Leonard Garment, a lawyer who was a friend and advisor to President Nixon as the Watergate scandal unfolded and who urged him not to destroy tape recordings of his conversations, has died. He was 89.
Garment, who had been ill, died Saturday at his New York City home, said his wife, Suzanne.
He and Nixon met when the future president joined the law firm where Garment was a partner in 1963. The two men became close, and even though Garment was a registered Democrat who had voted for President Kennedy, he joined the Nixon White House, serving on a number of projects and becoming White House counsel.
The Watergate scandal developed from a break-in at Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate complex in Washington in 1972 and the Nixon administration's subsequent efforts to cover up its involvement in it.
As Watergate unfolded, Garment encouraged Nixon not to destroy tapes of his conversations with various officials that came from a recording system the president had installed in the White House. In a 1987 Chicago Tribune interview, Garment recalled advising that destroying the tapes "would be an obstruction of justice."
When the Watergate scandal broke and the system's existence came to light, prosecutors demanded the tapes to determine what Nixon had said. The tapes played a major role in the erosion of Nixon's public support and led to his resignation.
In 1973, Garment left the White House before Nixon's resignation and became a high-profile Washington lawyer. His clients included televangelist Oral Roberts and financier Marc Rich.
He wrote a memoir, "Crazy Rhythm: My Journey From Brooklyn, Jazz and Wall Street to Nixon's White House, Watergate, and Beyond" (1997). He also wrote "In Search of Deep Throat: The Greatest Political Mystery of Our Time" (2000).
The theory he outlined in the latter book about the identity of Deep Throat — the nickname Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward gave to their secret Watergate source — proved wrong, but his work earned favorable reviews for its elegant, lively writing and lucid summary of the complexities of the scandal.
Because of his liberal affiliations, Garment himself had been rumored to be Deep Throat, but those who knew him well were skeptical that the garrulous lawyer could keep such a secret. When he resigned from the Nixon White House, he said he was not disillusioned but acknowledged in a statement that he felt "a certain sadness about the institutional and personal tragedy of Watergate."
Born in Brooklyn in May 1924, Garment was the son of a Lithuanianfather and Polish mother, both immigrants. He attended Brooklyn College and later went to Brooklyn Law School.
An avid musician, he played the clarinet and the saxophone and performed with various bands. That love of music followed him throughout his life; he was among the founders of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem and later served as its chairman.
Garment's first wife died in 1977. A daughter died in 2011, and his son died in 2012.
He is survived by his second wife, Suzanne, whom he married in 1980; his daughter Dr. Ann Garment, and his brother, Martin Garment.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun