On February 10, 2019, Congressman Walter Jones died on his 76th birthday. He served in the US House of Representatives for 13 terms. He was re-elected last November, even though he had already taken ill and was not in Washington from September 2018.
Jones was a rare figure in today's Washington. He was profoundly moral and honest. He openly said that the two worst things that he did in office was his 2002 vote authorizing the Iraq war, based on official lies; and his vote to repeal the 1933 Glass Steagall Act, which separated commercial and investment banks.
Jones not only expressed remorse for those two legislative errors. He worked every day to correct those sins. He was the Republican co-sponsor, with Democrat Marcy Kaptur, on legislation to reinstate Glass Steagall following the 2008 financial crisis. He became an ardent advocate for Congress to take back its constitutional responsibilities for declaring war. Wherever possible, he worked with Democrats and regularly denounced the power of lobby money. He once said that Congress would remain a cancer on the American body politic until leading members were "frog-marched down the steps of the Capitol in handcuffs" for their corruption.
Walter Jones' signature accomplishment was the years-long battle he waged to force the declassification of the 28-page chapter from the 2002 Joint Congressional Inquiry into 9/11. That chapter detailed the role of leading figures in the Saudi Monarchy in support of the September 11, 2001 terrorists. Congressman Jones recruited a few colleagues to join him in forcing the Chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence to allow members of Congress to read the classified chapter. He led the fight to force its public release, after he concluded that there was no classified information that jeopardized US national security. He became the champion of the families and survivors of the 9/11 attacks, holding press conferences, giving interviews and introducing legislation to force the full public disclosure of all that remained hidden in the government's secret files on the worst terrorist attack to ever take place on US soil.
In July 2016, after a political battle that raged for more than three years, Jones' efforts–with a few House and Senate colleagues–forced President Obama to make the 28-page document public. Two months later, the Congress overrode an Obama veto and passed the Justice Against Supporters of Terrorism Act (JASTA).
In all of his endeavors, Walter Jones was a gentleman, a moral compass and a seeker of truth. His colleagues voted him the kindest member of the US Congress. The flip side of that tribute was that his own House Republican leadership never gave him the committee or subcommittee chairmanship that would have otherwise come with his seniority. He was a maverick in the best sense of the word. He was in Washington to represent his North Carolina constituents and the American people. His Congressional District was heavily military–Camp Lejeune. The wall outside his Congressional office had the photos of all of the American men and women killed in the Iraq and Afghan Wars.
There are far too few men and women in Congress with the moral character of Walter Jones. Perhaps his untimely passing will serve as a moral shock to some of his colleagues and inspire them to go through the same kind of self-criticism and change in behavior that he went through. That alone would be a fitting legacy to a great American statesman.