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May 29: The Watergate Prosecutor

May 28, 2016

Sam Dash Talking to NewsmenAttorney Samuel Dash, who became a national figure when he served as a highly effective chief counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee and interrogated members of the Nixon Administration on national television, died at 79 on this date in 2004. A bombardier navigator during World War II, Dash gained his law degree from Harvard in 1950 and became a law professor at Georgetown University. In 1973, he was asked by Senator Sam Ervin (D-NC, an arch-segregationist) to help the Senate investigate the possible involvement of President Nixon in an attempted break-in at Democratic offices at the Watergate Hotel in D.C. “Mr. Dash spent months doggedly questioning Nixon administration officials before White House aide Alexander Butterfield testified in July 1973 that there was an extensive taping system that captured executive office discussions about the break-in,” writes Patricia Sullivan in the Washington Post. “Mr. Dash asked him who knew about it. Butterfield replied: ‘The president...’ Nixon resigned a year later.” Dash was also the first American allowed to interview the imprisoned Nelson Mandela, and helped mediate discussions that ultimately led to his release. He also served as ethics adviser to independent counsel Kenneth Starr during the investigation of President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, and then resigned the position to protest Starr’s acting as what Dash called an “aggressive advocate” instead of an impartial investigator.

“I was a very serious young man, very committed to saving the world.” —Samuel Dash