The Strong Man is the first full-scale biography of John N. Mitchell, the central figure in the rise and ruin of Richard Nixon and the highest-ranking American official ever convicted on criminal charges.
As U.S. attorney general from 1969 to 1972, John Mitchell stood at the center of the upheavals of the late sixties. The most powerful man in the Nixon cabinet, a confident troubleshooter, Mitchell championed law and order against the bomb-throwers of the antiwar movement, desegregated the South's public schools, restored calm after the killings at Kent State, and steered the commander-in-chief through the Pentagon Papers and Joint Chiefs spying crises. After leaving office, Mitchell survived the ITT and Vesco scandals--but was ultimately destroyed by Watergate.
With a novelist's skill, James Rosen traces Mitchell's early life and career from his Long Island boyhood to his mastery of Wall Street, where Mitchell's innovations in municipal finance made him a power broker to the Rockefellers and mayors and governors in all fifty states. After merging law firms with Richard Nixon, Mitchell brilliantly managed Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign and, at his urging, reluctantly agreed to serve as attorney general. With his steely demeanor and trademark pipe, Mitchell commanded awe throughout the government as Nixon's most trusted adviser, the only man in Washington who could say no to the president.
Chronicling the collapse of the Nixon presidency, The Strong Man follows America's former top cop on his singular odyssey through the criminal justice system--a tortuous maze of camera crews, congressional hearings, special prosecutors, and federal trials. The path led, ultimately, to a prison cell in Montgomery, Alabama, where Mitchell was welcomed into federal custody by the same men he had appointed to office. Rosen also reveals the dark truth about Mitchell's marriage to the flamboyant and volatile Martha Mitchell: her slide into alcoholism and madness, their bitter divorce, and the toll it all took on their daughter, Marty.
Based on 250 original interviews and hundreds of thousands of previously unpublished documents and tapes, The Strong Man resolves definitively the central mysteries of the Nixon era: the true purpose of the Watergate break-in, who ordered it, the hidden role played by the Central Intelligence Agency, and those behind the cover-up.
A landmark of history and biography, The Strong Man is that rarest of books: both a model of scholarly research and savvy analysis and a masterful literary achievement.
Casting the 66th attorney general and Watergate felon as the most upright man in the Nixon administration is faint praise indeed, to judge by this biography. Fox News correspondent Rosen applauds Mitchell for his tough law-and-order policies, school-desegregation efforts and hard line against leftist radicals, and for enduring wife Martha's alcoholic breakdowns and raving late-night phone calls to reporters. The book's heart is Rosen's meticulous, exhaustively researched study of Mitchell's Watergate role, absolving him of ordering the break-in and most other charges leveled against him. Instead, Mitchell is painted as a force for propriety who was framed by others--especially White House counsel John Dean, who comes off as Watergate's evil genius. (Rosen also claims Watergate burglar James McCord was secretly working for the CIA and deliberately sabotaged the break-in.) Unfortunately, Rosen's salutes to Mitchell's integrity and reverence for the law clash with his accounts of the man's misdeeds: undermining the Paris peace talks, suborning and committing perjury, tolerating the criminal scheming in Nixon's White House and re-election campaign. Mitchell may have blanched at the Nixon administration's sleazy intrigues, as Rosen insists, but he seems not to have risen above them. (Feb. 19)
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
May 19, 2008
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from The Strong Man by James Rosen
INTO THE FIRE
I don't think anyone ever really knew him. He lived within himself very much.
--Robert Mitchell to the author, 1998 (1)
"Do you really want to hear about this?"
John Mitchell was, in his lawyerly way, questioning his questioner, gently needling a young reporter who came to the Department of Justice in the spring of 1970 to interview the attorney general about, of all things, his childhood. On that sunny day in May, the reporter found Mitchell--currently embroiled in searing controversies over the killings at Kent State, two failed Supreme Court nominees, and the potentially explosive desegregation of Southern school systems--utterly at ease in his dark, thickly carpeted office, absently tilting his large frame back and forth in his swivel chair, lighting and relighting his pipe, tossing the still-burning matches into his wastebasket.
Yes, replied the reporter from Long Island's Newsday, he did indeed want to know about Mitchell's childhood; the subject would interest readers in Mitchell's hometown of Blue Point, New York, and there was, for all the attorney general's fame in those days, little known or written about Mitchell's formative years.
Reluctantly, his pale blue eyes becoming distant as his mind conjured the sights and sounds of coastal Long Island in the 1920s, the attorney general remembered a "normal" childhood spent, he said, "like Huck Finn," immersed in the twin pastimes of sports--"I played them all," he boasted, including baseball, hockey, golf, hunting, fishing, and sailing--and mischief. At one particular memory, Mitchell began to chuckle, softly at first, then uncontrollably, until he was "half-bent" in laughter and brought back into the moment only by a coughing fit.
"I'll tell you, there was one thing, there was one incident," Mitchell began. He described his old wooden school by the railroad tracks, at the intersection of Blue Point's Main Street and River Road, on which his family lived for a time. One night, he said, a fire burned the school clear down to the ground. "Whole damned school went," he said. Again now, Mitchell was laughing hard, and took a few moments to collect himself. "My brother and I were there," the attorney general continued. "We watched it. We were so damned glad to see that thing burn down. We watched it! We threw our books into the fire. We were so glad. We just threw our books in. My father gave us a good whack. I'll always remember that. Whew!"
The memory prompted Mitchell to tell the Newsday reporter another, similar anecdote from his youth, about an equally destructive fire. "You know, I burned down the house in Blue Point," Mitchell said. "It was one Fourth of July. We had sparklers and it was daylight and, you know, we were supposed to wait until dark. Well, I was a kid who didn't want to wait, so I took some of those sparklers down under the porch and--well, it burned down the house." You didn't have anything to do with the school fire? the reporter asked. "No," Mitchell assured him. "That was in the middle of the night. This was during the day. Of course not." (2)
With these beguiling stories, in which the stern-faced monument to law and order allowed a glimpse into a younger, more reckless self, one never permitted to emerge in his public appearances as attorney general, there was only one thing wrong: They weren't true. Mitchell's younger brother, Robert, who supposedly heaved his books into the schoolhouse fire along with Mitchell, told the first reporter ever to interview him, in 1998, that the story was complete fiction.
"Nothing happened!" Robert proclaimed. One night, he explained, he and young John Mitchell, or Jack, as his family called him, were awakened by whistles and sirens screaming past their house. "[W]e knew there was a fire somewhere, but didn't know anything about it. Next morning we went to school, and we got up there, and the school was an old frame school. They had just bought fire escapes for it, metal fire escapes. And they were laying in the yard. And we went up there, and the school-it was burnt to the ground, and the nice, new fire escapes were laying all around the edges of it, unused...But that's all...We never heard how the fire started or anything else."
It was much the same with the attorney general's sparkler story, which Robert laughingly dismissed as "another slight exaggeration." Yes, there was an Independence Day celebration at the Mitchells' home in Blue Point, where the boys, looking to escape a stiff wind, lit some sparklers under their back porch. "We went under that [porch] to try and light [the sparklers]," Robert remembered. "And I guess we-a couple of the leaves caught fire there, and we went scrambling out. And one of the adults there, I don't know who it was, took a pail of water and threw it on the leaves, and that was the