ABA Journal

The Lawyers of Watergate: How a '3rd-Rate Burglary' Provoked New Standards for Lawyer Ethics


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Photo of John W. Dean III swearing in by ©Bettmann/Corbis/AP Images.

On June 26, 1973, the growing Watergate scandal was already a year old, and John W. Dean III, President Richard M. Nixon’s former White House counsel, was in his second day of testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee when Herman Talmadge, a Democrat from Georgia, directed his attention to exhibit 34-47.

“It is a list of all the people that you thought had violated the law and what the laws may be that they violated—is that correct?” the Georgia senator inquired.

“That is correct,” Dean responded. “My first reaction was: There certainly are an awful lot of lawyers involved here. So I put a little asterisk beside each lawyer.”

“Any significance to the stars?” asked Talmadge, referring to the asterisks.

“That was just a reaction of mine,” answered Dean. “How in God’s name could so many lawyers get involved in something like this?”

Forty years ago this month, five “burglars” wearing business suits and surgical gloves and toting electronic surveillance equipment were arrested inside the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the fashionable Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C.

The Nixon White House initially dismissed the break-in as a “third-rate burglary,” but after a year of increasingly persistent media coverage, Congress initiated multiple investigations that exposed the involvement of more than 20 of the most powerful lawyers in the United States.

Click here to read the rest of “The Lawyers of Watergate” from the June issue of the ABA Journal.

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