John Dean was Time Magazine's cover subject more than once. (And the answer: No, Nixon could not survive Dean's testimony.)

John Dean was Time Magazine’s cover subject more than once. (And the answer: No, Nixon could not survive Dean’s testimony.)

Just like politically motivated burglars in 1972, a sad American anniversary furtively passed me by yesterday—for it was on June 17 in that year that “five men, one of whom says he used to work for the CIA, are arrested at 2:30 a.m. trying to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate hotel and office complex.” (A full timeline of related events and stories, via the Washington Post, is here.)

The break-in at the Watergate and the subsequent executive branch cover-up caused turmoil from coast to coast and eventually led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. (But also a pardon by President Gerald Ford for his secretive predecessor, an event that entirely ruined my 12-year-old birthday on September 8, 1974. I related my own experience of that pardon here.)

If you’d like to hear from someone who was intimately involved with that remarkable moment in American history, head over to San Diego in July, where the State Bar’s CLE By the Sea will feature speaker John Dean, who served as White House Counsel for President Richard Nixon for a thousand days from 1970 until 1973. (He has had other life achievements, but this is the resume line we regularly recall.)

I have never been to CLE By the Sea (I’m as surprised as you are), but this is a speaker who makes me want to break my perfect streak.

You can read more about Dean and his program here.

The pen Gerald Ford used to sign his pardon of Richard Nixon, Sept. 8, 1962. (Wikimedia Commons)

The pen Gerald Ford used to sign his pardon of Richard Nixon, Sept. 8, 1974. (Wikimedia Commons)

When many Americans, including me, think back on the infamy that emerged from the Oval Office, we also recall a few people who stepped up and spoke truth or otherwise acquitted themselves well.

Many people distinguished themselves by doing their jobs well or even going above and beyond the call of duty. Among them were Judge John Sirica, Sen. Sam Ervin, special prosecutor Archibald Cox, Attorney General Elliot Richardson, and Deputy Attorney General William D. Ruckelshaus. (And let’s not forget the Washington Post’s own publisher Katharine Graham and reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.)

Political memories linger, and a campaign button in 1976 reminded voters of Ford's first big presidential decision.

Political memories linger, and a campaign button in 1976 reminded voters of Ford’s first big presidential decision.

Other people initially found themselves in a place that appeared ethically challenged or perhaps even illegal. And within that tawdry chapter of U.S. history, a subset of those decided to speak up and try to make things right.

John Dean was one of those people. As I’ve related before, my household and tens of thousands of others were riveted to Senate hearings at which John Dean played a historic role. We gazed in wonder at the laundry list of allegations emanating from the highest reaches of our government. It was hard not to marvel at the resolve Dean exhibited as he offered the Senate an accounting of the administration’s excesses. Others testified, but none riveted the attention as did John Dean.

John Dean when he was a young government lawyer.

John Dean when he was a young government lawyer.

In San Diego in July, Dean and his co-presenter James David Robenalt will offer insights for attorneys who may confront trouble in their own entities. As a description opens:

“As lawyer for the organization, what are the duties and obligations if a report up to the highest authority within an organization has failed and crime or fraud continue? Rule 1.13 of the Code of Professional Conduct (the ‘Model Rules’) provides that the lawyer may ‘report out’ what the lawyer knows, regardless of the duty of confidentiality imposed by Rule 1.6. And the lawyer’s duties become even more complicated if the lawyer has participated, knowingly or not, in the wrongdoing that gives rise to the reporting obligation. How then does the lawyer extricate himself or herself? When is resignation enough? When does a lawyer need to engage in a ‘noisy’ withdrawal?”

Here’s hoping you get the chance to gain some ethics education just steps from the beaches of Coronado. The complete program and a link to register are here.

Mmm: Cake only a lawyer could like

I wrote recently about the pain that Watergate left on a nation—and on my birthday, forever marked as the anniversary of one President pardoning a former President.

However, this week, some gifts—both thoughtful and odd—went a long way toward erasing 1974’s pain.

So I decided to post on the blog of a Saturday—a rare event when time is at a premium. I guarantee it’ll be pretty light lifting.

First, a reminder of the historic event.

It was September 8, 1974, when President Gerald Ford spared a nation (his words) the pain of a drawn-out impeachment process. On that day, he read his proclamation to the world.

President Gerald Ford, Sept. 8, 1974

The text of the proclamation itself can be read here. The order granted Nixon an unconditional pardon “for all offenses from January 20, 1969, the day he was first inaugurated as president.”

One of the pleasures of history is to come across artifacts that convey something true from the contemporary time. And that’s why I love this image below. It is one of the many letters sent to President Ford after his pardon. It was gathered by the National Archives.

You can see more from the Archives here.

So on my birthday Thursday, as we read the morning Arizona Republic, my wife noted that day’s historic blurb and photo on page A2: Ford pardons Nixon. But it only took until that evening to put the specter aside.

That’s because family and friends shared an odd assortment of gifts and tschotckes. Every one made me smile and chuckle. For a non-law-related blog post on AZ Attorney, this is hard to beat.

Thanks to Kathy, Willa and Thea (my family) and to Randy, Sarah, Olivia, Elena, Jack and Amelia, a whole other family of friends who swooped in with a goofy and heartfelt surprise.

If you’re feeling particularly non-legal today, click here to see the gifts.

See you back here Monday.

OK, I am willing to admit that I take the whole Watergate scandal rather personally. But for me and many others, Watergate was a watershed. And for some of us, it hit pretty close to home.

As the surreal nature of 1973 devolved into the constitutional crisis of 1974, I was but a wee lad in upstate New York. When the news of a mundane break-in came in the newspapers (young people, ask the old people what those were), no one in my family (and few in the news media) had an inkling that it would eventually bring down a presidency.

Whenever the Watergate hearings were televised, they were on in my house. And so powerful was the testimony and so compelling the questioners, it occurred to a young me that it would be honorable to be a United States Senator (thanks a lot, Sam Ervin). It took fully three more decades to understand the folly of that estimation.

But by the time the hearings had done their work and shown the Nixon presidency to be the hollow criminal enterprise that it was, the summer of 1974 was over, and we all awaited what we thought would be the inevitable.

Until my 12th birthday on September 8. On that fateful day, President Gerald Ford pardoned his predecessor of all crimes. It was over—but so incomplete.

“He can’t do that!” I insisted to my dad, who stared, ashen, at the TV.

I look happy, but a constitutional crisis gnawed at a nation.

“Well, yes, yes, I think he can,” gulped a man who had spent the summer telling his sons that we were witnessing the wheels of democracy working toward a just conclusion.

The rest of that birthday holds no memories for me. The TV was blissfully turned off, and the house, myself included, sank into a lethargy of mourning. For at least one 12-year-old, President Ford had exercised his first and last decision of any import, and it was cast in infamy.

Looking back, of course, I can see I was a dramatic young man. But it’s hard to shake the notion that a nation’s cynicism was poured in lead by Nixon and hardened in a steaming bath by Ford.

And that’s why this week’s little news item about a DC parking garage cheered me, just a little.

At long last, a historic marker has been erected outside the garage where Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward met with FBI deputy director Mark Felt (code-named “Deep Throat” by a Post editor who could be pretty dramatic himself). There, amid the screech of tires and the odor of gasoline, Felt provided valuable information about the obstruction of the FBI’s Watergate investigation. That information, and what the Post did with it, underscored the belief that we are a nation of laws, and not of men.

As the nearly interminable 18-month presidential campaign rouses itself into an extended exercise in obstreperous obscurity and oppressive obloquy, I would invite each of the candidates to stop by the garage. Pause between the dog-walkers and the valet-parkers. Block out the taxi honks, and read the sign.

And then ask yourself if you aspire to the greatness that two men demonstrated in a dark, dank garage. Ask whether you care enough about a country and its institutions that you would take real risks to expose the crimes and misdemeanors of the nation’s most powerful people. Ask whether you would pursue justice doggedly and with a conviction that a democratic people deserve nothing less.

And then—and only then—return to the campaign trail.

Here’s what a former disillusioned Cub Scout thinks: A visit like that would have to make every one of the candidates more qualified for the job of President.

Hell, it’s worth a shot.