Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Did You Know That LDS Apostle D. Todd Christofferson Once Clerked For Famous Watergate Judge John Sirica During The Watergate Scandal?

Imagine my surprise when I visited The Mormons Are Coming blog and found out that D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, once served as a law clerk for Chief Judge John Sirica of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Furthermore, he clerked for Judge Sirica during the height of the Watergate scandal.

The blog itself didn't offer much more information beyond a couple of links. But one of those links is to the Duke Law News & Events. Elder Christofferson is a graduate of Duke Law School (1972), and shared his impressions in March 2010. He clerked for Judge Sirica from 1972-74, and was most impressed by Sirica's character and integrity.

Interestingly enough, Christofferson highlighted Attorney General John Mitchell's central role in perpetuating the cover-up. Had Mitchell slapped down G. Gordon Liddy at the very beginning, perhaps the cover-up would have unraveled early -- and Richard Nixon may not have had to resign.

...When G. Gordon Liddy, a lawyer and employee of the Committee to Re-Elect the President, proposed the Watergate break-in to plant electronic eavesdropping devices, part of a broader scheme to disrupt the Democratic party’s convention, to U.S. attorney general John Mitchell, Mitchell protested its price-tag, not the plan itself. “I’ll never know why — and this is one of the saddest things about the whole affair — the attorney general didn’t throw [Liddy] out or fire him,” said Christofferson. “But all he said was, ‘It will cost too much.’” Mitchell later gave the green light to the plan when Liddy brought its cost down.

Christofferson remains astonished that John Mitchell would merely question the cost of Liddy's plan rather than the ethics. But Christofferson later points to Judge Sirica's courageous and unprecedented decision to sign the order compelling enforcement of the subpoena to turn over the tapes to Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. President Nixon fought a relentless delaying action, attempting to substitute volumes of "edited transcripts" which were given to Senator John Stennis (D-MS). Sirica had moved into totally uncharted judicial territory:

Christofferson said he was particularly impressed by Sirica’s decision to sign the order compelling enforcement of a subpoena. Not only was it unprecedented, but the president had sent him a personal letter in response to the subpoena from the grand jury in which he claimed executive privilege; that letter is now in the collection of the Duke Law library. “Nobody knew how that was going to turn out,” said Christofferson. “[Sirica] could have been a goat as well as a hero and had his head handed to him on a platter by the Supreme Court. But he said ‘This is right,’ and he signed the order.” In fact, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld Sirica’s order, a ruling that led to the president’s resignation.

While Elder Christofferson never became a judge, he did go on to have a successful 21-year career working for a number of enterprises. But it's astounding how one of our present Apostles was not only present at the making of a historical event, but actually helped craft it. Elder Christofferson was called to the the Quorum of the Twelve on April 5th, 2008.

I came to maturity during the Watergate era, and to this day, I still think Richard Nixon got screwed. I'll never forget the last time he boarded Air Force One, on the day he resigned. He put up a brave face, but I could sense he was dying inside. Richard Nixon wanted to do the right thing, but was undone by his own suspicious nature and his trust in the wrong people. Watergate was a tempest that never should have been allowed out of the teapot. But thanks to Elder Christofferson's reminisces, my opinion of Judge John Sirica has improved somewhat.

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