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Four of President Nixon’s most trusted aides, H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, John Dean, and Richard Moore, meet at the La Costa Resort Hotel near Nixon’s home in San Clemente, California, to plan how to deal with the upcoming Senate Watergate Committee hearings (see February 7, 1973). The meetings are detailed in later testimony to the committee by Dean (see June 25-29, 1973). The group debates over which senators will be friends and which will be foes. Ehrlichman quips that Daniel Inouye (D-HI) should be called “Ain’t No Way” because “there ain’t no way he’s going to give us anything but problems.” Lowell Weicker (R-CT) is a Republican, but, says Dean, “an independent who could give the White House problems.” No one is sure which way co-chairman Howard Baker (R-TN) might go (see February 22, 1973). The only sure bet is Edward Gurney (R-FL), who one participant describes as “a sure friend and protector of the president’s interests” (see April 5, 1973). The aides decide to pretend to cooperate with the committee, but in reality, according to Dean’s testimony, “to restrain the investigation and make it as difficult as possible to get information and witnesses.” They discuss how to blame Democrats for similar, Watergate-like activities during their campaigns. Dean is taken aback when Haldeman suggests that the Nixon re-election campaign should “hire private investigators to dig out information on the Democrats.” Dean objects that such an action “would be more political surveillance.” But, he later testifies, “the matter was left unresolved.” (Time 7/9/1973)
During the hearings on the Iran-Contra affair, Representative Jack Brooks (D-TX) puts a question to National Security Council officer Colonel Oliver North about a secret plan he has developed to suspend the constitution and intern people in the event of an emergency (see 1982-1984). Referring to a recent article in the Miami Herald, he asks: “Colonel North, in your work at the NSC, were you not assigned at one time to work on plans for the continuity of government in the event of a major disaster.” However, Senator Daniel Inouye (D-H), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Iran-Contra, immediately cuts Brooks off, saying, “I believe that question touches upon a highly sensitive and classified area, so may I request that you not touch upon that, sir.” Brooks pushes for an answer, saying: “I read in Miami papers and several others that there had been a plan by that same agency [FEMA]… that would suspend the American Constitution. I was deeply concerned about that and wondered if that was the area in which he [North] had worked.” Nevertheless, no answer is allowed to be given. (US Congress 1987; Ketcham 5/2008)
Both the House and Senate name special committees to investigate the Iran-Contra affair. (New York Times 11/19/1987)
Avoiding Impeachment - The two investigations will quickly merge into one joint, unwieldy committee. Neither Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX) nor Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D-WV) have any intention of allowing the investigations to become impeachment hearings against President Reagan (see December 19, 1986). They decide to combine the House and Senate investigations in the hopes that the investigation will move more quickly and limit the damage to the presidency. They envision a bipartisan committee made up of wise, sober lawmakers able to prevent the investigation from becoming a witch hunt. Wright will remember telling the Republican minority leadership, “You appoint and we appoint and we can maintain some control.”
Choosing Chairmen, Members - Byrd chooses Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), a decorated World War II veteran who had served on the Senate Watergate Committee (see February 7, 1973) and the Senate Intelligence Committee. In turn, Inouye names Warren Rudman (R-NH), a former federal prosecutor, as his vice chairman, promising to share all the powers and responsibilities of the chairmanship with him. According to authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, Rudman “would overshadow” the self-effacing Inouye. For the House side, Wright names conservative Lee Hamilton (D-IN) to chair that portion of the committee. Both Hamilton and Inouye have a deep conviction that to accomplish anything of lasting import, decisions must be arrived at in a bipartisan fashion. Wright names several powerful Democratic committee chairmen to the House committee; their responsibilities as committee chairmen will interfere with their ability to devote the proper time and effort to the investigation. House Minority Leader Robert Michel (R-IN) chooses his members with a very different agenda in mind. Michel, himself a relatively moderate Republican, chooses Dick Cheney (R-WY) as the ranking member of the House investigation. Cheney is well-informed about intelligence and foreign affairs, and, in Dubose and Bernstein’s words, “ruthlessly partisan.” In addition, Cheney will function as the White House “mole” on the committee, alerting White House officials as to the thrust and direction of the investigation and allowing them time to prepare accordingly. Michel salts the House committee with right-wing ideologues, including Henry Hyde (R-IL) and Bill McCollum (R-FL). Few of Michel’s House committee members have any intention of pursuing the facts behind Iran-Contra; instead, they are bent on undermining the Democrats on the committee and ensuring that the committee achieves few, if any, of its goals.
Loss of Leverage - From the outset, Wright and Byrd’s opposition to any consideration of presidential impeachment, no matter what evidence is unearthed, loses them their biggest advantage in the proceedings. Not only will committee Republicans feel more confident in pulling the investigation away from sensitive and potentially embarrassing matters, the committee will ignore important evidence of Reagan’s own involvement in the Iran-Contra decision-making process, including recordings of telephone conversations showing Reagan discussing financing the Contras with foreign leaders. Hamilton in particular will be an easy mark for the ideologues in the Republican group of committee members; his biggest worry is whether Reagan “would be able to govern” after the investigation, and his relentless bipartisanship makes him easy for the committee Republicans to manipulate and sway. As for the Republicans, even fellow GOP committee member Rudman will become disgusted with their naked partisanship and their refusal to pursue the facts. “It was obvious that Dick Cheney and others were more interested in protecting the president than in finding out what had happened,” Rudman will later recall. Dubose and Bernstein add that Cheney has another agenda as well: preserving the powers of the presidency against Congressional encroachment.
Cheney's Influence - Cheney has always succeeded in lulling his opposition with his unruffled demeanor. He is able to do the same thing on the investigative committee. “We totally misread the guy,” a Democratic staffer later recalls. “We thought he was more philosophical than political.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 68-69)
Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North testifies before the joint House-Senate Iran-Contra investigative committee. During the course of his testimony, he says he does not know if President Reagan had any knowledge of the diversion of funds from Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). North also testifies that William Casey, the recently deceased CIA director (see May 6, 1987), knew of and approved the diversion of funds to the Contras. North admits that the Iranian arms sales were initially designed to help facilitate the release of the American hostages being held by Hezbollah. (New York Times 11/19/1987)
Tour de Force - North’s testimony is a “tour de force,” in the words of authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, that allows Republicans the opportunity to reverse the field of the hearings and go on the offensive instead of defending the conduct of the Reagan administration. North, a Marine lieutenant colonel, wears his full-dress Marine uniform throughout his entire testimony with rows of ribbons festooning his chest. Handsome and full of righteous patriotism, he is striking on television, and contrasts well with the nasal, disdainful committee lawyers (see May 5, 1987) who spend four days interrogating him.
Need to Free Hostages Trumps Law - For the first two days, North and House counsel John Nields spar for the cameras. North says that Casey had directed him to create the so-called “Enterprise” (see November 19, 1985 and February 2, 1987), the clandestine organization that supported the Nicaraguan Contras with money, weapons, and sometimes US personnel. North admits to shredding untold amounts of evidence after the operation came to light (see November 21-25, 1986). He also admits to lying to Congress in previous testimony. But all of his actions are justified, he says, by the need to get Iran to free the American hostages. “I’d have offered the Iranians a free trip to Disneyland if we could have gotten Americans home for it,” he declares in response to one question about US arms sales to Iran. Senate counsel Arthur Liman will later write, “He made all his illegal acts—the lying to Congress, the diversion [of funds from Iranian arms sales to the Contras], the formation of the Enterprise, the cover-up—seem logical and patriotic.”
Targeting Covert Operations - Nields’s preferred line of questioning—covert operations—makes many committee members uncomfortable. Some House Democrats want to use the investigation to further their own goals of limiting covert actions, and others simply want the truth to be revealed. In contrast, House Republicans are united in opposition to any details of covert operations being revealed on national television and thus hampering the president’s ability to conduct future operations as needed. After the first day of North’s testimony, committee member Dick Cheney (R-WY) exults on PBS that North “probably was as effective as anybody we’ve had before the committee in coming forward very aggressively and stating what he did, saying why he did it, arguing that he was in fact authorized to take the activities that he did.”
Leaky Congress Unfit to Know of Covert Ops, North Contends - North echoes Cheney’s position that the question is not whether White House officials broke the law, but whether Congress was fit to consider the question of national security at all. North goes so far as to question the propriety of the hearings themselves: “I believe that these hearings, perhaps unintentionally so, have revealed matters of great secrecy in the operation of our government, and sources of methods of intelligence activities have clearly been revealed, to the detriment of our security.” North’s message is clear: Congress is not fit to handle covert operations or, by and large, to even know about them. Best for the legislature to allow the White House and the intelligence community to do what needs doing and remain quiet about it. North’s contention that Congress has leaked vital national security information is shot down by Senate committee chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI), who not only forces North to admit that he has no evidence of his contention, but that the White House, not Congress, is the main source of leaked classified information. Indeed, North himself has leaked information (see July 7-10, 1987). Inouye’s co-chair, Warren Rudman (R-NH) will later say: “The greatest leaks came out of the White House. North and company were the biggest leakers of all during that period.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 75-78) Nields, addressing North’s implication that the NSC has no obligation to tell the truth to Congress, says towards the end of his session with North: “We do believe in a democracy in which the people, not one lieutenant colonel, decide important policy issues, don’t we? … You denied Congress the facts North had admitted to lying about the government’s involvement with the Hasenfus plane. You denied the elected representatives of the people the facts.” (Siegel 7/9/1987)
Impact on Public Opinion - Results will differ on North’s popularity with viewers (see July 9-31, 1987).
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle blasts the Bush administration for trying to use the debate over the Iraq war resolution for political purposes, and for smearing the patriotism of Democrats who question the need for the resolution. After reading through a number of statements by White House and Congressional Republicans, including one from President Bush who said Senate Democrats were “not interested in the security of the American people,” the usually conciliatory and soft-spoken Daschle retorts, “‘Not interested in the security of the American people’? You tell Senator [Daniel] Inouye he’s not interested in the security of the American people. You tell those who fought in Vietnam and in World War II they’re not interested in the security of the American people. That is outrageous. Outrageous. The president ought to apologize.” Inouye (D-HI) lost his arm while fighting in World War II. Daschle also cites a Republican pollster who says war as a political issue could tip the elections in favor of the Republicans, references Dick Cheney’s use of Iraq as an issue to promote the campaign of a GOP House candidate in Kansas (see September 25, 2002), and recalls White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card’s statement that “from a marketing point of view,” it makes sense to raise the issue of Iraq after Labor Day when lawmakers would be back from their August break (see September 6, 2002). White House press secretary Ari Fleischer counters that Daschle is taking Bush’s comment out of context, and is relying on erroneous or misleading press releases to make his charges. Fleischer advises to “take a deep breath,” “stop finger-pointing,” and join Bush in “protect[ing] our national security and our homeland defense.” Daschle responds to Fleischer’s comments by saying there is “no context” in which Bush or any other Republican can fairly question whether Senate Democrats are interested in national security. He says the White House’s explanation of Bush’s remarks are “not worth the paper they’re printed on.” Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) charges that Daschle and his fellow Democrats are unfairly attacking the president. “Who is the enemy here, the president of the United States or Saddam Hussein? [Daschle] needs to cool the rhetoric.” Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) retorts, “There is nothing more sobering than the decision to go to war. But the administration has turned the decision into a bumper-sticker election theme.” (Loughlin 9/26/2002)
In response to a number of questions for the record (QFRs) submitted by senators Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) regarding an April 26, 2006 testimony on projected and past effects of climate change, scientists at NOAA submit a document of draft responses to an NOAA legislative affairs specialist for review. The document is ultimately reviewed by individuals at the EPA, Energy Department, White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, who suggest a number of changes. For example, the OMB suggests keeping the sentence, “The full range and magnitude of the biological and biogeochemical effects of ocean acidification are still so uncertain that a reliable and quantitative estimate of the likely socio-economic effects is not yet possible,” but removing the sentence immediately following that: “However, healthy coral reef ecosystems are important to both the fisheries and tourism industries and negative impacts on these ecosystems could affect these industries.” According to the OMB, “[a]s written this seems to conflict with the factual first sentence of the paragraph, which adequately answers the question.” In another instance, the OMB recommends adding a sentence that attributes global warming to increasing water vapor, drawing from a quote taken out of context from an article written by scientists Thomas Karl and Kevin Trenberth. When NOAA scientist James Butler attempts to explain that the edit is not scientifically valid, the OMB insists on keeping the change. Finally, Karl himself enters the fray, recommending a change that the OMB accepts. The Government Accountability Project, which will obtain the draft document that shows the changes, comments, “These two examples show that, while federal climate scientists are occasionally able to correct distortions to scientific findings in congressional communication, political appointees can still introduce inaccurate information that goes unchecked.” (Union of Concern Scientists and Government Accountability Project 1/30/2007, pp. 37, 80 ; Maassarani 3/27/2007, pp. 44-46 )
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