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Former Attorney General John Mitchell, jailed for his role...

By
WENDY BENJAMINSON

WASHINGTON -- Former Attorney General John Mitchell, jailed for his role in President Nixon's Watergate scandal, died late Wednesday of a heart attack. He was 75.

Mitchell died at 6:27 p.m. EST at George Washington University Medical Center, said hospital spokeswoman Claudia Dominitz. She said Mitchell was admitted to the hospital at 5:30 p.m. after suffering a heart attack.

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News reports said Mitchell was walking home in the fashionable Georgetown section of the nation's capital when he collapsed on the street. A passerby administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation and he was taken to the hospital.

A Washington television station reported Wednesday night that a breakdown in radio communications prevented the medics treating Mitchell from letting the hospital know they were on the way.

WUSA-TV reported that it took four calls before the medics were able to dispatch a call through to the hospital and by that time, the ambulance was already at the hospital. Medics told the station such communications difficulties have become a recurring problem.

Fire and ambulance officials were looking into the incident, the station reported. It was not known whether it contributed to Mitchell's death.

Mitchell, who once said all he ever wanted out of life was to be a 'fat and prosperous Wall Street lawyer,' became the first attorney general ever to serve a prison sentence -- for Watergate crimes he said he never committed.

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As a top adviser to Richard Nixon, the pipe-smoking Republican pulled the strings that led to the June 17, 1972, break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex.

A Byzantine cover-up then began in earnest in an attempt to distance the Oval Office from the burglars. During the next two years, the scandal exploded with repeated revelations from congressional and legal investigations.

In the end, 25 people including Mitchell were jailed for Watergate crimes; Nixon resigned in disgrace Aug. 9, 1974, and was pardoned a month later by President Gerald Ford.

Mitchell spent the years after his release from prison in the city of his downfall asa consultant for Global Research Inc., a public policy institute.

Former Watergate prosecutor Jim Neal said Wednesday in Nashville, Tenn., that he was saddened at Mitchell's death.

'John Mitchell committed an offense and I prosecuted him,' Neal said. 'But he was a very pleasant human being. He was not bitter about what happened to him. ... There was no bitterness between John Mitchell and me.'

The White House issued a statement Wednesday night saying, 'President and Mrs. Reagan are deeply saddened by the news of John Mitchell's death and extend their sympathy and prayers to his family.'

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Mitchell's wife, Martha, found herself in the limelight during her husband's stay in office because of her outspoken views about Washington politics and politicians.

Mrs. Mitchell became famous for a series of late-night telephone calls to reporters in which she dropped hints about a much-larger Watergate scandal than was known at the time. Nixon administration officials tried to discredit her comments by saying she was drunk.

At first her statements seemed to amuse her husband and Nixon, but she later publicly accused her husband of covering up illegalites for the president. She demanded he leave politics and 'all those dirty things that go on.'

Even after they divorced, Mrs. Mitchell insisted until her death in 1976 that her husband had been framed in the Watergate scandal and that Nixon should have accepted more of the blame.

Born in Detroit Sept. 15, 1913, Mitchell was graduated from Fordham University and its law school. He became acquainted with Nixon when they were partners in the New York law firm Mudge, Rose, Guthrie, Alexander and Mitchell. Mitchell specialized in municipal bonds.

He became Nixon's campaign manager in 1968 and worked to build a coalition of Southern and Western states through a 'law and order' conservative appeal.

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During the campaign Mitchell said he would never accept a Cabinet position if Nixon were elected. After he was named attorney general, he said he did not want the job and would only stay two years.

Mitchell's famous watchword to reporters in the early days of Nixon's first term was, 'Watch what we do, not what we say.'

'I have everything I want,' he once said. 'I'm a fat and prosperous Wall Street lawyer, which is just what I've always wanted to be.'

But once at the Justice Department, Mitchell stayed until 1972, when he left to become Nixon's re-election campaign manager.

After the Watergate break-in in 1972, Mitchell denied that the burglars had any connection with the Committee to Re-Elect the President.

He said he had no prior knowledge of, or involvement with, the Watergate break-in or the subsequent cover-up and repeated that claim before FBI agents, grand jurors, reporters, Senate committees and a District of Columbia jury.

Mitchell disputed the testimony of former aides Jeb Stuart Magruder and John Dean before the Senate Watergate Committee that he had approved the break-in and arranged payment of hush money to Watergate defendants.

Mitchell was charged along with other former Nixon aides and went on trial. Most of the evidence presented in court came from Nixon's White House tapes and Dean's testimony.

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After his conviction of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and perjury, Mitchell was sentenced to a prison term of two to eight years by Judge John Sirica. The sentence was upheld on appeal and Mitchell began serving his sentence in a minimum security prison at Montgomery, Ala., in June 1977.

He was released 19 months later, Jan. 19, 1979.

Mitchell was involved in other legal battles. In 1973, he and former Commerce Secretary Maurice Stans were indicted by a federal grand jury in New York on charges of perjury and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

The indictment charged that they had conspired to obstruct justice in an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission into the mutual funds dealings of fugitive financier Robert Vesco in return for a secret $200,000 donation to Nixon's re-election campaign fund. The grand jury acquitted the two of all charges a year later.

As a law-and-order attorney general, Mitchell said he differed from his predecessor, Ramsey Clark, by believing the Justice Department was a institution for law enforcement, not social reform.

Mitchell, unlike Clark, also pledged to fight crime by using the full wire-tapping authority contained in the 1968 omnibus crime act.

He often contended that anti-war demonstrations were inspired by communists and compared Vietnam protesters to Adolf Hitler's 'brown shirts.'

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