John Mitchell

Lawyer / Political Scandal Figure

Born: 5 September 1913
Died: 9 November 1988
Birthplace: Detroit, Michigan
Best known as:

President Nixon's Attorney General convicted over Watergate

Name at birth: John Newton Mitchell

John Mitchell served as the United States Attorney General under President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1972, and spent 19 months in prison for his role in the Watergate scandal. Mitchell grew up in New York and began practicing law there in 1938. He quickly earned a reputation as a savvy practitioner in the world of municipal bonds, and by the 1950s he was a financial success with political ties across the country. After Nixon moved to New York, following his failed 1962 bid for governor of California, he and Mitchell became close friends; they merged their law firms in 1967. Nixon made Mitchell his campaign manager in 1968, and then persuaded a him to become Attorney General. Mitchell's "law and order" advocacy made him a villain to the counterculture of the period, but Mitchell left his post to run Nixon's re-election campaign in 1972, heading up the Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP, known as "Creep"). By the end of the year, the scandal over Watergate's political dirty tricks was beginning to take hold. The press seized on Mitchell as "the big enchilada" in the case, a term used by Nixon's aide John D. Ehrlichman in presidential discussions about the scandal. At the same time, Mitchell's wife, Martha, reached celebrity status by calling reporters with wild ravings and hints that she had more to tell. Whether Mitchell actually ordered or expressly okayed the 1972 burglary of Democratic party headquarters is still a matter of debate (he never squealed and he never wrote a book about it). At one point during the scandal, Mitchell offered to prosecutors that he would take the blame if they promised to leave the president alone, but they declined. In the end, he was charged with lying under oath and destroying evidence, actions meant to cover up White House involvement in the burglary. Convicted on five criminal counts (six months after Nixon had resigned the presidency), Mitchell was behind bars from 1975 to 1977. Martha died in 1976.

Extra credit:

John Mitchell served in the United States Navy during World War II, getting command of a PT boat just at the end of the war.

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