FACTBOX-Japanese carmaker in American political theater


WASHINGTON, Feb 24 (Reuters) - The president of Toyota Motor Corp took center stage on Wednesday in a slice of American political theater -- a nationally televised hearing before the U.S. Congress.

Like many witnesses before him over the years, Japanese carmaker Akio Toyoda -- facing questions about safety problems in his cars -- said in testimony: "I'm deeply sorry." [ID:nN24146527]

Lawmakers use hearings as their chief tool to gather information in conducting high-profile investigations.

The only resignation of a U.S. president resulted from such proceedings, in which testimony is taken under oath.

With images of high-profile witnesses raising their hands to be sworn in often splashed throughout the media, these investigative hearings can produce plenty of drama while witnesses inform -- or stonewall -- inquiring members of the Senate or House of Representatives.

Here are some of the headline-making congressional investigative hearings of the last half-century:

* In 1974, a Senate committee held hearings into suspected political corruption at the Nixon White House. Richard Nixon resigned after the proceedings uncovered a "smoking gun," tapes of conversations between the president and top aides about their wheeling and dealing and attempted cover-ups.

* In 1953 and 1954, then-Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy held among the most famous hearings -- ones into allegations of communist subversion and espionage in the U.S. government. It backfired. McCarthy was censured for conduct unbecoming a senator for badgering of witnesses, making exaggerated claims and disregard for due process.

* In 1994, the top executives of the seven largest tobacco companies testified to a House subcommittee that they did not believe cigarettes were addictive. In 1998, tobacco executives acknowledged to Congress the risks of tobacco in a bid to gain protection from lawsuits.

* A star-studded lineup of Major League baseball players testified in 2005 about unlawful use of performance-enhancing drugs. The proceedings led to more stringent drug tests and also tainted the game as well as the reputations of a number of baseball heroes.

* Oliver North, a decorated Marine, emerged as a celebrity while testifying in 1987 about a scandal that rocked the Reagan White House where he had earlier worked. North admitted he helped sell arms to Iran, with the profits funneled to "freedom fighters" in Nicaragua. North stated in testimony immunized from prosecution that he saw the illegal scheme as a "neat idea."

* More recently, a Virginia couple complied with a subpoena in January and appeared at a hearing by a committee investigating how they got into a White House state dinner without an official invitation. The couple refused to answer any questions, however, by invoking their right against self-incrimination.

(Writing by Thomas Ferraro; editing by Eric Beech and Vicki Allen)



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