The First Witness at the Clemens Trial

The prosecution opened the Clemens trial today by having Charles Johnson, former House Parliamentarian and one of the world’s leading experts on the House of Representatives, read House Mouse, Senate Mouse to the jury.

Ok, I am making that up, but it was pretty close. The first exhibit offered by the prosecution was the U.S. Constitution. (I am not making that up). Apparently the prosecution needed Johnson to explain to the jurors that Article I establishes a Congress, consisting of a House and Senate, and grants it legislative powers.

The next exhibit was a photograph of the U.S. Capitol. Charlie correctly identified as such. Shockingly, there was no cross-examination on that point.

For the more substantive part of his direct testimony, Johnson explained the rules of the House, the role of committees, the broad investigatory jurisdiction of COGR, and the fact that it has been granted deposition authority by the House. Pretty much what I expected.

Johnson specifically described COGR’s investigatory jurisdiction as uniquely broad among House committees because it includes both its own legislative jurisdiction and that of any other committee of the House. He also mentioned the fact that COGR is supposed to report findings and recommendations to the committee of legislative jurisdiction. (I didn’t hear any discussion of whether it did so). There was no cross on this point.

One interesting question from the prosecution. Johnson was asked whether one purpose of committees holding public hearings was to convey information to the public. Johnson agreed that this was a “by-product” of public hearings, but demurred somewhat on whether this was a primary purpose of such hearings. There was no cross-examination on this point either.

When it was his turn, Rusty Hardin concentrated on getting Johnson to acknowledge that the congressional investigatory power was not unlimited. Johnson didn’t provide much assistance on this point, but he acknowledged that Congress cannot “expose for the sake of exposure” and that it lacks the authority to conduct a trial.

Clearly a major theme of the defense will be that COGR improperly exercised its investigatory authority to conduct a trial of private misconduct, rather than for legitimate legislative purposes. It remains to be seen how far the court will let it take this theme.