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No gaps in discussion of Watergate at St. Thomas

Lawyers and history buffs have been enjoying an up close and personal look at the Watergate era this week thanks to the efforts of the University of St. Thomas to bring to Minnesota John Dean, Bud Krogh, Jill Wine-Banks and Judge Charles Breyer, the former being defendants and the latter being prosecutors in the illegal activities and cover-up thereof during the administration of President Richard Nixon. The panel discussion was “Watergate Revisited: The Ethics of the Lawyers.” Dean observed that of all the participants in the wide-ranging scandal, about 22 had law degrees. “So why did so many lawyers get involved? Blind loyalty to the president, incompetence and an absolute arrogance in believing that the law was inapplicable to them,” he said.

The good news from Watergate is proof that the constitutional process works, Breyer said. The Pentagon Papers incident showed that the First Amendment works, the hearings showed that Congressional oversight works, and the investigation and special prosecution showed that an independent judiciary is important, he said. Furthermore, when Nixon fired the special prosecutor in what came to be known as the Saturday Night Massacre, outraged citizens made their voices heard. In other words, they petitioned for redress of grievances and that made an enormous difference to the successful prosecution of wrongdoers, said Breyer, who is now a U.S. District Court judge in San Francisco.

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