Kerry in Congress: An Investigator's Rise





Gail Russell Chaddock, writing for the Christian Science Monitor (Boston, MA) (March 3, 2004)

One criticism of John Kerry's early Senate investigations was that, in his own words, they"looked at strange and nefarious types that people did not take seriously." On Oct. 24, 1991, that rap ended.

On the other side of the witness table in the vast Hart Senate hearing room was seated Washington powerbroker Clark Clifford - a man who'd played poker with Winston Churchill and advised every Democratic president since Harry Truman. He was an icon in official Washington, especially for Democrats with an eye on the Oval Office.

But Mr. Clifford was also implicated in a $ 20 billion-plus criminal banking enterprise across 73 countries - unwittingly, he said. Top party activists, including uber-fundraiser Pamela Harriman, had urged Senator Kerry not to embarrass Clifford by calling him to testify.

It was a defining moment for Kerry, whose investigations, more than his legislative record, have been highlights of his 19-year Senate career. He told staff to"get the truth out" and follow evidence where it led - even to the heights of his party...

...As a fourth term US Senator, Kerry's legislative record is modest; Few bills bear his name. His 6,310 Senate votes, mainly liberal, have enough twists and turns to invite charges of inconsistency. But his signature investigations were models of dogged, even relentless focus, and may tell more about his persona and likely attributes as a president than anything else he has done in his 19 years in the Senate.

His probes included tracking illegal gunrunners to the Reagan White House (1985-86), drug traffickers to Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega (1988), and Mr. Noriega's dirty money to BCCI and some of the top powerbrokers in Washington (1987-92)...

...If he makes it to the White House, Kerry will be only the third US senator in history - after Warren Harding and John Kennedy - to go straight from Capitol Hill to the presidency. And neither got there by writing great laws.

It's an irony of politics that a strong legislative resume may be more likely to sink a presidential bid than to make one. Thousands of votes make too big a target, experts say. And the grind of making laws rarely helps a newcomer make a name.

Early on, Kerry took the road prospected by John F. Kennedy: nailing a big oversight investigation. For Kennedy, it was corruption in the Teamsters union - a high-profile probe including recognizable villains, misdeeds you can talk about over breakfast, and television coverage...

...Even before his Senate career began, Kerry had made his way into public life by asking questions. Best known is his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as a witness for Vietnam Veterans Against the War in 1971 when he queried:"How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

Elected to the US Senate in 1984, he gave up a prized offer to be on the Senate Appropriations committee and joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee instead. It was a sign of longstanding interest in world affairs, fed by his father's career involvement in the foreign service. Kerry's internationalist views echo today in his calls for repairing relations with longtime allies in Europe...

...Later, he turned his investigative attention to how to spend the"peace dividend" after the end of the cold war. Kerry warned that a more dangerous war was already taking shape, with global crime organizations that corrupted entire governments, especially the"Big Five" - the Italian Mafia, Russian mobs, Chinese triads, Japanese yakuza, and Colombian drug cartels."It will take only one megaterrorist event in any of he great cities of the world to change the world in a single day," he wrote in his 1997 book,"The New War: The Web of Crime that Threatens America's Security."

Nearly absent from Kerry's watch list are Islamic terrorist groups, including those affiliated with Osama bin Laden, who reconstituted a network for terrorist money laundering in the Sudan after the collapse of BCCI.

But by then, Democrats had lost control of the Senate and Kerry had lost his mandate for pursuing investigations. As the Kerry operation wound down, Blum says Kerry wanted to get into"the whole bizarre relationship between US intelligence and Muslim radicals who were training in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but time ran out. And on both the Democratic side and the Republican side, there was no stomach for it, because we were winning the cold war. It turns out that was a grotesque mistake."...

...But if he has tried to take on the role of a Senate private eye, Kerry has also revealed his approach to issues through votes on policy - amassing a record that is not as reflexively liberal as some portray.

In his first year in the Senate, Kerry was an early supporter of the 1985 Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act, which required Congress to work within deficit-reduction targets...

...He opposed much of the Reagan defense buildup. He voted against the Persian Gulf War in 1991, but backed the 2002 resolution to use force in Iraq. GOP opponents hope to use such votes to define Kerry as soft on national defense."He seems to think that because he is a war hero, that he gets a free pass on national security issues. The fact is he voted to gut American intelligence-gathering capacity and fought every meaningful new weapons system since he has come to Washington," says House majority leader Tom DeLay.

The liberal label may be most apt on environmental and social issues. He has supported gun control, abortion rights, and legislation promoting the civil rights of homosexuals. On this year's hot controversy, he says he opposes gay marriage and supports civil unions.


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