The sudden death this week of former U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell summons up a host of unhappy memories.
Mostly, they are memories of the Watergate scandal in which he played a key role - a scandal that eventually resulted in his becoming the first attorney general ever to serve a prison term.Consequently, they are memories of the sharp disparity between Mitchell's reputation as a tough, no-nonsense advocate of stern law enforcement and his actual performance in breaking the law by helping to cover up the White House's involvement in the 1972 burglary of Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate office building.
Likewise, they are memories of Mitchell's misplaced loyalties to a president who proved to be unworthy of them.
Such harsh memories of Mitchell's great fall from the pinnacle of power to the depths disgrace, however, need to be tempered by some kinder recollections.
Unlike some of his co-defendants in the Watergate affair, Mitchell wrote no kiss-and-tell insider report and no novelized version of his time in Washington.
Though President Nixon once suggested that Mitchell shoulder the entire responsibility for the coverup even though there was plenty of blame to go around, Mitchell not only never said a harsh word about Nixon but also forbade his own defense lawyer from doing so. By all accounts, he and Nixon remained friends to the end.
Stoic throughout, he was gracious in adversity. As one close associate put it, the former attorney general showed how to forgive, how to be caring, and how not to hold grudges. Let the record show that John Mitchell was not an unalloyed villain but simply a man of both great flaws and great strengths. The defense rests.