Six years ago, it was the Democrats holding the politically loaded hearings.
In 2009, former New Jersey governor Jon Corzine (D) was facing a tough reelection fight in a state that his Democratic Party very much wanted to hold. The GOP challenger was a former U.S. attorney named Chris Christie. By June of that year, Christie held a solid lead over Corzine.
He was up by 10 points in a Quinnipiac University poll that came out June 10 -- two weeks before Christie was called to Capitol Hill by a Democrat-controlled subcommittee to answer questions about his time in the Justice Department.
The question at issue was Christie's use of "deferred prosecution agreements," a sort of fix-it ticket for federal offenders. Hill Democrats criticized Christie for letting corporations that were suspected to have violated the law replace sanctions with agreements to change their practices. While he worked for the government, Christie approved seven such agreements. The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law called Christie to Washington to discuss those agreements, as well as a monitoring agreement that Christie's office awarded to John Ashcroft, his former boss.
We know, with the benefit of hindsight, that the hearing didn't really make much of a difference in the campaign, despite what the Democrats that demanded it surely hoped. What's most memorable about it now is the extent to which it helped establish the combative reputation for which Chris Christie is now known.
The most remarkable moment came when Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) questioned Christie about the agreements, making reference to a famous line from the movie "The Godfather."
"You made 'em an offer they couldn't refuse," Cohen said. Christie replied that the line was "an ethnically insensitive comment by you ... to an Italian-American."
Cohen's response? That he didn't know Christie was Italian. (The snippet above comes from a contemporaneous video which, in very Jersey fashion, analyzes whether or not such a comment is insensitive to Italians.)
At 1:30 p.m., over the panel's objections, Christie got up to leave, citing the need to catch a 2 p.m. train at nearby Union Station. In the hallway, Christie told reporters what he thought about the hearing. "All the professionals on that panel all agreed with what we did," Christie said of the agreements, according to Advance Media. "The only people who believe that this is a problem are the people who want to make political hay out of it."
Christie's opponent in the gubernatorial race had his own problems, of course, and Christie eventually won the race by 3.6 points. The hearing, it seems, didn't have much of an effect. A poll from Quinnipiac the following month showed Christie still up by nine.
If there's a moral to this story it, too, is split on party lines. First, for Democrats: Republicans aren't the only ones to use Hill hearings for political purposes. And for Republicans: Don't expect the plan to work.