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Moment of Truth Reflection: Twenty-four years after voting to impeach a president he'd long admired, former Maryland Rep. Lawrence Hogan sees disturbing echoes of Watergate on today's Capitol Hill.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

FREDERICK -- This time no one would applaud his courage or send sympathetic letters. Neither would supporters of a disgraced president address him as "Benedict Arnold" and "Judas," or send him packages of human excrement. This time,for former Maryland Republican congressman Lawrence J. Hogan, there would be only televised echoes of Watergate summer.

When the House of Representatives voted last week to launch an impeachment inquiry of President Clinton, Hogan sat at safe distance, at home in a white wicker chair, watching the debate unfold on C-SPAN. The family room, the one overlooking the indoor swimming pool, resounded with Watergatean patter. Quotations from former House Judiciary Committee Chairman Peter W. Rodino Jr., references to a "third-rate burglary," charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

Hogan listened to the current members of the congressman's club for about three hours. Their turn now. Poor souls.

"I guess 'simpatico' was the overwhelming feeling I had," says Hogan, who served on the House Judiciary Committee that conducted the inquiry and, at the end of July 1974, approved three articles of impeachment against President Richard M. Nixon. Two weeks later Nixon resigned.

"Watching the debate, it brought home to me exactly the same things we faced in 1974," says Hogan. "People on both sides did not look at the evidence. They did not make up their minds intellectually, on both sides. They made up their minds emotionally. If they disliked Nixon they were for impeachment. If they loved Nixon no amount of evidence was going to convince them. And that was really astounding. All I kept asking was 'Look at the evidence that I looked at and you'll come to the same conclusion I did.' But nobody would. And I think it's the same situation now."

Hogan turned 70 last month. He still has the thick hair slicked back as it was in the newspaper photographs from Watergate days. It's gray, now, not black, and his stocky frame has grown around the middle. A lawyer and former FBI agent who now teaches at the National Fire Academy and writes books and articles, Hogan has been out of politics since his unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign against Paul S. Sarbanes in 1982.

When he talks about the conflict he faced that Watergate summer, the emotion seems fresher than 24 years old.

He watches C-SPAN and thinks about the decisions members of this House Judiciary Committee may have to make. Many will be publicly condemned no matter what they do. There is the evidence, and then there are other things. Loyalties, politics.

That summer of 1974, Hogan says, he spent a lot of time explaining to GOP colleagues in letters and conversation why he voted for impeachment. Sometimes he got through, many times not. He received about 15,000 letters, some addressing him as "Benedict Arnold" Hogan and "Judas" Hogan. He was mailed packages of feces. Ultimately, he says, he felt he became a pariah among Republicans in Congress.

What an unlikely trip it was for a Nixon man from way back.

"I worked in all three of his campaigns for president," says Hogan, who served three terms in Congress and later four years as Prince George's County executive. "He had campaigned for me. His two daughters and his son-in-law had campaigned for me. I was ideologically in sync with him. I was his ally in many legislative battles. I admired him."

Not important

When it first hit the papers in June 1972, the Watergate story seemed to Hogan nothing more than another round in the long-standing grudge match between the press and Richard M. Nixon. For months Hogan paid little attention to it. When Nixon defeated Sen. George McGovern in a landslide that November, Watergate seemed destined for a future as political trivia. Even in Hogan's largely Democratic congressional district, Nixon was quite popular.

Hogan continued to dismiss the importance of the scandal into the spring of 1973, when the U.S. Senate impaneled a Watergate investigation committee chaired by Sen. Sam Ervin of North Carolina. Hogan's support for Nixon scarcely wavered after the president ordered the firing of the Watergate special prosecutor and the deputy attorney general, triggering the resignation in protest of the attorney general. The debacle of Oct. 20, 1973, became known as the "Saturday Night Massacre."

Soon after this, the House Judiciary Committee inquiry began.

"I started out with a very strong bias in favor of Nixon," says Hogan. Little by little, though, his confidence eroded.

The Nixon investigation went from the fall of 1973 to July 1974. For eight months Hogan and his colleagues on the committee -- 17 Republicans, 21 Democrats -- read stacks of documents, heard witnesses, listened to the tapes. Yes, there was occasional drama, but mostly there was the relentless daily drumbeat of information piled atop information.

"We had to do all of the work that everybody else had to do" as a member of Congress, says Hogan, who was also running for the Maryland Republican gubernatorial nomination in 1974. "And yet had this burden, every single day closeted in this room. Not only the time burden but the psychological burden. Knowing what we were about was of such enormous importance."

Everywhere Hogan went, reporters tagged along. They wanted to know what he was thinking. Which way was he leaning?

Can't say, he would answer. Haven't heard it all. When I've heard it all, when I know, I'll let you know, he would say. Over and over.

Hogan knew why the reporters were constantly taking his pulse. The third-term congressman was a Nixon man, after all. Perceived as one of Nixon's chief allies on the committee, Hogan often argued for changes in procedural rules that struck him as unfair to the president. If Hogan showed any sign of wavering in his support, that would be a significant story.

Hogan wasn't giving a clue. As the day of decision neared, he also was not consulting privately with a group of committee Republicans whom he eventually joined in voting for the first two articles of impeachment. Six Republicans voted for Article I; seven for Article II, two for Article III. Hogan -- the only Republican to vote for all three -- says he consulted with no one before making up his mind.

Final decision

As he recalls, the moment of truth arrived with little drama, on a night in late July after he spoke to a World War II veterans organization in Frederick. On the drive home to Prince George's County, he reviewed the evidence once more in his head.

Hogan had heard all the available evidence, which at this time did not include the Nixon tape recorded six days after the Watergate break-in. That tape was not released until Aug. 5, four days before Nixon resigned. On this tape, Nixon is heard instructing his aides to have the CIA try to thwart the FBI's Watergate investigation.

Absent the so-called "smoking gun," as it became known, there was no one particular thing that so clarified Nixon's role in the Watergate cover-up. It wasn't a matter of one thing, Hogan felt. It was the whole picture. You could not step back and look at all the pieces and not see it. The evidence, he says, was "overwhelming."

The drive back to his home near Landover took about an hour.

"I debated with myself all the way home. And when I got home I said to my wife, 'I'm going to vote for impeachment.' She said 'good,' that's all I remember her saying. It was a relief in a way. Because it was agonizing."

Soon after this, a day before the House Judiciary Committee began its televised debates on impeachment, Hogan held a news conference in his office on Capitol Hill to announce that he was voting for impeachment. He was the first Republican to declare himself.

Nixon took note, marking the moment in his memoirs, having received the news of Hogan's announcement of July 23 while he was in California.

"In San Clemente we tried to minimize the damage Hogan caused by concentrating on the many people who criticized him and his motives," Nixon wrote. "But the fact was that he had dealt us a very bad blow. "

In vilifying Hogan for the announcement, Nixon's people had abundant material. Hogan was condemned by many Republicans for grandstanding, using the issue of impeachment to draw attention to his campaign for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. This was, after all, the same Lawrence Hogan who got some ink for his gubernatorial campaign by hiring a private investigator to check out allegations of corruption against the incumbent Democrat, Marvin Mandel.

Not long after his impeachment votes, Hogan says, he got a call from his Baltimore County campaign manager, Ellen Sauerbrey. She didn't like what she was hearing. Republicans were angry. Support seemed to be slipping.

"I said, 'Oh, Ellen, don't worry about it, everything's fine.' But she was right."

He lost the nomination to former state legislator Louise Gore, who lost the general election to Mandel.

Hogan became convinced that the impeachment votes contributed to his loss in the Republican primary. He also believes his role in the impeachment hurt his chances when he applied for jobs in the Ford, Reagan and Bush administrations.

In retrospect, he acknowledges that holding the press conference before the vote was probably a mistake. But he stands by his votes for impeachment.

"I didn't have any choice," says Hogan. "In the face of the evidence I couldn't have lived with myself if I did anything else."

Pub Date: 10/12/98

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