Connect with us

US & World

The high-stakes history of Congressional hearings

Published

on

WASHINGTON — This city knows how to do big hearings — even Titanic ones.

Dramatic congressional hearings are something of a Washington art form, a rite of democracy carefully crafted for the cameras.

Suspense is building as fired FBI Director James Comey prepares to claim the microphone Thursday in an austere, modern hearing room of the Hart Senate Office Building. He is to testify about his dealings with President Donald Trump and the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia.

A look at past high-drama hearings:

FILE – In this Oct. 22, 2015, file photo, then-Democratic presidential candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, before the House Benghazi Committee. Washington knows how to do big hearings. Dramatic congressional hearings are something of a Washington art form, a rite of democracy carefully crafted for the cameras. Suspense is building as fired FBI Director James Comey prepares to claim the microphone June 8, 2017, in an austere, modern hearing room of the Hart Senate Office Building. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

ELEVEN HOURS

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s marathon grilling before the House Select Committee on Benghazi in October 2015 was her moment — an extremely long moment — to push back against critics’ suggestions that her State Department failed to protect U.S. diplomats in Libya before the 2012 attack that killed four Americans. In hours of sometimes testy testimony, Clinton, by then front-runner for the Democratic presidential candidate, said it was “deeply unfortunate” that the Benghazi attacks were being “used for political purposes.” Asked how it felt to be accused of contributing to the deaths of four Americans, she said softly, “I imagine I’ve thought more about what happened than all of you put together. I’ve lost more sleep than all of you put together.”

FILE – In this Sept. 10, 1991, file photo, then-Supreme Court Justice Nominee Clarence Thomas and his wife Virginia listen during his nomination hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. Washington knows how to do big hearings. Dramatic congressional hearings are something of a Washington art form, a rite of democracy carefully crafted for the cameras. Suspense is building as fired FBI Director James Comey prepares to claim the microphone June 8, 2017, in an austere, modern hearing room of the Hart Senate Office Building. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, File)

HE SAID, SHE SAID

The 1991 Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas will forever be remembered for the lurid accusations of sexual harassment leveled by a young former subordinate, Anita Hill. From the witness table, Hill described what she said were Thomas’ unwanted sexual advances toward her. Both Thomas and Hill withstood withering and painfully detailed questions from members of the all-male Judiciary Committee. He described the hearings as a “high-tech lynching.” She later said senators should apologize for “their malicious indictment of me.”

FILE – In this July 7, 1987, file photo, Lt. Col. Oliver North is sworn in before the Iran Contra Committee prior to his testimony in Washington. Washington knows how to do big hearings. Dramatic congressional hearings are something of a Washington art form, a rite of democracy carefully crafted for the cameras. Suspense is building as fired FBI Director James Comey prepares to claim the microphone June 8, 2017, in an austere, modern hearing room of the Hart Senate Office Building. (AP Photo/Lana Harris, File)

RAISE YOUR HAND

When Marine Lt. Colonel Oliver North, his chest brimming with medals, stood and raised his right hand to be sworn in at a 1987 Senate hearing, it became the enduring image from the Iran-Contra scandal, a covert arms-for-hostages overture to Iran. In six days of testimony before a Senate panel, North commanded the spotlight as he insisted his superiors had authorized all of his actions. “I came here to tell the truth, the good, the bad and the ugly,” he said. “I am here to tell it all.” A jury later found North guilty of three felonies, but an appeals court reversed his convictions, finding the case relied too much on testimony he gave to Congress under an immunity deal.

FILE – In this July 16, 1973, file photo, Alexander Porter Butterfield, testifies before the Senate Watergate Committee. on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/File)

WATERGATE’S CANCER

Americans were glued to their TVs in the summer of 1973, when North Carolina Sen. Sam Ervin presided over the Watergate hearings. It was here that Nixon aide Alexander Butterfield revealed the existence of the White House taping system that contained the evidence that ended Nixon’s presidency. And here that former White House counsel John Dean said he’d told Nixon there was “a cancer growing on the presidency” and revealed that Nixon had approved plans to cover up the break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters.

FILE – In this Feb. 10, 1966, file photo, a general views of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Vietnam in Washington. George Kennan, former ambassador to Moscow, is at the witness table. Committee members, from left, are: Sens. Eugene McCarthy, D-Minn., Frank Carlson, R-Kansas, Bourke Hickenlooper, R-Iowa, Chairman William Fulbright, D-Ark., Wayne Morse, D-Ore., Albert Gore, D-Tenn., Frank Lausche, D-Ohio, Frank Church, D-Idaho, Joseph Clark, Jr., D-Pa., and Claiborne Pell, D-R.I. Washington knows how to do big hearings. Dramatic congressional hearings are something of a Washington art form, a rite of democracy carefully crafted for the cameras. Suspense is building as fired FBI Director James Comey prepares to claim the microphone June 8, 2017, in an austere, modern hearing room of the Hart Senate Office Building. (AP Photo/Henry Griffin, File)

THIS IS WAR

In 1966, Sen. William Fulbright launched “educational” hearings by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee aimed at heading off a buildup of U.S. forces in Vietnam. Retired generals and respected foreign policy analysts were among the witnesses who testified in the same caucus room where the Titanic and Army-McCarthy hearings had been held in earlier decades. The hearings helped produce a shift in public opinion by “making it respectable to question the war,” according to a Senate historical account.

FILE – In this March 9, 1950 file photo, Sen. Joseph McCarthy gestures during a Senate subcommittee hearing in Washington, on McCarthy’s charges of communist infiltration of the U.S. State Department. Washington knows how to do big hearings. Dramatic congressional hearings are something of a Washington art form, a rite of democracy carefully crafted for the cameras. Suspense is building as fired FBI Director James Comey prepares to claim the microphone June 8, 2017, in an austere, modern hearing room of the Hart Senate Office Building. (AP Photo/Herbert K. White, File)

“HAVE YOU NO SENSE OF DECENCY?”

Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anticommunist campaign led to the Army-McCarthy hearings in the spring of 1954 that included an outburst from Boston lawyer Joseph Welch when McCarthy got particularly aggressive. “Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator,” Welch declared in the televised hearing. “You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?” With that, McCarthy’s reign of fear collapsed.

FILE – In this March 21, 1951, file photo, Frank Costello, gambling figure, a witness at the Senate Committee Investigating Crime hearing at Federal Courthouse in New York, tells the committee of his early enterprises which included the manufacture of Kewpie Dolls and the real estate business. Costello refused to answer questions concerning his net worth. The hearing was in its last day in New York. Washington knows how to do big hearings. Dramatic congressional hearings are something of a Washington art form, a rite of democracy carefully crafted for the cameras. Suspense is building as fired FBI Director James Comey prepares to claim the microphone June 8, 2017, in an austere, modern hearing room of the Hart Senate Office Building. The Associated Press wrote at the time: “Something big, unbelievably big and emphatic, smashed into the homes of millions of Americans last week when television cameras, cold-eyed and relentless, were trained on the Kefauver Crime hearings.” (AP Photo/Pool)

BIG GAMBLE

The 1950 assassination of a gambling kingpin in Kansas City led to a special Senate investigation into organized crime chaired by Tennessee Sen. Estes Kefauver. The committee visited 14 major cities in 15 months, “like a theater company doing previews on the road” before heading for Broadway, according to a Senate historical account. When gambler Frank Costello refused to testify on camera in New York, the committee agreed not to show his face, and cameras instead showed his “nervously agitated hands, unexpectedly making riveting viewing,” the Senate post recounted. The Associated Press wrote at the time: “Something big, unbelievably big and emphatic, smashed into the homes of millions of Americans last week when television cameras, cold-eyed and relentless, were trained on the Kefauver Crime hearings.”

FILE – In this Feb. 2, 1924, file photo, Oil tycoon Edward L. Doheny, left, and his attorney Frank Hogan arrive at the Capitol in Washington, for the Senate Committee investigating the Teapot Dome oil lease scandal. The inquiry related to two parcels of oil-bearing land, Teapot Dome in Wyoming, owned by Harry Sinclair, and Elk Hills in California, owned by Doheny. Dramatic congressional hearings are something of a Washington art form, a rite of democracy carefully crafted for the cameras. Suspense is building as fired FBI Director James Comey prepares to claim the microphone June 8, 2017, in an austere, modern hearing room of the Hart Senate Office Building. (AP Photo)

TEAPOT TEMPEST

This one looked to be a snoozer. The Senate in 1922 set out to investigate a secret deal involving the interior secretary and a lease for the U.S. naval petroleum reserve at Wyoming’s Teapot Dome. The inquiry looked to be so tedious that a junior member of the minority, Montana Democrat Thomas Walsh, was named chairman. But the hearings uncovered shady dealings that made Albert Fall the first former cabinet officer to go to prison and turned Walsh into a national hero, according to an account posted on the Senate’s website.

TRULY TITANIC

In April 1912, a special Senate subcommittee investigating the sinking of the Titanic met first at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, then in the new caucus room of the Russell Senate Office Building. In all, 82 witnesses testified about ice warnings ignored, life boat shortages and other failings. The hearings ended with Sen. William Smith of Maine heading back to New York to interview crew on the Titanic’s sister ship, Olympic. The hearing transcripts stretched to 1,100 pages, and were reprinted in 1988 after the movie “Titanic” piqued public interest.

___

Sources: “Senate Stories” on Senate website at https://www.senate.gov/history/essays.htm. Historical accounts at http://history.house.gov/

Continue Reading
Click to comment

News

Push to legalize marijuana upends governor’s race in New Mexico

Published

on

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Apodaca on Thursday called for the expansion of New Mexico’s medical marijuana program and for legalization of recreational use, saying the poverty-stricken state is missing out on millions of dollars in tax revenues and jobs that could be spurred by the industry.

Apodaca released his plan solidifying his position as a supporter of legalization as the race for governor heats up.

Apodaca pointed to New Mexico’s history as the first state to allow for research and experimentation with marijuana as a therapeutic drug. It was his father, then-Gov. Jerry Apodaca, who signed that legislation in 1978.

The research program stalled and it wasn’t until 2008 that New Mexico rolled out its medical cannabis program.

“Why are we shooting for being the last to legalize cannabis for adult use?” Apodaca said.

The push for legalization comes as New Mexico’s medical marijuana program has grown exponentially in just the last two years. Producers licensed under the program reported record sales of more than $86 million in 2017 and the number of patients enrolled now tops 50,000.

“We know the medical benefits of it. And we also know the opportunities of legalization for adult use,” Apodaca said, suggesting expansion of the long-standing medical marijuana program along with legalization could result in an estimated $200 million of additional tax revenues for the state.

The state’s largest producer, Ultra Health, announced that it has acquired farmland in southern New Mexico and has plans for what the industry says could be the largest cultivation facility in North America.

The property spans nearly one-third of a square mile (81 hectares) in Otero County. It will include 20 acres (8 hectares) of indoor cultivation, 80 acres (32 hectares) of outdoor cannabis fields and another 100 acres (40 hectares) of outdoor hemp fields.

Ultra Health president and CEO Duke Rodriguez said the company is preparing for a future in which New Mexico stands to benefit from expanded medical use and possibly recreational use.

Apodaca’s plan calls for lifting the current limits on the number of plants producers can grow and reducing costly licensing fees.

Other Democratic candidates have been more cautious.

U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she would work with state lawmakers to ensure there are adequate health, safety and enforcement measures in place. She called for a “thorough analysis” of recreational pot programs in other states as part of that effort.

Lujan Grisham was in charge of the state Health Department when the medical marijuana program began. Aside from the legalization debate, she said supporting producers to create the latest medicines and methods to help patients would help create jobs and expand the industry.

State Sen. Joseph Cervantes, another Democratic candidate, has sponsored unsuccessful legislation to decriminalize possession of small quantities of pot but has said the state is lacking infrastructure and isn’t ready yet to legalize.

Cervantes recently lauded efforts at the local level by the state’s largest city — Albuquerque — to decriminalize possession of small amounts. He said he would do the same as governor and that it would mark a first step.

Republican congressman and gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce expressed reservations about legalization at a forum earlier this month. He said it might create a stumbling block for people trying to climb out of poverty and addiction to other drugs.

“I just don’t see how it fits that we’re going to deal with addiction and yet we’re going to tell people, ‘This one is OK.’ I’ve watched it for a lifetime. I just am very nervous with recreational marijuana,” he said.

Continue Reading

News

‘For fun’ killing reveals vulnerability for homeless Native Americans in New Mexico

Published

on

The morning a homeless man was shot and killed in Albuquerque, police say surveillance videos showed him running down a street before sunrise, and then gunfire flash in the dark.

Native Americans make up only 4 percent of the population, but account for 44 percent of people living on the streets, raising the likelihood they will be victimized when there is an attack on the homeless.

Ronnie Ross, a 50-year-old from the Navajo Nation town of Shiprock, had been shot a dozen times, including once in the forehead and temple, and four times in the back, according to a criminal complaint. Police say the two teenage suspects charged with murder this week apparently shot him “for fun” as they came and went from a hotel party nearby.

The homicide marked the latest in a series of brazen killings and assaults of homeless Native Americans in the city. In Albuquerque, Native Americans make up only 4 percent of the population, but account for 44 percent of people living on the streets, raising the likelihood they will be victimized when there is an attack on the homeless.

A 2014 survey showed 75 percent of homeless Native Americans in Albuquerque had been physically assaulted.

“Just being harassed is part of everyday life, but it’s not as much harassment as it is overgrown bullying,” said Gordon Yawakia, who works at the Albuquerque Indian Center and was once homeless himself. “What do you do when people are against you and then the authorities are against you and you’ve got nobody, you know?”

In 2014, Allison Gorman and Kee Thompson, both Navajo, were beaten to death as they slept in a vacant lot. While authorities did not say the men were targeted because they were Native American, activists disagreed and the deaths spurred the creation of a city task force to address Native American homelessness that now-former Mayor Richard Berry said could set the stage for changes for the population across the Southwest.

Now, Ross’ death is underscoring how difficult it may be to protect and find solutions for the city’s Native American homeless population.

“When I hear a story like this it adds fuel to the fire,” said Dawn Begay, who is the city’s tribal liaison, and works with the homeless through a local nonprofit. “Where we’re headed is a good direction but it has to happen faster.”

Ross’ killing in March came three months after the body of Audra Willis was found decapitated in an area not far from the Sandia Mountains that line the city’s east side. The 39-year-old had come from To’hajiilee, a tiny Navajo community west of Albuquerque, and records show she had multiple addresses during her time in the city, including at the Albuquerque Indian Center.

Willis’ especially grisly death sent shockwaves through Albuquerque, just as the beatings of Thompson and Gorman had three years earlier.

The two men had been killed on a July 2014 night when authorities say three boys — ages 15, 16 and 18_returned home from a night of drinking and decided to attack them as they slept on a mattress. The men were beaten with a wooden table leg, cinder blocks, and other objects, police said. One young suspect later told authorities that the teens had beaten dozens of homeless people, though apparently none others fatally.

In Ross’ death, the complaint filed against the 15- and 17-year-old suspects does not identify a motive, but says the two teenagers bragged to friends about the shooting.

According to police, friends and acquaintances of the boys — whom The Associated Press is not naming because of their ages — said the suspects had been showing off a gun at the party, and had said to others that they had shot a man. At one point, the younger boy also said to a close friend at the party that he shot a “hobo” in the back.

The boys made one more stop at the scene to find Ross still alive, prompting the older boy to shoot him multiple times, according to the complaint.

“It’s completely disturbing,” said Officer Simon Drobik, an Albuquerque police spokesman, said Tuesday. “They just shot this guy for fun.”

Continue Reading

News

The Last Castro; Raul retires as Cuban president

Published

on

Raul Castro turned over Cuba’s presidency Thursday to a 57-year-old successor he said would hold power until 2031, a plan that would place the state the Castro brothers founded and ruled for 60 years in the hands of a Communist Party official little known to most on the island.

Castro’s 90-minute valedictory speech offered his first clear vision for the nation’s future power structure under new President Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez. Castro said he foresees the white-haired electronics engineer serving two five-year terms as leader of the Cuban government, and taking the helm of the Communist Party, the country’s ultimate authority, when Castro leaves the powerful position in 2021.

“From that point on, I will be just another soldier defending this revolution,” Castro said. The 86-year-old general broke frequently from his prepared remarks to joke and banter with officials on the dais in the National Assembly, saying he looked forward to having more time to travel the country.

In his own half-hour speech to the nation, Diaz-Canel pledged to preserve Cuba’s communist system while gradually reforming the economy and making the government more responsive to the people.

“There’s no space here for a transition that ignores or destroys the legacy of so many years of struggle,” Diaz-Canel said. “For us, it’s totally clear that only the Communist Party of Cuba, the guiding force of society and the state, guarantees the unity of the nation of Cuba.”

Diaz-Canel said he would work to implement a long-term plan laid out by the National Assembly and communist party that would continue allowing the limited growth of private enterprises like restaurants and taxis, while leaving the economy’s most important sectors such as energy, mining, telecommunications, medical services and rum- and cigar-production in the hands of the state.

“The people have given this assembly the mandate to provide continuity to the Cuban Revolution during a crucial, historic moment that will be defined by all that we achieve in the advance of the modernization of our social and economic model,” Diaz-Canel said.

Cubans said they expected their new president to deliver improvements to the island’s economy, which remains stagnant and dominated by inefficient, unproductive state-run enterprises that are unable to provide salaries high enough to cover basic needs. The average monthly pay for state workers is roughly $30 a month, forcing many to steal from their workplaces and depend on remittances from relatives abroad.

“I hope that Diaz-Canel brings prosperity,” said Richard Perez, a souvenir salesman in Old Havana. “I want to see changes, above all economic changes allowing people to have their own businesses, without the state in charge of so many things.”

But in Miami, Cuban-Americans said they didn’t expect much from Diaz-Canel.

“It’s a cosmetic change,” said Wilfredo Allen, a 66-year-old lawyer who left Cuba two years after the Castros’ 1959 revolution. “The reality is that Raul Castro is still controlling the Communist Party. We are very far from having a democratic Cuba.”

After formally taking over from his older brother Fidel in 2008, Raul Castro launched a series of reforms that led to a rapid expansion of Cuba’s private sector and burgeoning use of cellphones and the internet. Cuba today has a vibrant real estate market and one of the world’s fastest-growing airports. Tourism numbers have more than doubled since Castro and President Barack Obama re-established diplomatic relations in 2015, making Cuba a destination for nearly 5 million visitors a year, despite a plunge in relations under the Trump administration.

Castro’s moves to open the economy even further have largely been frozen or reversed as soon as they began to generate conspicuous displays of wealth by the new entrepreneurial class in a country officially dedicated to equality among its citizens. Foreign investment remains anemic and the island’s infrastructure is falling deeper into disrepair. The election of President Donald Trump dashed dreams of detente with the U.S., and after two decades of getting Venezuelan subsidies totaling more than $6 billion a year, Cuba’s patron has collapsed economically, with no replacement in the wings.

Castro’s inability or unwillingness to fix Cuba’s structural problems with deep and wide-ranging reforms has many wondering how a successor without Castro’s founding-father credentials will manage the country over the next five or 10 years.

“I want the country to advance,” said Susel Calzado, a 61-year-old economics professor. “We already have a plan laid out.”

Most Cubans have known their new president as an uncharismatic figure who until recently maintained a public profile so low it was virtually nonexistent. Castro’s declaration Thursday that he saw Diaz-Canel in power for more than a decade was likely to resolve much of the uncertainty about the power the new president would wield inside the Cuban system.

“The same thing we’re doing with him, he’ll have to do with his successor,” Castro said. “When his 10 years of service as president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers are over, he’ll have three years as first secretary in order to facilitate the transition. This will help us avoid mistakes by his successor, until (Diaz-Canel) retires to take care of the grandchildren he will have then, if he doesn’t have them already, or his great-grandchildren.”

Cuban state media said Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Diaz-Canel and thanked Castro for the many years of cooperation between the two countries, while Chinese President Xi Jinping also reaffirmed his country’s friendship with Cuba and expressed interest in deeper ties.

At the U.S. State Department, spokeswoman Heather Nauert expressed disappointment at the handover, saying Cuban citizens “had no real power to affect the outcome” of what she called the “undemocratic transition” that brought Diaz-Canal to the presidency.

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted at Castro that the U.S. won’t rest until Cuba “has free & fair elections, political prisoners are released & the people of Cuba are finally free!”

Diaz-Canel said his government would be willing to talk with the United States but rejected all demands for changes in the Cuban system.

With Castro watching from the audience, Diaz-Canel made clear that for the moment he would defer to the man who founded the Cuban communist system along with his brother Fidel. He said he would retain Castro’s cabinet through at least July, when the National Assembly meets again.

“I confirm to this assembly that Raul Castro, as first secretary of the Communist Party, will lead the decisions about the future of the country,” Diaz-Canel said. “Cuba needs him, providing ideas and proposals for the revolutionary cause, orienting and alerting us about any error or deficiency, teaching us, and always ready to confront imperialism.”

Diaz-Canel first gained prominence in central Villa Clara province as the top Communist Party official, a post equivalent to governor. People there describe him as a hard-working, modest-living technocrat dedicated to improving public services. He became higher education minister in 2009 before moving into the vice presidency.

In a video of a Communist Party meeting that inexplicably leaked to the public last year, Diaz-Canel expressed a series of orthodox positions that included somberly pledging to shutter some independent media and labeling some European embassies as outposts of foreign subversion.

But he has also defended academics and bloggers who became targets of hard-liners, leading some to describe him a potential advocate for greater openness in a system intolerant of virtually any criticism or dissent. International observers and Cubans alike will be scrutinizing every move he makes in coming days and weeks.

As in Cuba’s legislative elections, all of the leaders selected Wednesday were picked by a government-appointed commission. Ballots offered only the option of approval or disapproval and candidates generally receive more than 95 percent of the votes in their favor. Diaz-Canel was approved by 604 votes in the 605-member assembly. It was unclear if he had abstained or someone else had declined to endorse him.

The assembly also approved another six vice presidents of the Council of State, Cuba’s highest government body. Only one, 85-year-old Ramiro Valdes, was among the revolutionaries who fought with the Castros in the late 1950s in the eastern Sierra Maestra mountains.

___

Associated Press writer Ben Fox contributed to this report.

 

Continue Reading

Trending