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Watergate grand jury tried to indict President Richard Nixon

NEW YORK -- The Watergate grand jury tried relentlessly to indict Richard Nixon but their efforts were prevented by special prosecutor Leon Jaworski, members of the panel said in an interview broadcast Thursday night.

ABC-TV's '20/20' program said seven of the 23 grand jury members agreed to break their oath of silence and talk about their 30-months of pondering evidence in the Watergate break-in 'because they are convinced justice was not done.'

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Grand jury member Elayne Edlund told '20/20' about the results of a straw vote taken on whether to indict the president after the grand jury had heard the Watergate tapes: 'There were 19 people in the grand-jury room that particular day, and we all raised our hands about wanting an indictment -- all of us. And some of us raised both hands.'

The prosecution team agreed with the grand jury, ABC said, and out of its Watergate Task Force Report came a six-page indictment detailing specific criminal allegations for which Nixon could have been named. Those allegations included 'bribery, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and obstruction of a criminal investigation,' ABC said.

ABC said the four-count indictment needed only a formal jury vote, the foreman's signature and Jaworski's signature to make it effective.

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Former assistant prosecutor George Frampton said, however, 'At the outset of this process, it was clear to us that Leon Jaworski did not share those views, or at least was going to have to be convinced.'

Jaworski, a Houston attorney who was appointed by Nixon to replace Archibald Cox as special Watergate prosecutor, said he took the job believing Nixon was innocent.

'I still did not think that Mr. Nixon was involved until I listened to some tape recordings in -- oh, it was about early December, about -- I had been there about five or six weeks and I was shocked to find that he was implicated,' Jaworski said.

Grand jury deputy foreman Harold Evans said Jaworski argued against indictment citing such things as 'the trauma of the country' and the lack of legal precedent for indicting a sitting president.

'And foremost, we were told point blank, perhaps not in these very words, that an indictment would not be signed,' grand jury foreman Vladimar Pregelj said.

Asked by whom it would not be signed, Pregelj said, 'By Jaworski.'

ABC said Jaworski and his staff convinced the jury to forward their evidence against Nixon to the House Impeachment Committee and led the panel members to believe that if the president tried to escape impeachment by resignation, they would be given another chance to hand down an indictment.

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When Nixon did resign on Aug. 9, 1974, Jaworski asked his staff for advice and his own counsel, Phillip Lacovara, recommended indictment, ABC said.

'But Jaworski never took the issue back to the grand jury,' ABC said. 'Instead, he concluded, an indictment of Nixon might interfere with the trials of the other Watergate defendants.'

When President Ford later pardoned Nixon, the grand jury was shocked, ABC said. Pregelj wrote Jaworski urging that the grand jury be reconvened to see if the pardon could be challenged.

Pregelj said Jaworski took no action on his letter.

'The pardon was not subject to legal challenge, regardless of what one's opinion may have been about the advisability of granting a pardon,' Jaworski told ABC.

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