Watergate Figure Peter Rodino Dies

The congressman who presided over the Nixon impeachment hearings has died. Democrat Peter Rodino was 95. Melissa Block talks with attorney John Doar about Rodino, who served 40 years in Congress and was the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate era.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The congressman who presided over the impeachment hearings for Richard Nixon has died. Democrat Peter Rodino, who served in the House for 40 years, was 95.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

He was a little-known congressman and the new chairman of the Judiciary Committee when the House voted to allow the committee to review grounds for impeachment. He led the committee through months of preparation and hearings as the members tried to determine whether or not to go forward with impeaching President Nixon.

SIEGEL: Rodino chose John Doar to be special counsel for the committee. Dorr remembers Rodino's fairness in guiding the deliberations.

Mr. JOHN DOAR (Former Special Counsel, House Judiciary Committee): He was able to impose discipline on the staff. He insisted that there be no leaks to the press. There were no leaks to the press. He insisted that it be bipartisan, it not be partisan. There was no partisanship on the staff. In fact, it was remarkably non-partisan. And that is the result of good leadership. And although Congressman Rodino was a quiet man, he had the knack of leading, of managing, and he did it very well, in my opinion.

BLOCK: In July of 1974, as the House Judiciary Committee prepared to vote on the articles of impeachment, Chairman Rodino made his opening statement.

(Soundbite of July 1974 speech)

Representative PETER RODINO (Democrat; Chairman, House Judiciary Committee): We have deliberated. We have been patient. We have been fair. Now the American people, the House of Representatives and the Constitution and the whole history of our republic demand that we make up our minds.

SIEGEL: After the committee voted and passed three of the five articles of impeachment, Peter Rodino said he went to a back room, called his wife and cried. He talked about that moment in an interview with NPR's Susan Stamberg in 1989.

(Soundbite of 1989 interview)

Rep. RODINO: Notwithstanding the fact that I was Democrat, notwithstanding the fact that there were many who thought that Rodino wanted to bring down a president as a Democrat, you know, he was our president.

SUSAN STANBERG: Yes.

Rep. RODINO: And this is our system that was being tested. And here was a man who had achieved the highest office that anyone could gift him with, you know. And you're bringing down the presidency of the United States, and it was a sad, sad commentary on our whole history and, of course, on Richard Nixon.

BLOCK: Peter Rodino was chairman of the House Judiciary Committee that voted to impeach President Nixon. He died on Saturday at the age of 95.

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