|John N. Mitchell|
|67th United States Attorney General|
January 21, 1969 – March 1, 1972
|Preceded by||Ramsey Clark|
|Succeeded by||Richard Kleindienst|
|Born||John Newton Mitchell|
September 15, 1913
|Died||November 9, 1988 (aged 75)|
|Resting place||Arlington National Cemetery|
|Spouse(s)||Martha Beall Mitchell|
|Service/branch||United States Navy|
|Rank||Lieutenant Junior Grade|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
|Awards||Purple Heart (2)|
John Newton Mitchell (September 15, 1913 – November 9, 1988) was the Attorney General of the United States from 1969 to 1972 under President Richard Nixon. Prior to that, he was a noted New York municipal bond lawyer, director of Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign, and one of Nixon's closest personal friends; after his tenure as Attorney General, he served as director of Nixon's 1972 presidential campaign. Due to his involvement in the Watergate affair, he was sentenced to prison in 1977, serving 19 months. As Attorney General, Mitchell was noted for personifying the "law-and-order" positions of the Nixon administration, amid several high-profile anti-war demonstrations.
Mitchell was born in Detroit, Michigan, and grew up on Long Island in New York. He earned his law degree from Fordham University School of Law and was admitted to the New York bar in 1938. He served for three years as a naval officer (Lieutenant, Junior Grade) during World War II where he was a PT boat commander. Except for his period of military service, Mitchell practiced law in New York City from 1938 until 1968 and earned a reputation as a successful municipal bond lawyer.
Mitchell's second wife, Martha, became a controversial figure in her own right, gaining notoriety for her public pronouncements of her husband's innocence as the Watergate saga developed. Their marriage would eventually break down as a result of her alcoholism and erratic behavior.
New York government
Mitchell devised a type of revenue bond called a “moral obligation bond" while serving as bond counsel to New York’s Governor Nelson Rockefeller in the 1960s. In an effort to get around the voter approval process for increasing state and municipal bond limits, Mitchell attached language to the offerings that indicated the state’s intent to meet bond payments even though it was not obligated to do so. He didn't deny it when asked in an interview if the intent was to create a “form of political elitism that bypasses the voter’s right to a referendum or an initiative”.
Richard Nixon met John Mitchell when Mitchell's municipal bond law firm merged with Nixon Mudge Rose Guthrie & Alexander in 1967. The two men became friends, and in 1968, with considerable trepidation, Mitchell agreed to become Nixon's presidential campaign manager.
During his successful 1968 campaign, Nixon turned over the details of the day-to-day operations to Mitchell. Allegedly he also played a central role in covert attempts to sabotage the 1968 Paris Peace Accords which could have ended the Vietnam War. After he became president in January 1969, Nixon appointed Mitchell attorney general while making an unprecedented direct appeal to Director J. Edgar Hoover that the usual background investigation not be conducted. Mitchell remained in office from 1969 until he resigned in 1972 to manage President Nixon's successful reelection campaign.
Will Wilson, a former conservative Democratic attorney general of Texas who switched to the Republican Party to support Nixon, was named United States Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Criminal Division. He served from 1969 to 1971. Wilson wrote the book A Fool For a Client, a study of the fall of President Nixon. Mitchell believed that the government's need for "law and order" justified restrictions on civil liberties. He advocated the use of wiretaps in national security cases without obtaining a court order (United States v. U.S. District Court) and the right of police to employ the preventive detention of criminal suspects. He brought conspiracy charges against critics of the Vietnam War, likening them to brown shirts of the Nazi era.
He expressed a reluctance to involve the Justice Department in some civil rights issues. "The Department of Justice is a law enforcement agency," he told reporters. "It is not the place to carry on a program aimed at curing the ills of society." However, he also warned activists, "watch what we do, not what we say." According to biographer James Rosen, he "did more than any executive branch official of the twentieth century." Near the beginning of his administration, Nixon ordered Mitchell to go slow on desegregation of schools in the South as part of Nixon's "Southern Strategy". After being instructed by the Federal courts that segregation was unconstitutional and that the Executive Branch was supposed to enforce the rulings of the Courts, he somewhat reluctantly complied and threatened the withholding of Federal funds for schools that were still segregated as well as threatening legal action against them. Segregation had been struck down as unconstitutional in 1956, yet in 1968, 70% of black children still attended segregated schools. By 1972, this percentage had decreased to 8%. Enrollment of black children in desegregated schools rose from 186,000 in 1969 to 3 million in 1970.
In 1972, when asked to comment about a forthcoming article that reported that he controlled a political slush fund used for gathering intelligence on the Democrats, he famously uttered an implied threat to reporter Carl Bernstein: "Katie Graham's gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer if that's published."
Mitchell's name was mentioned in a deposition concerning Robert L. Vesco, an international financier who was a fugitive from a federal indictment. Mitchell and Nixon Finance Committee Chairman Maurice H. Stans were indicted in May 1973 on federal charges of obstructing an investigation of Vesco after he made a $200,000 contribution to the Nixon campaign. In April 1974, both men were acquitted in a New York federal district court.
On February 21, 1975, Mitchell was found guilty of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and perjury and sentenced to two and a half to eight years in prison for his role in the Watergate break-in and cover-up, which he dubbed the "White House horrors". The sentence was later reduced to one year to four years by United States district court Judge John J. Sirica. Mitchell served only 19 months of his sentence, at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, a minimum-security prison, before being released on parole for medical reasons and mental instability, in what one official prison report called "paranoid delusional mindset." Tape recordings made by President Nixon and the testimony of others involved confirmed that Mitchell had participated in meetings to plan the break-in of the Democratic Party's national headquarters in the Watergate Hotel. In addition, he had met, on at least three occasions, with the president in an effort to cover up White House involvement after the burglars were discovered and arrested.
Around 5:00 PM on November 9, 1988, Mitchell collapsed from a heart attack on the sidewalk in front of 2812 N St., N.W., Georgetown, Washington, D.C.. That evening, he died at George Washington University Hospital. He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery based both on his World War II Naval service and his former cabinet post of Attorney General.
In a column on Mitchell's death, William Safire wrote, "His friend Richard Moore, in a eulogy, noted that near Mitchell's grave in Arlington National Cemetery was the headstone of Colonel Gregory "Pappy" Boyington, a Medal of Honor recipient, who used to call Mitchell yearly to thank him for saving his life." Safire also said of Mitchell: "He never spoke of his war record; exploiting his medals would have been out of character."
- Joseph Mysak and George Marlin, Fiscal Administration: Analysis and Applications for the Public Sector (Pacific Grove, Cal: Brooks/Cole, 1991)
- William P. Kittredge and David W. Kreutzer (2001). "We Only Pay the Bills: The Ongoing Effort to Disfranchise Virginia’s Voters". http://www.virginiainstitute.org/publications/pay_the_bills.php.
- Robert "KC" Johnson. “Did Nixon Commit Treason in 1968? What The New LBJ Tapes Reveal”. History News Network, January 26, 2009. Transcript from audio recording of President Johnson: “The next thing that we got our teeth in was one of his associates — a fellow named Mitchell, who is running his campaign, who's the real Sherman Adams (Eisenhower’s chief of staff) of the operation, in effect said to a businessman that ‘we’re going to handle this like we handled the Fortas matter, unquote. We’re going to frustrate the President by saying to the South Vietnamese, and the Koreans, and the Thailanders [sic], “Beware of Johnson.”’ ‘At the same time, we’re going to say to Hanoi, “I [Nixon] can make a better deal than he (Johnson) has, because I’m fresh and new, and I don’t have to demand as much as he does in the light of past positions.”’”
- Seymour M. Hersh. “The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House”. Summit Books, 1983, p. 21. “A few days before the election, she wrote, Mitchell telephoned with an urgent message. ‘Anna,’ (Chennault) she quotes him as saying. ‘I'm speaking on behalf of Mr. Nixon. It's very important that our Vietnamese friends understand our Republican position and I hope you have made that clear to them.’”.
- Jules Witcover. “The Making of an Ink-Stained Wretch: Half a Century Pounding the Political Beat”. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005, p131. “I tracked down Anna Chennault (...) she insisted she had acted under instructions from the Nixon campaign in contacting the Saigon regime. ‘The only people who knew about the whole operation,’ she told me, ‘were Nixon, John Mitchell and John Tower [senator from Texas and Nixon campaign figure], and they're all dead. But they knew what I was doing. Anyone who knows about these thing knows I was getting orders to do these thing. I couldn’t do anything without instructions.’”.
- Clark M. Clifford with Richard C. Holbrooke. Counsel to the President: A Memoir. Random House, 1991. p. 582. “It was not difficult for Ambassador Diem to pass information to Anna Chennault, who was in contact with John Mitchell, she said later, ‘at least once a day.’”
- Diem Bui with David Chanoff. In the Jaws of History. Indiana University Press, 1999, p. 244.“I began reviewing the cables I had written to (Nguyen Van) Thieu (...). Among them, I found a cable from October 23 (...) in which I had said, ‘Many Republican friends have contacted me and encouraged us to stand firm. They were alarmed by press reports to the effect that you had already softened your position.’ In another cable, from October 27, I wrote, ‘I am regularly in touch with the Nixon entourage,’ by which I meant Anna Chennault, John Mitchell, and Senator (John) Tower.”
- Diem Bui with David Chanoff. In the Jaws of History. Indiana University Press, 1999, p. 237. “Waiting for me in the lobby was Anna Chennault. A few minutes later I was being introduced to Nixon and john Mitchell, his law partner and adviser. (...) Nixon (...) added that his staff would be in touch with me through john Mitchell and Anna Chennault.”
- Gentry, Curt (1991). J. Edgar Hoover: The Man And The Secrets. New York: W. W. Norton. p. 616. ISBN 0-393-02404-0.
- Will R. Wilson obituary, Texas State Cemetery: http://www.cemetery.state.tx.us/pub/user_form.asp?step=1&pers_id=2793
- Jonathan Karl reviewing James Rosen's The Strong Man: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121158799673718969.html
- George Marlin reviewing James Rosen's The Strong Man: http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=26432
- The words "her tit" were not included in the newspaper article.
- Bernstein, Carl; Bob Woodward (1974). All The President's Men. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 105.
- Bernstein, Carl; Bob Woodward (1974). All The President's Men. New York: Simon and Schuster. pp. 284n, 335.
- Woodward, Bob; Carl Bernstein (1976). The Final Days. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 138. ISBN 0-671-22298-8.
- "John N. Mitchell, Principal in Watergate, Dies at 75". The Washington Post. December 4, 1997. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/watergate/stories/mitchobit.htm. Retrieved May 7, 2010.
- Rosen, James (2008). The Strong Man: John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-50864-3.
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