Bob Schwartz

Tag: Watergate

When an Attorney General Is a Criminal

On January 1, 1975, former U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell was convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and three counts of perjury for his part in the Watergate cover-up.

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Lesson for Trump Attorneys: The Lawyers of Watergate

“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.

It took Nixon 1,734 days. It took Trump only 109.

It took Nixon 1,734 days. It took Trump only 109.

Richard Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre took place on October 20 1973. Besieged by investigations into Watergate, on that night he fired independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox, which resulted in Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus resigning. That was 1,734 days after Nixon took office.

Today Donald Trump fired Attorney General James Comey, who was leading one of the investigations into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. It is 109 days after Trump took office.

It still took nearly a year, but Nixon resigned on August 8, 1974, in the face of certain Senate conviction of impeachment articles passed by the House. The articles begin:

ARTICLE 1

In his conduct of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice. (emphasis added)

We don’t know that the Republican-led House will have the courage to hold impeachment hearings, let alone pass articles of impeachment. Unlike the Nixon situation, where Republicans cooperated in a bipartisan upholding of core American and constitutional principles, it is hard to tell exactly what some Republicans believe or will do in these circumstances.

The only thing certain is that with this firing of the FBI Director, we are in dark territory. Will it get even darker? Will we see the light? And will no Congress rid us of this turbulent president?

See The Case for Impeachment by Allan J. Lichtman

What If There Had Been Hacked Watergate Emails?

The issues surrounding the release of hacked emails from the Democratic Party and related entities are many and gray. If you hear anyone say that all the answers are clear and that there are simple bright lines is either not thinking it through, has some vested interest, or is one of the people who lost their job at the DNC.

To help clarify, consider this. What if there had been emails covering the entire Watergate conspiracy, rather than just the tape recordings that emerged after the fact? What if those emails were hacked and released while the cover-up was still ongoing? (This is not to say that the current situations even approach such gravity.) Would we be wringing our hands because high-level private and confidential communications had been stolen? Would we be happy that what Gerald Ford later called “our long national nightmare” would have been over sooner? Maybe we would be a little of both.

In coming days, as the next batch of leaked documents and data is released, some will be quick to condemn the leaks or to exploit the leaks. The best we can do, hard and unlikely as it is in such situations, is to think it all through carefully. Because like it or not, this is what the future looks like.

The Book On Lying


“Truthfulness can be required even where full truth is out of reach.”

In a season of seeming lies, there is only one book to read.

Sissela Bok’s classic Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life (1978) is the essential work on the topic. At the time of its publication, no philosopher had tried to create such a brief, readable and accessible analysis. It has not been done better since.

This book was widely read and debated when it was published in 1978. That’s not surprising. Watergate was still a fresh presence in our public life. Before that crisis, people suspected—even expected—that some politicians were engaged in lying. Discovering the President and his inner circle all engaged in high-level big-scale deception confirmed the worst suspicions.

Bok begins with some fundamentals:

“I shall define as a lie any intentionally deceptive message that is stated….The moral question of whether you are lying or not is not settled by establishing the truth or falsity of what you say. In order to settle this question, we need to know whether you intend your statement to mislead.”

“As dupes we know what as liars we tend to blur—that information can be more or less adequate; that even where no clear lines are drawn, rules and distinction may, in fact, be made; and that truthfulness can be required even where full truth is out of reach.”

“When we undertake to deceive others intentionally, we communicate messages meant to mislead them, meant to make them believe what we ourselves do not believe.”

She analyzes some of the justifications that arise in special circumstances, as when we believe we are justified in lying to liars or lying to enemies:

“Enemies, through their own unfairness, their aggressive acts, or intentions, have forfeited the ordinary right of being dealt with fairly.”

“For the harm from lies to enemies is peculiarly likely to spread because of this very casual way in which enemy-hood is so often bestowed. Most claims that lies to enemies are justified would not then stand up in the face of reasonable scrutiny.”

Bok makes it clear that even when seemingly justified, all lies of all kinds have moral consequences:

“Because lines are so hard to draw, the indiscriminate use of such lies can lead to other deceptive practices. The aggregate harm from a large number of marginally harmful instances may, therefore, be highly undesirable in the end—for liars, those deceived, and honesty and trust more generally. One can’t dismiss lies merely by explaining that they don’t matter. More often than not they do matter, even when looked at in the simple terms of harm and benefit.”