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Leverett’s lesson

Steve recently recalled the name of former Massachusetts Senator Leverett Saltonstall with fondness. Steve’s recollection prompted this first-hand account by attorney and Power Line reader Bill Levin in which Saltonstall, or at least one of his life lessons, makes a cameo appearance:

It is not every day that you get to share a Leverett Saltonstall story involving Eliot Richardson and Judge Bork.

During the Bork confirmation hearings, working in the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel under Chuck Cooper and Mike Carvin, I reviewed Judge Bork’s Watergate-era history. While it is widely known that Judge Bork fired Archibald Cox, it is practically unknown that Eliot Richardson, before resigning as Attorney General, called Bob to his office to beg him to perform his constitutional duty of firing an executive branch officer pursuant to the President’s lawful direction. Otherwise, argued Richardson, there would be a true constitutional crisis.

The story of the meeting was told to us in vivid detail by Judge Bork. It was confirmed in discussions with Eliot Richardson during our interviews related to the nomination process. Shamefully, Eliot Richardson never came forward publicly, when it mattered at the time or in subsequent historical accounts, to absolve Judge Bork of his supposed infamy in executing the Saturday Night Massacre. At the same time, all those years later, Richardson agreed to testify in favor of Judge Bork’s nomination before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Which brings us to Leverett Saltonstall. I am standing alone with Eliot Richardson off-stage as he is about to be called to testify. Richardson is, to put it charitably, in a rambling mood, not at all eager to focus, or be focused, on the events and chronology of the long passed Watergate era. He turns to me and says, apropos of nothing, “It reminds of old Leverett Saltonstall. He taught me you can go right to the line, but you cannot cross it.” There was no obvious response, but there was true dread that he was about to give incoherent testimony.

Leave it to the old pros. Richardson marches off to the witness chair and, with the cameras rolling, shakes off the cobwebs and gives dead perfect testimony. Perfect in every respect, except one. Even then, he did not publicly disclose his role in the firing of Archibald Cox.

Thanks to Mr. Levin for permission to publish his recollection.

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