John Newton Mitchell served as U.S. attorney general from 1969 to 1972. A key political adviser to President RICHARD M. NIXON, Mitchell was later convicted of crimes associated with the WATERGATE scandal, becoming the first attorney general to serve time in a federal prison.
Mitchell was born September 5, 1913, in Detroit. He worked his way through Fordham University and Fordham Law School playing semiprofessional hockey. After graduating from law school in 1938, he was admitted to the New York bar and began work in a New York City law firm. He was made a partner in 1942. During WORLD WAR II, he served as a torpedo boat commander in the U.S. Navy.
Mitchell became rich and prominent as a municipal bond lawyer, devising new ways for states and municipalities to finance construction projects. He met Richard M. Nixon in 1962, when Nixon joined a prominent New York law firm. At that time Nixon appeared to have no political future; he had lost the 1960 presidential election and the 1962 California gubernatorial election. In 1967 Mitchell's firm merged with Nixon's and the pair became confidants.
Mitchell served as Nixon's campaign manager for the presidency in 1968. He forged a conservative coalition of southern and western states that helped carry Nixon to victory over Vice President HUBERT H. HUMPHREY. During the campaign Mitchell claimed he would never accept a cabinet position if Nixon was elected. Despite these statements Mitchell accepted the post of attorney general in 1969.
"YOU WILL BE BETTER ADVISED TO WATCH WHAT WE DO INSTEAD OF WHAT WE SAY."
As attorney general, Mitchell led the JUSTICE DEPARTMENT in a sweeping law-and-order drive that many critics believed went too far. He
John N. Mitchell.
increased the number of telephone wiretaps on private citizens and generally clamped down on political dissenters, especially those who opposed U.S. involvement in the VIETNAM WAR. A number of these Justice Department initiatives were later ruled illegal by the courts. For example, in Ellsberg v. Mitchell, 353 F. Supp. 515 (D.D.C. 1973), the department sought to prosecute Daniel Ellsberg for leaking secret documents to the press regarding military involvement in Vietnam. The release of the Pentagon Papers infuriated the Nixon White House. The case was dismissed after Ellsberg's attorneys informed the court that a secret White House security group (the...