By Juliet Eilperin
But the story isn't exactly true, and Rogan is eager to correct the record. In fact, he explained, he carefully poured the beers in glasses sitting on a ledge before the jury in order to convey exactly how drunk the defendant had been when he drove up on a sidewalk and killed two mothers and two children. Rogan practiced the act before a mirror in his home and in an empty courtroom, so he could pull off a closing argument without saying a single word.
Despite the subsequent conviction, Rogan now offers a less-than-sanguine assessment of his tactics: "I know it looks good on paper and sounds good on TV, but I don't think it was particularly effective."
The comment is classic Rogan, and explains in part why House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) selected the freshman to help prepare the GOP for a possible report on potential impeachable offenses from independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr. While other novice lawmakers might have issued press releases about their select assignment, Rogan has barely uttered a peep about the fact that he has completed a study on past congressional investigations of the executive branch and is preparing to brief House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) on the subject.
Despite his law-and-order background, Rogan, 40, is far from a typical Republican. Born to a single mother in San Francisco, he was raised by relatives and worked as a bartender after dropping out of high school.
But he eventually earned bachelor's and law degrees in California, going on to become a prosecutor and a municipal court judge before running for the state Assembly in 1994. He quickly became majority leader, and ran for Congress two years later once veteran Republican Carlos J. Moorhead announced his retirement.
The assignment from Gingrich has propelled the freshman into a limelight he says he doesn't deserve. "The press is overamplifying my importance and the significance of what I'm doing," Rogan said shortly after being tapped for the job in late March. "When's the last time a politician came to you and said, 'I am not really as significant as I think I am?' That's just not in our nature."
Actually, reticence -- as well as a willingness to step outside the boundaries of partisanship -- has practically become Rogan's trademark. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times earlier this year, he insisted that California Democrats Jane Harman and Henry Waxman deserved much of the credit for his amendment preserving Los Angeles County's public safety broadcast spectrum. He noted that it had been the Democrats' amendment first but when they were rebuffed by Republicans on the House Commerce Committee, Rogan placed his name on it, and it passed unanimously.
Self-effacing comments aside, Rogan's review could have a significant impact on how Congress handles an independent counsel report on President Clinton, particularly if Starr decides to file an interim one this summer before the fall elections. Though Gingrich has privately told colleagues that Starr's findings could benefit the GOP politically, the Republicans have not taken many concrete steps to prepare for a referral.
Rogan emphasized that GOP leaders have not decided how to respond to any report from Starr.
"There's no protocol for Congress to receive the information," he said. "Do a bunch of pickup trucks come up to the Capitol and dump information on the Triangle?"
After speaking with current and former members from both parties, Rogan said he felt strongly that any probe of possible independent counsel charges against Clinton should take place in the Judiciary Committee. "Most people feel that regular order of the House should be followed as much as possible," he said.
That recommendation should sit well with Hyde, who has consistently voiced his support for such a move. Gingrich, however, has indicated he will not make decisions on procedure until Congress is faced with a report from Starr.
Hyde, who deliberately shied away from commenting last week on the prospect of a Starr report, called Rogan "one of our most highly qualified members."
Dissension within the Republican Conference, whether it centers on procedure or substance, has often dogged House investigations. Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who has overseen a probe of the Teamsters, warned Rogan that other Republicans often become critics when an investigation drags on.
"Investigations and oversight, it's hard, it's slow, your friends are your worst enemy and it's frustrating," Hoekstra said. "A lot of Republicans come from business backgrounds. We're not used to not getting results."
Like other Republicans, Rogan is cautious about raising the public's expections on how the lawmakers would treat a Starr report, and he deliberately avoids using the word "impeachment." But in conversations with Republican and Democratic lawmakers, Rogan asked how they would proceed if faced with a report on possible impeachable offenses by Clinton. He also consulted Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.) and former Senate majority leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.). Both played significant roles in the Watergate proceedings.
Even as he looked to the past, however, Rogan said the Watergate investigation cannot be equated to Congress's current predicament.
"Watergate is not a model," he said, noting that the independent prosecutor was investigating at the same time Congress was holding hearings. But Rogan added that he was inspired by the Senate hearings under Sam Ervin (D-N.C.), which he watched on a daily basis.
"There was often a bipartisan camaraderie among members in what was a search for the truth," he said.
Rogan contrasted that climate with the current one, criticizing the "partisan attack mode from some of my [Democratic] colleagues in Congress on Judge Starr, without giving him a chance of reporting to Congress."
If faced with the prospect of impeachment, Rogan said he would rely on the ethical code he developed as a prosecutor, rather than political loyalties. Rogan said as a prosecutor he was always willing to withdraw a case if he did not believe he had offered the jury enough evidence to convict.
In the same manner, he said, lawmakers have an obligation to place their constitutional duties above all others.
"None of us raised our hand and took an oath to the Republican or Democratic national committees. Our loyalty is to that document, not to men, but to those principles of government," Rogan said. "I want to look back 30 years from now and say I did the right constitutional thing, not the right party thing."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company