About Sam Dash, Watergate counsel
Samuel Dash, Chief Counsel for Senate Watergate Committee, Dies at 79 By WARREN E. LEARY Published: May 30, 2004 Samuel Dash, a champion of legal ethics who became nationally known during the Watergate scandal as the Senate's methodical chief counsel, died Saturday after a long illness. He was 79.
Mr. Dash, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center for almost 40 years, died at the Washington Hospital Center of heart failure, family members said. He had been hospitalized since January with a variety of health problems and had a history of heart disease, they said.
He was one of the great figures of the legal profession and a force for good around the world, said Judith Areen, dean of the law center.
Mr. Dash's legal career spanned more than 50 years, but he was best known for his role as chief counsel for the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, also called the Senate Watergate committee.
From 1973 into 1974, the committee investigated the 1972 break-in and bugging of the Democratic Party's national headquarters at the Watergate Hotel office complex in Washington by operatives of President Richard M. Nixon's re-election campaign. The inquiry eventually led to the White House and the president's resignation in August 1974.
Mr. Dash was a central figure at the Senate hearings, often seen in his dark-framed glasses leaning over to counsel Senator Sam J. Ervin Jr., the chairman, and other committee members. During the televised hearings, which captivated the country, Mr. Dash became known for his measured questioning of White House witnesses, slowly drawing out answers that sometimes struck like bombshells.
During one hearing, for example, Mr. Dash repeatedly asked a White House aide, Alexander Butterfield, about a secret Oval Office audiotaping system that investigators had learned about. Mr. Dash wanted to find out who knew about it.
Mr. Butterfield finally said the president, sending a gasp through the hearing room. The tapes provided crucial evidence about what Nixon knew of the burglary.
The Rev. Robert F. Drinan, a former representative who was a member of the House Judiciary Committee that held hearings on impeaching Nixon, said Mr. Dash's work in the Senate had been critical to the House proceedings, and had made them less partisan. Mr. Drinan also is a professor of law at Georgetown.
He was never criticized for being too aggressive or being unfair, Mr. Drinan said. He set the tone and guided us to a way of thinking. Even Republicans said he was fair when dealing with Nixon. He encouraged an even-handedness.
Mr. Dash said that he was nervous before the hearings, but that he overcame any jitters with preparation. He made sure all committee members were supplied with questions that explored important issues without slowing the proceedings by being repetitive or going off the point.
Once we got going, I was relaxed because I knew I was prepared, he said in a 1973 interview with The New York Times.
Realizing he was involved in a historic event, Mr. Dash said, he wanted people to understand what they saw in the unprecedented televised hearings.
I scripted it like a story, like a detective story, he said in a 2003 interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer on the 30th anniversary of the hearings. The most important thing I had to do was convey the information to the public in a way they could understand.
Mr. Dash returned to the Washington spotlight in 1994 when he agreed to serve as ethics adviser to Kenneth W. Starr, the independent counsel investigating the Whitewater affair and President Bill Clinton's involvement in it. The investigation grew from looking into business dealings to questioning Mr. Clinton's truthfulness about his involvement with Monica Lewinsky.
After working with the Whitewater investigators for four years, Mr. Dash resigned in November 1998, to protest Mr. Starr's testifying before the House Judiciary Committee. Mr. Dash said that Mr. Starr appeared to be an aggressive advocate of impeaching Mr. Clinton and that he should have protected his independence by remaining more neutral.
Samuel Dash was born the second of six children in Camden, N.J., the son of émigrés from the Soviet Union, Joseph and Ida Dash. His family moved to Philadelphia when Samuel was 7 years old, and he graduated from Central High School there. His undergraduate work at Temple University was interrupted by service in World War II, but he received his degree in 1947. In the war, he served with the Army Air Corps and flew missions in Italy as a bombardier navigator.
Mr. Dash received his law degree cum laude in 1950 from Harvard and went on to become a trial lawyer and teacher before returning to Philadelphia and assuming various legal posts. From 1955 to 1956, he served as district attorney to fill a vacancy, and later went into private practice.
In 1957, he conducted the first nationwide investigation of wiretapping and wrote a book, The Eavesdroppers, which helped change wiretapping laws. A longtime advocate of privacy rights, Mr. Dash wrote a new book, The Intruders: Unreasonable Searches and Seizures from King John to John Ashcroft, which is scheduled for publication next month by Rutgers Press. The book examines Fourth Amendment issues from the time of the Magna Carta to antiterrorism efforts begun after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Mr. Dash is survived by his wife of 57 years, Sara, of Chevy Chase, Md., and two daughters, Judi Dash of Beachwood, Ohio, and Rachel Dash of Charleston, W. Va. Funeral services are planned for Tuesday at the Ohr Kodesh Congregation in Chevy Chase.