Robert Mardian

One of the 'Watergate Seven'
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The Independent Online

Robert Charles Mardian, lawyer: born Pasadena, California 23 October 1923; Assistant Attorney General 1970-72; married 1946 Dorothy Denniss (three sons); died San Clemente, California 17 July 2006.

Robert Mardian was among the most intriguing minor actors in the Watergate scandal - a high Justice Department and Nixon campaign official who was convicted for his part in the scandal, only to have the sentence overturned on appeal. He led the administration's pursuit of alleged subversives and trouble-makers. But he was also briefly rumoured to have been "Deep Throat", the secret source who helped bring about the resignation of the 36th US President.

The son of an Armenian immigrant from what was then the Ottoman empire, Mardian was a member of the large Californian contingent in and around the Nixon administration. He cut his political teeth on Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign in 1964, and worked on Ronald Reagan's first campaign for governor, before helping Richard Nixon in his victorious 1968 bid. In 1970 he was appointed Assistant Attorney General, and the following year headed the federal government's prosecution of Daniel Ellsberg, the leaker of the Pentagon Papers.

In 1972 he was appointed a lawyer and "co-ordinator" for Nixon's re-election committee, the infamous "Creep" (Committee to Re-elect the President) which was behind the break-in attempt on 17 June 1972 at the Democrats' national offices in the Watergate building in Washington. Despite his enthusiasm at the Justice Department for bugging and surveillance operations, Mardian insisted he knew nothing of the incident. That did not prevent his indictment.

Mardian was in California preparing for a fund-raising dinner when he learnt that the five burglars had been arrested at the Watergate complex. Prosecutors contended that on the orders of John Mitchell, Creep's director, Mardian telephoned G. Gordon Liddy, one of the burglars, telling him to contact the Attorney General, Richard Kleindienst, to have the leader of the group, James McCord, released from custody before his identity was discovered.

Thus Mardian became one of the "Watergate Seven" to be indicted on 1 March 1974, almost five months before Nixon resigned. It was an eminent group, including Bob Haldeman and John Erlichman, the two Californians and top Nixon aides who formed a so-called "Prussian Guard" at the White House, as well as Mitchell and Charles Colson, the head of the secret White House plumbers' unit.

Charged with obstruction of justice, Mardian faced a possible five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. All along he maintained he had done nothing wrong. But in January 1975 he was convicted on one count of conspiracy to hinder the Watergate investigation. In 1976 however his conviction was quashed. The technical ground was that he should have been tried separately because his lawyer fell ill during the trial. But the appeals judges also noted that the evidence against him was not as strong as that facing his co-defendants.

Rupert Cornwell