A Few Quiet Drinks for Liberty
August 1, 1974
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Tuesday afternoon. “I’m tingling,” says John Conyers as he slips out a side door of the Judiciary Committee hearing room.
Conyers has been meeting privately with Chairman Peter Rodino and Republican Larry Hogan of Maryland, long after the impeachment inquiry’s last closed session has come to an end and the other members have deserted the place. Hogan has scheduled a press conference two hours from now to reveal his key impeachment vote decision.
“I’m tingling,” Conyers repeats in his soft-spoken half-mocking tone.
“I’ve got something so good to tell you fellas that I can’t tell you,” he tells the five reporters who have lingered in the hallway outside the hearing room and who pounced on him as he emerged.
“I feel like a prostitute coming out into a busy intersection,” says Conyers as the reporters trail him down the hall toward the elevators. “She’s got so many ways to go, she ends up going nowhere.”
Give us just a hint about Hogan, the reporters plead.
“Well, you can see I’m smiling, can’t you?” says Conyers.
Something more definite, we beg.
“Well,” says Conyers, grinning slyly, stepping into the elevator and holding open the doors sliding shut in front of him. “I can’t tell you which way Mr. Hogan has decided, but I will say that I might just appear with him at the 3 o’clock press conference.”
He lets the doors slide shut.
Tribe Number Seven is getting ready to move out. The followers of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, divided like the people of Israel into 12 tribes, are preparing to leave their prayer-and-fast rallying point on the steps of the Capitol to march to the White House to demonstrate their support for the President. (God has spoken twice to the Reverend Sun Moon, one of his supporters told me. First in Korea in the late ’30s when Sun Moon was a lad of 16, God told him he would have an important mission in the world. Then last year God spoke again and told the Reverend Sun Moon that he had a mission to convince America to forgive Richard Nixon and forget impeachment.)
Each member of Sun Moon’s 12 tribes, filing down the Capitol steps one tribe at a time, wears a sandwich board with the name and picture of the Congressman he or she has been assigned to pray for. The coordinator of the 12 tribes consults a list and tells me that Congressman Larry Hogan’s prayer-person can be found in Tribe Seven, which is just about to march off.
Hurrying over to Tribe Seven I ask the Tribe leader where the Hogan prayer-person can be found.
“She left a while ago and we haven’t seen her since,” the Tribe Seven chief tells me. “But I think she put her sign down there.”
He points to a pile of half a dozen sandwich board signs lying at the foot of the Capitol steps. He picks through them and comes up with Hogan’s sign. Hogan’s face has been scuffed a bit on the concrete.
“But why are you so interested in Hogan?” the tribe leader asks suspiciously.
I explain to him that one hour from now Hogan will hold a press conference, and that if, as Conyers has hinted, Hogan declares for impeachment, a big bi-partisan majority for impeachment in the Committee and in the whole House is virtually assured, and the person in charge of praying for Hogan’s soul should be apprised of the gravity of the situation.
“I’ll put his sign on and pray for him,” a teenage follower of Reverend Sun Moon pipes up, in the old put-me-in-Coach tradition.
“Don’t bother,” the leader of Tribe Seven says, “he’s obviously pre-judged the case. It’s too late.”
“TRIBE SEVEN. TIME TO MOVE OUT,” says a megaphone voice. The other tribes are filing down the steps to join the line of march. Tribe Seven starts filing laterally across the Capitol steps.
“TRIBE SEVEN, YOU’RE GOING THE WRONG WAY,” the megaphone man yells. “WHY IS TRIBE SEVEN GOING THE WRONG WAY?”
Tribe Seven finally straightens itself out and gets in line. They march off leaving the Larry Hogan prayer-placard lying behind them on the discard pile.
Who is Fat Jack? Fat Jack turns up at Larry Hogan’s press conference. Not in the flesh of course. Not unless he’s disguised himself as one of the more than 100 reporters and cameramen packed into the Judiciary Committee media room waiting for Hogan’s declaration.
“Not since Spiro Agnew got caught with his hand in the till has any Maryland politician received this much national attention,” one reporter intones with mock solemnity. But in fact Hogan’s announcement this afternoon is the biggest single event of the impeachment circus so far, perhaps the first and last moment of genuine suspense and surprise.
Hogan is an ex-FBI man (Nixon’s bitter feud with J. Edgar Hoover continues to plague him even after the director’s death), and a conservative Republican. Hogan’s pro-impeachment vote makes it possible for conservatives of both parties to vote to defend a pro-impeachment vote as a law-and-order vote. Shortly after Hogan’s surprise announcement House Minority Leader John Rhodes will tell a private caucus of conservative Republicans that his estimate of the pro-impeachment vote among House Republicans has leaped from 40 to 60, a figure that makes a big pro-impeachment vote in the House a near certainty. If there is any one turning point, this is it. As far as Richard Nixon is concerned, after Hogan the deluge.
Fat Jack doesn’t enter the picture until after Hogan has completed reading his pious prepared statement (entitled, schoolboy style, “Why I Will Vote for Impeachment,” by Congressman Lawrence J. Hogan).
The questioning turns to the matter of Hogan’s month-old campaign for governor of Maryland against the corruption-tainted administration of Governor Marvin Mandel. Aren’t your pro-impeachment vote and this gun-jumping, headline-grabbing announcement dictated by political considerations, someone asks Hogan.
Of course not, says Hogan, it’s just a matter of his conscience and the evidence. “And furthermore,” says Hogan, although no one asked him about it, “furthermore I have not hired a gumshoe nor paid any private detective named John Buckley one red cent, despite what some distorted editorials may say. But that’s an extraneous matter,” he adds hastily, realizing he’s made a mistake raising the subject himself.
“From considerable experience in observing witnesses on the stand I had learned that those who are lying or trying to cover up something generally make a common mistake — they tend to over-act to over-state their case.” Richard M. Nixon wrote that in “Six Crises.”
Well, it seems that Hogan has “over-stated” his Fat Jack denial. In an interview just a few hours after he denied retaining Fat Jack “Hogan also conceded…that it was a mistake to have a check made on Mandel’s activities by John. R. Buckley who worked under the Watergate code name ‘Fat Jack.’ ”
“ ‘After all the flack I’ve gotten, I think in retrospect it was bad judgement to use Fat Jack,’ ” the Washington Star quotes Hogan.
Now unless Hogan obtained Fat Jack’s services for a sum less than “one red cent,” he was simply not telling the truth at his impeachment vote press conference.
Nor was he telling the whole truth a couple of minutes after his Fat Jack denial when Hogan told a press conference questioner: “I did not inform Chairman Rodino of my decision. I did not inform any member of the committee until I told you gentlemen” (about how he would vote).
It’s obvious that John Conyers knew exactly how Hogan was going to vote when he left that private conference with Hogan and Rodino two hours before Hogan’s press conference.
Nitpicking, perhaps, but before Hogan’s heroism becomes enshrined in the impeachment hall of fame it is worth noting the 32 hours before he voted to impeach President Nixon for his Watergate cover-up, Hogan himself attempted to cover up his own private plumbers operation.
Wednesday afternoon. Things begin moving fast. “I think we’re getting Republicans,” says John Conyers who is rushing out of his office to meet with the Democratic Drafting Committee, which in turn is negotiating with the Railsback group of moderate Republicans. “I think we can get a landslide going,” Conyers says.
Over in the Longworth Office Building, Congressman Earle “The Curl” Landgrebe of Indiana, one Republican Conyers will never get, raises a lonely voice in support of the President. Landgrebe has called a press conference to read a letter from the Republican Congressional Committee back home in Indiana inviting Richard Nixon to visit his district and see “the overwhelming support the President has in the heart of loyal Americans.”
Landgrebe cites such Nixon achievements as the killing of a sewage project as examples of the kinds of things that have won the heart of the heart of America. Landgrebe says he’ll support the President even if the President defies the Supreme Court. Landgrebe gets a little carried away. He says he’s looking forward to a visit from the President to his district with “almost uncontrollable excitement.”
Wednesday night. Controllable excitement. The Judiciary Committee’s first televised session begins with a series of pompous, sententious lectures on the meaning of the Constitution.
A recess for a bomb scare provides welcome relief.
“We’re either going to die of boredom or an explosion,” Representative Caldwell Butler proclaims as he waits outside the halls for the room to be searched by police dogs and policemen. Police dogs are German shepherds named Baron and Chris. Policeman in charge explains that Baron and Chris are trained to sniff explosives, but have yet to encounter a live bomb. “Probably wouldn’t be here if they had,” the policeman says.
Baron and Chris exit. Committee re-enters. Republican Wiley Mayne complains about absence of bombs. “The only evidence we’ve seen is inferences piled on inferences. We’ve kept getting reports we’d hear a bombshell in the testimony that would blow the President out of the water. But we never did.”
And impeachment staff lawyer explains staff strategy to me: “We’ve been trying to shove the evidence up the ass of the Republicans drop by drop until suddenly they get so constipated they’ve got to realize there’s something there.”
Strategy seems to have worked beyond expectations with Republican Thomas Railsback. Three minutes into his opening speech Railsback begins to spew forth raw, undigested chunks of evidence, blocks of quotations from Presidential transcripts, rapid-fire recitations of complex evidentiary connections. (“And then Petersen told the President what Magruder was saying about Haldeman, and the President told Haldeman that Kalmbach and Dean…”) Railsback, acting possessed, fanatically attempting in 15 minutes to purge himself of the four months of evidence that have been crammed into him by the staff, grows more desperate and incoherent as time runs out. As with Jaworski, Watergate seems to be driving him close to the edge.
A big rivalry seems to be developing between Railsback and ranking Republican McClory, also of Illinois, for leadership of moderate Republicans’ pro-impeachment position and consequent media heroism. Railsback is ahead so far on desperate earnestness, but McClory’s vote is considered more significant. They begin voting against each other’s amendments.
Representative Smith, Republican of New York, pulls an elaborate con game in his opening speech. He has cheerfully built up suspense as the possible pro-impeachment vote, but declares he’s voting against every proposed article with the possible exception of Cambodia bombing. Cambodia? everyone wonders. Turns out Smith’s retiring from House. Wants Nixon appointment to UN post, as liaison to Congress. Statesmanlike “openmindedness” on Cambodia designed to save Smith’s reputation with Democratic majority that might otherwise condemn him forever as lightweight Nixon hack. Smith’s aides distribute curious “1000 Days Peace Plan” sponsored by group called “God’s Workshop” with apparent intentions of proving that Cambodian concern’s not just a ploy.
General consensus is that Smith’s Cambodian concern is just a ploy.
During bomb scare recess, Hungate of Missouri complains that Committee voted down releasing all 23 “political matters memoranda” from Gordon Strachan’s to H. R. Haldeman’s. Filled with juicy tidbits and “utter depravity,” Hungate claims. “There are stunts in there that go beyond anything in the most evil recesses of my own imagination,” Hungate says.
Most sobering moment of the debate, John Conyers: “Millions of people are afraid we have in office a man who might entertain the notion of kicking over the government.”
Thursday morning. Two reporters who haven’t seen each other since last November meet inside the hearing room.
“This is like the McGovern campaign again,” one says.
“It is the McGovern campaign,” the other one replies. “He just peaked too late.”
Representative Walter Flowers of Alabama lectures the press. Flowers, a pro-impeachment vote, tells reporters, “I simply ask that each of you look inward and decide for yourself if each of you has treated fairly with the president. I feel the perspective of Middle America has not received equal time from you.”
Flowers may be right. Reporters regularly snicker at Presidential defenders, and act as P.R. agents for “agonizing,” “anguished,” “courageous” Republicans who vote against Nixon. No one bothers to point out how slovenly and vague the original Committee staff’s draft articles for impeachment were, few point out how little real investigation the Committee did, how suppositional and circumstantial much of the Doar case is. Stupid Republicans are ridiculed. Slow-witted Democrats like Joshua Arlberg (who claims that Nixon throwing an ashtray across a room at Key Biscayne after learning of Watergate is proof positive of guilty prior knowledge) escaped well-deserved ridicule.
The only unknown vote on Article 1 by this time is Harold Froehlich, Republican from Green Bay, Wisconsin. Froehlich relishes the suspense and attention he gets from his undecided posture.
Thursday night. Republican defenders of the President make these points:
— Committee never called Howard Hunt, “the Big Man,” as Charles Sandman called him. Democrats voted down motions by Dennis of Indiana to call Hunt for testimony.
— Committee staff stopped taking all depositions as soon as St. Clair entered the case and switched to oral interviews because the latter are not subject to cross-examination.
— Committee never sent written interrogatories to the President although staff claims President’s refusal to answer interrogatories from IRS is an inference of guilt.
Most refreshing instance of candor: New York Congressman Charles Rangel, who says, “I would be less than honest to say to you today that it is with heavy heart that I cast my vote for the impeachment of Richard M. Nixon.”
Friday morning. You can tell by the intermittent muscle spasms in his jaw that John Sirica is impatient. He’s trying to keep his mouth clenched shut and his face judicially impassive as he listens to James St. Clair, but it’s an effort of will betrayed every minute or two by a little spasm at the point of his jaw beneath his earlobe.
I’m watching Sirica’s jaw from a seat in the jury box which is regularly taken over by reporters and sketch artists during pre-trial hearings.
At this hearing, St. Clair is trying to explain why he can’t comply with Jaworski’s proposed schedule for delivery of the 64 tapes within 10 days.
There is the “mechanical work” of copying the tapes, and “legal work” to be done. There may be some “trouble with a series of inaudible tapes.”
St. Clair says his staff will get right to work and will “report regularly” on the progress they’re making. Spasms erupt and Sirica shuffles papers impatiently as St Clair concludes by praising the “great contribution of the Supreme Court to jurisprudence” in its tapes brief.
“Have you listened to these tapes, Mr. St. Clair?” Sirica finally demands.
“I’m a very poor listener, Your Honor. If the Court had to rely on me as a listener it would be poorly served.”
“You mean to say you would appear before the Judiciary Committee and argue for your client without knowing all the background of these matters? You mean to tell me you could make all the arguments you made…”
“That’s what he means,” says St. Clair.
“No more of that,” Sirica orders St. Clair. “I would prefer you take personal charge of this matter,” Sirica tells him. In the light of past experiences with White House attorneys and White House tapes, Sirica is putting St. Clair on notice that St. Clair will be personally responsible as an officer of the Court for the integrity of whatever remains of the evidence.
St. Clair begins to discuss further delays he’ll need.
Sirica puts an end to that. He orders St. Clair and Jaworski to lock themselves in the jury room for an hour.
“If by that time you gentlemen can’t come out with some sort of agreement I will set the timetable myself.”
Like naughty children St. Clair and Jaworski toddle back into the jury room.
Meanwhile, back at the Rayburn Office Building, the first day of real debate begins on Article One of the Bill of Impeachment.
In his seat before the session opens, Father Drinan is pointing to a passage in the newly released testimony of Henry Petersen.
“Oh, I really tortured Mr. Petersen. Yes, here’s the page, here I am torturing him.”
Drinan reads his own questions aloud and then wiggles around imitating Petersen’s tortured answers.
Paul Sarbanes of Maryland introduces the resolution that ultimately becomes Article One of the Bill of Impeachment. Sarbanes’s resolution is a substitute for the hastily, sloppily drawn, and vague Donahue Resolution drawn up by the Committee staff.
Once charge against the President in Sarbanes’s Resolution could easily be addressed as well to the Committee staff: “…deceiving the people of the United States into believing that a thorough and complete investigation had been conducted with respect to allegations on the part of personnel in the Executive Branch.”
A close look at the Committee’s much-discussed “38 volumes” confirmed what William Greider of the Washington Post first pointed out — that the Committee staff did little more than compile an anthology of past testimony from the Ervin Committee, grand juries, and tape transcripts.
The interminable argument over “specificity” that consumed the remainder of the Friday session can be in part attributable to the staff’s failure to uncover anything more than inferential proof of many of its charges, and its failure to prepare the Democratic majority with the specifics it did have. The favorite damning Presidential quote of pro-impeachment forces is no longer “for Christ’s sake, get it.” The staff was never able to prove and most witnesses denied, that hush money payments hadn’t already been initiated by John Dean before the President said “for Christ’s sake, get it.”
The new favorite damning Presidential quote comes from the Committee version of that same March 21 conversation with Dean, a quote that was left out of the White House transcript. It goes like this: “There’s no doubt about the right plan. We had the right plan before the election, John, but now we’ve got to come up with a new plan.”
Friday night is Harold Froehlich’s big night. He leads the charge for “specificity” and since his vote is still undecided both sides cater to him, yield debate time to him, ply him with compliments, compliment him with frequent conferences about the nature of “specificity.”
Railsback launches into another frantic attempt to jam two months of evidence into five minutes of time, rendering his whole discourse unintelligible.
Relations between Railsback and McClory, both still vying for moderate Republican hero honors, deteriorate to the point where they refuse parliamentary courtesy of yielding time to each other.
“McClory felt slighted because he wasn’t included in the pre-drafting work,” one congressman tells me.
The Railsback group of four pro-impeachment Republicans takes recalcitrant Harold Froehlich out to dinner to try to convince him to stop making such a fuss about “specificity” and accept some short bill of particulars to be tacked on later.
Froehlich returns from his dinner looking well-fed as ever, but “the dinner was a flop,” he declares. “They didn’t convince me to drop my concern and I’m not going to give the staff a paper and tell them to fill in the blanks.”
Saturday afternoon. “That’s horseshit,” Harold Froehlich says to John Doar as they confer during a mid-afternoon recess.
“What’s horseshit?” I ask Froehlich after Doar departs.
“Doar was saying that they, the Democrats, were disappointed he wouldn’t work from 2 a.m. till 10 in the morning on a specific report to back up the Articles. I said ‘that’s horseshit,’ that he shouldn’t have to do that, that it should have been done already, or we should have more time.”
James Mann’s eyes are red and baggy from his ceaseless shuttling back and forth between drafting groups. Despite his cool demeanor, his temper is getting short.
“Did you say you were up there with…” one reporter begins to ask Mann about his shuttle activities.
“I said what I said,” snaps Mann and walks off.
But Jack Brooks is in a good mood, because he can sense the kill coming up. Debate has been limited and a final vote is in sight.
Brooks, an unabashed Nixon-loather, bounds into the hearing room after the mid-afternoon recess beaming and bubbling. “In and out. In and out. Wham-bam thank you ma’am, and go home for dinner. I say we’ll depart here at 6 o’clock, no later,” Brooks predicts, puffing on his cigar.
Dennis of Indiana accuses the Democrats of concocting a “scenario” using phony motions to strike as an excuse for introducing material from the belated Doar “specificity memorandum” to the TV audience. Dennis is correct, of course. And the scenario works because everybody knows the Democrats have the votes to make it work.
At 10 of 7, Jack Brooks grabs his microphone and calls out “Mr. Chairman, I move the previous question.” And 10 minutes later, the Committee votes, 27-11, to impeach the President.
Every member tries to sound extraordinarily grave and solemn when he casts his vote. Some were. “I cried,” Father Drinan confessed to everyone within earshot.
But even some of the President’s defenders weren’t entirely broken up by their defeat. Outside in the hallway, a reporter walks up to Presidential defender Delbert Latta, the thin-lipped master of scorn.
“Could I have your reaction, Mr. Latta?” the reporter asks.
Latta goes into a manic mock epileptic fit for a moment. “Oh, I’m all shook up,” he said, chuckling as he turned back to chat with some friends.
And Jack Brooks. Just before this climactic session, when he walked in with his “wham-bam, thank you ma’am” prediction of a quick pro-impeachment vote, Brooks confided with a twinkle in his eye and a flourish of his cigar that “when I get home tonight I might just have me one little quiet drink for liberty.”
The implication of the twinkle and the flourish seemed to be that he was going to get rip-roaring drunk.
Jack Brooks cast a very grave and sober-sounding “aye” for the final vote, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he had one or maybe more “quiet little drinks for liberty” that night.