Press Releases

Conyers Calls on Committee to Put Partisan Rhetoric Aside, Return to People’s Business

Washington, DC, September 12, 2012

This morning, Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) delivered the following opening statement during a House Judiciary Committee hearing entitled, “The Obama Administration’s Abuse of Power”:

“Mr. Chairman, I have and continue to enjoy a  respectful relationship with you and deeply appreciate the manner in which you have chaired this committee over the last two years.  However, I must respectfully observe that the title for today’s hearing—‘the Obama Administration’s Abuse of Power’—is unnecessarily open-ended and provocative, and would ask that you withdraw the hearing title from the official record.

The use of such an incendiary term with regard to our president should not be taken lightly.  I believe it is particularly inappropriate when no factual or legal predicate has been presented to justify this terminology.

In my judgment, the tenor of this hearing fails to distinguish between differences of opinion and true abuses of the public trust.

Members are entitled to their political opinion.  They are not entitled to label every disagreement with the White House an ‘abuse’ of power.

I first came to the House of Representatives in 1965, and I have had enough disagreements with enough presidents to recognize that not every difference in policy preference is evidence of an abuse of executive power.

President Nixon and I disagreed on many issues, including civil rights and crime policy.  Those were political disagreements.  The abuses came later.

In 1973, the Senate Watergate committee uncovered President Nixon’s ‘Enemies List.’  I was the thirteenth individual named on that list, so I am able to speak from first-hand experience.  The investigation of this committee revealed the Nixon administration’s plans to ‘use the available federal machinery’ to attack its ‘political enemies,’ including illegal wiretaps, slush funds, and break-ins.

In 1974, we learned that the president had engaged directly in attempts to obstruct the Watergate investigation.  These acts—damaging to the office and, in many case, criminal—constituted true abuse of power.

It is true that, as chairman of this committee in the 110th Congress, I called a hearing examining the Bush administration’s broad claims of executive power.  We titled that hearing ‘Executive Power and its Constitutional Limitations.’ 

I believe we kept the tone of that hearing academic and respectful.  We did not presuppose any wrongdoing in the title noticed to the public.

It is also true that, in March of 2009, the committee issued a report titled ‘Reining in the Imperial Presidency.’  In that report, totaling 478 pages and supported by 1736 footnotes, we use the term ‘abuse’ with respect to issues like the unlawful hiring and firing of Justice Department personnel, warrantless wiretapping, and torture of detainees.  We concluded that this conduct constituted an abuse of executive authority only after years of research and documentation.  Our conclusions were backed by successful litigation and numerous inspector general reports.  And we did not release these findings two months prior to a presidential election.

Mr. Chairman, you may believe that the president’s recess appointments are unconstitutional.  This issue will be resolved by the courts.  There is little we can do or say here to change the outcome of that litigation.

Similarly, Mr. Chairman, you may believe that the Obama administration’s decision to invoke executive privilege in the Fast and Furious investigation is ‘unprecedented and abusive.’ 

This case is not as clean cut as when the Bush administration invoked a blanket privilege over all testimony and documents in the U.S. attorneys investigation, and I would argue that the invocation of privilege here is not ‘unprecedented.’  It will be up to the courts to decide whether or not it is ‘abusive.’ Again, there is little more that we can add to the debate today.

And so, in the few working days that remain in this Congress, I would urge my colleagues to address some of the issues that will not have the benefit of a first hearing in this committee, let alone a second:

  • We have not had a single hearing on the outrageous attempts to suppress the vote through new identification requirements and limits on registration and early voting.  I was here for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and I consider these new state laws a direct threat to our democratic process and the very fabric of our nation.

  • We have not yet had a single serious discussion about real, comprehensive immigration reform—or what steps we can take to invest in young people, brought to the United States through no fault of their own, who want to pursue an education or serve in our military.

  • We have done nothing to address the stunning rate of incarceration in the United States—seven times that of the rest of the world, 40 times for our African American population.  2.3 million Americans behind bars is a sign of gross injustice, let alone misuse of funds, and surely worthy of discussion.

  • We have had hearings, briefings, and a contempt citation on the floor targeted at Operation Fast and Furious.  But we have not yet held a single hearing in this committee to address the flood of weapons trafficking across our borders and into Mexico.  And we have not yet had a single discussion about gun violence in this country, the scourge of which claims 33,000 lives every year—one minor every hour.

I urge my colleagues to put partisan rhetoric aside and return to the people’s business.