One lawmaker claims Jon Corzine made history this week on Capitol Hill.
But not by choice.
The Senate Agriculture Committee voted to compel Corzine, a former senator and governor of New Jersey, to testify Tuesday about the collapse of MF Global, the investment firm he headed. Sen. Pat Roberts, the committee’s ranking member, said subpoenaing Corzine was an unprecedented measure.
"It's the first time, I think, in history where a former senator has been subpoenaed to testify before his former colleagues," Roberts, a Republican from Kansas, said in an interview on Fox Business News on Dec. 6, when the Senate committee voted to compel Corzine to testify.
During last week’s vote, Roberts said that "based on consultations with the Senate historian’s office, it is also unclear if any former member of the Senate has been compelled to testify before a Senate committee. It is our understanding that such action could be a first."
We checked with the Senate historian’s office and found that, as far as they know, Roberts is right.
Former senators have been forced to testify before a House committee, but Corzine is the first former senator known to be subpoenaed by a Senate committee.
Corzine served as the chairman and CEO of MF Global, which went bankrupt this fall. During the company’s collapse, as much as $1.2 billion in client money disappeared.
Katherine Scott, an assistant historian at the U.S. Senate Historical Office, noted limits to definitively identifying former senators subpoenaed to testify before congressional committees. "Subpoena documents are kept with committee files at the National Archives. Hearing transcripts were not methodically collected prior to the early 20th century," she said in an email.
However, the Senate historian’s office found one instance where two former senators were forced to testify before a House committee.
In 1908, Matthew Butler of South Carolina and Marion Butler of North Carolina were subpoenaed and testified before a House committee investigating the lobbying tactics of the Electric Boat Company of New Jersey and their predecessors, the Holland Boat Company.
The two former senators, who were not related, denied any wrongdoing in their work with the companies, which built submarines, and no charges were brought against the former lawmakers.
So that’s an example of former senators being forced to testify before a House committee. But as far as the U.S. Senate Historical Office knows, Corzine is the first senator subpoenaed to testify in front of a Senate committee.
But Terry Madonna, the director of the center for politics and public affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania, said Corzine won’t be the last.
"The Senate to be sure is very precedent driven--so once this precedent has been established, you can bet it won't be the last time it will happen," he said. But he also noted that the MF Global issue is "unusually salient because of the heightened interest in the actions of the investment community in general and Wall Street in particular."
Roberts claimed that Jon Corzine is the first former senator to be "subpoenaed to testify before his former colleagues."
Corzine is the first senator to be compelled to testify before Congress in more than 100 years. And as far as Senate historian’s office knows, he’s the first to be subpoenaed to testify in front of a Senate committee.
Based on that information, we rate Roberts’ statement True.
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