On November 17, 2004, the Society put on an exciting program, “Reflections on Watergate.” Nearly 30 years after the jury returned its verdict finding President Nixon’s closest advisors guilty of obstruction of justice, the key participants in that historic trial came together for the first time since the trial to discuss its historic significance and the lessons learned.
Lead prosecutor, James F. Neal; Attorney General John Mitchell’s counsel, Plato Cacheris; the lead government witness, former Counsel to the President John Dean; and Judge John Sirica’s law clerk, D. Todd Christofferson, gave their unique perspectives on the events that led to President Nixon’s resignation and the subsequent cover-up trial.
Former NBC News Correspondent Carl Stern moderated the panel discussion.
Some highlights of the program included details of how taped conversations made in the Oval Office, together with John Dean’s testimony, identified those who participated in the cover-up of the Watergate break-in; how Dean spent hours in the basement of the Courthouse painstakingly reviewing each tape prior to the trial; and how the White House became, in James Neal’s words, a place where “anything goes.”
Both James Neal and John Dean expressed the view that President Nixon did not know beforehand of the plans for the break-in.
The panel shed new light on this important event in history and provided anecdotal information about the trial and the participants that fascinated the audience of judges, attorneys, law clerks, and others.
Plato Cacheris is a 1956 graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center. He served as an officer in the United States Marine Corps from 1951 to 1953, and then began his legal career at the U.S. Department of Justice. Subsequently, he established himself as one of the nation’s preeminent criminal defense lawyers.
He has represented clients in some of the nation’s heavily publicized cases, including Watergate and Iran-Contra. He represented Monica Lewinsky during the investigation and impeachment trial of President Clinton.
D. Todd Christofferson
Former law clerk for Judge John Sirica, D. Todd Christofferson graduated from Brigham Young University where he was an Edwin S. Hinckley scholar, member of the Blue Key National Honor Fraternity, and student body Academics Vice President. He received his law degree from Duke University in 1972 where he was a member of the editorial board of the Duke Law Journal and of the school’s national Moot Court team.
Mr. Christofferson served as a U.S. Army Reserve officer on active duty and inactive reserve status from 1971 until 1979. Thereafter he practiced law with the law firm of Dow, Lohnes & Albertson and then served as Senior Vice President and General Counsel for Sovran Bank of Tennessee in Nashville where he was active in community affairs and in providing pro bono legal services. He also served as Associate General Counsel of Nations Bank Corporation in Charlotte, North Carolina. Mr. Christofferson and currently serves as a full- time General Authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
John Dean was Legal Counsel to U.S. President Richard Nixon during Watergate. Mr. Dean started his legal career in Washington in the late 1960s as the Chief Minority Counsel for the House Judiciary Committee. He then served as an Associate Deputy in the Attorney General’s Office before being appointed as White House Counsel.
Mr. Dean went on to write books about his experiences in the Nixon White House, including Blind Ambition (1976). Since then he has worked as an investment banker in California and written columns, essays, and books on subjects as varied as President Warren G. Harding and Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist.
James F. Neal
James F. Neal is a graduate of the University of Wyoming, the Vanderbilt University School of Law and Georgetown University School of Law (Master’s Degree.) At Vanderbilt, he was Editor-in-Chief of the Vanderbilt University Law Review and recipient of the Founders Medal given to the student who maintained the highest grade point average throughout law school. Mr. Neal was a member of the United States Marine Corps from 1952 until 1954.
He served as a Special Assistant to the Attorney General of the United States from 1961 through 1966. He was Chief Trial Counsel of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force in 1973 and 1974 and Chief Counsel, United States Senate Select Committee to Study Undercover Operations at the Department of Justice in 1982. He has served as Lecturer in Law at Vanderbilt University School of Law.
Carl Stern, a former television news correspondent and spokesman for the United States Department of Justice, is the J.B. and Maurice Shapiro Professor of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University. A lawyer as well as a journalist, he covered the U.S. Supreme Court and the Justice Department for 26 years for NBC News.During his 33 years with NBC, he won two Peabody Awards, one for radio and one for meritorious service to broadcasting. He later served as Public Affairs Director at the Justice Department for more than three years. He has been at GWU’s School of Media and Public Affairs for six years. He is a member of the Ohio and District of Columbia bar.