As the Watergate mess was getting worse 50 years ago, one of Britain’s periodic sex scandals broke out in Parliament and NBC news anchor John Chancellor drew a clever comparison of what English and American politicians do when they get in trouble.
“Our scandals are about money and power, they drag on for months, and everybody lies at first,” he said. “Over there, they have sex scandals and people confess, resign and — best of all — they don’t say they did it for national security.”
Republicans taking over the House of Representatives are eager to shift congressional oversight away from stuff like a violent assault on the nation’s Capitol and the former president’s theft of classified documents. Would-be House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has acceded to rooting out all the gory details on Hunter Biden’s laptop, or letting Matt Gaetz grill Dr. Anthony Fauci about something he said regarding vaccines two years ago.
OK, fine. The Republicans won the majority and they can investigate anything they wish. The lives of Americans are more affected by the economy, health care accessibility and crime, but those are difficult and complex things that take time and real work.
Of course, President Biden and the Democrats have promised to cooperate — as if they had any choice — but they could surprise everybody by smothering their enemies with documents, depositions, and real answers to questions. Put everything out there, don’t make the GOP fight for it.
As the walls closed in on Watergate, the Nixon gang shifted from “stonewalling” to what was called “a modified, limited hangout.” In Iran-Contra, President Reagan might not have realized he’d swapped arms for hostages, but his personal charm and affability got him through the inevitable aw-shucks admission.
Trump staved off inquiries by lying and knowing the Senate would never get enough votes to remove him.
But now Republicans hold a slim, shaky majority in the House and can get even. And the Biden bunch offers some plump, slow-moving targets — starting with the president’s son and his business dealings. Then they’ll move on to the border crisis, COVID, social media censorship and — as announced just last week — maybe even Ticketmaster’s problems.
Tradition dictates that each side pretends to be exercising its solemn responsibility of congressional oversight, while accusing the other side of petty politicking. In today’s hyper-partisan atmosphere, subpoenas will be such status symbols that anyone who isn’t hauled before some grand jury or congressional committee might develop what Freud would call subpoenas envy.
More from Bill Cotterell:
Naïve as it might seem, what if every fact-finding mission was only convened to find facts? What if the people being questioned just cooperate?
No executive privilege. No refusing to testify. No withholding documents or redacting records. No lawyers suing over who gets questioned and what gets asked.
If you need a copy of Hunter’s hard drive, it’ll be at the front desk when your courier arrives. Tell that Atlanta grand jury Sen. Lindsey Graham will be glad to drop by, and should he bring Rudy Giuliani too? Want to impeach a Cabinet officer? Go for it — let’s just put all the facts out there.
What if Nixon had said, early on, “Look, it was a big campaign with a lot of money lying around and we hired a bunch of guys, some of whom turned out to be nuts. But I didn’t tell anybody to break into DNC headquarters or commit perjury.”
Imagine Trump admitting, “That phone call with the Ukraine guy? I was shaking him down — hey, you don’t get rich in New York real estate and construction without twisting some arms, y’know?”
It might not have spared them impeachment. But showing a little chagrin and full openness would have helped their credibility.
Bill Cotterell is a retired Tallahassee Democrat capitol reporter who writes a twice-weekly column. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Republican House majority means more investigations are coming