Mitchell was born in Detroit, Michigan and earned his law degree from Fordham University. He entered the Navy during World War II and commanded the PT boat unit in which John Kennedy served. Along the way, Mitchell earned two purple hearts and a silver star.
In 1967, Mitchell’s law firm merged with Richard Nixon’s. Mitchell left the new firm in 1968 to manager Nixon’s presidential campaign. Following his victory, Nixon appointed Mitchell to the post of Attorney General. Through the first administration, Mitchell oversaw the Justice Department’s handling of desegregation and affirmative action policies, then resigned in January 1972 to head Nixon’s Committee to Re-elect the President.
It was to Mitchell that Liddy and Magruder brought their ambitious “Gemstone” plan to steal and wring from their opposition political secrets. Mitchell balked at the scope and cost, in the end approving a scaled back, cheaper plan that included breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate hotel. In an effort to distance himself from what he called “the White House horrors,” Mitchell resigned from the CRP in June 1972, but was linked in a Washington Post story in September of that year to a secret campaign fund that underwrote the Watergate caper.
Mitchell was indicted by a federal grand jury in May 1973 and was convicted of conspiracy to obstruct justice, perjury, and obstruction of justice. He served 19 months in federal prison.