Leonard Garment: Lawyer who forged an unlikely friendship with President Richard Nixon - Obituaries - News - The Independent

Leonard Garment: Lawyer who forged an unlikely friendship with President Richard Nixon

 

Few of Richard Nixon’s senior aides emerged from the Watergate debacle with their reputations intact, but Leonard Garment was one – even though he had served as the president’s top lawyer for 12 months at the very height of the scandal. A greater mystery, at first glance at least, was how he arrived in the White House in the first place.

Outwardly, the two men had next to nothing in common. Nixon was a conservative and a Republican, devious, secretive and uncomfortable in company, wont in private to spew out anti-Semitic invective. Garment was a son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who described himself as a “birthright Democrat and lifelong liberal”.

He was a gregarious and artistic man, who in an earlier existence had played jazz clarinet and tenor saxophone professionally to help pay for his university education, working with the likes of Woody Herman and Billie Holiday (as well as another young saxophonist and promising economist named Alan Greenspan). The paths of the pair crossed when the future president, fresh from the 1962 defeat in the California governor’s election that seemingly ended his political career, joined the elite Wall Street law firm of Mudge, Stern, Williams and Tucker, where Garment had been a partner since 1957. Nixon was 11 years older and the two struck up something of a father-son relationship.

However improbable, the friendship was genuine and lasting. Garment was attracted first and foremost to Nixon’s “spacious, immense intelligence”, as he put it in an interview about his entertaining 1997 memoir Crazy Rhythm: From Brooklyn And Jazz To Nixon’s White House, Watergate, And Beyond. In it, he wrote how he had been “exposed mainly to his [Nixon’s] attractive sides… Only by hearsay, mainly tape-recorded, did I ‘see’ the fulminating stranger I was happy not to know.”

Nixon, his ambitions undimmed despite the California loss, also offered a way out of a law career of which Garment was becoming bored. So he signed on as a close adviser, first on the 1966 Congressional elections in which Nixon worked tirelessly and Republicans made big gains, and then on the victorious White House campaign of 1968. Garment followed Nixon to Washington, where he became what the speechwriter, and later columnist, William Safire called the “resident liberal conscience” at the White House, focussing on issues like the arts, desegregation and human rights but, perhaps providentially, having few direct dealings with the boss.

Then came Watergate. In April 1973 Nixon named Garment White House counsel to succeed John Dean, who had become a target of the investigation and was already co-operating with prosecutors. His was a baptism of fire, a press conference in May 1973 to present Nixon’s first detailed defence in the scandal, an experience Garment likened to “a public stoning”.

Even then he was not part of Nixon’s innermost circle. But some of his interventions were crucial – not least his advice to Nixon not to burn the crucial tapes of Nixon’s Oval Office conversations (which Garment later said had been legally correct, but a mistake politically). At the same time he developed the “executive privilege” strategy to prevent the tapes’ release. The Supreme Court ultimately rejected the argument, sealing Nixon’s fate.

He also managed to stop Nixon fabricating a missing tape that prosecutors were demanding, a step Garment told him was “going over the line”. The episode prompted him to travel in November 1973 to Florida, where the president was on holiday, to urge Nixon to resign. At that stage however, the idea was a non-starter; the president refused even to see his lawyer.

In effect sidelined, Garment more or less withdrew from Nixon’s legal team and scarcely heard from him until 7 August 1974, the very eve of resignation. “I’m sorry I let you down, Len,” the president said, hanging up the phone before his old friend could reply.

Garment briefly stayed on at the White House under Gerald Ford, advising the new president to pardon Nixon – a step now generally praised, but which was hugely unpopular at the time and contributed to Ford’s defeat two years later. He then moved back to New York as the US representative on the United Nations Commission for Human Rights, where he fought in vain against the General Assembly’s infamous 1975 “Zionism is Racism” resolution, which Garment described as “obscene”.

Thereafter he morphed seamlessly into that unique and enduring creature, the Washington superlawyer, representing such clients as Robert McFarlane, President Reagan’s former national Security adviser enmeshed in the Iran/Contra affair, and the thwarted Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, as well as the fugitive financier Marc Rich. But Garment was above all associated with Nixon and the scandal that destroyed him. In 2000 he wrote a second book, In Search of Deep Throat, regarding the mysterious Watergate source for the Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward (and who many suspected might be Garment himself).

In the event, the book guessed wrongly that it was another Nixon aide, John Sears. Only in 2005 did Mark Felt, former deputy director of the FBI, admit to being the most famous journalistic source in history.

Leonard Garment, lawyer and US government official: born Brooklyn, New York 11 May 1924; White House Counsel 1973-74; US Representative, UN Human Rights Commission 1974-77; married firstly Grace Albert (deceased; one son, and one daughter deceased), secondly Suzanne Bloom (one daughter); died Manhattan 12 July 2013.

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Energy Markets Analyst

£400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...

Junior Web Analyst – West Sussex – Up to £35k DOE

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Nursery Manager

£22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...

Web Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k - London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week