Francis O'Brien Discusses the House Committee on the Judiciary Impeachent Inquiry, Part 1


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Transcript:
bjbj Naftali: Hi. I m Tim Naftali. I m director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library
& Museum in Yorba Linda, California. It s September 29th 2011 and I have the honor and
privilege to be interviewing Francis O Brien for the Nixon Oral History Program. Mr. O
Brien, thanks for doing this. Brien: re welcome. Naftali: Let me give the viewer a sense of
what you were doing before you started working with Congressman Rodino. Tell us about your
work please with John Lindsay? Brien: I got recruited. I was from Ohio. I was in a small
town in Ohio, Sandusky, Ohio. I first started out as a school teacher actually in Washington
D.C. at Anacostia High School and then I wanted to change things around and was lucky enough
through my brother, actually, who was working in New York to get interviewed and to be hired
by John Lindsay, by the John Lindsay administration to be on a crisis task force. That s an odd
position for somebody from a small town in Ohio to deal with in those days a lot of disruptions
in the various communities. I was assigned to Brooklyn and a lot of community boards.
There was a lot of disruption in the schools, in the communities and we, John Lindsay had
this plan that if he sent his folks out to mediate these conflicts, you could get there
before the police. It was an extraordinary experience, obviously for someone like myself
and we dealt with school disruptions. We dealt with community disruptions. At one time, there
were five prisons in Manhattan and the city of New York that were taken over by the prisoners.
I was assigned two guards to negotiate with a team. This is all way beyond any of the
life experience I had before then. That was my John Lindsay and then I was with the housing
agency at one time for a short time before I went to Washington to work for Congressman
Rodino. Naftali: How did you get recruited to work for Congressman Rodino? Brien: Through
a friend. A friend of his knew me and they called me one day and said Congressman Rodino
is looking for a Chief of Staff. Would you like to go down and meet with him? I did.
I went down to meet with him. I didn t have Washington experience or Hill experience.
We had this conversation. m sure others will tell you, Congressman Rodino is not the most
forthcoming person in a conversation. You were never quite sure what he was saying to
you, so when I left the interview I had no idea. Did it go well, not well? Was I hired,
not hired? Turns out I was hired right in the interview. That s how the job came about.
Naftali: Was this interview about the time of the Agnew proceedings? Brien: Before. This
was probably in the spring of 73 or around that time, because I started when Congress
was in recess. I come to Washington and the Congressman s not here, because they re all
in recess in August. All of a sudden, the Agnew story broke and I m sort of in Washington
and my first experience is all the stories of Spiro Agnew, Vice President Agnew, started
coming out. That was sort of my first weeks in Washington D.C. was starting with the Agnew
situation. Naftali: Do you remember the day that Agnew came to the House? Brien: I certainly
do. Naftali: Could you tell us about that? Brien: I thought he was one of the most handsome
men I ever met. That was sort of an odd impression. He s very tall, very stately. I was kind of
getting impressions of people. I saw Katie Couric. We were on the plane. I was thinking
she s not as tall as I thought. But anyway, he came to the House and he came to the office
and we were all sitting there. He was very dignified and very stately. It was sort of
my first time of meeting such a high-ranking member of the government. It was a visual
impression I had that day separate from what we were going to do in terms of the interviewing
process. That was my first impression as I remember him back all these years. Naftali:
Do you remember, I mean again it s a long time ago, do you remember some of the challenges
that Congressman Rodino faced regarding the Agnew process? Brien: We faced challenges.
He faced challenges from day one. Remember he came to the Chairmanship after a 50-year
reign of Manny Celler who was in those days one of the most important people in the civil
rights movement, head of the Judiciary Committee, and had been a member of Congress for 50 years.
He wasn t the chairman then, but for many, many years and was one of the giants of the
House, obviously. Through this fluke election of this Holtzman out in Brooklyn, we re used
to those now, those kinds of upsets, she upset this icon. This fairly unknown sort of party
line congressman from New Jersey is all of a sudden put into this position. So there
were challenges all around which obviously we ll talk about more as we get into the thing.
We didn t know what to do. This was all uncharted territory. Here is the Vice President of the
United States being accused of serious issues and the word impeachment started to come up.
This is something that none of us, certainly I had no knowledge of this, and no members
of the Judiciary Committee had any knowledge of this or was it ever part of conversations
or anything. There was a lot of scurrying. There was a lot of staff, I remember, just
trying to put things together. How do you question the Vice President? What do you talk
about? What s our jurisdiction? I remember all of that going around, because I m not
a lawyer. There were things I was not involved in on the legal side, but clearly as we ll
talk later these are political events, not legal events in the sense when the House and
the Senate deals with impeachment or that these are at the core, because these are political
solutions. There were a lot of political discussions sort of behind closed doors, separate from
Vice President Agnew or later President Nixon on what s our role? What do we do? How do
you? Of course, the environment, not unlike today, was extremely partisan. President Nixon
was a very divisive figure. In other words, there was pro-Nixon, anti-Nixon; we re right
in the middle of a war. I mean, they were very challenging times. Turn this around,
coming out of the 60s and the early 70s. That s basically all I remember from, it s all
impressionistic from Vice President Agnew. Naftali: In the interviews we did with former
members of the White House staff, there was a sense, there was a fear in October of 1973
of a double impeachment, that both Agnew and President Nixon would be impeached and Carl
Albert would become President. Brien: There was a lot of that talk. Of course, that wasn
t reality. You dealt, remember the House at that was in my own experience you had very
liberal members, the members of Congress was representing feelings of parts of the country,
with really strong feelings towards President Nixon and Vice President Agnew and clearly
there was conversations about this, but when you got to the core of the leadership of the
House including Congressman Rodino, the talk just sort of dissipated. Naftali: There s
nothing in the Constitution that mandates this. How did the leadership in the House
decide the Judiciary Committee would be responsible for the impeachment inquiry? Brien: It was
a much debated issue and from my recollection this was a Tip O Neill decision in the end.
First of all, there was the constitutional issue of what s the correct mechanism within
the House? Do you go through the Judiciary Committee? Do you set up a special committee?
There was all these discussions. Looming over this was Peter Rodino. A lot of these discussions
would not have taken place, I don t believe, if Manny Celler had still been the head of
the Judiciary Committee, because of his historic stature. This is an unknown entity, Peter
Rodino, and at the time not particularly well thought of. I mean people did that. People
liked Peter Rodino, but he was machine politician out of Newark, New Jersey who followed party
lines and was very quiet, was not a forceful figure. You had a legal issue within the House
of how do you deal with this issue. Then there was the issue of the actual human beings who
would and this was an intensely discussed issue. Again, I m very new at this, being
the Chief of Staff at the time and this is all unfolding for the first time in front
of me and I m trying to read and figure out obviously, I m very loyal to Congressman Rodino,
but I don t know. He could come back, but interestingly he put a very, very strong argument
for going through the Judiciary Committee and he being the lead of this effort. You
don t realize that. People don t just say gee, I m surprised. He had a very close relationship
with Tip O Neill. They go back, I think the Congressman came in the late 40s, so they
came into Congress around the same time and there s a strong relationship there, there
s a strong loyalty. In the end, again I was never part of the conversations, they took
place in the Speaker s office or in Mr. O Neill s office, but in the end they made the
decision and I ve always believed that it was Tip O Neill s decision in the end that
said it s going to go to the Judiciary Committee and it s going to go to the whole Committee.
Naftali: What role do you think Carl Albert played? Brien: Again, I think Carl Albert
is highly underestimated because we tend to do those things, because Tip O Neill was such
a large figure. I think he was considered a wise head. I think he understood the institution.
He had a great deep knowledge of the House and the institution and I think was an institutionalist
in the House. I think his voice was counted. I just think that Tip was such a strong figure
and that he was more visible and more dominant in those conversations, but my recollections
was that people respected Carl Albert. Naftali: Congressman Rodino gets this responsibility.
Now you have to build a new staff and you re Chief of Staff. Tell me what you remember
of that process, Francis. Brien: My assumption was, then again I m just in there a couple
months now, there was, I was here in New York at the time of the so-called Saturday Night
Massacre, because there had been talk of impeachment all that fall. There was I think Father Drinan,
John Conyers, Congressman Waldie from California, these are the more liberal members and others
were starting to talk about that. They may have in fact even introduced articles into
the House and legislation etc. But the Congressman was a very measure person and just very, very
slow in terms of coming to any kind of decision, but I remember one night, again I m working
off the assumptions of a new person, and once a decision was made in the Judiciary Committee,
we sat down in his office one night and my assumption is the staff on the Committee would
do this. We were sitting in his office one night, I do remember this very well and I
will not attempt to imitate the way the Congressman talked but he was very measured. He said that
he would like to create a new staff. I thought okay. He said if I would mind heading up that
search for chief counsel. I can t remember my exact words, but the feeling in the pit
of my stomach was my god, this was way beyond my capacity, is what I thought at the time,
but I said fine and walked out of the office. That s how I got the news. There s obviously
a back story of why that decision was made which he and I and others were engaged in
this conversation about how to deal with this, but I didn t think he would arrive at that
conclusion, nor did I think I would be the person that was going to be the point person
on this. I m not a lawyer. This is a committee that s all lawyers. I didn t even know any
lawyers. I just come out of that generation where we didn t even like lawyers. That s
the decision he decided and the counsel of the Committee at the time was a gentleman
named Jerome Zeifman, very accomplished, had been there for years, very intelligent, but
the Congressman I think came to two conclusions why he wanted to do this. I think he felt
that Jerome Zeifman was too partisan. He had very strong views on President Nixon and very
vocal. I think Mr. Rodino didn t think he had the measured personality that the Congressman
thought was going to be needed for this endeavor. He certainly had the intellectual skills,
but he thought he was too partisan. Another issue that was very important to the Congressman
as it is to all politicians is loyalty. He never said this directly. I don t think he
felt Jerry Zeifman was going to be loyal to him in the sense that Jerry had served other
members of Congress, other members of the Judiciary Committee before he became Chairman
and I think he felt that, again this was a very strong issue with Congressman Rodino,
is that he just didn t feel that he would have his complete loyalty in this most difficult
endeavor. I think if you put those two together as a generalization, that s why he said I
think we need to form a new group and first we must start with someone who will lead them.
That s how we got there. Naftali: Okay, now, the tough part. How do you, a non-lawyer who
s not from that world, start to collect candidates? Brien: Sometimes you never know you might
want to know how history is done. Naftali: You always do. Brien: I remember I went back
to my office; it was the Rayburn Building that was right next to the Congressman s office.
I sat down, it was in the evening when I did that, and I remember I said to myself I don
t know what to do. It was clear from that conversation though never said, there was
always when dealing with the Congressman, with the Chairman, there was always you had
to understand what was not said, because that was the important part of dealing with the
Congressman, was what he didn t say, but what he meant to have said in that conversation.
He didn t want me to go back to...normally I d pick up the phone and call Jerry Zeifman
or call someone on the Judiciary Committee and say you know anybody? That clearly was
not in the cards, because Jerry Zeifman was a candidate. He was a strong choice of many
members of the Committee both for his intellectual ability and for his political position. I
couldn t do that. So what I did often in my life, I called my brother in New York, another
non-lawyer and I outlined my challenge. I said what do we do? We started asking people
we know, but I didn t know anyone in Washington. He said there s a book, there s a law book,
because I ve seen it here that has all the lawyers in the country, which I think is called
Hubbell. Naftali: Martindale. Brien: Hubbell Martindale. So I said let s get that book.
First of all, we sat down, my brother and I and we thought about this. I went back to
the Congressman and I said before we get to who with names, what are we looking for? I
went back to the Congressman, the next day or so, I said give me the criteria? What do
you want in this person? He said first and foremost this person should not be partisan.
He obviously should be a person of intellectual standing, someone who can deal with this.
Must be honorable. He laid out a series of criteria which reminded myself and when I
relayed it to my brother, going back to the not too distant past to the McCarthy hearings.
We were sort of looking for a modern version of Joe Walsh. Walsh or Welch? Naftali: Welch.
Brien: Joe Welch who was the Chief Counsel I think of that inquiry who was thought of
as above reproach, who was a person of honor. That became our talking point. In other words,
we wrote down what we were looking for, it was that model. We would like the idea if
the person would be Republican. In other words, that would be even the best that you could
get a Republican chief counsel and the Congressman made that point to me a number of times. That
would the best of all worlds to show sort of a non-partisan. Okay. So that was a criteria.
What we did is, we said let s start with, we had this book but it means nothing, but
our thinking was, my thinking my brother s thinking, was we d call law deans we said.
Law deans know people. We ll call maybe you d call ten and I ll call ten. We ll get them
on the phone and we ll lay out this criteria, tell them what we re doing and we thought
for sure, they ll come up with one. There ll be a name. They ll all have a name. That
will be the name. ll circle the name and I ll go in and say here Congressman, here are
the three names all the law deans like in the country. So we started on that path. We
just looked up law deans all over the country from here to California. From Harvard to Ohio
State to University of California, we just covered the universe. We covered all sections
of the country and we had these conversations and most of the deans were very responsive.
They were honored that we called and we laid out the criteria and we asked them to think
about it and they would come back with names. We just furiously started writing all these
names down. There was no consensus none. There were a lot of names. Every once in awhile
you know. Then we had to figure out, okay so we put a name. We had to do research, this
is the days before the Internet, the days before computers almost, we had to do all
this manual research and find how old these people were, what s their background. Then
I d get staff from the Congressman s office, I get a couple people to do research and we
d research these people. Some just didn t appear to have enough experience. Some were
too old at the time, etc. This kept going on for some time and outside of that room
there s enormous pressure building on the Congressman for not forming this staff. He
had told the leadership he would form this staff. He told the members of the Judiciary
Committee that the search was on. I do not think he told who was leading that search,
but the search was on. That he was interviewing people. This went on for some time. The pressure
was just enormous on us at the time and just on the Congressman and on all of us in trying
to come up with this. Months passed. Finally, we started, I started asking everybody. Everybody
I knew. The Chief Justice at the time in the Supreme Court was Berger. My brother calls
up Berger in this search and asks if he could come see him. I m trying to think in this
day and age. He said who he was and what he was doing and could he come by and see him.
This actually took place. Berger met him in back chambers. My brother asked him. He didn
t come up with any names, but he thought what we were looking for, I think we were way out
of bounds actually here in terms of what we were doing, because we just didn t know. But
I think Justice Berger, my brother s outlined this is the kind, I think he agreed and made
some other, but came up with no names. He felt it was not his place to name anyone,
but he saw him. Then I started asking, and to think about today if you did this, I started
asking reporters. I didn t know any reporters, but reporters are covering this and there
was a few I knew. I started asking reporters if they knew anyone. These were reporters
who I thought were Naftali: Did Jimmy Breslin, was he covering you at that point? Brien:
Jimmy Breslin was covering this at that point. Naftali: Did you ask Jimmy Breslin? Brien:
I absolutely asked Jimmy Breslin. Yes. Naftali: What did Jimmy Breslin say? Brien: I don t
remember. Naftali: Did he says why are you asking me? Brien: Jimmy Breslin. What was
interesting is no one ever said anything. No one thought this was unusual. Meanwhile,
they d go out the next day and attack us, but none of these conversations were ever
passed. If they knew anybody, again this was a very different era, but that didn t happen.
Naftali: Francis, I ve just got to ask, just to give the viewer a sense of these months.
Congressman Rodino knows in October that he s going to be running this? Brien: Correct.
Naftali: October and November and December, you and your brother Brien: And anybody else
we could get, a hold of, yes. Naftali: Are running this search. Brien: Correct. Actually
the viewers won t see it, but I just showed you today one of the many files, just that
has not been touched for over 30 years, chock-a-block full of names. I mean, it was the file that
I kept of all the recommendations and the research we found. Saying all of that out
of just frustration, again to my older brother, one day he said, my brother worked for Bob
Kennedy, he says you know there was, he did not work in President Kennedy s administration,
he worked for Senator Kennedy both when he ran for the Senate and after. Naftali: What
s your brother s name? Brien: John. John O Brien. Naftali: What did he do for Senator
Kennedy? Brien: He was a political aide. I think he worked in the 64 campaign. I think
that s how he did it and he was a political person. But he called me and said you know
there was a man named John Doar who worked for President Kennedy and works for Senator
Kennedy who during President Kennedy s administration was a very well-known civil rights lawyer
and was one of the people then Robert Kennedy who was Attorney General sent south to help
work on the civil rights issues that were there at the time and was a very highly respected.
I took that in. It s great. We began the search. Where s John Doar? No internet. No computer.
I didn t know how to spell his name so I had D-O-O-R, D-O-R-E. So finally, I just couldn
t find him. So finally again, I went back to my brother, I said you have to call someone
in the Kennedy family and say. So anyway it turns out we found him. He was I believe at
the time at the Bedford-Stuyvesant Corporation, which was a community health organization
founded by Robert Kennedy, I believe. I think that s where he was or had been there. Anyway,
clearly he started to catch our attention, certainly, caught my attention and others
because of his background. Turns out he was appointed by President Eisenhower, was a Republican
from the Midwest. Had this incredible reputation while at the Justice Department, so he started
to get on our list. I started to feed these names to the Congressman and there were maybe
ten that we decided that had reached the place where they would meet Congressman Rodino s
criteria and that it was time for him to start meeting these people. We began the interview
process. I think John Doar remembers it. I think I called him. I think that s how he
remembers it, that I m the one who called him and had him come in. I can t remember
the time. I think I talked to him first. I have to think about that for a minute for
people who are watching this. Here I am - this young staff person, not a lawyer, had very
little experience. I m interviewing one of the icons of the civil rights movement for
this job. Clearly, I was just a clearinghouse for the Congressman. Anyway, we present the
names. He interviewed the various candidates and he came to the conclusion that he thought
that John Doar was the person that he wanted, that would meet his criteria. We called John
Doar. I think I made the call to John Doar, because a person in this position, I called
John Doar to say if you re going to be asked would you accept it if you re asked? He said
that he would. So I told the Congressman that he would and then he called him and he was
hired. Naftali: After the Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment, the
New York Times wrote a story about the history of the Committee and made the argument that
Congressman Rodino had a hard time making up his mind and that in order to push him
to make up his mind, somebody leaked to the press the names of John Doar and a few other
people. Is it true that the Congressman had a hard time actually deciding? Brien: I don
t know if he had a hard time making up his mind. He was extremely judicious. He was very
measured. This became one of the great assets, shows you where you are in your point of history,
that became one of the great assets, because again he had a conversation one night, he
said, and of course I was this very young sort of let s get going staffer, and he said
to me one evening you know, I don t know how this is going to come out, this inquiry. He
took it extremely seriously. There could be nothing more serious in the country than the
potential removal of the President of the United States. He said you know once you begin
this process, you can t stop it. It will go to a conclusion. I don t know what that conclusion
is, but before we begin I want to make sure that we re on the right path and that we have
done the right things. I think that was always upmost in his mind that once the process began,
it will follow a course and he was right. Once the inquiry opens, once you get your
staff, he said to me I don t know what it s going to be. I think he was very judicious.
Some say he had a hard time making up his mind. I think he probably did, because he
had nothing to fall back on. No one did it before. There s no history here as you well
know. I remember we put a book together. I remember a thin little book with a tan binding
that was sort of the history of impeachment that we had the judiciary staff, we had to
go back to Johnson s time to go back to the 1860s to find out there was any history of
what do you do. There was no history. This was all very uncharted. He was not about to
go into this in a way that was not judicious. He was under a lot of pressure because many
members of this Committee, as it is today I think, were very liberal and again he did
not have standing. He was not, he didn t have the respect when he took over the Committee
that Manny Celler had, and he had to earn that respect. The same time he s been given
this extraordinary task, he has to build credibility with this committee. He has to hold them off.
They have to believe the path he is taking is the correct path and that it is a balanced
path and it s not a partisan path. This was very difficult. He took his time and what
always amazed me, it never bothered him. I used to get very nervous. Pressure never bothered
him. I mean it bothers all people. He was just very calm about it. Naftali: m going
to jump ahead, because you raised something. What about the time when he thought he was
having a heart attack? Remember in February, he gets sick? This is time when they re discussing
the Brien: I remember that. It doesn t come to memory as such a crisis. I think he got sick, they thought maybe he had some sort
of heart condition, but it was not, at least internally; it was not considered oh my god.
I think he was under a lot of pressure and I think he had what everyone has high blood
pressure or whatever, but it s something I don t remember much about. Naftali: Okay.
By the way, did Melvin Laird, the former Secretary of Defense, play any role whatsoever in the
selection of John Doar? Brien: I think he supported it. I think there was, in other
words, once Doar s name came to the fore and once it started to surface, I think maybe
Laird and others through back door messaging said that they thought that that was an honorable choice.
Naftali: Was there any pushback from the more partisan Democrats on the Committee, because
you chose a Republican? Brien: Yes. There was a lot of displeasure in the more liberal
elements of the Committee and I think in the House that here s a Republican, this is an
incredible undertaking and why would you ever pick a Republican to do this? I think there
was that. There was a lot of criticism. Everybody had an opinion, because this was such, again
my amazement was how the Congressman dealt with that. He just sort of, he was always
in his three button, three piece suit, always meticulously dressed, always very calm and
he just absorbed and just moved on. Naftali: Francis, was there more pushback from more
partisan Republicans because you selected somebody who was associated with the Kennedy
Brien: Yes. That was the argument you could see right away. It was on the one side you
had here s some big liberal left wing person, and the liberal Democrats saying well here
s a Republican. The Congressman s mind I think, this is all many years later, I think he said
this is about right. In other words, because he knew in his mind that the pathway would
not be either one of those, if the conclusion was to be made that President Nixon would
be found guilty or not guilty of charges of impeachment, that it s not going to be made
by that partisan element or that partisan element. He felt it had to be made; the conclusion
had to be made out of what he called this middle. Naftali: You at a certain point say
to Mr. Doar, once he s hired, now it s up to you to recruit the rest of the staff or
how do you participate? Brien: I had to sign off. Actually the Chairman had to sign off.
There s a back story. There was a time, because that s all I did. I was Chief of Staff, but
I didn t do any of his other House work. A lot of things, head committee meetings were
taking place and normal business was taking place, but I was only doing this. A number
of times I asked him did he not think I should go on the Committee staff, because there were
certain things where only members of the Committee or staff of the Committee could participate
in certain meetings. He always demurred and said no, I don t think I d rather keep you
here. It was difficult a lot of times for me, because it sort of restrained my activities,
but then it became clear later that no Committee member could get to me, because if you re
on Committee staff, a ranking member can have you fired or could do whatever, but you can
t do anything to his personal staff. He said no, I want you, and I didn t realize this
until much later as he had me do various activities with the different members of that. But one
of the things was signing off. John, this was up to him. Then, of course, remember the
minority had to pick a counsel, who by the way was on our list, was on the Chairman s
list for Chief Counsel. It was Mr. Jenner from Chicago. I can t remember his first name.
Naftali: Bert. Brien: Bert. Naftali: Did Congressman Rodino interview Bert Jenner for the job?
Brien: I don t remember, but I know he was on the list, because I remember the Congressman,
I talked to him one night and saying this is a great choice. Again, he met the criteria
from Rodino s point. He thought he was honorable. He thought he was not partisan and he was
Republican, strong Republican roots, but out of Chicago. He thought he had the intellectual
heft. He was very pleased with that choice when they picked him. So that was done. Then
a lot of politicking, because remember this is a political process, that took place in
the picking of staff, because to counter, to satisfy the more liberal members of the
Committee, they wanted their person on the staff who came in the name of a gentleman
named Nick Cates. Naftali: Dick Cates. Brien: Dick Cates, yeah. From Wisconsin, I believe.
I think it was Kastenmeier. That was a little challenging, because that wasn t John Doar
s first selection, because he didn t meet John Doar s criteria about non-partisan, but
politics plays a very important role here. He was chosen as a very high-ranking deputy
counsel at the time. But John essentially had the job of interviewing and assembling
the staff that came over, 120 people. I think he had fairly open control over that. In other
words, I think he was given a free hand is what I m trying to say doing that. There were
political choices we had to make. Members had their choices that John would have to
interview. I do remember one particular...Congressman Brooks who was a very powerful member of congress
from Texas and a very populous liberal and not happy. I think he liked the Chairman a
lot but he didn t have the fire that Jack Brooks had and certainly John Doar didn t
have the fire that Jack Brooks wanted. Jack Brooks sort of lead a rump group that actually
involved Jerry Zeifman the general counsel and a whole team that we had to deal with
over the whole course of the inquiry. I remember one day I got called up from Congressman Brooks
office and asked to come over. So I went over and Jack Brooks had a resume in front of him
Jack Brooks says boy, he said this gentleman s name, I can t remember him. He was on the
staff. He was a young lawyer from I think Yale or something. He said do you know so
and so? Yes, sir, I said. The Chairman assigned him. He s a member of staff. He said boy,
do you know where he s from. I said I m not sure what school he went to so I said no,
sir. Do you know where he was born? I said no, sir. He said he was born in Beaumont,
Texas. He said does that mean anything to you? No, sir. You have to think this is another
generation. I was dressed in a three-piece suit and fin tie. Jack Brooks reaches across
the table and grabs my tie and starts pulling me across the desk, big desk, says, Boy, that
s my district. He says don t you ever hire somebody from my district without getting
my approval. My necktie was very tight at that point around my neck and he dropped me
and I go yes, sir. I went back. Jack Brooks I had approval. John Doar wanted to hire this
person. He was highly qualified. Congressman said fine and I signed off on it. It was just
a normal procedure. I think Jack Brooks one of many times called the Congressman and said
that he wanted me fired because I had done this and this just can t happen. This was
a breach of protocol. You just never do this. The Congressman being a good politician said
Jack, which he often said, sometimes I just can t control the kid. He just does things
that I just don t understand then began the great relationship between the Congressman
and myself understanding my role and the role of everyone. Anyway, he was hired. I think
he s a very well-known lawyer today. I just can t remember his name. Anyway, I m making
this story long for you. John essentially, Mr. Jenner and others picked the staff. They
had a pretty good 90% of the staff was their choice and I think they picked some of the
best people that you later see in the country. Naftali: Do you remember any of the Republicans
pushing for their Brien: Pushing for staff? Naftali: Yeah. Brien: Oh, absolutely. We had
to sign off on those too. Everything was...it was a very easy. It was very partisan, yes.
It was very tense, yes. But there was a cordiality and respect between the two parties. The ranking
member was Congressman Hutchinson who was quite elderly and had the deep respect of
Chairman Rodino, but Hutchinson was up in age this obviously was very stressful for
him. The second ranking Republican was I think a gentleman named McClory from Illinois I
think. He became very important. In other words, the Congressman was in constant consultation
with him. There was that relationship where that you respected each other. There was a
lot of partisanship. There were a lot of people out on the fringes, but there was a deep respect,
institutional respect between the two parties. There wasn t some of the rancor that exists
today even though this was an unbelievable story and undertaking with an enormous amount
of partisan input here. Naftali: Can you help us understand that, because as you said it
was a partisan time and yet there wasn t the rancor? Was it just the way the congressmen
interacted with each other? Brien: I think institutionally, the institution is still
very strong. Congress, both the House and Senate, I think they had very strong leaders.
I think there was a lot of respect on both sides of the aisle. From what I can remember
being there all these years ago, when it was time to be partisan you were partisan. When
these different bills are up. Yes, there was a lot of name-calling, but it was all within
a boundary. I think personalities...people forget about personalities, personalities
make a great deal of difference. Congressman Rodino knew all these people. They spent enormous
amounts of time together. A lot of time it was in the gym actually, where they all went
to the members gym. Congressman was a daily participant, he played handball in the gym.
They ate lunch together. They went to the members dining room. There was just a lot
of, if not socializing, there was just not in terms of going out to dinner and all that,
but there was a lot of people knew each other. When you know somebody, there s a lot of respect
for the other person. I think the personalities really helped. Of course, as you look back
at history now, so many of these members on both sides of the aisles came up. It sort
of makes me proud about the House. These are just sort of unknown people and they rose
to the occasion. It s chilling. In fact, when you think back historically how these sort
of average members who most citizens never heard of stepped up and took this extraordinary
duty as a public servant. That it rose above, yes it was partisan, but felt very strongly
that if you re going to conduct this inquiry, it had to be a fair inquiry. I think there
was a core that believed that. The question was would this be a fair inquiry? That was
always the overriding question. Naftali: One of the first challenges for the Congressman
was to decide a debate that was happening among the staff as to whether these proceedings
would be viewed as a grand jury, where the President s council could not be involved,
at least from my reading of the story. Mr. Doar really felt it should be a grand jury,
but the Congressman overruled it. You remember that? Could you tell us? Brien: I just remember
saying, I m not a lawyer, but I remember saying every evening what would happen just about
every evening during the week, the Committee was housed in another building on Capitol
Hill, but John and some staff would come over and sort of review the day. I remember this
discussion taking place amongst many others, but I think in the end the Congressman said
this is not a jury, this is not a court. This is Congress. He didn t feel that, again, he
was a great institutionalist. He felt that s not their role. This is not a grand jury
and it shouldn t be thought of as a grand jury. I just remember just, again you always
set things and it took a while to figure that out, but it just didn t feel right to him.
That s the way it should be conducted. Again, he had enormous respect for John and for everyone
on that Committee, but there s where many people underestimated the Congressman at the
time, because you d say he would defer. He wouldn t defer to anybody actually. He just
took it all in and tried to...then he laid on what the institution should do. What s
the role of this House? What s the role of these people? Then he d make the decision.
Yeah. I remember those conversations. Naftali: The other issue was whether you had to find
the President guilty of a crime to impeach him and ultimately the Committee decided no.
Brien: Right. Naftali: Do you remember what role the Congressman played in that? Brien:
He played a very important role, but there were other members that were very critical.
It s not just a staff thing and they come and deliver. Very important to the Congressman
thinking. Paul Sarbanes, a young congressman from Maryland, later became a Senator, now
retired, strong intellectual became very important advisor and more than advisor, he was a co-member,
but very influential to Congressman Rodino in terms of his thinking, his sort of putting
his intellectual thought into this. Don Edwards, very liberal congressman from California former
FBI agent years ago, very important, because he was a very reasonable person, very liberal,
but he was sort of the Congressman s gate, sort of door, to the liberal wing of the Committee
in the party. Don, Mr. Edwards became very important. There was a group that the Congressman
reached out to that were very influential in coming to these decisions. These were not
a sort of Peter Rodino, John Doar, and that s all that was involved. There was a lot of
discussion. A lot of I think memos and a lot of they used to pack every Friday, the Congressman
back to his district in Newark, they d pack a big binder with all these memos and all
this thinking. Then he d read them over the weekend and all this discussion would take
place with the various members. Remember Congressman was very, he couldn t do this without the
consent of his fellow members. He had to bring them along. He had to hold them at bay and
let the process work, but at the same time they couldn t feel excluded. It was pretty
extraordinary that today they allowed this inquiry to go on so long without their input,
without their involvement. There was a lot of conversation to get there. There was a
lot of behind the scenes conversations that took place on a regular basis in the Congressman
s office, one on one with the members, both in the Committee, behind the Committee room,
in the Congressman s office. There was constant outreach about what various members thought
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