News: Press Releases

(WASHINGTON) – Yesterday evening, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) attended the 40th Anniversary of Watergate Archibald Cox Uncommon Heroes Awards Ceremony at the National Press Club. At the ceremony, Congressman Conyers was presented with an award by Common Cause honoring his service to the country in the Watergate investigations with the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Conyers delivered the following remarks at the ceremony:

“I would like to begin by thanking Common Cause both for putting on this event and for honoring the House Judiciary Committee for our involvement with the Watergate proceedings. I am delighted to be here and to share how my experience on the Committee has informed my understanding of democracy and the necessary limits of executive power.

“Since I first arrived in Congress, I have seen nine presidents occupy the White House. I have had my disagreements with all nine of them, but it is important to distinguish between mere political disagreements and true abuses of power.

“That line was clearly crossed in the impeachment of President Richard Nixon.

“The allegations against President Nixon were numerous, and very serious. From the outset, the House Judiciary Committee conducted its investigation of these claims in a meticulous and bipartisan fashion. We hired expert staff, conducted months of research, and held 57 public hearings on the topic. Piece by piece, working across the aisle and with our Senate colleagues, we built a substantial case. The Committee did not act on impeachment until we were certain that we had the evidence to substantiate the allegations.

“That painstaking approach paid dividends. The Committee worked diligently to uncover the facts of the Watergate break-in and other abuses. Our emphasis on the facts earned credibility with the public, the media, and the Republican caucus. In the end, it was the Republican leadership that, in 1974, convinced President Nixon to resign. We worked hard to build consensus around the need to reign in the executive branch.

“In the years following President Nixon’s resignation, Congress began to rehabilitate the federal government and restore the public’s trust in our elected officials. Our key reforms included:

  • Creating the office of “independent special counsel” for future investigative work;
  • Reforming campaign finance laws to limit the corrosive influence of money in politics; and
  • Convening the Church Commission, which uncovered longstanding wiretap abuses and lead to new laws to protect the privacy of American citizens, including the creation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

“While Congress did this work, we also witnessed the rise of the independent press. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein became models for journalists across the country. For a time, reporters learned not to give deference to elected officials simply because of their office.

“In both the halls of Congress and press rooms in the Beltway and beyond, accountability and oversight became hallmarks of the post-Watergate era.

“Yet, I fear that the lessons we learned in the aftermath of the Watergate episode are being slowly forgotten, and the reforms we enacted are quietly eroding.

  • Campaign finance laws are in tatters following a series of disastrous court decisions;
  • The law allowing for independent special counsels has lapsed and not been renewed;
  • Independent journalism is increasingly threatened by cable news outlets that are more concerned with ratings and sensational news stories than in-depth reporting; and
  • And, for the most part, bipartisanship is fleeting on the Capitol Hill. Whatever its causes, congressional gridlock allows the executive branch to expand its claims of authority, often as it is forced to step in and take over the basic responsibilities of running the government.

“We became comfortable in the decades following Watergate, but we can still act on the lessons learned from that tumultuous time. With a renewed sense of purpose, I believe that Congress can again work to shore up the shortcomings in our democracy.

“During the Watergate era, we recognized that impeachment was a powerful, but effective instrument of reform. We would be wise to remember that our democracy is stronger for having confronted true abuses of power when we found them.

“Thank you for honoring me, and thank you all for continuing to remind us of the important lessons learned from the Watergate era.”

###

Remarks as prepared for delivery.