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Did Hillary Clinton Try to Derail the Nixon Impeachment?
Hillary’s Crocodile Tears in Connecticut
By Jerry Zeifman, AIM
I have just seen Hillary Clinton and her former Yale law professor both in tears at a campaign rally here in my home state of Connecticut. Her tearful professor said how proud he was that his former student was likely to become our next President. Hillary responded in tears.
Hillary Clinton crying
My own reaction was of regret that, when I terminated her employment on the Nixon impeachment staff, I had not reported her unethical practices to the appropriate bar associations.
Hillary as I knew her in 1974
At the time of Watergate I had overall supervisory authority over the House Judiciary Committee's Impeachment Inquiry staff that included Hillary Rodham-who was later to become First Lady in the Clinton White House.
During that period I kept a private diary of the behind the scenes congressional activities. My original tape recordings of the diary and other materials related to the Nixon impeachment provided the basis for my prior book Without Honor and are now available for inspection in the George Washington University Library.
After President Nixon's resignation a young lawyer, who shared an office with Hillary, confided in me that he was dismayed by her erroneous legal opinions and efforts to deny Nixon representation by counsel-as well as an unwillingness to investigate Nixon. In my diary of August 12, 1974 I noted the following:
John Labovitz apologized to me for the fact that months ago he and Hillary had lied to me [to conceal rules changes and dilatory tactics.] Labovitz said, "That came from Yale." I said, "You mean Burke Marshall [Senator Ted Kennedy's chief political strategist, with whom Hillary regularly consulted in violation of House rules.] Labovitz said, "Yes." His apology was significant to me, not because it was a revelation but because of his contrition.
At that time Hillary Rodham was 27 years old. She had obtained a position on our committee staff through the political patronage of her former Yale law school professor Burke Marshall and Senator Ted Kennedy. Eventually, because of a number of her unethical practices I decided that I could not recommend her for any subsequent position of public or private trust.
Her patron, Burke Marshal, had previously been Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights under Robert Kennedy. During the Kennedy administration Washington insiders jokingly characterized him as the Chief counsel to the Irish Mafia. After becoming a Yale professor he also became Senator Ted Kennedy's lawyer at the time of Chappaquidick-as well as Kennedy's chief political strategist. As a result, some of his colleagues often described him as the Attorney General in waiting of the Camelot government in exile.
In addition to getting Hillary a job on the Nixon impeachment inquiry staff, Kennedy and Marshall had also persuaded Rodino to place two other close friends of Marshall in top positions on our staff. One was John Doar; who had been Marshall's deputy in the Justice Department-whom Rodino appointed to head the impeachment inquiry staff. The other was Bernard Nussbaum, who had served as Assistant U.S. Attorney in New York-who was placed in charge of conducting the actual investigation of Nixon's malfeasance.
Marshall, Doar, Nussbaum, and Rodham had two hidden objectives regarding the conduct of the impeachment proceedings. First, in order to enhance the prospect of Senator Kennedy or another liberal Democrat being elected president in 1976 they hoped to keep Nixon in office "twisting in the wind" for as long as possible. This would prevent then-Vice President Jerry Ford from becoming President and restoring moral authority to the Republican Party.
As was later quoted in the biography of Tip O'Neill (by John Farrell), a liberal Democrat would have become a "shoe in for the presidency in 1976" if Nixon had been kept in office until the end of his term. However, both Tip O'Neill and I-as well as most Democrats-regarded it to be in the national interest to replace Nixon with Ford as soon as possible. As a result, as described by O'Neill, we coordinated our efforts to "keep Rodino's feet to the fire."
A second objective of the strategy of delay was to avoid a Senate impeachment trial, in which as a defense Nixon might assert that Kennedy had authorized far worse abuses of power than Nixon's effort to "cover up" the Watergate burglary (which Nixon had not authorized or known about in advance). In short, the crimes of Kennedy included the use of the Mafia to attempt to assassinate Castro, as well as the successful assassinations of Diem in Vietnam and Lumumba in the Congo.
After hiring Hillary, Doar assigned her to confer with me regarding rules of procedure for the impeachment inquiry. At my first meeting with her I told her that Judiciary Committee Chairman Peter Rodino, House Speaker Carl Albert, Majority Leader Tip O'Neill, Parliamentarian Lou Deschler and I had previously all agreed that we should rely only on the then existing House Rules, and not advocate any changes. I also quoted Tip O'Neill's statement that: "To try to change the rules now would be politically divisive. It would be like trying to change the traditional rules of baseball before a World Series."
Hillary assured me that she had not drafted, and would not advocate, any such rules changes. However, as documented in my personal diary, I soon learned that she had lied. She had already drafted changes, and continued to advocate them. In one written legal memorandum, she advocated denying President Nixon representation by counsel. In so doing she simply ignored the fact that in the committee's then-most-recent prior impeachment proceeding, the committee had afforded the right to counsel to Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas.
I had also informed Hillary that the Douglas impeachment files were available for public inspection in the committee offices. She later removed the Douglas files without my permission and carried them to the offices of the impeachment inquiry staff-where they were no longer accessible to the public.
Hillary had also made other ethically flawed procedural recommendations, arguing that the Judiciary Committee should: not hold any hearings with-or take depositions of-any live witnesses; not conduct any original investigation of Watergate, bribery, tax evasion, or any other possible impeachable offense of President Nixon; and should rely solely on documentary evidence compiled by other committees and by the Justice Department's special Watergate prosecutor.
Only a few far-left Democrats supported Hillary's recommendations. A majority of the committee agreed to allow President Nixon to be represented by counsel and to hold hearings with live witnesses. Hillary then advocated that the official rules of the House be amended to deny members of the committee the right to question witnesses. This recommendation was voted down by the full House. The committee also rejected her proposal that we leave the drafting of the articles of impeachment to her and her fellow impeachment-inquiry staffers.
It was not until two months after Nixon's resignation that I first learned of still another questionable role of Hillary. On Sept. 26, 1974, Rep. Charles Wiggins, a Republican member of the committee, wrote to ask Chairman Rodino to look into "a troubling set of events." That spring, Wiggins and other committee members had asked "that research should be undertaken so as to furnish a standard against which to test the alleged abusive conduct of Richard Nixon." And, while "no such staff study was made available to the members at any time for their use," Wiggins had just learned that such a study had been conducted-at committee expense-by a team of professors who completed and filed their reports with the impeachment-inquiry staff well in advance of our public hearings.
The report was kept secret from members of Congress. But after the impeachment-inquiry staff was disbanded, it was published commercially and sold in book stores. Wiggins wrote: "I am especially troubled by the possibility that information deemed essential by some of the members in their discharge of their responsibilities may have been intentionally suppressed by the staff during the course our investigation." He was also concerned that staff members may have unlawfully received royalties from the book's publisher.
On Oct. 3, Rodino wrote back: "Hillary Rodham of the impeachment-inquiry staff coordinated the work. The staff did not think the manuscript was useful in its present form." No effort was ever made to ascertain whether or not Hillary or any other person on the committee staff received royalties.
Two decades later Bill Clinton became President. As was later to be described in the Wall Street Journal by Henry Ruth-the lead Watergate courtroom prosecutor-"The Clintons corrupted the soul of the Democratic Party."