John N. Mitchell
|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
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
|Died||November 9, 1988
Washington, D.C., U.S.
|Alma mater||Fordham University (J.D.)|
|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 (1969–72) under President Richard Nixon. Prior to that, he had been a 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, Mitchell was sentenced to prison in 1977 and served 19 months. As Attorney General, he 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, to Margaret (McMahon) and Joseph C. Mitchell and he 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.
Mitchell's second wife, Martha Beall Mitchell, became a controversial figure in her own right, gaining notoriety for her late-night phone calls to reporters in which she accused President Nixon of participating in the Watergate cover-up and alleged that Nixon and several of his aides were trying to make her husband the scapegoat for the whole affair.
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 borrower limits, Mitchell attached language to the offerings that was able to communicate the state's intent to meet the bond payments while not placing it under a legal obligation to do so. Mitchell did not dispute when asked in an interview if the intent of such language was to create a "form of political elitism that bypasses the voter's right to a referendum or an initiative."
John Mitchell met Richard Nixon, former vice president to Dwight D. Eisenhower, when Nixon moved to New York after losing the 1962 California gubernatorial election. Nixon then joined the municipal bond law firm where Mitchell worked, Mudge, Rose, Guthrie, Alexander & Ferndon, and the two men became friends. After Nixon became a senior partner, the firm was renamed Nixon, Mudge, Rose, Guthrie, Alexander & Mitchell.
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 Mitchell 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 as Attorney General of the United States while making an unprecedented direct appeal to FBI 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 reelection campaign.
In 1961, 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 of the U.S. Department of Justice. 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 in Germany.
Mitchell 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."
Near the beginning of his administration, Nixon had ordered Mitchell to go slow on desegregation of schools in the South as part of Nixon's "Southern Strategy," which focused on gaining support from Southern voters. After being instructed by the federal courts that segregation was unconstitutional and that the executive branch was required to enforce the rulings of the courts, Mitchell reluctantly began to comply, threatening to withhold federal funds from those school systems that were still segregated and threatening legal action against them.
School segregation had been struck down as unconstitutional by a unanimous Supreme Court decision in 1954 (Brown v. Board of Education), but in 1955, the Court ruled that desegregation needs to be accomplished only with "all deliberate speed,"  which many Southern states interpreted as an invitation to delay. It was not until 1969 that the Supreme Court renounced the "all deliberate speed" rule and declared that further delay in accomplishing desegregation was no longer permissible. As a result, some 70% of black children were still attending segregated schools in 1968. 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.
From the outset, Mitchell strove to suppress what many Americans saw as major threats to their safety: urban crime, black unrest, and war resistance. He called for the use of "no-knock" warrants for police to enter homes, frisking suspects without a warrant, wiretapping, preventive detention, the use of federal troops to repress crime in the capital, a restructured Supreme Court, and a slowdown in school desegregation. "This country is going so far to the right you won't recognize it," he told a reporter.
In an early sample of the "dirty tricks" that would later mark the 1971-72 campaign, Mr. Mitchell approved a $10,000 subsidy to employ an American Nazi Party faction in a bizarre effort to get Alabama Governor George Wallace off the ballot in California. The move failed.
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, who was represented by the criminal defense attorney William G. Hundley, 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." As a result of the conviction, Mitchell was disbarred from the practice of law in New York. The sentence was later reduced to one year from 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. 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 Street NW in the Georgetown area of Washington, D.C., and died that evening at George Washington University Hospital. He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, based on his World War II Naval service and his 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."
- "John N. Mitchell biography". Department of Justice. Retrieved January 21, 2017.
- "John N. Mitchell Dies at 75; Major Figure in Watergate". New York Times. November 10, 1988. Retrieved January 21, 2017.
- Joseph Mysak and George Marlin. (1991). Fiscal Administration: Analysis and Applications for the Public Sector. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.
- William P. Kittredge and David W. Kreutzer (2001). "We Only Pay the Bills: The Ongoing Effort to Disfranchise Virginia's Voters".
- Robert "KC" Johnson. “Did Nixon Commit Treason in 1968? What The New LBJ Tapes Reveal”. History News Network, January 26, 2009. Transcript from on YouTube 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.
- Wilson, Will R. (2000). A Fool for a Client: How President Nixon Could Have Avoided Impeachment. Woodway, TX: Eakin Press. ISBN 978-1571685094.
- Brown v. Board of Education, 349 U.S. 294 (1955)
- See, e.g., Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education, 396 U.S. 19 (1969)
- 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
- "John N. Mitchell Dies at 75; Major Figure in Watergate". The New York Times. November 10, 1988.
- 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.
- See Mitchell v. Association of the Bar, 40 N.Y.2d 153, 351 N.E.2d 743, 386 N.Y.S.2d 95 (1976)
- "John N. Mitchell, Principal in Watergate, Dies at 75". The Washington Post. December 4, 1997. 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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