Bring­ing law and order to im­peach­ment

The Korea Times - - OPINION - By Martin Schram The au­thor is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Jawa­har­lal Nehru Univer­sity, New Delhi, In­dia. He could be reached at sandip­[email protected] Martin Schram ([email protected]), an op-ed colum­nist for Tri­bune News Ser­vice, is a vet­eran

Be­fore he brought “Law and Order” into our liv­ing rooms by play­ing a district at­tor­ney on TV, ac­tor Fred Thomp­son was a real-life Repub­li­can sen­a­tor from Ten­nessee.

And be­fore that, when Fred and I first got to know each other in 1973, he was just a 30-year-old at­tor­ney, freshly hired by Sen.

Howard Baker as the Repub­li­can’s chief coun­sel on the

Se­nate Water­gate Com­mit­tee in­ves­ti­gat­ing the scan­dal that would end Repub­li­can Richard Nixon’s pres­i­dency.

To­day, we need to bring the late Fred Thomp­son back for a post­hu­mous en­core — to re­mind us how things re­ally were, back be­fore Amer­i­cans dis­cov­ered the proof that would cause the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee to open its im­peach­ment in­quiry.

Fred Thomp­son can in­deed help pa­tri­otic Amer­i­cans who gen­uinely want to make his Grand Old Party great again. But he’s got to start by show­ing his suc­ces­sor gen­er­a­tion of Repub­li­cans that the way to suc­ceed is not to con and de­ceive the millions who truly want to trust and sup­port Wash­ing­ton’s most pa­tri­otic Repub­li­cans.

Frankly, in the sum­mer of ‘73, most Se­nate and House Repub­li­cans were think­ing just as to­day’s Repub­li­cans think. They as­sumed their role was to prove there wasn’t any proof that Nixon was in­volved in the scan­dal that be­gan when bur­glars with White House ties were caught bug­ging the Demo­cratic head­quar­ters in the Water­gate build­ing.

The Water­gate Com­mit­tee be­gan by do­ing things the right way. They hired staff coun­sels who ques­tioned wit­nesses in closed ses­sions prior to their pub­lic hear­ings — the best way to dis­cover ev­i­dence. In one pri­vate ses­sion, Nixon aide Alexan­der But­ter­field re­luc­tantly ac­knowl­edged that Nixon had a se­cret tap­ing sys­tem. All Nixon’s meet­ings and phone calls were recorded and on file. Com­mit­tee Democrats de­cided in their pub­lic hear­ing that the young Repub­li­can coun­sel would ask the bomb­shell ques­tion.

And with the whole world watch­ing, Thomp­son asked: “Mr. But­ter­field, are you aware of the in­stal­la­tion of any lis­ten­ing de­vices in the Oval Of­fice of the pres­i­dent?” But­ter­field an­swered: “I was aware of lis­ten­ing de­vices, yes sir.”

A year later, the U.S. Supreme Court or­dered Nixon to sur­ren­der the tapes to the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee’s im­peach­ment probe. The “Smok­ing Gun” tape, dated June 23, 1972, just six days af­ter the botched bur­glary, was dis­cov­ered. Nixon’s words, or­der­ing the coverup, stunned us all. He wanted the CIA to tell the FBI to stop in­ves­ti­gat­ing the Water­gate bur­glary — falsely claim­ing na­tional se­cu­rity rea­sons. Repub­li­can minds changed overnight. Nixon had to re­sign.

Fast-for­ward: In 2015, Tea Party fire­brand Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., used the same closed pre-hear­ing in­ter­view pro­ce­dure to get info for his con­tro­ver­sial Beng­hazi pub­lic hear­ings. Yep, the same prac­tice that House Repub­li­cans are now blast­ing Democrats for us­ing in their pre­lim­i­nary im­peach­ment probe of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

“Our pri­vate hear­ing was much more con­struc­tive than the pub­lic hear­ing. Pub­lic hear­ings are a cir­cus,” Gowdy told CBS “Face the Na­tion’s” Mar­garet Bren­nan last year. “It’s a freak show.”

All that is why, just a week ago, it was con­tempt­able to see House Repub­li­can lead­ers con­vert the Capi­tol Dome into their own cir­cus big top — and con TV view­ers by stag­ing a made-for-TV protest that cre­ated mes­sage im­agery that was un­for­get­table, just un­true.

We saw GOP chiefs lead­ing dozens of House Repub­li­cans down a wind­ing stair­case into highly classified sub­ter­ranean hear­ing cham­ber. We heard Repub­li­cans com­plain­ing Democrats de­nied them ac­cess to “Soviet-style … se­cret” hear­ings. But 48 Repub­li­cans on the House com­mit­tees hold­ing those hear­ings were al­lowed to at­tend. And last week, the full House ap­proved the next phase: pub­lic hear­ings.

But House Democrats must also be faulted. In a stun­ning mis­judg­ment, House In­tel­li­gence Chair Adam Schiff, D-Calif., opened a pub­lic hear­ing with a shame­ful comic par­ody, de­pict­ing Trump’s phone call with the Ukraine pres­i­dent as a gang­ster shake­down.

Schiff and all mem­bers of Congress need to re­think, re­cal­i­brate — and deep-six their par­ti­san mind­sets as they en­ter this somber im­peach­ment process. We can help them now by re­call­ing how the quest that be­gan dra­mat­i­cally with Fred Thomp­son’s Se­nate Water­gate Com­mit­tee ques­tion cli­maxed a year later, on the House side of the Capi­tol.

On July 27, 1974 (when Adam Schiff was just 14), the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee ap­proved the first ar­ti­cle of pres­i­den­tial im­peach­ment in 151 years — the be­gin­ning of the end of Nixon’s pres­i­dency. Chair­man Peter Rodino, D-N.J., a blue col­lar guy, qui­etly gaveled an ad­journ­ment, left the cham­ber, ig­nored re­porters, even his staff (which in­cluded a be­spec­ta­cled young aide named Hil­lary Rod­ham), walked into his of­fice and phoned home. When his wife an­swered, the proud Ital­ian-Amer­i­can pa­triot broke into tears and cried.

“I was keenly aware that we, Democrats and Repub­li­cans alike, had taken a mo­men­tous step in the po­lit­i­cal life (of) our na­tion,” Rodino later wrote. “…To im­peach a Pres­i­dent is an awe­some re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

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