Watergate kids

By Amy Silverman


Salon Staff
August 11, 2000 11:25PM (UTC)

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Amy Silverman's "Children of Watergate" article contained a small error and a few omissions about former Attorney General Richard Kleindienst, who died just last February at the age of 76. Kleindienst, whom I covered as Newsweek's chief legal affairs correspondent during the Watergate years, was, indeed, charged with a "crime." He pleaded guilty in May 1974 to a misdemeanor for refusing to testify accurately before the Senate, and was fined $100 and given a 30-day suspended sentence. He had resigned as attorney general the previous year; so many of his close associates had been implicated in various Watergate-related scandals that he felt he would not be viewed as impartial.

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One or two omissions in Silverman's article might also explain why, to her, Anne Kleindienst seemed as if she would have made a strong officeholder. She was brought up by a man who, though hewing to a hard line favoring wiretaps in organized crime cases and mass arrests of Vietnam War protestors, strongly believed in social justice and who was described even by the judge who sentenced him as a man of the "highest integrity." In the 10 months he was attorney general, he pushed hard to recruit more black lawyers into the Justice Department. He saw to it that his children attended integrated public schools.

And he actually helped to thwart the Watergate coverup. A convicted Watergate conspirator, E. Howard Hunt, said in a 1975 prison interview that on the day after the June 17, 1972, break-in, G. Gordon Liddy tracked Kleindienst down at a Maryland golf club to tell him that people working in Nixon's presidential reelection campaign were involved; Liddy thought that Kleindienst might wave the FBI off the case (an action Nixon would much later try to arrange by having the CIA tell the FBI that national security was at stake; the tape of that order proved to be the "smoking gun" that doomed the Nixon presidency). Not only did Kleindienst refuse, but he called Henry Peterson, assistant attorney general for the criminal division, and decreed that any presidential campaign aides who were implicated should be treated like anyone else. With that, Hunt said, the chance for a successful coverup was seriously weakened.

-- Stephan Lesher

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