Professional Counsel De-Politicizes The Process

Former Biden Chief of Staff: The ‘Best Way To Avoid Speech-Making, Repetition, Grandstanding Or Political Bickering Is To Have Expert Counsel Pose The Questions’


SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA): “The majority members have followed the bipartisan recommendation to hire as staff counsel for the committee an experienced career sex-crimes prosecutor to question the witnesses at Thursday’s hearing. The goal is to de-politicize the process and get to the truth, instead of grandstanding and giving senators an opportunity to launch their presidential campaigns. I’m very appreciative that Rachel Mitchell has stepped forward to serve in this important and serious role…. I promised Dr. Ford that I would do everything in my power to avoid a repeat of the ‘circus’ atmosphere in the hearing room that we saw the week of September 4.” (U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Press Release, 9/25/2018)

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER MITCH McCONNELL (R-KY): “Our goal is to have a respectful hearing, which is what we believe Dr. Ford would like to have. As you know, it is not uncommon to have professional staff do questioning in a situation like this. I'm reminded of Watergate, where Fred Thompson actually did most of the key questioning for Senator Baker, and I believe Sam Dash did it for the Chair…. We want this hearing to be handled very professionally, not a political sideshow like you saw put on by the Democrats when they were questioning Judge Kavanaugh.” (Sen. McConnell, Press Conference, 9/25/2018)

RON KLAIN, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN:  “Outside counsel with experience in sexual harassment and assault, with particular skill in examining witnesses and developing factual records, should be employed to pose questions at the hearings ... [T]he best way to avoid speech-making, repetition, grandstanding or political bickering is to have expert counsel pose the questions to the key witnesses while senators focus on listening to their answers, not on formulating their next statements.” (Ronald A. Klain, Op-Ed, “The Senate Should Leave The Kavanaugh Questioning To Professionals,” The Washington Post, 9/18/2018)

  • KLAIN: “In 1991, senators questioning Thomas and Hill became the subject of national opprobrium, leading to ridicule in one of the most biting ‘Saturday Night Live’ sketches ever. Some senators — then and now — are good questioners, some are not, but that is not the principal issue. The more important point is that senators are, above all, political actors — as they should be. What these hearings require, however, is focused questioning designed to elicit facts; a quest to learn about events, not demonstrate opinions. This involves sensitive issues of memory and gender dynamics. Senatorial questioning — racing against the clock, seeking to make points for voters at home — is not the right model.” (Ronald A. Klain, Op-Ed, “The Senate Should Leave The Kavanaugh Questioning To Professionals,” The Washington Post, 9/18/2018)



1973     Watergate and Related Activities, Select Committee On Presidential Campaign Activities; United States Senate: Chairman Sam J. Ervin (D-NC), and three committee staff members/counselors questioned the witnesses.  Two Democrats, Samuel Dash (Chief Counsel and Staff Director) and James Hamilton (Assistant Chief Counsel), along with one Republican, Fred D. Thompson (Minority Counsel), questioned the witnesses throughout the hearing.

1980     Inquiry Into the Matter of Billy Carter And Libya, Committee On The Judiciary; United States Senate, Subcommittee To Investigate The Activities Of Individuals Representing The Interests Of Foreign Governments:   Subcommittee Chairman Bayh (D-IN) presided over the hearings and the following Senators questioned the witnesses: Senator Pell (D-RI); Senator DeConcini (D-AZ); Senator Leahy (D-VT); Senator Baucus (D-MT); Senator Thurmond (R-SC); Senator Mathias (R-MD); Senator Dole (R-KS); and Senator Lugar (R-IN).  After each Senator had two opportunities to question the witness (Billy Carter), Chairman Bayh called on Outside Special Counsel, Judge Tone to take over the questioning.  

1991     Preliminary Inquiry Into Allegations Regarding Senators Cranston, DeConcini, Glenn, McCain, and Riegle, and Lincoln Savings and Loan, Select Committee on Ethics; United States Senate: Chairman Howell Heflin (D-AL) presided over the hearings. Special Outside Counsel to the Committee, Robert S. Bennett questioned the witnesses.

1995     Investigation of Whitewater Development Corporation and Related Matters, Committee On Banking, Housing, And Urban Affairs; United States Senate, Special Committee To Investigate Whitewater Development Corp. & Related Matters:  Special Committee Chairman Alfonse D’Amato (R-NY) presided over the hearings, and the following individuals questioned the witnesses: Committee Special Counsel Michael Chertoff (R); Democratic Special Counsel Richard Ben-Veniste (D); Chief Counsel Robert J. Giuffra Jr. (R); and Principal Deputy Counsel Lance Cole (D).


(Senate Judiciary Committee, Majority Staff)



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