RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The contrast between then and now is stark, to say the least.
“I don’t think there’s ever been another hearing since that time that really worked like that one, And the January 6th hearing will not come out that way because the way it’s constituted. It’s going to be accused of being partisan totally. Watergate was bi-partisan, unlike today, totally and that’s why I have doubts about the January 6th Committee,” said Rufus Edmisten, former North Carolina attorney general.
Having served as deputy chief counsel of the Senate Watergate Committee, Edmisten said the handling of that investigation did little to undermine the public’s trust.
The facts directed the investigation, evidence was evidence.
The White House Nixon tapes, that Edmisten delivered the subpoena for, were enough to persuade some of President Richard Nixon’s closest supporters in the U.S. Senate that he should be impeached, convicted and removed from office for his role in the cover-up of the Watergate break-in.
Today, congressional subpoenas seem to be brushed off as much as they’re taken seriously.
“Here in recent years, subpoenas left and right and nobody pays any attention to them. Well, I do not recall any time during the whole Watergate hearings that anybody refused one of our subpoenas. And there were hundreds of people subpoenaed. Except the president and the court ordered him to do that,” Edmisten said.
The very public display of Democrats and Republicans arguing over who should and should not sit on the January 6th Committee is just one example of what Edmisten said would never have happened during Watergate.
North Carolina U.S. Sen. Sam Ervin, who chaired the committee, set the tone from day one.
Edmisten recalled, “they made an agreement in the very beginning that they would work together unlike hearings of recent years that don’t work because they want to fuss and fight and be partisan about it. Any disagreement they had was worked out before they went public with anything and that’s the big difference in today.”
Edmisten believes there are a number of things to blame.
Political consultants, gobs of money and non-stop cable news that can prop up the same misinformation we’re inundated with on social media.
From claims of election and voter fraud to saying we’re not seeing what we’re seeing when we look at the videos of the insurrection on the Capitol on January 6th.
“If some things are not how I want it to be it’s not the truth. And some things are just simply not arguable. Philosophy is arguable, your political notions are arguable but if a fact is a fact don’t try to make it something that it’s not. And I do worry, I worry about the country,” Edmisten said.
What the January 6th hearings look like in the coming weeks on prime-time television remains to be seen.
But Edmisten thinks the committee and all those elected officials who will react should take a page from the past.
Because the way things look today it’s not so encouraging.
“The key word was civility. There was such a sense of civility which does not exist today. That’s part of the problem. They don’t get together. They knew one another they knew the families. But now we’re two armed camps where people don’t speak to one another other than what I call vile terms. There are some true friendships there but it’s all ‘what can I do to make my party look the best and make the other party look the worst’. It bothers me,” Edmisten said.