James E. Rogan
James E. Rogan’s ascendancy into the national political spotlight has been remarkable.
Just five years ago, Rogan was a municipal court judge in Glendale. Today he is one of the most recognized members of the House of Representatives largely because of his aggressive role as a House manager in the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton.
But often in politics, a high profile makes a large target. And Rogan, a Republican who represents the Glendale, Burbank and Pasadena areas, is in the cross hairs of Democrats for the most part because of his prominent role in impeaching the president. In addition, Rogan’s once conservative district is becoming more moderate, with Democrats holding a 6% edge in registration, making him vulnerable to a strong challenge.
“Rogan is on the endangered species list,” says Democratic party spokesman Bob Mulholland.
For his part, the 41-year-old Rogan faces his political future unafraid. He declares himself ready to take on challengers from any quarter, even one backed by the White House.
In fact, his name has been floated as a possible candidate for the U.S. Senate against Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) next year, a prospect Rogan acknowledges considering.
The Times recently interviewed Rogan in his Pasadena office about his role in the impeachment proceedings, and his political future.
Question: Do you think public opinion triumphed over justice in the impeachment trial?
Answer: I think that trial procedures suffered because of public opinion. In the rush to get this over with, the Senate expedited its own rules and processes and did not have a trial in the constitutional sense. The senators felt in a bipartisan way that the public wanted this over with and therefore they were going to get it over with. We told a group of senators we met with that if we were allowed to call our witnesses we could put on our case in about 10 days to two weeks maximum. Rather than simply letting us call our witnesses and try our case in two weeks, we spent five weeks having both sides tell the senators what our evidence would be. The trial aspect of the case was boiled down to three hours. They told us we are only going to let you depose three witnesses. The first rule was you can’t depose a witness without our permission. Even if you depose a witness you can’t present the evidence in the Senate without our permission.
They basically said of this 5 1/2-week process, you have three hours to play selected video clips, and that was your trial. If they had simply let us put on the case, bring the witnesses in the chamber, we could have done it in half the time and not spent all this time having lawyers on both sides spinning the evidence. I think that was unfortunate because, to do that, they had to violate the precedents of the Senate that go back over 200 years. Most people think we’ve had only one impeachment trial of the president, which is true, but we’ve had a number of impeachments of federal judges dating back to the 1790s.
To the ultimate question, did justice suffer? The answer is no. It worked exactly the way the framers intended it to work. The framers didn’t intend for us to have two trials, one in the House and one in the Senate. They intended the House to act essentially as a preliminary hearing, to gather the evidence and make a judgment, whether it appears that there was a strong belief that the president committed impeachable offenses. The framers specifically intended that out of the millions of people in this country, only 100 of them would make that call, and in that sense they made that call.
I think the people who wanted to see the president removed feel that justice wasn’t served because the ultimate goal they were seeking wasn’t achieved. But from my perspective, I think justice was served because the Constitution worked.
Q: Why do you think the entire episode was seen as such a partisan effort?
A: It was an interesting dynamic to watch. The day the [independent counsel Kenneth W.] Starr report was delivered, there was a pall cast over Washington. The next morning, [House Minority Leader] Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) and [then-House Speaker] Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and the leadership on the Republican and Democratic sides said we are all going to work together and we are going to get to the bottom of this. I think Dick Gephardt’s line was, “Next to a declaration of war, this is the most important thing Congress will ever do.” As politicians on both sides are wont to do, they held their breath and watched the polls. When the report came out, the White House was very effective in being able to spin the story that this is all just about sex, it is about a consensual relationship. They started going off onto the notion that this is a sex-obsessed, out-of-control prosecutor.
In the polls, that notion hooked. Once the polls held firm, we Republicans saw the idea of bipartisanship dissolve like a slug that just had salt poured on top of it. It became very evident to us that this was going to be a poll-driven event. That’s unfortunate, but I can’t say that I blame the Democrats politically for that because there is something to be said about whether a popular president should be removed from office.
I’m more concerned about the precedent for future presidents than I am for what occurred in this instance. Politically, whether Bill Clinton remains in office for 21 more months or was removed, I don’t think it makes that much of a difference because he is by definition a lame duck president now. The focus of the nation is very quickly moving toward 2000 and who the successor will be, and the Clinton legacy, for better or worse, is winding down. I’m very concerned, 25 or 50 years from now, we have a president who has violated his oath of office and is called before the bar of the Senate. I’m concerned that president will be able to say we have already established that lying under oath is not a removable offense. We’ve already established that obstruction of justice is not an impeachable offense. We’ve established a precedent now and I think it will come back and bite us in years to come. We did it because people were more concerned about protecting their guy in office than they were in taking a step back and saying, partisanship aside, we have got to do the right thing.
I think our standards have changed. In 1974 when it became clear that President Nixon had lied to the American people, his political capital in Congress dissipated. Now, when it became clear that the president abjectly lied to the American people in a sexual harassment case, there was a collective shrug of the shoulders. Maybe the economy is the bottom line. That is the common excuse these days. I don’t know if that is true or not.
Q: You were described as being dogged and vitriolic in your presentation. One report said you were barely able to contain your smoldering anger and contempt. Is this just your prosecutorial style? Were you truly angry?
A: I don’t think that is a fair or true analysis. I would bet you would be hard pressed to point to any time I was angry, smoldering, bitter or disrespectful in any way to the president. In fact, the Senate Democrats who were doing interviews about the president during the trial and talking about his conduct used adjectives and descriptions that I’ve never used in public to discuss or talk about him. I’ve always tried to discuss the president and presidency in respectful terms. In fact, in my closing arguments to the Senate, I spoke about my first meeting with the president 20 years ago. I spoke about how my family and my daughters prayed for the president. If people mistake my seriousness of purpose, my treating this as a very serious procedure with smoldering anger, I regret that. I would challenge anybody to point to any time that I’ve exhibited that type of temperament. When I’ve stood in front of the United States Senate and looked 100 senators in the eye and said, “I believe you need to remove the president of the United States from office and replace him with the vice president, Al Gore,” that was a very serious request. I wasn’t about to minimize it or to try to make light of it because I knew that would be disrespectful to the presidency and to my obligations as the House manager.
Q: What did you think of Monica Lewinsky?
A: I was surprised by her. I was told that during the grand jury phase, she exhibited an aura of sensitivity, vulnerability, a charm to the extent that the grand jury fell in love with her personally and toward the end of her testimony one finds in the transcripts that the jurors were providing personal counsel on her life. I walked in expecting this shy, somewhat vulnerable young lady and I found her to be just the opposite. She was savvy, she wasn’t rude but she was very smooth. It was very clear that whatever perception she wanted to give to the grand jury during her testimony, she had no intention of giving that to any of us on the House manager side.
There were also, off camera, several instances of coaching from her attorney. She was not there to give any information to the House managers over and above what she had to give, and there were many instances of off camera sighs or rolling of eyes. Rep. Ed Bryant (R-Tenn.) has been criticized [because] of the way he handled that deposition because he wasn’t aggressive. He didn’t want to be rude. He wanted to be respectful. He didn’t want to put a young lady who he perceived had gone through a horrible, traumatic international experience any additional trauma. In retrospect, it didn’t appear she was experiencing any trauma. But I think Ed handled himself appropriately under all of the facts and circumstances given when he went in to do that deposition.
Q: What about Vernon Jordan?
A: There were much of the same characteristics. He clearly wasn’t going to say anything that he didn’t have to say. There were many times I felt he was overly smug and going out of his way to demonstrate that. Neither of them were witnesses that were going to provide information that they didn’t have to. That was actually the interesting dynamic to make in arguing for witnesses. The House managers wanted to bring in live witnesses, not fool around with depositions, not fool around with us editing their testimony, they wanted to bring them in the chamber, put them under oath. Let the world see them, let the senators see them. The unvarnished account, no editing, no spin. The Democrats in the Senate and the White House, in particular, were apoplectic over the idea of bringing in live witnesses. I could never understand that because none of the witnesses we wanted to bring in were our friends. None of them were our interns, none of them were our golfing buddies, none of them were our employees. These were all people in the president’s universe. They were his friends but they didn’t want those witnesses to come in. I could never understand that. We didn’t want to bring in the list of witnesses from the Loyal Order of the Right-Wing Conspiracy, we wanted to bring in the witnesses that were all the president’s people.
Q. At times during the trial, members of the Senate seemed to treat the House managers with disdain. Did you ever feel you were up against insurmountable odds?
A. There is a reason why in debate in both the Senate and in the House, we never refer to each other as the Senate or the House. We generically refer to each other as “the other body.” The concept of the Senate treating us like a bunch of serfs is not unique to impeachment proceedings. I think it has something to do with the lofty nature of their perception. They forget, of course, that the House was the first one created. We’re in Article 1, Section 1 of the Constitution. This is not my trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. It is just the truth. House members tend to always be amused by that attitude. You may remember in one of Henry Hyde"s presentations where he looked around at all of the senators with a grin on his face and said, “I understand you view us as the blue collar House. We may be an annoyance, but I remind you we are a Constitutional annoyance.” Everybody just chuckled because they knew what he was talking about.
Q: Are you going to run for reelection?
A: I don’t know yet and even if I did know, I wouldn’t tell you. I just got reelected. It’s five weeks into my two-year term. It is premature for me to make any announcements.
Q: Has the outcome of the impeachment trial affected your decision?
A: No. I may win, I may lose, but it won’t be on impeachment. The Democrats tried to turn 1998 into an referendum on impeachment. The press always views it like I barely slipped through, but actually my margin in 1998, when I was impeaching the president, was greater than my margin when I was elected in 1996 when I wasn’t.
Q: Do you think impeachment will be an issue used against you, should you run again?
A: I think I’ve bucked a lot of conventional wisdom in this entire process. People don’t know what to do with a politician who not only casts a tough vote against the polls but puts his money where his mouth is and just sails against the wind and doesn’t seem to be deterred or to flinch in the face of potential political disaster.
I hope my opponent, whoever that might be, tries to make impeachment an issue because that is a debate I want to have. We are going to talk about a president who used his power and influence to decimate the sexual harassment laws as they apply in the country, a president who used his power and influence to perjure himself and obstruct justice. I want to find the Democrat out there, the liberal out there, the person who wants to step up to the plate against me who is going to mouth piety on fighting for women’s rights and sexual harassment laws but then takes a pass when it is his guy who does it.
I put my political career on the line to defend those laws even when it wasn’t popular to do it. So, let’s have that debate. If anybody expects me to back down or apologize for standing up for the law and the constitution in this area, they don’t know me very well.
Q: After all is said and done, will you be able to sit down and break bread with the Barney Franks and the Howard Bermans and Henry Waxmans of the world? Or is this going to chill your relationships with House Democrats?
A: A local paper did a profile on me a few months ago, and the reporter decided, “Who can I go to who will give me a different perspective on Rogan?” He decided to call Barney Frank [D-Mass.] because he figured Barney is my ideological opposite and will provide great canon fodder. So he went over and interviewed Barney Frank, and the first question he asked was, “Tell me about Jim Rogan.” The reporter told me later that Barney’s eyes lit up and he said, “Jim Rogan” as he reached across his desk and he handed him a photo of Barney holding my daughters at a party we were attending.
Barney Frank is on the Judiciary Committee. Barney Frank and John Conyers, both Democrats, are two of the people I respect the most. I hope if you were to interview them they would return the compliment. Henry Waxman [D-Los Angeles] and Howard Berman [D-Mission Hills], locally, are two very fine congressman. I like them personally as friends, I respect them as adversaries. I especially respect their commitment to the issues as they see them, however unintentionally incorrect it is.
So, I guess the short answer is not at all. They are my colleagues as well as my friends. I have enough practical political horse sense to know that at the end of the day, none of us can get anything through with any degree of effectiveness if we don’t work together. That is not to say partisanship ends at election time. We have our respective jobs to do. We are going to battle over control of the Congress, but on a personal level I’ve worked with them before. I’ll work with them again.
Q: Nonetheless, do you believe the Democrats have painted a bull’s-eye on your back?
A: Yes, I do.
Q: Do you think they will put a lot of money and effort into an attempt to defeat you?
A: I know they will, but do I fault them for that? The answer is no. That is their job. Bill Clinton wants a liberal Congress as his legacy. We want to make sure we don’t give that to him. We want to give him a Congress that’s caused a balanced budget and welfare reform and all of the things that [have] given him the opportunity to ride high on the polls. It is not the first time that I’ve had a bull’s-eye painted on my back. The reporters keep asking me why I don’t appear to be shaken or rattled by this. I chuckle because as effective a politician that Bill Clinton is, he is a piker compared to Willie Brown. My freshman term in the state Assembly, I was Willie Brown’s No. 1 target for election, and when you’ve been targeted by Willie Brown, the rest is easy. As long as Willie isn’t the guy throwing off the battle plans, I’m not losing too much sleep over it.
Bob Rector is opinion page editor of the San Fernando Valley and Ventura County editions of The Times.