As we wait for the Democratic players to take the field of the 110th Congress, we're going to take a closer look at the senior lawmakers whose positions put them at the forefront of investigations into the Bush administration.
They're trading cards of a sort. Collect them all! Today we start with two Democratic Senate lions, Carl Levin (MI) and Patrick Leahy (VT).
Player: Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI)
Position: Chair, Armed Services; Chair, Homeland Security and Government Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations
At hearings, Levin's reading glasses live on the very tip of his nose, and it's over those frames he looks at witnesses as he asks them question after withering question, in a style Congressional Quarterly has described as "both unfailingly polite and utterly relentless."
Despite nearly 30 years in office Levin's command of national security issues has not dulled, nor has his zeal for oversight. He's respected as a leading thinker among Democrats, and doesn't shy away from a fight, although he gets along well with both Democratic and Republican colleagues. During Bush's presidency he has taken issue with the Iraq war, the treatment of detainees, and the Pentagon's in-house intelligence operations.
Odds favor Levin taking an early and commanding role overseeing the execution of the Iraq war from his Armed Services chair.
In addition, Levin will be running the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations -- a modest workhorse that's technically under the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, but in practice operates on its own. For the most part, the panel eschews political probes in favor of deep investigations into financial crimes. It has the distinction of being the only panel which can issue subpoenas (at the order of the chair) without a committee vote, I'm told, although that doesn't have much impact on its activities.
Player: Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
Position: Chair, Judiciary
Leahy's white hair and soft voice belie the tenaciousness with which he latches onto an issue or a witness, and doesn't let go. (Remember, he's the only senator who has earned the distinction of having Dick Cheney tell him publicly to go fuck himself.)
A former prosecutor, Leahy approaches issues with an organized and commanding knowledge of the facts. And he keeps his staff roster stocked with sharp investigative counsel. During the Bush years, he has been a point man for Democrats in challenging the White House on the NSA domestic surveillance program, detainee treatment, the Patriot Act and national security letters, and presidential signing statements. He has also shown an interest in civil rights and voting rights enforcement issues.
Leahy has an active request with the administration for documents showing Bush's approval of torture and the CIA's "black sites" program. Expect Leahy to push on war profiteering, also.