Accuracy in Media

The Democrats in Congress have complained loudly about the partisan behavior of the Republican majority on the committee, comparing it unfavorably with the behavior of the Democrats who controlled the committee in 1974, when the impeachment of President Nixon was debated. John Conyers, a Democrat from Michigan, and the only member on the committee who was on the panel when it sat in judgment on Nixon, has been particularly vocal in condemning the Republicans.

In a September 27 op-ed piece in The Washington Post, Conyers wrote (quote), “In sharp contrast to recent events, 24 years ago, members from both parties worked together with mutual respect and devotion to our constitutional duties…There were differences of opinion, of course…But at every turn we achieved bipartisan consensus and maintained a deliberative and judicious approach to the task at hand.” (unquote)

Journalists are usually quick to check the historical record and correct those politicians who misrepresent the facts, but in this case they let the claims by Conyers and other Democrats go unchallenged. A week after Conyers article ran in the Post, he appeared on Meet the Press, where he said of the conduct of the Judiciary Committee in 1974 (quote) “It was not adversarial, it was not partisan.” That was allowed to pass without challenge by the host, Tim Russert.

But the next day, The Washington Post, to its credit, published a response to Conyers by Caldwell Butler, a former Republican Congressman from Virginia who served on the Judiciary Committee during the Nixon impeachment hearings. Butler cited a dozen examples of how the Democratic majority on the judiciary committee in 1974 steamrollered the Republican minority. For example, in 1974, the committee on a straight party-line vote refused to give the Republicans the power to subpoena witnesses. The Republicans have agreed to give that power to the Democrats in the current investigation.

In 1974, the Democrats gave the Republicans less than 10 percent of the staff positions created to conduct the investigation. The Republicans have given the Democrats one third of the staff positions created for the Clinton hearings. The Democratic committee staff had secretly begun work on a 718-page study on impeachment in August 1973, which was immediately released early in October. They then quietly began work on a 900-page version that was released in early January. The Democrats complain that the Republicans have refused to put a time limit on the impeachment hearings and have refused to limit the charges, but in 1974 they refused to place those restrictions on the Nixon hearings.

In 1974, Chairman Peter Rodino abrogated the traditional rule that each committee member would have five minutes to question witnesses, saying he alone would allocate the time. The Republicans had to appeal to the full House to get that ruling changed. The bipartisanship in 1974 came from Republicans like Caldwell Butler, who voted for two articles of impeachment, saying, “It is we, not the Democrats, who must demonstrate that we are capable of enforcing the high standards we would set for them.” Will any Democrat on the committee say or do as much?

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