Saturday, December 10, 2011

Congressman and AG Take Liberties with History

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chief House investigator into the botched gun trafficking operation Fast & Furious, compared Attorney General Eric Holder’s conduct to that of Richard Nixon’s attorney general during Watergate. Holder likened the congressional inquiry into his department’s actions to Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt for communists in the U.S. government, reported

The Justice Department turned over emails related to some inaccurate information the department had provided to Congress in February. But Holder said last week that he doesn’t plan to comply with additional congressional requests for records of the department’s subsequent reaction to the controversy, including emails he may have exchanged with colleagues about the burgeoning scandal.

“You stand in contempt of Congress unless you have a valid reason,” Issa told Holder at the end of a daylong House Judiciary Committee hearing.

Holder responded that not sharing the internal department communications with Congress is consistent with the practice of past administrations, reported

“John Mitchell responded that way, too,” Issa said caustically, referring to Nixon’s attorney general, who was convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and perjury in connection with Watergate.

“Was that called for?” an exasperated Holder replied, then invoked his own provocative historic allusion. “The reference to John Mitchell: Let’s think about that. … As they said in the McCarthy hearings at some point, ‘Have you no shame?’”

First, Issa is off-base comparing Holder to John Mitchell and his role in Watergate.  John Mitchell was no longer part of the Nixon administration during Watergate.  He had resigned as attorney general to oversee President Nixon's re-election committee.

When Mitchell testified before the senate Watergate Committee it was in his role as campaign director not as member of Nixon's cabinet.  According to Carl Bernstein, certainly an authority on Watergate, "John Mitchell's testimony to the Watergate committee focused on what he called 'the White House horrors,' which included burglaries ordered by the president, illegal wiretapping (of reporters, among others), political espionage and sabotage, use of the I.R.S. to punish Nixon's supposed enemies, and the smearing of the president's opponents through false news stories and planted evidence. Mitchell blamed the men closest to the president in the White House."

Congressman Issa's allusion indicates a superficial understanding of history--an effort to lump Attorney General Holder with America's greatest scandal.

Attorney General Holder's retort was close, but again off the mark.  He was referring to what had become know as the Army-McCarthy Hearings.  In 1954, Senator McCarthy and his staff were accused of using influence to help a former staff member with an army assignment. McCarthy made a personal agreement with the Army's special counsel Joseph N.Welsh not to bring up the background of a young lawyer who was former a member of a communist group and a member of Welsh's law firm.

McCarthy in spite of the agreement brought up the issue in contravention of the agreement.  Attorney Welsh then famously confronted McCarthy during the televised hearing, "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"

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