The first Watergate-related criminal trial. The defendants were charged with burglarizing the National Democratic Committee Headquarters housed at the Watergate complex. The judge had ruled, at the gitgo, that I could not use my contemplated defense.(see my post of 6/11/2011, "Reflecting On An Icon") I was fighting with my hands tied.
As part of its case-in-chief, the prosecution called a White House staffer whose job caused him to have daily contact with my client. The case was being tried by the United States Attorney and his First Assistant. No second-stringers allowed, if you please. The direct testimony in no way related to my client. Prior to the commencement of cross, the Court recessed for lunch. Everyone filed out of the courtroom and walked down the long corridor leading to the exit door.
I found myself a few paces behind the witness who was accompanied by his attorney.So, I said to myself,("what a wonderful world"--no, no, no!!) "what do I have to lose?" Approaching the lawyer, I asked, "My I pose a question to your client?"
"I may not allow him to answer, but go ahead."
"Mr. (witness), what is your opinion of my client, as head of security for the Committee To Re-Elect The President?"
"Absolutely outstanding. A top-notch professional."
"And what is his reputation in the security field/"
"Everyone who has worked with him is equally impressed.""
When court re-convened, Judge Sirica asked if I wished to cross-examine. I rose and put to the witness the same two questions. Same answers. "Nothing further, Your Honor."
The judge looked at me with arched eyebrows. The prosecutors were momentarily stunned. The trial proceeded to its dismal conclusion of guilty verdicts. Subsequently, my client's letter to Judge Sirica, which shall be the subject of a later post, began a collapse of the house of cards, ultimately causing the resignation of the President of the United States.
Fast forward several months. The Watergate cover-up has been fully exposed. A special prosecutor has been appointed and convened a Grand Jury. Everybody, in any way connected to Watergate proceedings, has been summonsed to appear.
On the day of my turn, as I was being escorted to testify, I passed the open door of the U.S. Attorney's office. My name was called out. It was the two trial prosecutors beckoning to me. I sat opposite them with a quizzical look.
"Gerry, there's something we must ask you about. In this ongoing investigation, in this paranoid atmosphere, one thing has been sticking in our throats. It concerns you."
I had no idea what the hell they were talking about. As Watergate was being played out, the pile of fallen figures was rapidly rising. The criminal cover-up conspiracy, as well as perjury before Congress, was rampant and surging. Knowing that I had done nothing wrong was, at that particular moment, quite comforting. They continued.
"At the trial, when you cross-examined (witness), how could you have dared ask those questions, unless you already knew the answers, and (softly and gently, now) were "in" on the cover-up?"
Blinded by the suspicion permeating the Capitol, they could not even theorize with simplicity. I explained exactly what had happened. Their jaws dropped. They digested this unanticipated response. And, they instantly knew that it smacked of truth.
"My God! Of course! We should have known that it was this uncomplicated. You know, throughout the trial, you were the only reasonable man with whom we dealt. We apologize for even thinking of such a remote possibility. We are truly relieved."
"I understand. Relax. Glad you gave me this chance to straighten it out."
We shook hands, I testified before the Grand Jury without even being advised of my right against self incrimination. And, that was that.
I was, briefly, part of history. Some memories are indelible. My involvement in the Watergate saga is one of them. As I advise my classes, if you tell a lie, a first year law student will nail you. If you tell the truth, Clarence Darrow can't trip you up.
That's an axiom with which you cannot argue. And its applicability is not confined to a courtroom.