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Watergate investigators had “extreme interest” in going after George Steinbrenner

Dec 23, 2010, 5:00 PM EDT

1970s Steinbrenner

Anyone who has read a bit about George Steinbrenner knows that, in the 70s, he pleaded guilty to making illegal campaign contributions to the Dick Nixon and got a little slap on the wrist and a 15-month suspension from baseball because of it.  Some documents were just released, however, that elaborates on just how hot Watergate investigators were to investigate Big Stein:

Newly released documents show Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox expressed “extreme interest” in a 1970s criminal investigation of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner for illegal campaign contributions.

Then-FBI Director Clarence M. Kelley echoed Cox’s concern in an Aug. 16, 1973 memo to the bureau’s Cleveland office, saying agents needed to make sure the probe received “the same, immediate and preferred handling” as other criminal cases then growing from the Watergate scandal.

If Steinbrenner hadn’t pleaded guilty to the counts he pleaded guilty to and, instead, tried to fight the case hard, he could have faced six years in prison. I had a client get two years in federal prison (well, a minimum security camp) for similar charges a couple of years ago.

But one thing I learned in that case: the election law charges are relatively simple. The ugly part of that is that, while the feds are trying to make their campaign finance case, they’re looking at all of the target’s financials, talking to friends, enemies and all of that.  And if you’re the kind of guy who will engage in easy-to-catch campaign violations, you’re probably up to your neck in other bad stuff too.  Just ask my client. As the feds were investigating him for the small potatoes finance case, they stumbled upon a $50 million theft of public funds!  He’s doing 18-20 in state prison for that now. Oops.

Anyway, good move pleading out on that election law charge, George. Saved you a lot of hassle.  Oh, and you were pure money in the 70s, man. Love the collar.

  1. Old Gator - Dec 23, 2010 at 7:22 PM

    You could have retired on his fees, too. Then you could have been blogging for the last 40 years. Feel like you missed out?

    Then again, looking through these documents, I see where the Feds blacked out the bit about how he fed Valerie Plame’s secret identity to Jon Heyman. Do you get the feeling they’re trying to protect someone higher up?

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