James Hamilton Contrasts Watergate and January 6

For more than half a century, James Hamilton has been an active participant and an inside observer of some of the most consequential moments in modern US history. He has been involved in investigations concerning Watergate, the Kennedy assassination, “Debategate,” the Keating Five, the Clinton impeachment, Vince Foster’s suicide, the Valerie Plame affair, Benghazi, and the Major League Baseball steroids scandal. He argued against Brett Kavanaugh in front of the Supreme Court and won. James has written about his career in his book Advocate: On History’s Front Lines from Watergate to the Keating Five, Clinton Impeachment, and Benghazi.

Below he uses his experience to compare the Watergate Committee ad the January 6 Committee…

The Senate Watergate Committee. The House January 6 Committee. Both focused on a corrupt president. Both were highly successful in informing the nation of wrongdoing. But how different they were in approach and historical context.

Consider these facts about the Watergate Committee.

  1. The committee essentially proceeded in a bipartisan fashion. It was established by a 77–0 Senate vote. The questions revealing the existence of the Nixon White House tapes were asked by Republican staffers. The committee’s votes to subpoena Nixon for the tapes, and then to sue him when he rebuffed the subpoena, were unanimous. The vote to adopt the committee’s massive report damning the Nixon Administration was unanimous. Such bipartisanship would not be possible in today’s divisive world.
  2. When the Watergate Committee began, its ultimate conclusions were unknown. It was not until Watergate burglar James McCord claimed there was perjury in the trial of the burglars and that higher-ups were involved until John Dean testified that Nixon was involved in the cover-up, and until Alexander Butterfield revealed the existence of the White House tapes that the committee’s primary focus shifted to President Nixon. Eighty million people watched in suspense to see where the hearings would lead.
  3. The committee presented facts in an old-fashioned way—by putting on witnesses and subjecting them to cross-examination. Videos of executive session testimony were not used. The testimony of witnesses, some of whom were hostile, was at times unpredictable. While a coherent story was presented, the hearings were not minutely scripted.

Now consider these facts about The House January 6 Committee.

  1. This committee has been a partisan affair from the beginning. It was created by an essentially party-line vote. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the right to appoint five members to the committee, but he withdrew his nominations after Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected two of them, including firebrand Jim Jordan. Pelosi herself appointed two Republicans—Vice Chair Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger—to the committee, but they are known for their opposition to Trump and are pariahs in the Republican Party.
  2. There is no mystery or suspense as to the outcome of the committee’s investigation. During the first hearing, the committee announced that President Trump had an unlawful “sophisticated seven-part plan” to stay in office. The committee’s hearing is filling in the details of that seven-part plan. Some of the information presented has been indeed shocking, but the committee’s final conclusion as to Trump’s conduct has never been in doubt. Perhaps in part due to the lack of suspense, only around twenty million people so far have watched the hearing.
  3. The committee’s hearings have been well-orchestrated presentations. Witnesses have testified, but their testimonies are part of carefully scripted sessions where committee members lay out the basic facts, and excerpts of video depositions and messages are used to bolster the case being made. There has not been any hostile cross-examination.

There are, of course, a lot of ways to skin a cat—or expose a corrupt president. The Senate Watergate Committee did it one way. The House January 6 Committee chose another. Given the time restraints, it faced, with the predicted change of control of the House in November, the choice of the latter is understandable. (The Watergate Committee, with more time, had over 280 hours of public hearings.) While recognizing the different approaches and the disparate partisan context, the work of both committees should be applauded. We will see if the January 6 Committee ultimately changes the course of history as the Senate Watergate Committee did.

James Hamilton is a retired partner from the Morgan Lewis law firm.


University Press of Kansas Announces New Academic Series Focused on Indigenous Studies

The University Press of Kansas (UPK) is excited to launch The Lyda Conley Series on Trailblazing Indigenous Futures. Using Conley’s extraordinary life and work as a framework, this series features Indigenous trailblazers of the past, present, and future and promotes new scholarship in Native American and Indigenous studies that intersects with themes including gender and sexuality, sovereignty, education, and law, as well as literature, culture, activism, public history, and beyond.

Named in honor of Eliza “Lyda” Burton Conley (c. 1868–1946), this new series will strive to elevate women and gender in Indigenous studies and use the lives, work, and futures of Indigenous women as a springboard for analysis and scholarship. Conley spent much of her life carving new pathways to protect her Wyandot community and ancestors in Kansas. She pursued a law degree and became the first Native American woman to argue a case in front of the US Supreme Court, arguing to prevent the sale and desecration of the Huron Cemetery in Kansas City, Kansas. Conley’s life as an inspiring trailblazer for Native peoples and for women serves as an inspiration to the series, which will promote and explore the issues of gender and sexuality in Native American and Indigenous studies.

While the primary audience for this series is professional scholars and undergraduate and graduate students, there will be a special emphasis placed on books that are accessible and appealing to general readers as well. The Lyda Conley Series will also emphasize the interdisciplinary nature of Native American and Indigenous Studies, and its books will be relevant and useful for scholars and others interested in history, Indigenous studies, political science, law, women and gender studies, cultural studies, ethnic studies, critical race, religious studies, education studies, museum studies and public history, literature, sociology, and anthropology.

Farina King, Kiara Vigil, and Tai S. Edwards will serve as series editors and David Congdon will serve as acquiring editor. UPK plans to have books in the series by 2024.

“In addition to showcasing the important works in Indigenous studies that Kansas is already publishing, we were motivated by the need to address a lack of attention to gender and sexuality in older works in this field, which were often written by men and about men as a matter of course,” says Congdon, UPK senior editor. “While we at the Press have worked with Farina and Tai because of their previous books with us, I interacted with the three of them more closely thanks to the Kansas Open Books project. Kiara wrote a foreword to one of the books in that project, and then I organized a public webinar on Native and Indigenous Studies with all three of them. The conversation that began with the webinar was the genesis of the series.”

Dr. Farina King (Diné) is the Horizon Chair in Native American Ecology and Culture and Associate Professor of Native American Studies at the University of Oklahoma.


Dr. Kiara M. Vigil (Dakota/Apache) is associate professor of American Studies at Amherst College.


Dr. Tai S. Edwards is associate professor of history at Johnson County Community College.­


For more information, please contact UPK marketing director Derek Helms (helms@ku.edu).