John N. Mitchell

Last updated
John Mitchell
Interview with Atty. Gen. John Mitchell (cropped).jpg
67th United States Attorney General
In office
January 21, 1969 March 1, 1972
President Richard Nixon
Preceded by Ramsey Clark
Succeeded by Richard Kleindienst
Personal details
John Newton Mitchell

(1913-09-15)September 15, 1913
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
DiedNovember 9, 1988(1988-11-09) (aged 75)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Martha Beall
Education Fordham University (BA, LLB)
Military service
AllegianceFlag of the United States.svg  United States
Branch/serviceFlag of the United States Navy (official).svg  United States Navy
Rank US-O2 insignia.svg 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 67th Attorney General of the United States (1969–1972) under President Richard Nixon. Prior to that, he had been a municipal bond lawyer, chairman of Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign, and one of Nixon's closest personal friends.

Richard Nixon 37th president of the United States

Richard Milhous Nixon was an American politician who served as the 37th president of the United States from 1969 to 1974. He had previously served as the 36th vice president of the United States from 1953 to 1961, and prior to that as both a U.S. representative and senator from California.

Municipal bond A municipal bond is a bond issued by a local government or territory, or one of their agencies; generally to finance public projects.

A municipal bond, commonly known as a Muni Bond, is a bond issued by a local government or territory, or one of their agencies. It is generally used to finance public projects such as roads, schools, airports and seaports, and infrastructure-related repairs. The term municipal bond is commonly used in the United States, which has the largest market of such trade-able securities in the world. As of 2011, the municipal bond market was valued at $3.7 trillion. Potential issuers of municipal bonds include states, cities, counties, redevelopment agencies, special-purpose districts, school districts, public utility districts, publicly owned airports and seaports, and other governmental entities at or below the state level having more than a de minimis amount of one of the three sovereign powers: the power of taxation, the power of eminent domain or the police power.


After his tenure as U.S. Attorney General, he served as chairman of Nixon's 1972 presidential campaign. Due to multiple crimes he committed in the Watergate affair, Mitchell was sentenced to prison in 1977 and served 19 months. As Attorney General, he was noted for personifying the "law-and-order" positions of the Nixon Administration, amid several high-profile anti-war demonstrations.

Watergate scandal Political scandal that occurred in the United States in the 1970s

The Watergate scandal was a major political scandal that occurred in the United States during the early 1970s, following a break-in by five men at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C. on June 17, 1972, and President Richard Nixon's administration's subsequent attempt to cover up his involvement. After the five burglars were caught and the conspiracy was discovered—chiefly through the work of a few journalists, Congressional staffers and an election-finance watchdog official—Watergate was investigated by the United States Congress. Meanwhile, Nixon's administration resisted its probes, which led to a constitutional crisis.

Early life

Mitchell was born in Detroit, Michigan, to Margaret (McMahon) and Joseph C. Mitchell. He grew up in the New York City borough of Queens. [1] [2] He earned his law degree from Fordham University School of Law [3] [4] 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.

Detroit Largest city in Michigan

Detroit is the largest and most populous city in the U.S. state of Michigan, the largest United States city on the United States–Canada border, and the seat of Wayne County. The municipality of Detroit had a 2017 estimated population of 673,104, making it the 23rd-most populous city in the United States. The metropolitan area, known as Metro Detroit, is home to 4.3 million people, making it the second-largest in the Midwest after the Chicago metropolitan area. Regarded as a major cultural center, Detroit is known for its contributions to music and as a repository for art, architecture and design.

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2017 population of 8,622,698 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 20,320,876 people in its 2017 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 23,876,155 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

Queens Borough in New York City and county in New York, United States

Queens is the easternmost of the five boroughs of New York City. It is the largest borough geographically and is adjacent to the borough of Brooklyn at the southwestern end of Long Island. To its east is Nassau County. Queens also shares water borders with the boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx. Coterminous with Queens County since 1899, the borough of Queens is the second largest in population, with an estimated 2,358,582 residents in 2017, approximately 48% of them foreign-born. Queens County also is the second most populous county in the U.S. state of New York, behind Brooklyn, which is coterminous with Kings County. Queens is the fourth most densely populated county among New York City's boroughs, as well as in the United States. If each of New York City's boroughs were an independent city, Queens would be the nation's fourth most populous, after Los Angeles, Chicago, and Brooklyn. Queens is the most ethnically diverse urban area in the world.

Except for his period of military service, Mitchell practiced law in New York City from 1938 until 1969 and earned a reputation as a successful municipal bond lawyer.

Mitchell's second wife, Martha Beall Mitchell, became a controversial figure in her own right, gaining notoriety for her late-night phone calls to reporters in which she accused President Nixon of participating in the Watergate cover-up and alleged that Nixon and several of his aides were trying to make her husband the scapegoat for the whole affair.

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 borrower limits, Mitchell attached language to the offerings that was able to communicate the state's intent to meet the bond payments while not placing it under a legal obligation to do so. [5] Mitchell did not dispute when asked in an interview if the intent of such language was to create a "form of political elitism that bypasses the voter's right to a referendum or an initiative." [6]

Nelson Rockefeller 41st Vice President of the United States

Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller was an American businessman and politician who served as the 41st Vice President of the United States from 1974 to 1977, and previously as the 49th Governor of New York from 1959 to 1973. He also served as assistant secretary of State for American Republic Affairs for Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman (1944–1945) as well as under secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1953 to 1954. A member of the wealthy Rockefeller family, he was a noted art collector and served as administrator of Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, New York.

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. John Mitchell swearing in.jpg
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.

John Mitchell met Richard Nixon, former vice president to Dwight D. Eisenhower, when Nixon moved to New York after losing the 1962 California gubernatorial election. Nixon then joined the municipal bond law firm where Mitchell worked, Mudge, Rose, Guthrie, Alexander & Ferndon, and the two men became friends. For the period during which Nixon was a senior partner, the firm was renamed to Nixon, Mudge, Rose, Guthrie, Alexander & Mitchell. [7]

Nixon campaign manager

In 1968, with considerable trepidation, John 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, Mitchell also played a central role in covert attempts to sabotage the 1968 Paris Peace Accords (see: Anna Chennault§Paris Peace Accords) which could have ended the Vietnam War. [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] [22] [23] [24] [25] [26] [27] [28] [29] [30] [31]

Attorney General

After he became president in January 1969, Nixon appointed Mitchell as Attorney General of the United States while making an unprecedented direct appeal to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover that the usual background investigation not be conducted. [32] Mitchell remained in office from 1969 until he resigned in 1972 to manage President Nixon's reelection campaign.

Law and order

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, likening them to brown shirts of the Nazi era in Germany.

Mitchell expressed a reluctance to involve the Justice Department in some 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." However, he also told activists, "You will be better advised to watch what we do, not what we say." [33] [34] [35] [36] [37] [38]

School desegregation

Near the beginning of his administration, Nixon had ordered Mitchell to go slow on desegregation of schools in the South as part of Nixon's "Southern Strategy," which focused on gaining support from Southern voters. After being instructed by the federal courts that segregation was unconstitutional and that the executive branch was required to enforce the rulings of the courts, Mitchell began to comply, threatening to withhold federal funds from those school systems that were still segregated and threatening legal action against them.

School segregation had been struck down as unconstitutional by a unanimous Supreme Court decision in 1954 ( Brown v. Board of Education ), but in 1955, the Court ruled that desegregation needed to be accomplished only with "all deliberate speed," [39] which many Southern states interpreted as an invitation to delay. It was not until 1969 that the Supreme Court renounced the "all deliberate speed" rule and declared that further delay in accomplishing desegregation was no longer permissible. [40] As a result, some 70% of black children were still attending segregated schools in 1968. [41] By 1972, this percentage had decreased to 8%. Enrollment of black children in desegregated schools rose from 186,000 in 1969 to 3 million in 1970. [42]

Public safety

From the outset, Mitchell strove to suppress what many Americans saw as major threats to their safety: urban crime, black unrest, and war resistance. He called for the use of "no-knock" warrants for police to enter homes, frisking suspects without a warrant, wiretapping, preventive detention, the use of federal troops to repress crime in the capital, a restructured Supreme Court, and a slowdown in school desegregation. "This country is going so far to the right you won't recognize it," he told a reporter. [43]

There had been national outrage over the 1969 burning Cuyahoga River. President Nixon had signed the National Environmental Policy Act on New Year’s Day in 1970, establishing the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Nixon appointed William Ruckelshaus to head the agency, which opened its doors December 2, 1970. Mitchell gave a Press Conference December 18, 1970: “I would like to call attention to an area of activity that we have not publicly emphasized lately, but which I feel, because of the changing events, deserves your attention. I refer to the pollution control litigation, with particular reference to our work with the new Environmental Protection Agency, now headed by William Ruckelshaus.  As in the case of other government departments and agencies, EPA refers civil and criminal suits to the Department of Justice, which determines whether there is a base for prosecution and of course, if we find it so, we proceed with court action.... And today, I would like to announce that we are filing suit this morning against the Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation for discharging substantial quantities of cyanide into the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland. Mr. Ruckelshaus has said, when he asked the Department to file this suit, that the 180-day notice filed against the company had expired. We are filing a civil suit to seek immediate injunctive relief under the Refuse Act of 1899 and the Federal Water Pollution Act to halt the discharge of these deleterious materials into the river.” [44]

Dirty tricks

In an early sample of the "dirty tricks" that would later mark the 1971-72 campaign, Mr. Mitchell approved a $10,000 subsidy to employ an American Nazi Party faction in a bizarre effort to get Alabama Governor George Wallace off the ballot in California. The move failed. [43]

Committee to Re-elect the President scandal

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

John 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. [45] In April 1974, both men were acquitted in a New York federal district court. [46]

Watergate scandal

In the days immediately after the Watergate break-in of June 17, 1972, Mitchell enlisted former FBI agent Steve King to prevent his wife Martha from learning about the break-in or contacting reporters. While she was on a phone call with journalist Helen Thomas about the break-in, King pulled the phone cord from the wall. Mrs. Mitchell was held against her will in a California hotel room and forcefully sedated by a psychiatrist after a physical struggle with five men that left her needing stitches. [47] [48] Nixon aides, in an effort to discredit her, told the press that she had a "drinking problem". [49] Nixon was later to tell interviewer David Frost in 1977 that Martha was a distraction to John Mitchell, such that no one was minding the store, and "If it hadn't been for Martha Mitchell, there'd have been no Watergate."

In 1972, when asked to comment about a forthcoming article [50] that reported that he controlled a 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 [51] caught in a big fat wringer if that's published." [52] [53] [54]

One of Mitchell's former residences (left) in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. 1300 - 1302 30th Street, N.W..JPG
One of Mitchell's former residences (left) in Georgetown, Washington, D.C.

On February 21, 1975, Mitchell, who was represented by the criminal defense attorney William G. Hundley, 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." As a result of the conviction, Mitchell was disbarred from the practice of law in New York. [55] 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 Federal Prison Camp, Montgomery (in Maxwell Air Force Base) in Montgomery, Alabama, a minimum-security prison, before being released on parole for medical reasons. [56]

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 ]


Around 5:00 pm on November 9, 1988, Mitchell collapsed from a heart attack on the sidewalk in front of 2812 N Street NW in the Georgetown area of Washington, D.C., and died that evening at George Washington University Hospital. He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, based on his World War II Naval service and his cabinet post of Attorney General.


  1. "United States Census 1930", United States Census,1930;Queens, New York; page 4b, line 51, enumeration district 41-325.
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  9. 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.'".
  10. Jules Witcover. “The Making of an Ink-Stained Wretch: Half a Century Pounding the Political Beat” [ permanent dead link ]. 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.'".
  11. Clark M. Clifford with Richard C. Holbrooke. Counsel to the President: A Memoir Archived 2005-11-26 at the Wayback Machine . 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.'"
  12. 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."
  13. 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."
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  39. Brown v. Board of Education, 349 U.S. 294 (1955)
  40. See, e.g., Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education, 396 U.S. 19 (1969)
  41. Karl, Jonathan (24 May 2008). "Reconsidering John Mitchell". Wall Street Journal . Retrieved 22 July 2017.
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  43. 1 2 "John N. Mitchell Dies at 75; Major Figure in Watergate". The New York Times . November 10, 1988.
  44. "Press Conference Attorney John Mitchell 12-18-1970" (PDF).
  45. Bernstein, Carl; Woodward, Bob (1974). All The President's Men . New York: Simon and Schuster. pp. 284n, 335.
  46. Woodward, Bob; Carl Bernstein (1976). The Final Days. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 138. ISBN   0-671-22298-8.
  47. Reeves, Richard (2002). President Nixon : alone in the White House (1st Touchstone ed. 2002. ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 511. ISBN   0-7432-2719-0.
  48. McLendon, Winzola (1979). Martha: The Life of Martha Mitchell.
  51. The words "her tit" were not included in the newspaper article.
  52. Graham, Katharine (22 July 1997). "Personal History". Alfred A. Knopf . Retrieved 22 July 2017 via Google Books.
  53. Graham, Katharine (January 28, 1997). "The Watergate Watershed -- A Turning Point for a Nation and a Newspaper". The Washington Post . Retrieved 22 July 2017.
  54. Bernstein, Carl; Woodward, Bob (1974). All The President's Men . New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 105.
  55. See Mitchell v. Association of the Bar, 40 N.Y.2d 153, 351 N.E.2d 743, 386 N.Y.S.2d 95 (1976)
  56. "John N. Mitchell, Principal in Watergate, Dies at 75". The Washington Post . December 4, 1997. Retrieved May 7, 2010.

Further reading

Legal offices
Preceded by
Ramsey Clark
United States Attorney General
Succeeded by
Richard Kleindienst

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The Nixon White House tapes are audio recordings of conversations between U.S. President Richard Nixon and Nixon administration officials, Nixon family members, and White House staff, produced between 1971 and 1973.

Anna Chennault American politician

Anna Chennault, born Chan Sheng Mai later spelled Chen Xiangmei, also known as Anna Chan Chennault or Anna Chen Chennault, was a war correspondent and prominent Republican member of the US China Lobby. She was married to U.S. WWII aviator Claire Chennault.

Presidency of Richard Nixon American cabinet

The presidency of Richard Nixon began on January 20, 1969, when Richard Nixon was inaugurated as the 37th President of the United States, and ended on August 9, 1974 when he resigned from office, the first U.S. president ever to do so. A Republican, Nixon took office after the 1968 presidential election, in which he defeated Hubert Humphrey, the then–incumbent Vice President. Four years later, in 1972, he won reelection in a landslide victory over U.S. Senator George McGovern.

Mudge Rose Guthrie Alexander & Ferdon was a prominent New York City law firm tracing its origin back to 1869. Earlier known as : Mudge, Stern, Baldwin & Todd; later : Nixon, Mudge, Rose, Guthrie, & Alexander; later : Nixon, Mudge, Rose, Guthrie, Alexander & Mitchell; then : Mudge, Rose, Guthrie & Alexander. The firm is known best as the legal launching pad of Richard M. Nixon.

Timothy Naftali Director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum

Timothy Naftali is a Canadian-American historian who is clinical associate professor of public service at New York University. From 2007 to 2011, he directed the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. He was appointed when control of the Library was transferred from the Richard Nixon Foundation to the National Archives and Records Administration. His biggest task at the library was to present a more objective and unbiased picture of the Watergate scandal—a task completed in March 2011, when the Library's new Watergate gallery opened and received extensive news coverage. Naftali left the Nixon Library later that year. He is a regular CNN contributor as a CNN presidential historian.