John Mitchell was a man everyone loved to hate — Watergate mastermind, convicted felon, the highest-ranking U.S. government official ever to serve time. His name has been mud for 30 years.
That might be about to change.
James Rosen, a FOX News correspondent and confessed Watergate junkie, has spent the past 17 years working on a biography of Richard Nixon’s attorney general, who spent 19 months in jail for his role in planning the 1972 Watergate break-in.
Rosen calls his book, “The Strong Man: John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate,” a "decidedly" revisionist work, though he says he's just trying to improve the historical record.
“I don’t regard rehabilitating anyone’s character as my goal,” he said in an interview. “My essential conviction is that Mitchell stood fundamentally apart from, not at the center of, criminality in the Nixon White House.”
Rosen says Mitchell was a “much maligned figure” — and unfairly so. “My book concludes that he did not order the Watergate break-in,” he said. That is a radical departure from the traditional story.
Rosen doesn’t stop there — he also credits Mitchell with a host of good works while serving as attorney general, including the integration of Southern schools.
“[Nixon and Mitchell] desegregated the Southern public school system non-violently, and that is one of the great achievements of the executive branch in the 20th century,” he said.
That’s only part of the untold story Rosen intends to reveal in his book. He says he is drawing on thousands of pages of unplumbed files to draw a fresh picture of a man who was reticent to speak for himself.
“Not only did [Mitchell] never write a book, but he never testified, he never cut a deal to save his own skin or make his punishment more lenient," Rosen said.
"He never went on the lecture circuit or found God. He took his punishment like a man.”
That fortitude caught Rosen’s eye, and it has impressed friends and enemies, he said.
“He was very much a tower of strength and even his tormentors . . . all came away with an extraordinary admiration for him as a strong and mostly honorable man.”
“Well . . . I conclude that he suborned perjury."