Leon Jaworski, like RICHARD M. NIXON, came from a poor, deeply religious background. In the WATERGATE scandal, Jaworski's rise to national prominence almost seemed to parallel Nixon's descent. Watergate is the name given to the scandal that began with the bungled BURGLARY in June 1972 of the Democratic National Committee's headquarters in the Watergate apartment complex in Washington, D.C., by seven employees of the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP). A lifelong Democrat who twice voted for the Republican Nixon, Jaworski was responsible for bringing to light many damaging facts of the Watergate break-in and subsequent cover-up, ultimately leading to the only resignation ever by a U.S. president. When Nixon appointed him to the post of special prosecutor on the case November 1, 1973, Jaworski expected to find wrongdoing and possible criminal activity by Nixon's aides, but the possibility that the president was involved never occurred to him.
Jaworski was born in Waco, Texas, on September 19, 1905, to an Austrian mother and a Polish father. He was christened Leonidas, after a king of ancient Sparta who courageously gave his life for his beliefs. Jaworski's father, an evangelical minister, instilled in him from an early age a deep and abiding Christian faith and sense of duty. By the time he was fourteen, he was the champion debater at Waco High School. He graduated at age sixteen and enrolled in Baylor University. After one year of undergraduate work, he was admitted to the law school. He graduated at the top of his class in 1925, and became the youngest person ever admitted to the Texas bar.
In 1926 Jaworski obtained a master of laws degree from George Washington University, in Washington, D.C., and then returned to Waco to practice. PROHIBITION was at its height, and Jaworski began his career defending moonshiners and bootleggers. His flair in the courtroom developed early. In one capital murder case, he concealed a stiletto in his pocket. During the trial he whipped it out and tried to hand it to a
juror, exhorting the jury to kill the defendant immediately instead of sending him to the electric chair later. In 1931 he joined the Houston firm of Fulbright, Crooker, Freeman, and Bates. The firm, eventually known as Fulbright and Jaworski, grew to be one of the largest in the United States. It was the first in Houston to hire black and Jewish staff.
Jaworski enlisted in the Army in 1942, and was commissioned as a captain in the Judge Advocate General's Corps, the legal branch of the Army. One of the first prosecutors of WAR CRIMES in Europe, Jaworski successfully brought action against a German civilian mob that stoned to death six U.S. airmen, and employees of a German sanatorium who participated in the "mercy killing" of over four hundred Poles and Russians. He was also in charge of the war crimes investigation of the Dachau concentration camp, which led to proceedings in which all forty defendants were convicted and thirty-six were sentenced to death.
The Colonel, as he became known after his Army stint, returned to Houston and quickly became enmeshed in representing bankers and big business. LYNDON B. JOHNSON became a client and friend. In...