September 22nd, 2019


The Best Vermont Can Do?

Dear Editor,

Patrick Leahy occupies the U.S. Senate seat once held by George Aiken, and a century before Aiken, by Justin Morrill. 

Aiken and Morrill are two of the most and consequential and distinguished Senators to ever serve our nation.

Morrill was a key source of strength and influence in the United States Senate for President Lincoln, and the person most responsible for creating America’s state college system. The ability for poor and lower income families to include first generation college graduates is largely due to the work of Justin Morrill. The great achievements of America in the twentieth century would not have been possible without an upwardly mobile society of educated people. America, and our world, would be much different today – but for Justin Morrill.

George Aiken was an independent Vermonter. His role in ending the influence of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the era of “McCarthyism”, coupled with speaking of Viet Nam, and the wrongheadedness of being there are inspirational profiles in leadership. In 1974, Aiken persuaded President Nixon that resignation was in America’s best interest. Aiken’s realization of the corrupting influence of money in politics is a powerful chapter in his legacy. He walked his talk on this issue – Aiken’s total campaign spending – from 1934 through his senate retirement in 1975 was less than five thousand dollars!

Comparing Leahy to Aiken and Morrill is a case study in what has gone wrong with Washington, and will be on full display as we watch the confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh. I encourage all Vermonters to consider – “what would Aiken or Morrill be doing”- as we watch Sen. Leahy’s efforts to bork Kavanaugh with demands of transparency, and questions of candor.

And yet, back here in Vermont, Leahy has a different set of ethos regarding transparency and candor. He remains unwilling to release documents and communications surrounding his role in a giant Ponzi-like scheme enabled by EB5 legislation he wrote. Vermont’s EB5 criminal allegations dwarf any other financial crime in our history, and Leahy appears at its nexus.

Not only is Pat Leahy unwilling to be transparent about his program-gone-wrong, he’s been cozy with its perpetrators. His campaigns have been supported and funded by EB5 beneficiaries. He has vacationed at EB5 funded resorts, been handed roles in Batman movies by EB5 beneficiaries in Hollywood, and Leahy’s daughter has been employed as a lobbyist representing some of the most powerful EB5 interests in America before the U.S. Senate.

And, Vermont is not unique in seeing EB5 programs run by friends of Leahy infected with fraud. Other notable EB5 debacles were run by relatives of Leahy friends Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid.

I am hopeful Governor Scott will get serious about putting the full force of Vermont behind investigation of the EB5 Ponzi scheme, and what we can learn from the mistakes. This will require Pat Leahy’s transparency and candor on all he knows, has said, heard, and done with EB5 and its promoters. 

For this week though, and for this Supreme Court nomination, when Pat Leahy speaks, let’s be aware we will not be witnessing Senator Sunshine, but a man in a proverbial glass house lobbing stones.

We will not be seeing anything close to Aiken or Morrill, and we will not be seeing the best Vermont can do.

Scott Milne

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