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Henry S. Ruth dies at age 80

Douglas Caddy

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Henry S. Ruth, Who Helped Lead Watergate Prosecution, Dies at 80

The New York Times


March 27, 2012

Henry S. Ruth Jr., who helped lead the criminal prosecution of Nixon administration officials involved in covering up the Watergate break-in and kept it on track when President Richard M. Nixon fired the special prosecutor Archibald Cox, died on March 16 in Tucson. He was 80.

The cause was a stroke, his wife, Deborah Mathieu, said.

Mr. Ruth had broad experience in criminal law when he became Mr. Coxs chief deputy shortly after Mr. Coxs appointment as special prosecutor in May 1973. Five months later, on Oct. 20, President Nixon ordered Mr. Coxs dismissal after he refused to drop his plan to subpoena tapes of the presidents conversations in the Oval Office. The firing prompted the two top Justice Department officials, Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his deputy, William Ruckelshaus, to quit in what became known as the Saturday Night Massacre.

The case concerned the possible involvement of Nixon and his aides in covering up the June 1972 break-in at the Democratic national headquarters in the Watergate apartment complex by burglars who turned out to have ties to Nixons re-election campaign. A Nixon aide, Alexander P. Butterfield, had revealed the existence of the secret tapes to a Senate investigative committee in July 1973.

In the upheaval that followed Mr. Coxs dismissal when it was not known whether the special prosecutors office would continue and, if it did, what powers it might have Mr. Ruth was credited with holding the office together. He gathered the distraught staff around him and persuaded them to stay on and preserve the evidence, The New York Times reported.

On Nov. 1, Leon Jaworski, a prominent lawyer from Texas, became special prosecutor. Asking Mr. Ruth to remain as his deputy was his first piece of business, Mr. Jaworski wrote in The Right and the Power: The Prosecution of Watergate (1976). He is a slender, mild-mannered man, so unassuming that some people, on first meeting, were inclined to misjudge his talents, Mr. Jaworski wrote of Mr. Ruth.

In The Final Days (1976), Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein wrote that Mr. Ruth had met privately with Leonard Garment, Nixons special counsel, to ask if Mr. Garment could persuade the president to resign. Mr. Garment said he had already tried and failed.

Under Mr. Jaworski, the prosecutors persuaded the Supreme Court to order that the tapes be turned over to prosecutors, and the top Nixon aides H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, Charles Colson and John N. Mitchell, the former attorney general, were either convicted or pleaded guilty.

As evidence mounted and the House of Representatives prepared articles of impeachment against the president, Nixon resigned on Aug. 8, 1974. President Gerald R. Ford issued a blanket pardon of Nixon the next month.

When Mr. Jaworski stepped down two months later, he urged that Mr. Ruth replace him. Mr. Ruths first act was to challenge part of the pardon deal that restricted his access to tapes. He won: the special prosecutor was given full access.

Mr. Ruth was special prosecutor until October 1975, when he issued a 277-page report on the Watergate investigation. It said prosecutors had thus far convicted or obtained guilty pleas from 55 individuals and 20 corporations. They had been unable to determine who was responsible for erasing 18 1/2 minutes of a Nixon tape that many thought might have been incriminating, the report said, even though a very small number of people could have been responsible.

The report disclosed that prosecutors had explored whether Fords pardon amounted to illegal interference with the mandate of the special prosecutor. But both Mr. Jaworski and Mr. Ruth concluded that the presidents power to pardon was stronger than the mandate.

Charles F. Ruff succeeded Mr. Ruth as the fourth and last special Watergate prosecutor.

Henry Swartley Ruth Jr. was born in Philadelphia on April 16, 1931; graduated from Yale and the University of Pennsylvania Law School; served two years in the Army; and worked as a private lawyer. He was a special attorney under Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. After teaching law at Penn for two years, he returned to the Justice Department in its research arm, the National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice. A year later, he became criminal justice coordinator for New York City under Mayor John V. Lindsay.

Mr. Ruths first marriage, to Christine Polk, ended in divorce. In addition to his wife, Ms. Mathieu, he is survived by his daughters, Deborah, Diana and Tenley Ruth, and three grandsons.

After his Watergate work, Mr. Ruth worked mainly in private practice. John Dean, a Nixon aide, wrote in his book Blind Ambition: The White House Years (1976) that he once asked Mr. Ruth what he planned to do in the future.

Mr. Ruth replied that he might do American Express commercials, of the sort that made fun of forgotten celebrities who had fallen from the limelight. You may not remember me, but Im the Watergate special prosecutor, he said, holding up a credit card, as if he were in a commercial. I used American Express all through Watergate, because nobody knew who I was, he continued. And they still dont know who I am.


Henry S. Ruth, special prosecutor during Watergate probe, dies at 80

Washington Post

By Matt Schudel,

March 27, 2012

Henry S. Ruth, who was a key figure in the federal investigation of the Watergate scandal in the 1970s, and who spent a year leading the special prosecutor’s office examining wrongdoing in the Nixon administration, died March 16 at an assisted-living facility in Tucson. He was 80. His wife, Deborah Mathieu, said he had a stroke.

Mr. Ruth, a lawyer who had served in the Justice Department and had investigated organized crime, joined the special prosecutor’s office as second in command to Archibald Cox soon after the office was created in May 1973.

When Cox was dismissed during the infamous “Saturday Night Massacre” five months later, Mr. Ruth kept the office running until Leon Jaworski took over as special prosecutor on Nov. 1, 1973.

Mr. Ruth stayed on as Jaworski’s chief deputy during a tumultuous period when dozens of Watergate prosecutions took place and as a constitutional crisis about criminal activity at the highest levels of government played out between Congress and the White House.

The scandal began in June 1972, when five men with ties to President Richard M. Nixon’s reelection campaign were arrested while trying to install eavesdropping devices in Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington.

Nixon was reelected in November 1972 and remained in office as Cox and the special prosecution unit began to explore the depth of corruption in the administration.

After refusing to turn over tape recordings of White House conversations to investigators, Nixon demanded that Cox be fired as special prosecutor. Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his deputy, William Ruckelshaus, resigned rather than dismiss Cox. It then fell to Solicitor General Robert H. Bork, as acting attorney general, to carry out Nixon’s order.

During the confusing events of that Saturday night — Oct. 20, 1973 — Mr. Ruth was met at the door of the special prosecutor’s office by FBI officers, who initially denied him entry. He was told that the office of special prosecutor had been abolished.

“Let me tell you something,” Mr. Ruth reportedly replied. “I’m going up there.”

As members of his staff began to gather, Mr. Ruth rallied their spirits and vowed to continue the special prosecutor’s mission.

“He had called the staff together and made a compact with them to remain in their offices and preserve the evidence they had,” Samuel Dash, counsel to the Senate Watergate committee, told The Washington Post in 1973. “But for Hank Ruth, there might not have been a Watergate staff at all when Mr. Jaworksi took over.”

Mr. Ruth later described the standoff between Cox and Nixon as “the most profound moment of Watergate.”

“It was pretty clear to us,” he said in a 1992 CBS News documentary, “that this act of trying to abolish our office, firing Mr. Cox, was just a straight obstruction of justice.”

In July 1974, the Supreme Court ruled 8 to 0 that Nixon was required to turn over his tapes.

“For the first time,” Mr. Ruth said, “you really had a ruling that a president of the United States is not above the law, [that] the law will prevail over a president’s desire to keep something secret.”

Nixon resigned Aug. 9, 1974, and was pardoned the next month by President Gerald R. Ford.

Under Jaworski, the special prosecutor’s office brought criminal indictments against many top officials. Former attorney general John N. Mitchell, former White House counsel John W. Dean III, and former Nixon aides H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and Charles Colson were among those who went to prison.

After Jaworski stepped down in October 1974, Mr. Ruth took his place as special prosecutor. He questioned Nixon about the actions of his subordinates and about his tapes — in particular, a missing segment of 181 / 2 minutes. But by the time he resigned as special prosecutor in October 1975, Mr. Ruth still wasn’t sure who had erased the White House tapes.

“In a lot of situations, people just don’t talk,” he told the New York Times. “It wasn’t as though we had a lot of cooperating witnesses in any of these matters walking into our office asking to be questioned.”

Henry Swartley Ruth Jr. was born April 16, 1931, in Philadelphia. He graduated from Yale University in 1952 and from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1955.

He was an Army intelligence officer and practiced law in Philadelphia before joining the Justice Department’s organized crime section in 1961 under Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. In 1964, he was sent to Mississippi to enforce provisions of the newly passed Civil Rights Act.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he served on commissions examining organized crime, taught law at the University of Pennsylvania and held a top legal position in the administration of New York Mayor John V. Lindsay.

After Watergate, Mr. Ruth was general counsel of the United Mine Workers Health and Retirement Funds and a partner at the former Washington firm of Shea & Gardner, where he handled legal cases for President Jimmy Carter’s former chief of staff, Hamilton Jordan, and the president’s brother, Billy Carter.

Mr. Ruth later practiced in Philadelphia and, in 1987, testified against the Supreme Court nomination of Bork, who had fired Cox during the Saturday Night Massacre.

In the 1990s, Mr. Ruth wrote several columns for the Wall Street Journal critical of President Bill Clinton and what he called “presidential perjury and obstruction.”

Mr. Ruth moved to Tucson in 1988 and was associated with the Washington law firm of Crowell & Moring until 1994. In 2003, he published a book with law professor Kevin Reitz, “The Challenge of Crime,” examining trends in crime and law enforcement.

His marriage to Christine Polk ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 21 years, Deborah Mathieu of Tucson; three daughters from his first marriage, Diana Ruth of Santa Fe, N.M., Tenley Ruth of Albuquerque and Laura Ruth of Montpelier, Vt.; and three grandsons.

Reflecting on the lessons of Watergate in 1992, Mr. Ruth said: “The sad residue of Watergate was so many people saw that their president had lied for 15 months and saw it so vividly and directly that a basic cynicism started in this country that has deepened, and deepened in a way where . . . I don’t believe anything that comes out of Washington.”

Edited by Douglas Caddy
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