John N. Mitchell

John N. Mitchell
John Mitchell
67th United States Attorney General
In office
Preceded by Ramsey Clark
Succeeded by Richard Kleindienst
Personal details
Born September 15, 1913(1913-09-15)
Detroit, Michigan,
United States
Died November 9, 1988(1988-11-09) (aged 75)
Washington, D.C.,
United States
Resting place Arlington National Cemetery
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Martha Beall Mitchell
Military service
Service/branch United States Navy
Rank Lieutenant Junior Grade
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Purple Heart (2)
Silver Star

John Newton Mitchell (September 15, 1913 – November 9, 1988) was the Attorney General of the United States from 1969 to 1972 under President Richard Nixon. Prior to that, he was a noted New York 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, he was sentenced to prison in 1977, serving 19 months. As Attorney General, Mitchell was noted for personifying the law and order positions of the Nixon administration, amid several high-profile anti-war demonstrations.


Early life

Mitchell was born in Detroit, Michigan, and 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.

Except for his period of military service, Mitchell practiced law in New York City from 1938 until 1968 and earned a reputation as a successful municipal bond lawyer.

Mitchell's second wife, Martha, became a controversial figure in her own right, gaining notoriety for her public pronouncements of her husband's innocence as the Watergate saga developed. Their marriage would eventually break down as a result of her alcoholism and erratic behavior.

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 bond limits, Mitchell attached language to the offerings that indicated the state’s intent to meet bond payments even though it was not obligated to do so.[1] He didn't deny it when asked in an interview if the intent was to create a “form of political elitism that bypasses the voter’s right to a referendum or an initiative”.[1][2]

Political career

Mitchell is sworn in as Attorney General of the United States, January 22, 1969. Chief Justice Earl Warren administers the oath while President Richard Nixon looks on.
Attorney General Mitchell speaks to employees of the Justice Department, January 30, 1969. To his left is President Richard Nixon.

Richard Nixon met John Mitchell when Mitchell's municipal bond law firm merged with Nixon Mudge Rose Guthrie & Alexander in 1967. The two men became friends, and 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 he also played a central role in covert attempts to sabotage the 1968 Paris Peace Accords which could have ended the Vietnam War.[3][4][5][6][7][8] After he became president in January 1969, Nixon appointed Mitchell attorney general while making an unprecedented direct appeal to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover that the usual background investigation not be conducted.[9] Mitchell remained in office from 1969 until he resigned in 1972 to manage President Nixon's successful reelection campaign.

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. He served from 1969–1971. Wilson wrote the book A Fool For a Client, a study of the fall of President Nixon.[10] 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, and demonstrated a reluctance to involve the Justice Department in 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."

In 1972, when asked to comment about a forthcoming article that reported that he controlled a so-called 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[11] caught in a big fat wringer if that's published."[12]

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.[13] In April 1974 both men were acquitted in a New York federal district court.[14]

Former Attorney General Mitchell enters the Senate caucus room to testify before the Senate Watergate Committee, 1973

On February 21, 1975, Mitchell 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. The sentence was later reduced to one to 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.[15] 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]


One of Mitchell's former residences add photo(left) in Georgetown, Washington, D.C.

Around 5:00 PM on November 9, 1988, he collapsed from a heart attack on the sidewalk in front of 2812 N St., N.W., Georgetown, Washington, D.C.. That evening he died at George Washington University Hospital. He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery based both on his World War II Naval service and his former 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."

In fact, Mitchell had no medals to exploit. In his book The Strong Man, investigative reporter James Rosen presented evidence which indicated not only did Mitchell fabricate most of his military "honors" (including fabricating that he served on the same PT boat crew commanded by John F. Kennedy), he could not have saved the life of Boyington because Boyington was in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp during Mitchell's entire wartime service.[16][17]


  1. ^ a b Joseph Mysak and George Marlin, Fiscal Administration: Analysis and Applications for the Public Sector (Pacific Grove, Cal: Brooks/Cole, 1991)
  2. ^ William P. Kittredge and David W. Kreutzer (2001). "We Only Pay the Bills: The Ongoing Effort to Disfranchise Virginia’s Voters". 
  3. ^ Robert "KC" Johnson. “Did Nixon Commit Treason in 1968? What The New LBJ Tapes Reveal”. History News Network, January 26, 2009. Transcript from audio recording 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.”’”
  4. ^ 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.’”.
  5. ^ 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.’”.
  6. ^ 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.’”
  7. ^ 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.”
  8. ^ 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.”
  9. ^ Gentry, Curt (1991). J. Edgar Hoover: The Man And The Secrets. New York: W. W. Norton. p. 616. ISBN 0-393-02404-0. 
  10. ^ Will R. Wilson obituary, Texas State Cemetery:
  11. ^ The words "her tit" were not included in the newspaper article.
  12. ^ Bernstein, Carl; Bob Woodward (1974). All The President's Men. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 105. 
  13. ^ Bernstein, Carl; Bob Woodward (1974). All The President's Men. New York: Simon and Schuster. pp. 284n, 335. 
  14. ^ Woodward, Bob; Carl Bernstein (1976). The Final Days. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 138. ISBN 0-671-22298-8. 
  15. ^ "John N. Mitchell, Principal in Watergate, Dies at 75". The Washington Post. December 4, 1997. Retrieved May 7, 2010. 
  16. ^
  17. ^


  • Rosen, James (2008). The Strong Man: John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 9780385508643. 

External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
Ramsey Clark
United States Attorney General
Served under: Richard Nixon

Succeeded by
Richard G. Kleindienst

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