New CVC Exhibit Highlights Congressional Investigations
In the Capitol Visitor Center, behind the replica of the Statue of Freedom, a small address book sits in a glass case.
Under the name “HH” are two phone numbers: one for “home” and the other listed as “WH,” aka the White House.
The address book belonged to Watergate burglar Bernard Barker, and the HH stood for E. Howard Hunt, a former CIA officer who worked in the White House during President Richard M. Nixon’s administration.
Hunt directed the infamous break-in, and this small blue book helped link the burglary to the White House, ultimately leading to Nixon’s political demise.
It’s one of a number of artifacts on display in the CVC as part of a new “Congress Investigates” exhibit, highlighting congressional investigations spanning nearly 200 years. Every six months, the CVC displays documents in Exhibition Hall around a central theme and last week, latest display was unveiled.
“Investigations are a fascinating topic, and many of the investigations highlighted in the exhibit focused on important issues that are still relevant today,” CVC spokeswoman Sharon Gang wrote in an email. Gang said the exhibits “help illustrate the role of Congress in defining and helping to realize national goals and aspirations.”
Though the investigation into the Watergate break-in is one of the more high-profile probes in the exhibit, the documents on display highlight 18 different investigations that fall under general topics: exploration, common defense, unity, general welfare and knowledge. Each topic is tied to a congressional power dictated in the Constitution.
In a glass case for the exploration section sits S Res 283, dated April 17, 1912, which authorized an investigation into the Titanic disaster. In the next case is a handwritten House resolution dating back to 1792, which authorized the first congressional investigation into the executive branch. That probe delved into the defeat of Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair during a battle with American Indians.
Other investigations highlighted in the exhibit included the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., the 1929 stock market crash, Union Army defeats in the Civil War and cheating on TV game shows.
Gang said the artifacts, which range from resolutions and committee reports to newspaper articles and photographs, are on loan from the Library of Congress and the National Archives. CVC exhibit staff worked to develop the exhibit along with staff at Library of Congress, the National Archives and the House and Senate Historians’ offices.
In addition to displaying the documents, the exhibit also explains how the investigations sparked new policies. During the 1950s, Congress investigated how comic books were affecting a “dramatic rise in juvenile delinquency” and conducted televised hearings on the subject. After the hearings, comic book publishers revamped their content standards, though likely to the disappointment of a 14-year-old from Pennsylvania, whose letter displayed in the exhibit argued that comic books deter crime.
“The person or persons committing the crime always gets caught. The fear of this stops crime and stops juvenile delinquency,” the teen wrote in his June 1954 letter to the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency. “In fact there is not a sufficient number of the comic books on the book stands.”
The final display explores limits to Congress’ investigative powers, highlighting a Supreme Court case in 1954 when labor organizer John Thomas Watkins questioned the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
“The Bill of Rights is applicable to congressional investigations, as it is to all forms of governmental action,” wrote Chief Justice Earl Warren in the 1957 opinion displayed in the exhibit.
Visitors to the Capitol can see these artifacts for themselves now until Congress Investigates closes on Sept. 12.
The 114th: CQ Roll Call’s Guide to the New Congress
Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.