Lesson for Trump Attorneys: The Lawyers of Watergate

by Bob Schwartz

“The Nixon White House initially dismissed the break-in as a “third-rate burglary,” but after a year of increasingly persistent media coverage, Congress initiated multiple investigations that exposed the involvement of more than 20 of the most powerful lawyers in the United States.”

This was going to open with a list of lawyers who are representing Trump and Trump-related enterprises—including the White House. But that list changes too fast; Trump’s chief attorney in the Mueller investigation, John Dowd, resigned just this week.

Whoever they are or will be, they have one thing in common. They are working for a client who almost certainly has engaged in unethical, if not illegal, practices—before and during his political life, including his presidency. A client who has asked others, including his attorneys, to help fix or cover-up those practices when they were in danger of coming to light. A client who is vindictive, willful, self-absorbed, not very smart, and possibly psychologically unstable. A client who will not listen to them.

All of which brings us to Nixon and the lawyers of Watergate. One difference between Nixon and Trump is that Nixon was smart, a lawyer himself and a long-time national politician who understood how government works. Nixon was also a patriot, and, at least at some point in his life, a brave man, having served with distinction in World War II.

Unfortunately, Nixon, like Trump, found himself engaged in practices that he eventually needed to hide. He enlisted a gang of henchmen to help him—and many of those men were lawyers. When they truth came out, many of those lawyers were no longer allowed to be lawyers (including Nixon), and Nixon was no longer president.

If you wonder why lawyers are leaving Trump right and left, the following suggests one of the reasons.

ABA Journal, June 2012

The Lawyers of Watergate: How a ‘3rd-Rate Burglary’ Provoked New Standards for Lawyer Ethics

The Nixon White House initially dismissed the break-in as a “third-rate burglary,” but after a year of increasingly persistent media coverage, Congress initiated multiple investigations that exposed the involvement of more than 20 of the most powerful lawyers in the United States.

At the top of the list was Nixon, the 37th president of the United States, who resigned on Aug. 8, 1974, as Congress was gearing up to conduct impeachment proceedings.

But the list also included two U.S. attorneys general, two White House counsels, an assistant attorney general and a chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

John D. Ehrlichman
Disbarred in Washington State.

John W. Dean III
Disbarred in Virginia.

Spiro T. Agnew
Disbarred in Maryland.

Charles W. Colson
Disbarred in Virginia and the District of Columbia, license suspended in Massachusetts.

Herbert W. Kalmbach
Law license in California was suspended, but reinstated in 1977.

Richard G. Kleindienst
Law license in District of Columbia suspended for a month, and censured by Arizona disciplinary authorities.

Egil “Bud” Krogh Jr
Disbarred in 1975 by the Washington Supreme Court, but petition for reinstatement was granted in 1980.

Gordon Liddy
Disbarred in New York.

Robert C. Mardian
Law licenses suspended in California and by the U.S. Supreme Court, but later reinstated.

John N. Mitchell
Disbarred in New York and from the U.S. Supreme Court Bar.

Richard M. Nixon
Disbarred in New York.

Harry L. Sears
Law license suspended in New Jersey for three years.

Donald H. Segretti
Law license suspended in California for two years.

Bradford Cook
Nebraska law license was suspended for three years.

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