Remembering the heroes of Watergate
Sam Dash, who was the chief counsel to the Senate Watergate committee, and Archibald Cox, who was the original Watergate prosecutor, both died last Saturday during the Memorial Day weekend. It was fitting in its way that they should be memorialized during a holiday dedicated to those who defended the republic.
They pursued their separate investigative and prosecutorial mandates, but they effectively worked in tandem to prevent President Nixon from subverting the government.
It was Dash, the onetime Philadelphia district attorney, who negotiated a plea bargain with disaffected White House counsel John Dean that made Dean the star witness in exposing how Nixon managed the Watergate coverup. And it was Dean who first expressed suspicion that Nixon had a taping system in the Oval Office.
And then it was special prosecutor Cox who fought for the release of the most incriminating tapes, driving Nixon to fire him and have his offices padlocked in what became known as the "Saturday Night Massacre." There ensued what White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig called a "national firestorm" that forced Nixon to name a new special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, who resumed the pursuit of the tapes up to the Supreme Court and an 8-0 vote requiring Nixon to release the most incriminating of the tapes. They revealed how Nixon had tried to shift blame for the Watergate break-in to the CIA, and how he had ordered payoffs to the Watergate burglars for their silence. It was Dash and Cox together who laid the basis for the impeachment that Nixon escaped only by resigning.
Dash later wrote, "Nixon believed he was a sovereign who had the authority to act above the law, a president who brought us close to dictatorship."
Cox, who returned to Harvard Law School, later wrote, "The long-range aim of the Watergate investigation and prosecution was to show that the government could cleanse itself and put itself in a shape that the people could trust."
They ought to give medals for that kind of service.
• Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.