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Although he denies the distinction, Judge Sirica is probably the strongest candidate for unmitigated hero status produced by the Watergate scandal, From the morning after the initial break-in to the day, five years later, that he sentenced Nixon's aides to jail, Sirica was the axis around which Watergate revolved. The son of struggling Italian-American parents with a yen for boxing--Jack Dempsey was a close friend--Sirica never attended college, going directly from high school to law school (and graduating after three tries). His judicial success, he readily admits, was due to his involvement with the Republican Party. Nevertheless, when confronted by a sloppy prosecution of the Watergate burglars, Sirica responded with a determination that blew the scandal wide open; pointedly questioning the defendants himself, Sirica became an ""activist judge,"" ignoring the danger of reversal by a higher court, because ""I had no intention of sitting on the bench like a nincompoop and watching the parade go by."" That stance was responsible for the ""McCord letter"" that got everything going. The rapid escalation of the scandal that followed left Sirica slightly behind at first; he was slow, he says, to awake to the full constitutional impact of his pursuit of the Nixon tapes. Because of his efforts to keep the issues public, Sirica has not left himself any bombshells for his memoirs, but he acknowledges a constant awareness of public opinion and his anger over the Saturday Night Massacre. He was determined to cite Nixon for contempt, he tells us, if the President had not acknowledged Sirica's tape subpoena at the last moment; he was going to levy a stiff fine of $25-50,000 a day against Nixon because ""I knew the president loved money."" Sirica now believes that Nixon should have been indicted after his resignation and tried so that the judicial process could run its course--and, if convicted, jailed; he is deeply disturbed that the President evaded the law. Listening to the tapes, he says, ""was one of the most disillusioning experiences of my life,"" and he thinks they should be released to the public. In believing that the system worked, Sirica is too modest. No revelations, true, but an honest account of a determined search for justice.

Pub Date: April 23rd, 1979
Publisher: Norton