By MELINDA SEMADENI
The 1998 Clinton investigation provides deja vu for some members of the House Judiciary Committee. In fact, many members are looking as to how their counterparts acted in the 1973-74 Nixon investigation.
With talk of impeachment hearings, many House Judiciary Committee members are taking a look back at the Nixon investigation. However, the conflicting issues of polls, partisanship, elections and the standard of impeachment continue to cloud proceedings.
Byron Daynes, a professor of Political Science at BYU studies the American presidency. Daynes said members of the House Judiciary Committee acted differently during the 1973-74 investigation than in 1998 with mid-term elections imminent for the entire House of Representatives and a third of the senate.
“Many of them preferred to follow their conscience rather than consult their constituents. They were acting in other words as trustees rather than delegates of public opinion.
“Today many of them feel just the opposite, they’ll wait to see what the public feels and respond accordingly. Impeachment is a House procedure and the public has no role and should have no role in the process. They are being much more cautious and are much too worried about their seat to be as forthright and courageous as the Nixon committee,” Daynes said.
With concerns like Daynes, some wonder if public polling only clouds the situation.
Rodger Dean Duncan, president of the Duncan Company, worked as a communication consultant for cabinet officials during the Nixon administration. A former BYU professor, Duncan was hired the Monday after the Watergate break-in.
Duncan who has served as a pollster himself, said there are two critical rules that must be followed when conducting surveys or public opinion polls.
“The first is self-evident: Ask the right questions. When asked the wrong questions you’ll still get data. Then you’ll begin chasing false assumptions. With more data to validate the assumptions these assumptions become fact. You can lose sight of the principles involved and get a skewed idea of reality.”
Duncan said he is very skeptical of polls that show the American people approve of the job Bill Clinton is doing as president.? “The private behavior of a person in the public trust is always relevant. Regarding Bill Clinton, the pollsters are asking the wrong questions, and the results are terribly misleading,” Duncan said.
House Judiciary Committee members confront a variety of challenges in allowing the accessibility of evidence to the public at large.
Grant Hansen, a school administrator in Rigby Idaho and BYU alumnus who interned at the Office of the Clerk for the House of Representatives in Washington D.C., five months before Nixon resigned. Hansen, a political science major, said the atmosphere was tense as the evidence accumulated against the President.
Hansen said it was different to be “in the beltway” with more information and access to bigger newspapers.
Paralleling the distribution of information between 1974 and 1998, finds greater public accessibility to evidence shared by the Judiciary Committee. With the committee’s decision to release the Starr report, information is just a click away.
Hansen said in 1974, however, Chairman Rodino of the House Judiciary Committee released little information on the investigation to the public.
Even today citizens desiring information on the Watergate investigation must make requests through the National Archives and Records Administration. (NARA)
Donna Ransom, secretary at the NARA’s Nixon Presidential Materials office said transcripts are available, but copies can’t be made of the actual tapes.
According to the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act of 1974, the NARA must review the tapes and can only allow the public to view or listen to material related to the abuse of governmental power.
Questions remain if the Judiciary Committee can withstand partisanship. Daynes said the committee is made of extreme conservatives and liberals and that trying to monitor that as Chairman Hyde must do is a difficult process.
Hansen said it is very important for the committee to make a bipartisan effort. He said he now disagrees with the conclusions he reached on origins of factions in his masters thesis almost 20 years ago.
America has entered a period of partisanship since Watergate and since then it has only gotten worse, Hansen said.
Hansen feels that if Clinton is impeached, the nation will see a very partisan period. He also believes there has been a concerted effort since 1993 by certain political elements to get him out.
“Ever since Nixon was impeached republicans have been chomping at the bit to get the President,” Hansen said. “We must get over these feelings.”
Daynes said impeachment is a serious matter and is designed for when presidential powers are used in a way to bring the system down. He said that Nixon’s abuse of powers is different than the charges leveled against Bill Clinton.
“Impeachment was designed for the Richard Nixon case not for the Bill Clinton case. That is what impeachment is designed for, to protect us between elections,” Daynes said.