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Legal News: Law Blog - WSJ.com
A Conversation With Bud Krogh, of Watergate Fame
By Dan Slater
Billed as the first public gathering of two of the most prominent Watergate defendants, Egil “Bud” Krogh and John Dean will take the stage tomorrow at University of St. Thomas law school to participate in a forum called “Watergate Revisited: The Ethics of the Lawyers.” They will be joined by the two lawyers who prosecuted Watergate — Charles Breyer, the brother of high court justice Stephen and now a district court judge, and Jill Wine-Banks.
Dean – who was President Nixon’s counsel before pleading guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice – is now a visiting scholar at USC and a columnist for FindLaw.com.
Krogh, appointed at the ripe age of 29 to be the staff assistant to the President’s counsel, co-directed the Plumbers unit, which in turn ordered the break-in into the office of the psychiatrist for Daniel Ellsberg, of Pentagon Papers fame. Krogh (Principia College, University of Washington law) pleaded guilty to a charge of deprivation of civil rights and served four months in prison. After getting his law license revoked, he taught college classes for several years and then successfully petitioned for readmission to the bar. Recently, Krogh, 68, teamed up with his son to write a book called “Integrity: Good People, Bad Choices, and Life Lessons from the White House.”
The Law Blog caught up with Krogh earlier today to discuss the panel, the relevance of Watergate to the legal profession, and how to repair one’s integrity after fouling it up.
Hi Bud. Thanks for chatting. Let’s start from the beginning. For your role in the Watergate Scandal, you were eventually disbarred, but then won readmission. Talk about that a bit.
I was first suspended in 1975 for pleading guilty to a felony. Later in ‘75, there were several hearings before a disciplinary board that recommended a 9 month suspension. That was overruled and I wound up getting disbarred. In 1977, I petitioned to the board of governors, and they said not enough time had elapsed to demonstrate I’d been fully rehabilitated. In 1979, the board of governors recommended reinstatement. That recommendation went up to Washington State Supreme Court, which voted 7-2 that I be reinstated pending passing the bar exam.
So you were about 40 when you had to re-take the bar.
I was 41. After getting reinstated, I was offered an associate position in the office of my lawyer in the attorney discipline process, William Dwyer. I stayed there until the firm dissolved 15 years later.
Your recent book is about integrity and the lessons you learned from your experience in the Nixon White House. Recently, several high-profile lawyers have made bad choices, and some of them will likely face disbarment as a result. What’s your advice to them?
Here’s my experience. I met my lawyer two weeks after pleading guilty. When I told him the story, he said, ‘I’m going to take your case, but here are the conditions. You’re likely to be imprisoned. Do your time honorably. Secondly, don’t write a book now, don’t capitalize on this. Thirdly, you have to take responsibility for what happened and make amends.’
I’m not sure what that meant at the time, but what it turned out to be for me was teaching for five years. I would counsel anyone who’s going through this to look directly at what your responsibility was, and then be willing to take whatever the consequences are. In my case, it was pleading guilty.
You were very young and under pressure from your superiors when you ordered investigators to break into the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist. Are there modern parallels, either in politics or business, to your situation?
I think Enron was similar. We were operating under enormous pressure for results. In both cases there were high stakes, high expectations, and leaders that were not giving us good guidance as to what was ethical and what was not.
The press materials for tomorrow’s panel say you’ll be addressing what the legal profession did and didn’t learn from Watergate. What didn’t the profession learn from Watergate?
Look at the conduct of lawyers in the current administration. You have to be careful that you don’t give advice that’s suited primarily to what the client wants, rather than what the law dictates. The war on terror has spawned its own internal pressure on lawyers to come up with goal-oriented opinions.
The Watergate scandal was broken by two journalists who relied on an anonymous source. There’s been a lot of discussion lately about how much legal protection should be allotted to preserving the confidentiality of the journalist-source relationship. What do you think about that?
I think it is a good idea. If Woodward and Bernstein had been forced to disclose sources, for whatever reason, it could’ve had a negative effect on their ability to keep sources talking to them. I think it would be a good thing to give reporters some protection.
Sorry, but we’ve got to throw this out there. Your brother-in-law, Peter Horton, used to executive produce and direct one of our favorite TV shows, “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Yeah, Peter also played the character Gary on “Thirty Something” – the handsome guy with the long blonde hair.
Oh, we hadn’t made that connection. Thanks a lot Bud. And enjoy Minnesota tomorrow.
No problem. Thank you.
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