THE OCTOBER SURPRISE TASK FORCE (House of Representatives - September 12, 1991)

[Page: H6511]

The SPEAKER pro tempore (Ms. Waters). Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from New York [Mr. Solomon], is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mr. SOLOMON. Madam Speaker, Walter Lippman, that great American liberal, in his famous treatise entitled `public opinion,' published back in 1922, wrote the following, and I quote:

That legalized atrocity, the congressional investigation, in which Congressmen, starved of their legitimate food for thought, go on a wild and feverish manhunt, and do not stop at cannibalism.

Twenty-two years later, in 1944, then Senator Harry S. Truman, said in the Senate, and I quote: `In my opinion, the power of investigation is one of the most important powers of Congress.'

And he went on: `The manner in which that power is exercised will largely determine the position and prestige of the Congress in the future.'

Madam Speaker, while Lippman and Truman had slightly different views on the value of congressional investigations, I think they both would agree that the reputation of the Congress can be greatly affected, for better or worse, by the manner in which investigations are conducted.

I raise this point because I am greatly disturbed by the prospect of an ad hoc task force conducting a formal investigation into allegations that are over a decade old.

I am referring, of course, to the Speaker's announcement of August 5, that he was calling on the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee to form a task force to inquire into allegations that the 1980 Republican Presidential campaign was somehow involved in a delay of the release of hostages in Iran.

Madam Speaker, my concern is not so much about the subject of the inquiry, though I question just how much can be ascertained some 11 years after the fact. Instead I am more concerned about the wisdom of having an ad hoc task force conducting such a formal inquiry, and all its implications for the institution.

My major concern centers on the fact that task forces are not subject to House rules and procedures, including sunshine rules for meetings and hearings, protections for minority members, and the rights of witnesses.

All of these rules which now apply to House standing committees and subcommittees have been developed over two centuries and have served this institution well in ensuring orderly process, accountability, and openness.

But with just one stroke of the Speaker's pen in creating this so-called October surprise task force, these rules, procedures and protections have been thrown out the window. What we are left with is an animal of uncertain origin, traits or behavior being unleashed to roam freely in search of who-knows-what?

Madam Speaker, I raise this issue not because I have any question about the intelligence, integrity or fairness of the person who has been designated chairman of the task force. I have the greatest respect for the gentleman from Indiana [Mr. Hamilton], dating back to our many years together on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

I know he didn't ask for this task and was somewhat reluctant to take it given all the important current concerns of his Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East. And I can't say I blame him for being apprehensive about mounting this uncertain beast he has been stuck with.

I am sure he has been already been struck with many of the same questions I have about the nature of the beast:

Are we creatures of the leadership or the committee?

What authority does the task force have?

What staff will it have and how much will it cost?

How long will the inquiry last?

Will we have subpoena power and how do we get it?

Should we be subject to the same open meeting and hearing rules as other committees?

Should we give the minority the same rights to call witnesses and file views as they have on House committees?

What are our quorum requirements and how many Members are required to depose witnesses?

Will we have both domestic and foreign travel authority?

Do we file our final report with the committee, the leadership, or the House?

How do we evade the Democratic caucus rule that limits committees to not more than eight subcommittees, including task forces lasting more than 6 months

Madam Speaker, these are just a few of the questions that are raised at the outset, before the task force has even been fully appointed or organized. Can you imagine how many more questions will arise once it begins its inquiry? Can you imagine the potential procedural and legal problems which might arise when public witnesses try to deal with this unusual entity.

Madam Speaker, I am raising these issues and questions now because I am concerned about the reputation of this institution. If we do not address them properly from the outset and ensure that the task force is operating within the same limits as other House entities, we will be opening ourselves to all manner of difficulties and even embarrassment down the road.

I strongly urge the bipartisan leadership and the Foreign Affairs Committee to sit down and iron these matters out now, before the task force sets off on its uncertain course.

Madam Speaker, I will include in the Record at this point a letter I have written to the Speaker on this matter. The letter follows:

House of Representatives,
Washington, DC, September 12, 1991.

Hon. Tom Foley,
Speaker, House of Representatives, Washington, DC.

[Page: H6512]

Dear Mr. Speaker: As the Ranking Republican on the Rules Committee, I am writing to express my concern about certain procedural issues raised in connection with the creation of the so-called `October Surprise' task force which you announced back on August 5th.

Most of my concerns revolve around the fact that task forces are not subject to the same House Rules as standing committees and subcommittees. I would therefore like to propound the following questions:

(1) Is the task force to be considered a leadership or committee task force?

(2) Will the task force have subpoena authority, and if so, how will it get it?

(3) Will a time limit be placed on the inquiry, and if not, how long do you expect it to last?

(4) If the task force lasts longer than six months, how will this be reconciled with the Democratic Caucus prohibition on more than eight subcommittees, including task forces lasting longer than six months?

(5) Will the task force require additional staff, and, if so, how many and at what cost?

(6) Will the task force be subject to all the same rules as other House committees and subcommittees, and, if so, how will such authority, requirements, and procedures be extended to the task force--by the House, the Foreign Affairs Committee, or self-adopted rules?

(7) Will the minority have the same right to call witnesses and file views as it now has under House Rules for committees?

(8) Will the task force have foreign and domestic travel authority, and, if so, do you expect the task force to engage in extensive travel?

(9) Will witnesses before the task force have the same protections as they now have before committees under House Rules?

(10) Will the task force file its final report with the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Speaker, or the House?

I am sure you will agree that the sooner these questions are resolved, preferably before the task force begins its work, the greater will be the chances that the integrity of its proceedings and the reputation of the House will be protected.

With all best wishes, I am

Very truly yours,

Gerald B. Solomon,
Member of Congress.

[TIME: 1630]