Fred Thompson: The Lessons of Watergate

Roundup: Talking About History

Fred Thompson is a former senator, presidential candidate, and minority counsel to Senate Republicans during the Watergate scandal.

The Washington Post recently sponsored a panel discussion marking the 40th anniversary of the Watergate scandal. The event featured players in that drama of long ago, so I was there, along with Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, Ben Bradlee (the Post’s editor at the time of Watergate and the guest of honor at this discussion), John Dean (President Richard Nixon’s counsel, who eventually testified against him), and others. I think it is fair to say that GOP stalwarts were in short supply. However, the partisan aspects of those events of four decades ago — and the devastation they wreaked on the Republican party — fade in my memory as I try to give an honest evaluation of that important time in our history.

I always approach invitations to revisit the “lessons of Watergate” with an assortment of feelings. From a personal standpoint, it was certainly a major event in the life of one 30-year-old “country lawyer” from Tennessee. I was appointed Republican attorney for the Watergate Committee, and I soon found myself in the middle of the political scandal of the century, which ultimately led to the resignation of the president of the United States and the imprisonment of scores of Republican operatives and officials, including Attorney General John Mitchell, whose certificate of appointment had been on my wall....

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