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Justice: the memoirs of attorney general Richard Kleindienst.

If George Babbitt were alive today, he would no doubt come to Washington to save the country for the Republicans. Suffused with "can-do" confidence, George would remain loyal to his political patrons, look people in the eye, attend church regularly, and try to be a man of his word. And if things turned out badly for George, he would write a book like this one.

Richard Kleindienst was the famous also-ran of the Watergate scandal. A Goldwater political operative, he entered the Nixon administration as deputy to John Mitchell at the Department of Justice. He followed Mitchell both as attorney general and as criminal defendant. He exited the administration on the same day as Haldeman and Ehrlichman. He pled guilty only to a misdemeanor and was given a suspended $100 fine and a one-month prison sentence by a sympathetic rightwing judge.

All of these events figure rather peripherally in Kleindienst's memoir. Rather, he organizes the book around the great men and women whom he has known. His appraisals of these people provide insight into the mindset of this modern-dya Babbitt and his predictable downfall.

For Kleindienst, political values are far less important than the superficial personal values of the Republican mandarins: unswerving devotion to administration goals and, upso facto, to the country; strong adherence to political principles, whatever the substantive content of those principles; and the keeping of one's word.

Applying these values, Kleindienst creates a bizarre moral landscape, where felons, zealots, and segregationists emerge as fine fellows and ethical exemplars. Thus, John Mitchell, the first attorney general in American history to go to prison, "did what he did out of loyalty to the president and to his presidency. To him that also meant a responsibility to his country."

Kleindienst's commitment to being a good soldier got him into a great deal of trouble. Having lied to Congress about Nixon's hamhanded attempt to have the Justice Department drop the ITT case, he left office in disgrace and pleaded guilty to a crime. Perhaps he realizes, however, that there will always be Babbitts in high places, like the late Judge George Hart, who told Kleindienst at his sentencing that his acts reflected "a heart that is too loyal and considerate of the feelings of others" and that even in the dock, he was "still...universally respected and admired.c
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Author:Lewis, Eric
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1985
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