There are times when you think you know someone and you find out things about that individual that you might have suspected, but didn’t ever confirm.
The late U.S. Rep. Jack Brooks of Beaumont was my congressman for nearly 11 years. I commented on his public service while working as editorial page editor of the Beaumont Enterprise. I spent many hours visiting with him when he would return to the Golden Triangle to do whatever members of Congress do when they meet with their constituents.
I knew a few aspects of the man who dubbed himself Sweet Old Brooks: He was a ferocious Democratic partisan who detested Republicans; his mentor was the famed House Speaker Sam Rayburn; Brooks was in the motorcade the day Lee Harvey Oswald murdered President Kennedy in Dallas and stood behind Lyndon Johnson as LBJ took the oath of office as the 36th president of the United States.
Here’s what I did not know about Sweet Old Brooks: He authored the articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon in 1974. Brooks served on the House Judiciary Committee and took it upon himself to ensure that the panel dotted every “i” and crossed every “t” perfectly.
Politico Magazine has published a fascinating article about my former congressman that lays out the reason why President Nixon labeled Jack Brooks “The Executioner.”
Brooks represented Southeast Texas for 42 years in the House before losing a re-election battle in 1994 during the Republican sweep of Congress. He returned to Beaumont and continued to serve on various bank boards until his death in December 2012.
I lost track of Jack Brooks after he lost his House race. I moved from Beaumont to the Texas Panhandle the next month and became involved in my new duties at the Amarillo Globe-News.
Politico’s article about Brooks discusses how the cantankerous old Marine essentially wrote the book on how the “opposition party” should respond to political crises involving a president of the other party.
As Politico reports:
A list of 37 potential charges against Nixon, introduced in various resolutions and including crimes ranging from domestic surveillance to illegal campaign practices, were now the subject of intense debate in Congress. The House Judiciary Committee chairman, Peter Rodino, and special counsel, John Doar, equivocated on how to decide the official charges against Nixon. Neither one felt confident, and the committee’s proceedings seemed to languish month after month, capturing headlines but moving nowhere. Observers wondered whether the chairman was unwilling or just inept.
Brooks, on the other hand, felt assured. In early July 1974, he seized the initiative by drafting the articles himself, along with the help of staff. As far as Brooks, the tough-talking former Marine who relished legislative fights, was concerned, Chairman Rodino “wasn’t worth a shit” in the impeachment process, as Brooks later told an interviewer. He was certainly fair and experienced as a legislator, but Brooks thought Rodino “didn’t have the guts a chairman needs to have.”
While other lawmakers were concerned about looking too overzealous or partisan, Brooks’ concerns were larger. Nixon was clearly guilty of impeachable offenses, had violated his oath and needed to be removed, regardless of any future political fallout the Dems might suffer for it. Brooks made it no secret that he was enthusiastically pursuing impeachment and conviction. At a Democratic caucus amid the Judiciary Committee hearings for his impeachment articles, for instance, someone asked about the theme of the second article concerning Nixon’s alleged misuse of the FBI, CIA and IRS. Brooks, as one staffer remembered it, was leaning way back in his chair and smoking a cigar. He came down on the chair hard, took the cigar out of his mouth, and said, “The theme of this article is we’re gonna get that son of a bitch out of there!”
To Brooks, the Judiciary had been chosen to be the tip of the spear. Brooks was determined that it be a sharp one.
Well, there you have it. Is there a lesson to be learned as today’s congressional Democrats ponder how to respond to another Republican president?
Man, oh man. You think you know someone . . .
As many of his supporters used to say about Rep. Brooks, “He might be an SOB, but he’s our SOB.”