Heard on the Hill

The Investigation Will Be Televised

Ken Buck was 27 years old when he staffed the Iran-Contra investigation. Now he could ‘never be a tyrant’

Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., left, worked for then-Rep. Dick Cheney, R-Wyo., right, as a counsel on the Iran-Contra Investigation. (Courtesy Ken Buck)

As his father watched him from a hospital bed, 27-year-old Ken Buck sat behind Dick Cheney while history was being made.

The Colorado Republican was the assistant minority counsel on the Iran-Contra investigation, working for Cheney, then a Wyoming congressman.

He learned how rumors swirl around a congressional investigation and why “underpaid and overworked” staffers do what they do during his one year — through late 1987 — on the case.

Q: What’s your takeaway from your time as a staffer?

A: It was meaningful in a lot of different ways, but one of the things that happened was my dad was dying from emphysema. He was bedridden, and he would watch the hearings. Mr. Cheney, Mr. [Michael] DeWine, a few of them would mention my name during a hearing: “So I talked to Ken Buck, one of our staffers, and Ken told me about this, and I just wanted to ask you to respond to that.” It would just mean so much to my dad, who was in bed, dying.

[Pete Olson on Respect in Congress: ‘We’ve Lost That’]

Q: What did you work on?

A: The subject matter was fascinating. It had to do with a constitutional crisis between two branches of government. The legislative branch, Congress, passed the Boland Amendment, which restricted funding … to help the counterrevolutionaries, the Contras, in Nicaragua. The president said, “Fine, I will raise private money to help the Contras,” and he used the White House and photo opportunities and other government resources — going to fundraisers on Air Force One — to get that done. So it was a question of, we said you couldn’t fund the Contras. Can you use government resources to then raise private money to fund the Contras?

The idea that there was a link between the sale of weapons to free hostages in Lebanon and the funding of the Contras became an issue. Was the administration selling weapons and then taking the proceeds to the CIA and using it to fund the Contras? There was no evidence of that, but it was part of the investigation.

What really impressed me about this investigation, and I say this with all due respect to current media and press, because I’m sure none of the current members of the press would do this, but as soon as a rumor hit — and actually a lot of it’s happening now with Russia and both sides are being unfairly rumormongered — but a rumor would hit and it would be front page news. By the time it was disproven, three months later, nobody would care about it because we moved on to six new rumors.

[Gomez on What He Learned From Being a Staffer for a Latina Member]

Q: Working on such an important issue, did you feel young at 27?

A: Yes. I was the first attorney hired off of the Hill for the Republicans and then ended up with three or four others.

Q: Did you ever think to yourself, I could run for office one day?

A: Yeah, I did. More so after I left. I looked at Mr. Cheney — every time I see him, he says, “Call me Dick, Ken,” and I still can’t do anything but call him Mr. Cheney. It’s funny because I tell these guys to call me Ken, but they call me “sir” all the time. I think of him and want to be like him.

He is a great family man. He is a great, thoughtful policymaker. He’s very measured in his approach to public life. [Former Rep.] Henry Hyde, such a great orator. There was really a group of characters on that committee that I was impressed with and thought, it’d be great to have the opportunity to work on the Hill as a member.

Q: Do you and Cheney keep in touch?

A: We do keep in touch. He actually threw a fundraiser for me. His daughter sits next to me on the Rules Committee, Liz [Cheney].

When he was running for vice president in 2000, he was in Colorado in October, so fairly close to the election, and he saw me across the room. He walks past all these important people — governors, senators, former senators — and he says, “Kenny! How are ya?” Not many people call me Kenny, but coming from him it was a good compliment.

[Collins Looks Back on His Technology-Less, Reception-Dependent Intern Days]

Q: Does being a former staffer influence how you treat your staff?

A: I hope so. I hope they think so. I love my staff. I have a great staff. There are reputations of some members that they yell and scream, and I could never do that with this group of staff. I really respect them and think they are vastly underpaid and overworked. We were underpaid and overworked on the committee, but the reason I did it and the reason my staffers do it is because they believe in something bigger than themselves. I’m just thoroughly impressed with my staff and could never be a tyrant with these folks.

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