Leonidas “Leon” Jaworski was born September 19, 1905 in Waco, Texas.
He was named after the ancient Spartan King Leonidas, but most called him Leon.
Leon became a champion debater before graduating from Baylor Law School.
He was admitted to the Texas bar in 1925, the youngest person ever to accomplish that task.
Leon then went on to earn his master’s degree in law from the George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C.
Upon graduation, Leon started out his law career by defending bootleggers during Prohibition before switching sides and becoming a prosecutor.
During World War II, Leon prosecuted the Johannes Kunze murder trial, where five German prisoners of war were accused of beating to death a fellow prisoner for being a “traitor”.
Then on the night of August 14, 1944, the Fort Lawton Riot between African-American U.S. soldiers and Italian prisoners of war at Fort Lawton near Seattle resulted in the lynching of Italian prisoner of war Guglielmo Olivotto.
Thereafter, Leon prosecuted forty-three African-American soldiers, of which twenty-eight were convicted, in what was the longest U.S. Army court-martial of World War II.
War crimes prosecutor
After the war, Leon Jaworski served as a war crimes prosecutor in Germany. He was involved in a case where eleven German civilians were accused of murdering six American airmen forced down over Germany in the Rüsselsheim massacre. However, he declined to participate in the Nuremberg Trials on the grounds that the prosecution there was based on laws that did not exist at the time of the culpable acts.
In 1960, Leon successfully represented incumbent Texas senator and Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Baines Johnson in a lawsuit filed to prevent Lyndon Johnson from campaigning for the U.S. Senate against Republican John Tower while at the same time running for Vice President of the United States on the John F. Kennedy ticket.
Johnson won the senate election against Tower, as well the Vice presidency as John Kennedy won the Presidential election. Then Texas Governor Price Daniel appointed fellow Democrat William Blakley to Johnson’s senate seat.
On October 20, 1973, Solicitor General Robert Bork had been instrumental in the “Saturday Night Massacre”, U.S. President Richard Nixon’s firing of Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, following Cox’s request for tapes of his Oval Office conversations.
President Nixon initially ordered U.S. Attorney General, Elliot Richardson, to fire Cox. Richardson resigned rather than carry out the order. Richardson’s top deputy, Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, also considered the order “fundamentally wrong” and also resigned, making Bork the Acting Attorney General. When Nixon reiterated his order, Bork complied and fired Cox.
President Nixon was compelled to allow Acting Attorney General Robert Bork to appoint a new special prosecutor to continue the investigation, thus on November 1, 1973, Leon Jaworski was appointed as the new Watergate Special Prosecutor.
At first there was a question whether Leon Jaworski would limit the investigation to only the Watergate burglary itself or follow Cox’s lead and also look at broader corrupt activities such as the “White House Plumbers.”
As it turned out, Leon Jaworski also looked at broader corrupt activities, as he managed a protracted contest with President Nixon to secure evidence for the trial of former senior administration officials on charges relating to the Watergate cover-up.
Initially believing that only Nixon’s aides had committed misconduct, Leon soon learned that Nixon had discussed the Watergate cover-up with the accused on numerous occasions and that these conversations had been recorded by the White House taping system.
This discovery caused Leon Jaworski to request tapes of sixty-four presidential conversations as evidence for the upcoming criminal trial, but President Nixon refused to release them, citing executive privilege.
After unsuccessful attempts by Nixon to reach a compromise acceptable to the special prosecutor’s office, including supplying edited transcripts of some recordings, Leon Jaworski subpoenaed the tapes.
Nixon appealed on two grounds: first, that the office of Special Prosecutor did not have the right to sue the office of President; and second, that the requested materials were privileged presidential conversations.
Aware that an important constitutional issue was at stake, and unwilling to wait any longer, Leon Jaworski asked the Supreme Court to take the case directly, bypassing the Court of Appeals.
On July 24, 1974, the Supreme Court ruled that the Special Prosecutor did have the right to sue the President; and that “the generalized assertion of [executive] privilege must yield to the demonstrated, specific need for evidence in a pending criminal trial”.
President Nixon was forced to give the unedited tapes to Leon Jaworski, including the so-called Smoking Gun Tape which included a compromising discussion of June 23, 1972.
The President’s remaining support waned, and he resigned on August 9, 1974.
Leon Jaworski resigned as special prosecutor on October 25, 1974, once the cover-up trial had begun, and a new special prosecutor was appointed.
In 1977, Leon Jaworski reluctantly agreed to serve as special counsel to a House Ethics Committee investigation to determine whether members had indirectly or directly accepted anything of value from the government of the Republic of Korea. The investigation, known as Koreagate or the Tongsun Park investigation, potentially involved hundreds of members of Congress and their families and associates, and included charges of bribery and influence-peddling via envelopes stuffed with $100 bills.
At the 1976 Democratic National Convention in New York City, which nominated Jimmy Carter of Georgia, Leon Jaworski, who was not a candidate, still received the vote of one delegate.
Ironically Leon Jaworski had not, as most assumed, always support Democratic candidates. In fact Leon had supported Richard Nixon and voted for him twice.
Leon also contributed to George H.W. Bush in his campaign for the presidency in 1980, and after Bush conceded the nomination he became treasurer of “Democrats for Reagan” during the 1980 general election campaign.
Having been convinced of his integrity, in 1980, Leon Jaworski aided former Nixon staffer Egil “Bud” Krogh, whom he had sent to prison in 1973, in Krogh’s request to be reinstated to the bar in Washington State.
Leon Jaworski died on December 9, 1982, while chopping wood at his Circle J Ranch near Wimberley in Hays County, Texas.
Now WE know em