Friday, June 17, 2022

50 Years Ago

On the 50th anniversary of the Watergate break in, I am republishing my reminiscences from five years ago

I tend to avoid personal stories outside my area of expertise but I hope that readers of this blog will indulge me a few reflections in light of a story in the Style section of today's Washington Post about young staffers who worked for the Senate Watergate Committee in the memorable summer of 1973.

I had just finished my second year at Georgetown Law and was turning in my last assignment for the American Criminal Law Review when I noticed a job posting that looked more interesting than my plan to be a camp counselor at Town & County Day School in Wheaton Maryland.

I applied for the job and found myself interviewing the next day with Rufus Edmiston, who hired me as a research assistant for the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities (popularly known as the "Watergate" or "Ervin" Committee).

The primary function that I and several others performed was to read deposition and public testimony, review documents and dictate into hand-held tape machines summaries of the reviewed materials.

Every night, a (huge) computer in the Library of Congress ran an updated and comprehensive printout of the summaries for use by the committee in cross-checking witness testimony and preparing for the examination of future witnesses.

The computer run took all night. It being 1973, the males were assigned to the all-night duty and the females were excused.

It was actually quite exciting traveling through tunnels from the bowels of the LOC to the Senate in the company of armed guards taking the printout back to the Committee.

The people that I worked with were mostly behind the scenes. We rarely got to attend the hearings and become reality stars of the day.

To my memory I attended the hearings on two occasions.

When John Dean's prepared statement was the world's most closely held secret, it was given in its entirety to me to summarize for the computer analysis. Being one of a handful of people who had the statement in advance was an incredible thrill.

And an early test of my ability to adhere to the duty of confidentiality.

As a reward, I was allowed to attend the hearing and sit behind the Committee during Mr. Dean's reading of the statement. If you look closely at photos taken when he is sworn in, I swear that one of the long-hairs in the back is me.

The second occasion I will never forget. After lunch one day, a colleague and I were approached by a staff attorney named Marc Lackritz. Marc told us that we had done good work and should take in the afternoon hearing.

July 13, 1973.

Alexander Butterfield.

The next day that colleague and I were taken off the computer-dictation gig and assigned to do the legal research in aid of the Committee's efforts to subpoena the Nixon tapes.

That rather interesting bit of real-world legal research - my first ever - consumed the rest of the summer.

The Watergate job got me my first employment with the Maryland Federal Public Defender. The connection to my Watergate boss and beloved mentor Sam Dash played a large role in my return to Georgetown Law as Ethics Counsel in 2001.

This Saturday is the 45th anniversary of the break in.

The committee survivors are having a reunion in the famed hearing room tonight.

Through Assistant Committee Counsel (and longtime friend) David Dorsen, I've been fortunate to get to know, befriend and collaborate on ethics projects with John Dean.  Here we are at a Nationals-Cardinals game. 

Watergate has been very, very good to me [hat tip to Chico Escuela] (Mike Frisch)

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