacity to produce and stockpile chemical and biological weapons.” Yet in March 2003, just before the invasion of Iraq by President George W. Bush, Leahy declared: “I cannot pretend to understand the thinking of those in the administration who for months or even longer seemed possessed with a kind of messianic zeal in favor of war.”
In 1999 Leahy traveled to Cuba, where he dined with Fidel Castro. Although the senator criticized the communist dictator for his regime’s oppressive policies, he also took the occasion to complain about the longstanding U.S. policy banning travel to Cuba. National Review’s Jay Nordlinger described what he considered the inappropriately jocular tenor of Leahy’s subsequent account of the meeting. Wrote Nordlinger:
“The major issue to come out of Leahy’s huddle with Castro? Ice cream. You see, Fidel had spoken up for Cuba’s ice cream, and Pat had put in a word for Ben & Jerry’s (Vermont’s own). Said the senator in a post- huddle interview, ‘Now my major diplomatic effort will be to get a hold of Ben Cohen [the ‘Ben’ of the company] and figure out how they can send down a case of Ben & Jerry’s. Castro made me promise I would get Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to him.’ … Leahy is not overly troubled by the fates of the ice-cream lover’s victims.”
In November 2001, Leahy was one of two senators targeted in the anthrax mail attacks on the U.S. Capitol. On NBC’s Meet the Press, Leahy claimed that the letter addressed to him (accompanying the anthrax) had enough spores in it to kill more than 100,000 people. A day later, however, Office of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge revealed that Leahy had no basis for making that statement.
During a June 2005 Judiciary Committee hearing on the Guantanamo Bay detention center, Leahy called Guantanamo “an international embarrassment to our nation, to our ideals,” and “a legal blackhole” where U.S. policies did not “adhere to the rule of law.” Leahy also defended Illinois Democrat Richard Durbin‘s comparison of U.S. troops in Guantanamo Bay to Nazis.
In February 2009 Leahy proposed that Congress establish a “truth commission” to investigate alleged misdeeds by ex-President Bush, most notably the wiretapping of U.S. citizens, the use of faulty intelligence to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the use of torture at Guantanamo Bay and so-called “black sites” abroad.