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tv   William Cohen Interview Part 1  CSPAN  July 26, 2014 12:00pm-12:11pm EDT

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[captioning performed by national captioning institute] >> you're watching american history tv. 48 hours of programming on american history every weekend on c-span3. follow us on twitter @c-spanhistory for information on our schedule and to keep up with the latest history news. likes 40 years ago, the house judiciary committee held hearings to consider articles of impeachment against president nixon. a selection of opening statements delivered by committee members including barbara jordan, william cohen, trent lott, a committee chairman peter rodino. first a conversation with william tell him. he was a young republican member of the committee in 1974. he gives a behind the scenes account. >> you were a freshman representative from maine. a member of the house judiciary
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committee. after a month of meetings in the articles of and infusion and were about to be introduced. what was happening? gathering.ans were i assume the democrats were doing the same thing. there was very little discussion among the members. i did not have a discussion until the night before we actually went public. it was the day before. i met with tom railsback. he invited a number of people to drop by for coffee and it was at that meeting that i first saw what group might be willing, or inclined to vote against impeachment, who might come that
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morning. i met jim mann and talked to him for the first time. walter flowers and talked to him for the first time. and caldwell butler and we met at that point and said is there anything here that we really all of us could agree on. that would constitute either an abuse of process, abuse of power, i should say, and we went through all of the evidence that we felt was pretty convincing and i think at that point i knew who was voting for and who against, at least their inclination and we went public the next day with our respective speeches. >> you were a 34-year-old representative from maine and a republican so a member of your own party facing impeachment by a committee you served on.
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>> it was not a happy moment. i was distressed throughout. i knew it would be the most important decision i would be called upon to make. i tried to be as well prepared as i could. i spent the previous six years, three as a prosecutor, three as a defense attorney so my focus was on evidence and analyzing the evidence without regard to political affiliation or partisan affiliation and i had strong blinkers on to vote on the facts. >> were there a lot of factions on this committee? or was it a black-and-white issue? did people have an opinion one way or the other? >> i think for the most part it was pretty partisan from the beginning.
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i did not come from a partisan background. i had served on the bangor city council which was nonpartisan, as such, and the mayor of bangor and never had to deal with hard political issues so when i got to congress, i found there were deep resentments on the part of both democrats toward republicans and republicans towards democrats and i found myself to be kind of naive about that in terms of let's find out what the facts are and decide on the merits so it was pretty clear that there were very committed democrats to impeaching richard nixon from the beginning and it seemed that the republicans were opposed to it almost across the board. it didn't turn out that way but those were the two balancing forces on the committee. >> what kind of pressure were you under? >> it was a lot of psychological pressure in making sure we all stood together and that
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republicans tended to look at the case as being a partisan objective of the democrats to reverse the elections and without merit it was simply a political ploy on their part to embarrass president nixon so the republicans looked at it from that perspective. i think democrats, some of them, many of them looked at it as a way to get at richard nixon because they really didn't like the outcome of the election and didn't particularly care for him so it was in the middle of that kind of crossfire, as such, that i found myself and it was not a comfortable position to be in but one i felt that i was committed to trying to decide it on the merits. >> were you asked to play any particular role by the leadership or did you serve as a lone member of this committee, a republican, who felt that the president should face
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impeachment questions? >> i was never asked to play any role other than just prior to going public. in some of the private hearings, i certainly was as well prepared as any member and perhaps even better prepared than some members with some exceptions, chuck wiggins, republican, california, who was very gifted. i had memorized the senate hearings, the watergate hearings, and spent time memorizing every person who testified before the committee so when they came before our committee, i would be as well prepared as anyone to debate the issues and ask the right questions and i found from time to time democrats would yield their time to me which didn't make it really comfortable in those circumstances where they would take two of their five minutes or three and yield the balance of their time to me. that made it a little bit uncomfortable during that time but i was acting as an attorney and as a potential prosecutor or
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defender. i was looking at what do the facts show, what does the testimony show, what can i draw from this, and then i dedicated days to listening to the tapes and i worked through the tapes with the transcripts to try and make a determination if something was omitted or there was laughter or swearing, expletives that had been deleted, to see whether they were done in jest, whether they were done in a way that was serious in the nature of a threat. i prepared myself as it was the most important case i would be called upon to play a role in. >> during this time period, secretary cohen, did you have any contact with the nixon white house? did the president reach out to you? his senior staff, to say, hey,
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these are the facts? >> no, i never had any -- well, i had one contact with president nixon when miss teenage america was the maine winner and i was asked to take her to meet with president nixon and i did. we obviously didn't have any conversation about what was going on but it was also fairly uncomfortable but he was very gracious and confiding to the winner and congratulating her but that was it. one other time when we were brought to the white house as sort of a rally to rally around the president and support him and i attended that rally with all of the other republican members of the committee. >> do you remember what the president said? >> oh, i do. i remember he gave pretty much of a stem-winder about what he had accomplished and what he wanted to do and how this really was something we had to stand behind him and i remember him saying, i may be a son of a bitch, but i'm your son of a bitch and there were cheers.
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>> we're going to hear opening statements from the house judiciary committee july 1974. can you explain to the viewers the positioning between democrats and republicans in this committee and their opening statements? >> the tone was set by chairman rodino. he tried to be as -- appeal to the nonpartisanship as much as possible but clearly there were people on his side that were predisposed from the beginning to find richard nixon guilty of impeachable offenses. and i think we pretty much anticipated that, we could see from the way in which the private sessions were held, who was doing the questioning, what was the tone in which they asked questions and so you could pretty much tell who was -- who was going to go in which direction with the exception of some of the democrats from the south who really found themselves in a difficult position because they came from districts that were -- where president nixon was heavily supported so for them, their careers were on the line, as well.
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and they tended to be fairly cautious during the course of the examinations. so it was hard to tell. some were hard core for and there were some who were pretty tentative, looking at the facts but understanding they were in difficult positions, as well, so it was hard to know exactly who was going to vote which way in terms of the totality of the groups but i think the night before, the day before, when congressman railsback held that meeting in his office, when i saw the seven people who were there, as such, pretty much knew how they were going to vote. >> secretary cohen, thank you for your perspective and from the house judiciary committee, the impeachment hearings. you'll hear the opening statements including that of congressman bill cohen, freshman republican from maine. >> before i begin, i hope you

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