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Leonard Garment, Nixon Lawyer and Watergate Figure, Dies at 89

Monday, 15 Jul 2013 06:53 PM

By Andrea Billups

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One of President Richard M. Nixon's top attorneys who survived the Watergate scandal and went on to a prosperous and powerful legal career has died.

Leonard Garment, a liberal Democrat whose Watergate role including encouraging the president not to destroy the famed tapes that would later take him down, died at his home on Saturday in Manhattan, The New York Times reported. He was 89.

Garment, a Wall Street litigator, had encouraged Nixon, his former law partner, to resign, a notion the president roundly refused. Garment, who had been one of Nixon's top advisers, quickly left the administration and went on to an elite legal career in Washington, taking on as clients Attorney General Edwin Meese, Robert C. MacFarlane, and President Ronald Reagan among others.

He penned a 1997 autobiography noting his affection and also outright disappointment at the former president's life and leadership.

"The Nixon who was despised by millions of strangers, and who aroused powerful ambivalence in close associates because of his nasty mood swings between grandiosity and pettiness, was not the Nixon I knew," Garment wrote. "I was exposed mainly to his attractive sides — his intelligence, idealism, and generosity. Only by 'hearsay,' mainly tape-recorded, did I 'see' the fulminating stranger I was happy not to know."

He was born in poverty in Brooklyn, the son of a Lithuanian immigrant who owned a dress factory, and a Polish mother. He was musical, playing the clarinet and saxophone and paying off his college bill through his musical skills.

Even as his own political leanings were far from Nixon's, he admired Nixon's power and skills. He became known as the "liberal conscience" of the Nixon administration.

"I couldn't have cared less that Richard Nixon was the political anti-Christ of eastern liberalism," Garment wrote. His closeness to the president had some, for a time, thinking he was the elusive "Deep Throat" of Watergate who led the Washington Post onto the story.

Garment later went on to use his legal skills to work for human rights around the world, including at the United Nations, before returning to a successful private legal practice. He defended the treatment of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, spending his own money on a public relations campaign to protect what he saw was a attack on conservative legal positions.

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