Thursday, January 03, 2013

When the World Tuned In to Watch...

When I began processing the Ed L. Jenkins Papers, I was excited to see that his collection included some papers related to the Iran-Contra Hearings. In 1987, in between advocating for trade and budget legislation, Jenkins found himself appointed to the House Select Committee to Investigate Covert Arms Transactions with Iran. Along with the Senate Select Committee on Secret Military Assistance to Iran and the Nicaraguan Opposition, the televised hearings became known as the Iran-Contra Hearings. The hearings marked the first time that joint hearings were held by the House and Senate.

On May 5, 1987, the world tuned in to watch the first of 41 days of the televised joint hearings that made political figures such as Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, Vice Admiral John Poindexter, Senator Daniel Inouye, Senator Warren Rudman, and Representative Ed Jenkins household names.

The files related to the hearings in the collection range from exhibits and committee memorandum to  reports and testimonies. What I found most interesting in the files was the volume of constituent letters and telephone messages responding to the hearings, all maintained by Jenkins' constituent services staff.

In July 1987, Lt. Col. Oliver North began his week-long testimony before the joint committee. It was during the North testimony that Jenkins took center stage to question the National Security Council staff member about his involvement with the armed sales transaction to Iran. Constituent responses in the letters and telephone messages sent to the Congressman’s office range from outrage over the “lynch-mob” style of the hearings to praise over Jenkins’ calm and effective ability to question Lt. Col. North and other witnesses in the hearings.  And while the majority of the constituent responses praise Jenkins, others responded in indignation over the words and actions of other members of the joint committee.

Regardless of who or what was “right” or “wrong” in the political sphere, reading the responses by the public (the good, the bad, and the ugly) demonstrates the continuing importance of constituents expressing their opinions to their elected officials.

Post by Tammi Kim, Processing Archivist, Russell Library

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