The Scrapbook, ever mindful of the passage of time, couldn’t help but notice the obituary for John Doar in a recent edition of the Washington Post. Doar, who died last week at the age of 92, had been one of Bobby Kennedy’s associates at the Justice Department, serving for seven years in its civil rights division. Those were interesting times (1960-67) to be in the civil rights division, and the Post had much to say about Doar’s work in the long, sometimes violent, struggle to end racial segregation.
But in newspaper obituaries, as with many things in life, it is often what isn’t mentioned—as opposed to what is pounded relentlessly into the ground—that piques our curiosity. For the fact is that, if the common reader has any knowledge whatsoever of the late John Doar, it is probably not from his Justice Department days but from his year’s service as special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee (1973-74) during the Nixon impeachment inquiry. Alas, that dramatic episode rates only six brief sentences in an otherwise voluminous, six-column, full-page article, and includes this intriguing detail: “One of the lawyers working for him at the time was Hillary Rodham Clinton.”
Here The Scrapbook pauses for breath, imagining the editors at the Washington Post pondering that one. Presumably they were aware of the fact that an urban legend exists (not hard to find on the Internet) to the effect that young Hillary Rodham somehow ran afoul of another committee staffer and was “fired” for unspecified “unethical” behavior. There is no evidence that any of this is true; but it is interesting nonetheless that the first big, and manifestly delicate, political job held by the presumptive 2016 Democratic presidential nominee is—well, just kind of slipped in there without comment.
There may be a reason for this, having nothing whatsoever to do with Hillary Rodham’s 40-years-ago job performance. For John Doar’s appointment is a story in itself, to wit: Democratic dominance of Congress, in 1974, was so permanent, so absolute, so overwhelming, and had been for so long, that nobody seems to have batted an eye when a longtime Kennedy family apparatchik was appointed to run the House investigation charged with impeaching Richard Nixon. Indeed, the Post even quotes an especially disingenuous statement from Doar at the time—which The Scrapbook has never forgotten: “As an individual, I have not the slightest bias against President Nixon. I would hope that I would not do him the smallest, slightest injury.”
We mention all this not because John Doar was capable of saying such things with a straight face, or because pious declarations aren’t a daily occurrence in Washington. No, we say it to remind readers that, once upon a time and not so long ago, the Republican party was so hopelessly outnumbered on Capitol Hill (and had been, in effect, since 1930) that the task of impartially inquiring into the impeachment of a Republican president was blithely entrusted to a lifelong, and deeply partisan, Democrat and his eager assistant, fresh from Yale Law School.
Sometimes things do change for the better.
Correction: Robert Doar emails The Scrapbook:
Contrary to your assertion that he was “a lifelong and deeply partisan Democrat,” John Doar was a Republican who came to Washington to work in the Eisenhower administration. Though it is hard to measure such things, I can assure you that Doar’s seven years of work in the Civil Rights Division is far more well-known than his 8 months of work on the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment inquiry staff.
Hillary Clinton was not Doar’s “assistant” on the impeachment inquiry staff; she was a junior lawyer who was assigned the tasks junior lawyers were given and Doar was grateful for her work, as he was of all of the work performed by the inquiry staff. And finally, the Nixon impeachment inquiry was most notable for achieving an overwhelmingly bipartisan result. Strong Republicans such as Tom Railsback, Harold Froelich, Larry Hogan (father of Maryland’s Governor elect) and Caldwell Butler, among others, joined in voting for articles of impeachment. Republicans’ properly facing up to the President’s misdeeds may well have contributed to the party’s rapid recovery of the White House in 1980, and for that, some small credit is due to Republicans like John Doar.
Last month the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination of Debo Adegbile to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. The vote broke along party lines, 10-to-8. Over the weekend Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania became the first Democrat to oppose Adegbile. “I will not vote to confirm the nominee,” he said. A cloture vote scheduled for Monday has (because of the snowstorm) been postponed to Wednesday. With Casey’s announcement, Adegbile can no longer be assured that Democratic senators will uniformly support him. Indeed, the question now is whether other Democrats will follow Casey’s lead. It would take six Democrats including Casey to vote against and defeat the nomination.
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