George John Mitchell

Mitchell, George John, 1933–, U.S. public official, b. Waterville, Maine. An attorney in private and government practice in the 1960s and 1970s, he was a protege of Senator Edmund Muskie. Generally considered a liberal Democrat, he was a federal district judge (1979–80) when he was appointed to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Muskie in 1980. In 1984 he became chairman of the Senatorial Campaign Committee.

In 1988, Mitchell succeeded Robert Byrd as Democratic (majority) leader in the Senate and in that position opposed President Bush's capital gains tax cut in 1989 and Bush's policies in regard to Tiananmen Square and the Persian Gulf War. Mitchell served on the Senate committee investigating the Iran-contra affair and with his colleague from Maine, Republican William Cohen, wrote Men of Zeal, attacking Oliver North and others for their roles in the scandal. In 1994, Mitchell declined a nomination to the Supreme Court to aid the Clinton administration in its unsuccessful fight to overhaul the American health care system.

He retired from the Senate in 1995 and became the U.S. adviser to peace negotiations in Northern Ireland, which are discussed in his book Making Peace (1999). He was credited with the major role in bringing about the 1998 and 1999 accords there (see Ireland, Northern). In 1998–99, he headed a U.S. investigation into financial scandals connected with the siting of the Olympic games. Mitchell also headed (2000–2001) a fact-finding committee on the resumption of Palestinian-Israeli violence in 2000; apportioning blame to both sides, it called for an unconditional halt to the violence. He later served (2009–11) as President Obama's special envoy to the Middle East. In 2005–7 he led a review of performance-enhancing drug use in major league baseball; the final report implicated 89 current and former players and recommended changes in how the leagues test for drug use but was also criticized for being incomplete.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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