July 12, 2017

Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee’s Russia Probe Hears Lessons from Watergate & Iran-Contra Investigations

Whitehouse addresses Trump Jr. emails, calls for continued congressional investigation

Washington, DC – On Tuesday, Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Ranking Member Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) led a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Climate and Terrorism that delved into the lessons congressional and criminal investigators learned during Watergate, Iran-Contra, and other major concurrent congressional and criminal investigations.  Witnesses at the hearing included leaders of the Watergate Task Force, the U.S. House Iran-Contra Committee, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Iran-Contra litigation, and the Project on Government Oversight. 

At the outset of the hearing, Whitehouse addressed the release of emails from Donald Trump Jr. revealing evidence of coordination between Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and the Russian government. 

“We learned today that Donald Trump, Jr., knowingly sought information from the Russian government to help his father’s campaign; that the repeated denials were false,” said Whitehouse.  “I have no doubt that Special Counsel Mueller will get to the bottom of any violations of criminal law, but Congress has a duty to understand who knew what when regarding the Russian government’s campaign to help get Donald Trump elected.  This afternoon, Senator Graham and I will continue our work in the subcommittee to help the public understand what happened, to frame responses to the threat of continued Russian influence, and in today’s case, to ensure that parallel investigations do not conflict.  These questions are deadly serious, as they implicate the President’s fitness to perform his duties.”

Video of Whitehouse’s opening statement is available here.

The witnesses examined how Congress and the executive branch have coordinated concurrent congressional and criminal investigations in the past and what strategies congressional and executive investigators should pursue to ensure the ongoing Russia investigations are effective.  All of the witnesses forcefully underscored Congress’s duty to pursue investigations into matters such as Russian meddling in our elections.  “I have great appreciation for the invaluable benefit to our society of congressional inquiries that have allowed disinfecting sunlight into dark corners that might otherwise remain hidden from view,” former Watergate Prosecutor Richard Ben-Veniste said.

Joining Graham and Whitehouse for the hearing were:

Richard Ben-Veniste, Partner, Mayer Brown LLP.  Ben-Veniste served as chief of the Watergate Special Prosecutor’s Watergate Task Force in the mid-1970s.  He was also a special outside counsel for the Senate Subcommittee on Governmental Operations, giving him insight into both congressional and criminal investigations.  Ben-Veniste’s prepared testimony is available here.

Danielle Brian, Executive Director, Project on Government Oversight (POGO).  Brian frequently testifies before Congress and regularly meets with Members of Congress and officials at the White House and federal agencies to discuss transparency and ethics in government.  POGO recently issued a report entitled Necessary and Proper: Best Practices for Congressional Investigations.  Brian’s prepared testimony is available here.

Charles Tiefer, Professor, University of Baltimore School of Law.  Prior to joining the University of Baltimore, Tiefer served as solicitor and deputy general counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives for 11 years.  In 1987, Tiefer acted as Special Deputy Chief Counsel on the U.S. House Iran-Contra Committee.  Tiefer’s prepared testimony is available here.

Andrew Frey, Partner, Mayer Brown LLP.  Prior to joining Mayer Brown in 1986, Frey served as a Deputy Solicitor General in the U.S. Department of Justice and as Assistant to the Solicitor General.  While at the Justice Department, he was involved in the Iran-Contra litigation, handling the certiorari petition in the Oliver North case and the appeal of John Poindexter’s conviction.  Frey’s prepared testimony is available here.

Video of the hearing will be posted here.


Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921