Leonidas "Leon" Jaworski (September 19, 1905 – December 9, 1982) was the second special prosecutor during the Watergate Scandal. He was appointed to that position on November 1, 1973, soon after the Saturday Night Massacre of October 19–20, 1973, that resulted in the dismissal of his predecessor, Archibald Cox.
Jaworski was born in Waco in central Texas, a child of German-speaking parents; his mother, Marie (née Mira), was an Austrian immigrant, and his father, Joseph Jaworski, was a Polish immigrant who was an evangelical minister. He was named after ancient Spartan king Leonidas, and had a brother named Hannibal. An earnest student who studied at night by the light of oil lamps, he was a champion debater at Waco High School, and graduated from Baylor Law School and received his master's degree in law at the George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C.
In 1925, he became the youngest person ever admitted to the Texas bar. After starting out defending bootleggers during Prohibition, in 1931, he joined the Houston law firm that became Fulbright & Jaworski, one of the largest law firms in the United States.
World War II
During World War II, Jaworski prosecuted the Johannes Kunze murder trial, where five German prisoners of war were accused of beating a fellow prisoner to death for being a "traitor".
Fort Lawton court-martial
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, Jaworski prosecuted forty-three African-American soldiers, of whom twenty-eight were convicted, in what was the longest U.S. Army court-martial of World War II. In 2005 the U.S. Army Board for Correction of Military Records ordered all those convictions reversed on the grounds that Jaworski had committed "egregious error".
War crimes prosecutor
After the war, 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.
He was a friend of fellow Texan Lyndon Baines Johnson, whom he successfully represented in a 1960 lawsuit filed to prevent Johnson from campaigning for the U.S. Senate against Republican John Tower at the same time that Johnson was running for Vice President of the United States on the John F. Kennedy ticket. However, Jaworski did not always support Democratic candidates. He supported Richard Nixon and voted for him twice, 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, 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.
Jaworski's greatest fame came from his tenure as Watergate Special Prosecutor, when he assumed leadership of 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.
Jaworski's predecessor as Special Prosecutor, Archibald Cox, initially believed that only Nixon's aides had committed misconduct. Because of testimony from Nixon's deputy assistant Alexander Butterfield, Cox 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 Cox to subpoena tapes of sixty-four presidential conversations as evidence for the upcoming criminal trial, but Nixon refused to release them, citing executive privilege.
Nixon offered Cox what became known as the Stennis Compromise: instead of supplying the tapes, he would supply Cox with transcripts of the recordings, subject to Nixon's discretion, and allow one senator to listen to the recordings and verify the transcripts' accuracy. Cox rejected the compromise, whereupon Nixon fired Cox in the Saturday Night Massacre.
Under extreme criticism for the firing, Nixon appointed Jaworski to replace Cox. Jaworski subsequently subpoenaed sixty-four taped conversations. 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, 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". Nixon was forced to give the unedited tapes to 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.
Jaworski resigned as special prosecutor on October 25, 1974, once the cover-up trial had begun, and a new special prosecutor was appointed. Jaworski was a close friend of Dean Ernest Raba of St. Mary's University School of Law in San Antonio, where he taught as an adjunct professor for several years.
In 1977, 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.
Jaworski died on December 9, 1982, while chopping wood at the Circle J Ranch near Wimberley in Hays County, Texas. His wife died in 1999.
- Jaworski, Leon, After Fifteen Years, Houston: Gulf Publishing Company, 1961.
- Jaworski, Leon, The Right and the Power, New York: Reader's Digest Press, 1976.
- Jaworski, Leon and Herskowitz, Mickey, Confession and Avoidance: A Memoir, Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press, 1979.
- Jaworski, Leon, Crossroads, Elgin, Ill.: Cook Press, 1981.