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Leon Jaworski

Watergate Special Prosecutor

Leon Jaworski

Leonidas Jaworski was born in Waco, Texas, on September 19, 1905, the son of a Polish-born Evangelical minister. After graduating from Waco High School, where he was a champion debater, he attended Baylor University Law School, from which he received his LL.B. in 1925 (making him the youngest lawyer in Texas history); he received his LL.M. from George Washington University Law School the following year. He married Jeannette Adam in 1931; the couple ultimately had three children.

In 1931, Jaworski joined Fulbright, Crooker, Foreman & Bates, a prestigious law firm in Houston, Texas, where he spent the next forty years handling high-profile antitrust, banking, and energy cases. The firm became Fulbright and Jaworski in 1974.

Jaworski served as a colonel in the U. S. Army Judge Advocate General's Department during World War II. In that capacity, he prosecuted 43 black soldiers for the lynching of an Italian Prisoner of War during a riot at Fort Lawton, Oklahoma on August 14, 1944; 28 of the soldiers were convicted. After the war he served as a war crimes prosecutor in Germany, but did not participate in the Nuremberg Trials on the grounds that the prosecution there was based on laws that did not exist at the time the crimes against humanity were committed. After Fifteen Years, his behind-the-scenes account of the Nazi trials, was published in 1961.

In 1960, Jaworski successfully argued before the U. S. Supreme Court that Lyndon B. Johnson had the right to run simultaneously for re-election to his U. S. Senate seat and the vice-presidency. As special assistant to U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy from 1962 to 1965, Jaworski prosecuted Governor Ross Barnett of Mississippi for fighting the desegregation of the University of Mississippi.

In 1973, Jaworski was asked to replace Archibald Cox as Soecial Prosecutor in the Watergate Investigation. Initially reluctant, Jaworski accepted after being assured he would be allowed to operate completely independent of White House control and receive cooperation from the White House, and he was sworn in on November 5, 1973. One of his first actions was to subpoena 64 tapes of Oval Office conversations. President Richard Nixon attempted to have the subpoena quashed on grounds that that the office of Special Prosecutor did not have the right to sue the office of President and that the requested materials were privileged presidential conversations. Aware that an important constitutional issue was at stake, Jaworski asked the Supreme Court to take the case directly, bypassing the Court of Appeals. On July 24, 1974, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Special Prosecutor did have the right to sue the President; and that the "generalized assertion of [executive] privilege must yield to the demonstrated, specific need for evidence in a pending criminal trial." On August 8, 1974, Richard Nixon resigned as President.

Jaworski had to decide whether to press for an indictment of Nixon. Although there was little question in his mind that Nixon was guilty of, at the minimum, obstruction of justice, he chose not to file formal charges because he did not believe that Nixon could ever get a fair trial. He did, however, allow the grand jury to ideclare Nixon an "unindicted co-conspirator." The question of indictment became moot on September 8, when President Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon for any crimes he may have committed while in office. Jaworski resigned as Special Prosecutor on October 24, 1974, after the Watergate cover-up trial had begun.

Jaworski never argued another court case, but he did act as counsel to the 1977 House Ethics Committee investigation to determine if members had accepted anything of value, directly or indirectly, from the government of the Republic of Korea. In 1980 he served as treasurer of the "Democrats for Reagan" during the general election campaign. The Right and the Power, a national bestseller about the Watergate Affair, was published in 1976. He died on his ranch near Wimberley, Texas, on December 9, 1982.

See Also

World War II
Nuremberg Trials
Lyndon B. Johnson
Robert Kennedy
President Richard Nixon
President Gerald Ford

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This page was last updated on 10/30/2018.