MCCARTHY COHN
Byron Rollins  /  AP file
U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, right, speaks to his chief counsel, Roy Cohn, during a hearing of the Senate Investigations Subcommittee in Washington in this April 22, 1954 file photo.
By MSNBC Correspondent
updated 4/8/2004 7:23:03 PM ET 2004-04-08T23:23:03

As I sat in the Hart office building and watched Condoleezza Rice testify in a packed hearing room before the 9/11 commission, the entire scene reminded me of the movie "Contact."

Near the end, Jodi Foster's character testifies about what seemed to be a massive government failure. Foster sits by herself at a lengthy table, with lawmakers looking down at her and hundreds of stern observers watching from behind. The loneliness was dramatic.

So too was the real-life testimony from Condoleeza Rice. The hearing, in the room itself, felt electric and unprecedented. And the gripping reactions afterwards seemed to underscore that.

But in fact, the image of a White House advisor offering dramatic testimony about an administration is something we've seen before. Through the years, Congress has summoned dozens of remarkable figures to the witness table. The hearings in turn, have produced some sensational and incredible moments. Below are some of the most memorable.

  • The 1973 Watergate hearings are considered the Grand Daddy of the television era. There was the disclosure of a Nixon Taping system, and there was this warning from Nixon White House counsel John Dean on June 25, 1973: “I began by telling the president that there was a cancer growing on the presidency and that if the cancer was not removed … the president himself would be killed by it."

The widows of 9/11 have been clamoring for the truth, and they’ve provided some of the most gripping testimony in these hearings to date. Kristen Bretweiser, in her testimony on Sept. 18, 2002, said The families of the victims of September 11th have waited long enough. We need to have answers. We need to have accountability. We need to feel safe living and working in this great nation."

As for Rice’s testimony, this hearing today marked a Congressional first: With the advent of the Internet and encouragement from the 9/11 commission, MSNBC’s website collected 14,000 possible questions, and informed the commission of their publication on the MSNBC website. And so, these congressional hearings, which can be dramatic and confrontational, are now also interactive.

David Shuster reports for 'Hardball with Chris Matthews. 'Hardball' airs weeknights, 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC.

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