POSTED: 12:00 a.m. HST, Dec 21, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 06:15 p.m. HST, Dec 21, 2012
Inouye had a reputation in the Senate for integrity and intelligence, and he was picked by Mansfield, over his initial objection, as one of seven senators to serve on a select committee to investigate the Watergate scandal that engulfed the Nixon administration in the early 1970s. Nixon and his aides were accused of a pattern of corruption that became public after the burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate hotel and office complex.
The Watergate hearings were nationally televised and made the senators, including the distinctive Inouye, household names. Inouye would appear on national and international news and talk shows, and he was rated by the public as among the most favorable for his fair yet sometimes blunt interrogation.
"Watergate is not a partisan tragedy. It is a national tragedy."
At one hearing, Inouye, unaware a microphone was still on, was overheard saying, "What a liar," after the testimony of White House domestic affairs aide John Ehrlichman. The senator at first denied the remark, then said he was speaking to himself. But the misstep was overshadowed a week later when John Wilson, the attorney for White House chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, was asked by reporters how he felt about the probing questions of U.S. Sen. Lowell Weicker, a Connecticut Republican.
"Oh, I don't mind Senator Weicker," Wilson said. "What I mind is that little Jap."
Inouye did not appear to capitalize on his new popularity or use Watergate for partisan advantage after Nixon resigned in 1974 rather than face impeachment. He told Hawaii island Democrats in one speech that "Watergate is not a partisan tragedy. It is a national tragedy."
<Ko("case","cpsp")>Inouye's <$o($)>fame from Watergate led to scrutiny of his own campaign finances. Henry Giugni, a former Honolulu police officer and liquor inspector who had been a confidant of Inouye's since the Territorial Legislature, failed to report a $5,650 contribution to the senator from shipping magnate and New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Giugni also admitted accepting an illegal $5,000 contribution to Inouye from an oil industry lobbyist.
Inouye stuck by his friend — who later became the Senate's sergeant-at-arms and an influential lobbyist — and his reputation did not suffer from the mistakes.
Senate leaders again turned to Inouye when, after embarrassing disclosures that the CIA and the FBI had spied on Americans, they created a select committee on intelligence to oversee government surveillance. The senator said the fear of government eavesdropping was so pervasive that he had seen other senators use pay telephones in case their office phones were bugged.
In one speech on government spying to the American Civil Liberties Union, Inouye warned of a danger to civil liberties that he would repeat more than three decades later when President George W. Bush increased domestic surveillance after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"Perhaps the most disturbing of all aspects of government data collection is the surreptitious surveillance and intelligence operations to collect information on innocent citizens whose political views and activities are opposed to those of the administration," he said.