Today In History: President Nixon’s Former Attorney General Is Sentenced (1975)

John Mitchell and President Nixon. Wikimedia

On this day in 1975, John Mitchell, the former Attorney General for President Nixon, was sentenced to prison for his involvement in the Watergate scandal. Mitchell was found guilty on several counts, including conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and last but not least, perjury. The Watergate scandal was a massive embarrassment for the Nixon-led White House.

It demonstrated that, among other things, the Nixon administration had been engaged in a variety of illegal goings-on – this was one part of the scandal. The other half was the administration’s efforts to hide the truth from coming out while being investigated. The cover up was done to protect President Nixon’s involvement.

The Watergate Complex. Black Vault

Crimes committed by the Nixon administration included wiretapping opponents and even individuals outside that sphere. The President’s administration misused government branches for their own purposes. The FBI, CIA, and IRS were given tasks that abused their services for the sole purpose of benefiting the president and his administration.

Discovery of the scandal was somewhat accidental. Two reporters working for the Washington Post were following a story that did not entirely make sense to them. Five men had been arrested for breaking into the Democratic National Headquarters. A connection was found between the cash the thieves took and a slush fund used by the Committee for the Re-Election of the President. Delving deeper into the story evidence surfaced connecting White House staff to the incident. The further the investigation went, the closer it got to Nixon.

Nixon refused to give much reaction to the story about the break-in, except to imply it did not seem by his estimation that the incident had much value. He quietly ordered the CIA to stop the FBI investigation of the break-in. By summer’s end, Nixon himself addressed the break-in at a press conference. He had gone full circle, from not given the incident value to making it a priority by publicly stating that neither he or anyone working at the White House was involved in the break-in. He also asserted during that conference that White House councilor John Dean had completed a full investigation of the break-in. This was news to Dean who had not even begun, much less finished, an investigation. John Dean did not dispute the story, which made him culpable of – at the least – acting in a cover up.

A total of 69 government officials were charged for their participation in the Watergate scandal. As for his part, John Mitchell knew about the wire taps and other activities; he was there from the start and later he and John Dean helped Nixon mastermind the plan to break into the DNC headquarters. The overarching interest in the Democratic Headquarters was not to steal money, but to spy on opponents. Dean, Mitchell, and others were after information. They agreed to the bugging of offices, photographing of documents.