by Cheryl Wetzstein
A conservative watchdog group has written a letter to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy asking him to step aside as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Mr. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, was "forced to resign from the Senate Intelligence Committee" in 1987 because he disclosed confidential information to reporters, said Mark R. Levin, president of the Landmark Legal Foundation.
"If you cannot be trusted to serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee, then you cannot be trusted to serve as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at a time when that committee is overseeing an investigation into the government's intelligence operations — specifically, the FBI's counterterrorism activities," Mr. Levin wrote in a letter released yesterday.
"This is the most important investigation of national security matters since the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor," Mr. Levin wrote. "Therefore, Landmark asks that you step aside as chairman until the committee has completed its highly sensitive investigation."
David Carle, spokesman for Mr. Leahy, said the Landmark letter was "their same old garbage."
Landmark is "part of an extremist network that prefers intimidation to debate," Mr. Carle said. They have called for Mr. Leahy's resignation so regularly, he added, "I'd be surprised if they're even bothering to change the date on their press release anymore."
Mr. Levin sent copies of his letter to the other 18 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and to Attorney General John Ashcroft.
The Justice Department should be wary of giving sensitive, confidential information to the "one known leaker" out of 100 senators, Mr. Levin said.
If Mr. Leahy doesn't step aside of his own accord, he added, "maybe a majority of the committee members will direct him to do so."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, would be most likely to succeed Mr. Leahy, based on seniority, and "you can say a lot of things about Senator Kennedy, but as far I know he's never leaked confidential information," Mr. Levin said.