All we do know is that in the case of Nixon a half-century ago, the legal piranhas were swarming, each set of jaws eager to chomp on the Republican president. And how could they not be ready to take a bite? As Shepard notes, the waters had been chummed by Sen. Edward Kennedy and his chief aide, James Flug, who were preparing what they hoped would be a triumphant Kennedy presidential campaign in 1976.
As Shepard demonstrates, a key weapon in this proto-campaign was the “independent” (sic) legal investigation of the incumbent president, launched in May 1973, under the leadership of Archibald Cox, a former campaign adviser to John F. Kennedy and then solicitor general in his Department of Justice. In fact, the very name of Cox’s investigative body, the Watergate Special Prosecution Force (WSPF)—signaled its intended teleology. (In later decades, subsequent iterations of the same investigative approach were softened to “independent counsel” and “special counsel.”)