Sen. John Kerry has been called many things during his high-profile 20-year career in the U.S. Senate, but the lasting legacy of the junior Democrat from Massachusetts may be easy to define: He’s more an investigator than a legislator.
His defining moments have included a progression of signature investigations that, by design, thrust him into the national spotlight. Some, mostly Democrats, have called his investigative efforts relentless and groundbreaking. Others, mostly Republicans, have labeled them as shameless grandstanding.
Both could be right.
But the four-term Democrat, now his party’s presidential nominee, has held a number of key leadership roles involving a host of Senate committee investigations, many of which grabbed headlines, three minutes on the evening news and, ultimately, the attention of the voters.
“I always had a prosecutor’s mind and a prosecutor’s bent,” Mr. Kerry said in a New Yorker profile in May. “It was always what I wanted to do, even in law school.”
Even the Kerry for President Web page cites his Senate investigations as why he is “well regarded as a national leader in foreign affairs and national security.” It said he “closely investigated” terrorism, global threats to national security, international espionage, weapons of mass destruction, trafficking of drugs and arms, nuclear security, international banking scandals, the Vietnam POW/MIA situation and the Iran-Contra affair.
A hardy claim.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, described Mr. Kerry’s investigative talents — particularly as a member of the Senate POW/MIA Select Committee and in a separate investigation of the infamous Bank of Commerce and Credit International (BCCI) — as well-grounded, aggressive and successful.
“His Senate investigative work bears many of the same hallmarks of his long road to the presidential nomination — a willingness to take on tough assignments, a talent for hiring good people, and success at building coalitions and in getting more done than anyone would have thought possible at the start,” Mr. Leahy said.
But Barbara Comstock, former chief counsel and chief investigator to the House Government Reform Committee, which targeted, among other things, campaign-finance abuses in the Clinton administration, called Mr. Kerry’s investigative record “an extension of his 1970s, left-wing anti-military agenda.”
“Investigations at this level are really done by the staff, not the members,” said Mrs. Comstock, now a government-relations specialist at the Washington-based law firm of Blank Rome. “You have to go into the weeds, look at all the documents, put together in plain language something that already happened.
“After Watergate, many politicians discovered that investigations were something that got you headlines,” she said. “What John Kerry did was aimed solely at getting attention. He has no record as a legislator or a leader, and his investigations were consistent with his record as a left-wing follower.”
Mr. Kerry came to the Senate by way of the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office, Massachusetts’ largest, where his nonstop media appearances as a prosecutor earned him the moniker “live-shot Kerry.” And while he has used his Senate seat to bring attention to a number of headline-popping issues, including the Iran-Contra scandal, drug trafficking by then-Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega and the illegal financial dealings of BCCI, there was little legislative follow-up.
While championing one Senate investigation or another, Mr. Kerry’s name has appeared on 56 bills and resolutions since his freshman year, 11 of which were signed by the president or otherwise became law.
Six successful bills awarded a congressional gold medal to Jackie Robinson posthumously; reauthorized funds for the small business technology-transfer program; amended the Small Business Act regarding women’s business programs; authorized funds for the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972; authorized funds for the National Sea Grant College Program Act; and redesignated the federal building in Waltham, Mass., as the “Frederick C. Murphy Federal Center.”