Former President Richard Nixon led mourners Saturday in remembering former Attorney General John Mitchell - a key figure in the 1970s Watergate scandal - who was eulogized as a man who endured "the most unfair, cruel treatment of a public figure."
Mitchell, 75, one of Nixon's closest advisers, suffered a fatal heart attack Wednesday as he was walking home from work in Washington's tony Georgetown area. He maintained he never told Nixon about the cover-up of the break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex.Richard Moore, one of Mitchell's former Justice Department special assistants who delivered the eulogy at St. Alban's Episcopal Church in northwest Washington, remembered his former boss as a man who attracted loyal friends.
"It was easy to understand," Moore said. "After all, those friends who really knew John Mitchell knew that what he went through was the most unfair, cruel treatment of a public figure in the life of this cynical city."
Nixon's presence at Mitchell's funeral, attended by an estimated 300 people, appeared to be a sign of that loyalty.
"This morning, I want to renew our faith that the innate fairness of the American people will prevail and that John Mitchell will be accorded a place (in history), which he deserves," Moore said.
Moore also said Mitchell's many accomplishments during his tenure at the Justice Department, including in the areas of civil rights and desegregation, were not fully publicized because of the Watergate scandal.
He also elicited chuckles from the audience when he said he found in The Washington Post - "of all places" - the perfect phrase to characterize Mitchell: "a stand-up" man. (The Washington Post uncovered the Watergate scandal that eventually led to imprisonment for 25 defendants and Nixon's resignation Aug. 9, 1974.)
Mitchell had resigned as attorney general in 1972 to become Nixon's re-election campaign manager and insisted he had no involvement in the June 17, 1972, break-in and wiretapping at the Watergate complex.
But, he acknowledged a role in the cover-up. Convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and perjury, he served 19 months in a minimum-security prison.
Mitchell, who had been a prominent bond attorney with Nixon in New York before coming to Washington, told Congress during the Watergate hearings he never told the president of the cover-up.
"To my mind," Mitchell testified, "his re-election, compared to what was available on the other side," made it imperative to keep Nixon unaware of the cover-up.
Mitchell, who had fought in the Navy during World War II, was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in a private ceremony limited to family and friends.
Others attending the funeral included:
-Former Attorney General Richard Kleindienst, who succeeded Mitchell as attorney general in June 1972 and served until May 1973 when he resigned rather than lead the administration's Watergate probe.
-Nixon's press secretary, Ronald Ziegler, who had maintained he was never informed of the Watergate break-in and cover-up.
-Former Nixon speechwriter Patrick Buchanan.
-Former CBS reporter Daniel Schorr who aggressively covered the Nixon White House and whose name appeared on Nixon's "enemies list."
Also attending the services was Stephen King, a former FBI agent assigned to the Mitchell family between May 1, 1972, and July 1, 1972. "Despite the problems he has endured, my respect for the man has never faltered," said King, a former Wisconsin state Republican Party chairman. "He will be exhonerated. He is innocent of any decisive role in Watergate."
Mitchell's wife, Martha, found herself in the limelight as the Watergate scandal was unraveling, making late-night telephone calls to reporters, hinting of a much larger scandal. She later publicly accused her husband of covering up illegalities for the president. The Mitchells later divorced and she died in 1976.