IMPEACHMENTS bring back memories that I’d long shelved for good reason. Oh, not the reason you may think, i.e., living vicariously through the excising of an affront to our collective sense of how public officials should behave. Although, there is a vicarious part, because, during the Nixon hearing the summer of 1974, I was taking my first constitutional law class and obsessed with the hearings–, to the degree that I set my cassette tape recorder in front of the radio each morning, making sure I didn’t miss a verbal moment. As fate would have it, eight years later, I became friends and partners in law with Jerome Ziefman, a Harvard trained lawyer, who went on to become Chief Counsel, to the U.S. House of Representatives, Judiciary Committee, the man who largely orchestrated the Nixon impeachment. Some say that he’d been the first to suggest that Nixon could be impeached, and proceeded to convince his bosses, Congressmen Rodino and Albers. We met at a time when he was moving from Washington D.C. to Connecticut and had recently married for the third time.
On January 4, 1983, Gene Krecik (a former JFK White House attaché and ex-state department official), Jerome Ziefman and I sat in a windowless room on the first floor in Republic of Korea Ministry of Defense Headquarters, Seoul Korea. Seated across the table were a two star ROK general and a full colonel. We were discussing terms of engagement, which would likely culminate in our foreign agent status representing the ROK in the U.S. on various sensitive political matters. Ziefman did all the talking. The subject had to do with trust, control over the various matters, assurances that if we represented the government that there would be no illegal schemes, payoffs, espionage or other high crimes that foreign agents need to stay awake nights contemplating. We were not being comforted. Responses were evasive. We could not get the unqualified answer we needed. Maybe it was language, but I felt that we all knew exactly what we wanted to hear and they were unwilling to speak for their larger constituency. There were moments when everything went silent. Some lasting for an uncomfortable several minutes between utterances. Some were long enough so that Ziefman had had time to light up, smoke a cigarette to a stub, and use it to light up another butt. Each time he lit up he’d let the fag burn into a long tenuous ash, which would hang on until an errant current or earthly vibration caused it to drop off. Sometimes onto Jerry’s pin stripped suit, sometimes on the General’s Persian rug. Jerry didn’t care. It was his way of saying he didn’t give a damn if we represented them or not.
After hours of circular gamesmanship my mind began to wander and think of other things, like how in hell did I land there in the first place. I’d met Ziefman in early 1982 at a cocktail party. It didn’t take long to learn that he was a man of extremes: in politics (left of left), ideas (bordering on genius) and in the depth of his moods. He pushed the limits on what we might generously call debate. His was dominating always having to win. He controlled the situation, but when it came to self-control that was another matter, entirely, smoking three packs a day, drinking like no tomorrow, although only after five—. His clothes were never pressed, wore stained shirts. He also did not dominate from the vantage of physical stature as say a Reagan or a Clinton, because he was, well overweight, had a bulbous nose, and walked with his legs in front of his protruding torso.
But, his knowledge about law and the legislative process were first rate. It took less than a few minutes for conversation to turn to how he’d served as the highest-ranking legal officer to the Judiciary Committee, the one that moved for Richard Nixon’s impeachment. Fortunately god does not give anyone man of all of his gifts, so as smart as Jerry was the other side of him was selfish. Anyone perceived as a threat became his enemy. This is where his vindictiveness and temper showed most. He struck fast and deep.
In 1982 he accepted an invitation to join my law firm as “of Counsel,” which means that he found a place on the letterhead. For the next year or so we were inseparable. He would invite me to Washington, where he had an apartment, and I’d follow him around capital hill where he introduced me to his former colleagues. I discovered that once you work in congress it can become your permanent hangout. Jerry knew everyone. In one of our forays into Boston for some kind of testimonial for a retiring labor leader he introduced me to Betty Friedan, Bella Abzug and Congressman Joe Kennedy in the span of five minutes. Over time I listened to his fascinating vignettes implicating every major and minor player involved in the Nixon debacle. For Jerry there were only two sides: liberal democrats (or more likely socialists) and conservatives. Jerry was the former. Jerry’s interest in politics rubbed-off.
Closer to home we worked together representing several clients at the Danbury Federal Corrections Institute, then Federal prison for political thugs (G. Gordon Lyddy), Vietnam protestors (Daniel Berrigan), mob bosses (too many to mention), and even white collar terrorists, like Rev. David N. Bubar, a Fundamentalist minister who claimed psychic powers. Ziefman and I worked his post conviction, getting his 30 year sentence commuted after he was convicted of masterminding the bombing of a rubber factory in Shelton, Connecticut, which wiped out an entire block. We would represent prisoners like these before the parole boards, have their sentences reviewed and do other legal work for inmates who could afford to retain wily baggy pants, wrinkled suit, chain-smoking hired guns, who knew the Washington bureaucracy. Particularly effective were Jerry’s contacts at the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
In the fall of 1982 a Rhode Island contractor I knew asked if I had any pull in Washington that could help a Korean friend. I later learned that his friend, Kang, had been one of five students who, during a massive student protest, forced their way into the presidential Blue House and then muscled Syngman Rhee into a resignation in 1960. For that he was regarded as a Korean VIP, one gaining him tenure in the Korean Intelligence Agency. Jerry and I arranged to meet Kang in Atlantic City to hear what he had on his mind. We learned during the meeting that he had been commissioned by the Korean government with the view towards helping them with one or more problems. We interpreted what he told us to mean authorized by the president of Korea.
Time came when Ziefman, Krieck and I traveled to Seoul to meet with government officials. We left from New York on January 1, 1983 on Korean Airlines flight 007 and arrived at Kimpo Airport Seoul Korea eighteen hours later arriving in the early dawn. Flight 007 was to be shot down by the Russians four months later presumably because it entered its air space. This was still the Cold War. The trip to Korea and subsequent events were not letting us forget.
We were picked up by car and shuttled off to a five star hotel. What struck me was the number of military on the streets carrying automatic weapons. I’d never seen such a presence of armed men since leaving the Air Force, where I’d worked around bombers armed with nukes, but after a while like everything else that is too frequent, even the militia blended into the background. At noon after we had time to settle down, we met our hosts for lunch (all dozen or so were a combination of high ranking military officers and corporate heads). We chit chatted nothing of any substance.
The next day we were picked up at 9 a.m. by two limos. My three colleagues and I got into one, and three Koreans who we had met only moments before got into the other. The limos speed out of the compound and down one or more central Seoul avenues, down quieter streets, and finally down narrow alleys. It stopped before one of a row of two or three story houses.
We got out of the limos and proceeded to follow a seedy character sporting a turtle neck shirt and a black jacket. Krieck would later identify him as a Korean Central Intelligence officer. He did not like him, which I can only attribute to his sense intuition and love for intrigue developed from the many years he spent as protocol officer in the Department of State, the guy who sets sail even before the presidents entourage, to assure that everything runs smoothly during a president’s trip.
We looked at each other as we climbed through three flights of stairs. We entered a small apartment that had three rooms. We sat in what must have been a dining room, a room consumed by the table. Jerry sat at the head, his backside halfway into the hallway. We met an affable man inside. We sat down, given a glass of orange soda. The host asked us who we were. Jerry provided a resume of each of us. That took five minutes. The questions were not unlike those one would have fielded from a job interview. The questions became more specific. Who did you know not on a professional level, but more on a personal friendly level? That is with whom you socialized in Washington. That was an easy question for me. I socialized with Jerry. But Jerry and Krieck had a long career in the political center of the universe. They knew many, many people. Kreick started as a White House Aide in the Kennedy Administration so he knew all who stayed in Washington from that era. He named names: the Kennedy family members, (those still alive) and went on to name three secretaries of state and on and on for five minutes. But, how well did you know these gentlemen Mr. Kreick. Well, on one occasion, Tip O’Neil’s daughter had a drinking problem. He called me a two in the morning to get her out of jail. That was enough. They turned to Jerry. He of course was Peter Rodino’s top aide when the congressman headed up the Judiciary committee. Jerry was on a first name basis with everyone from the 86th Congress to the 95th Congress, a period nearly twenty years. Like Krecik he had stories. One was helping Carl Albers hide his Korean girl friend as the Watergate affair brought more news media into the halls of Congress than the good congressman wanted poking around, especially when it cam to his personal life.
The Korean host left us for nearly an hour. Presumably, he reported the information to someone higher up. Once the Korean’s satisfied themselves that we were authentic, they briefly shared what their problem was. Not in any detail but, a schematic of what they needed. Primarily, the Koreans were hurting for connections in Washington because of a scandal involving congressional payoffs. The label “Korea-gate” stuck. The central figures were a man named Park and his Korean friend, the now middle-aged ex-elevator operator who once had a crush on the septuagenarian Carl Albers speaker of the House of Representatives.
It was nearly eleven now, and we were told that we had to go to our next appointment. We were not told where that would be. We piled into the limo. It raced down city streets at eighty, as if we were going to a fire. Cars pulled over; it wasn’t more than fifteen minutes before we reached our destination: The Korean equivalent of the Pentagon, their top military headquarters.
We entered the building. and immediately asked for passports. We were then swung around for pictures. Smile. Without missing a beat we were badged and herded up a flight of stairs, down a short hall way and into a huge sitting room, the kind that is commonly found in Asia. In a few minutes in walked the Assistant Minister of Defense, and a staff of generals, colonels and businessmen. One executive that I hit it off with was CEO of the conglomerates Daewoo. In Korea it’s not possible to separate the military from military contractors.
The minister made salutary remarks that lasted ten minutes, followed by Krecik whom we turned to respond. He elaborated on the historical contact between the peoples of Korea and the U. S., as if we were on an official diplomatic mission. Then Jerry chimed in, as if he were an ambassador. When Jerry ended, they looked at me. I felt I had to say something, so I went on about the gratitude the U.S. felt for their commitment in Vietnam.
Platitudes flowed as if we were there to negotiate an alliance. Toward the end of the meeting the minister asked us to join him that evening as his guest. Krecik quickly responded that he hoped that the minister could arrange a traditional Korean dinner. This was a code word for a party. I didn’t understand the significance until that evening when we were dropped off at a place reserved for such occasions, complete with generals, chefs, hostesses, and musicians. The meal was fit for a monarch, and the music for the court. By the end of the evening no one could stand up, neither the minister, nor the general, nor the chef, hostesses nor their esteemed American guests.
Then at 10 a.m. we began a series of meetings with the brass to discuss more specifically what they needed done. This went on for several days, interrupted by several days when nothing happened. We tried in vain to satisfy ourselves that the Koreans would respect the strong sentiment in Washington that for the time being they had to earn the trust of politicians. We need this assurance before we could represent them. A boring three-day lull followed. It seemed that they wanted us to visit the Blue House, perhaps to meet the president himself. But, in the end we were given our marching orders and sent packing. There we had work to do. Contacts were needed to bring political solutions to their acts of illegal arms exports to Africa and over due foreign aid interest payments.
Jerry and I made several trips to Washington, both congress and the Korean Embassy to better decide whether to represent the government. Jerry’s friends, such as Tip O’Neil and Peter Rodino, advised us not to undertake the assignment. It meant registering as a foreign agent. Our State Department contacts warned against it, too.
Jerry and I began to have differences of opinion when we returned, He wanted us to form a law firm in D.C. I didn’t, partly because I was not interested in moving to Washington and heading for yet another uncertain time in my career. One of our last encounters was at the embassy. He was agitated by the presence of one of my law partners who he didn’t like. Dice on the other hand thought that Ziefman was stealing the client from the firm, after all the Koreans initially came through me. Finally, Jerry and I had it out on the third floor balcony. He came over to me after we had some words in a meeting with a diplomat in the embassy. My back was leaning up against the brass railing that stood between the third floor and the first floor. He pressed me hard physically against the railing. Then he stared me down in a look that I felt like no other time in life he wanted me to fall over. His intentions were specific. His vengeful side exploded. Then and there I decided that my involvement in the venture was ended. He went his way and I went mine. Jerry stayed close to the Koreans for some time. I learned that it came to no good end when he and Kang, our original contact, ended up in a massive lawsuit that dragged Jerry, and a number of others into court over construction equipment franchises.
Many years would pass before I would see him again. This time on the talk show circuit, during the Clinton impeachment episode. He apparently dusted off his impeachment memoranda and wrote, (much to the glee of the conservative cabal whom he had once professed great disdain) that based on his expert opinion on impeachments, Clinton ought be strung up and quartered. It was rumored he’d fired Hilary Clinton, when she’d served as a staff attorney during the Nixon impeachment hearings– his animosities went way back. His new stunt on network TV earned him another fifteen minutes of fame. Jerry like most of us had grown old. He seemed particularly drawn, his nose was larger and redder, his cheeks flaccid, and his eyes set as if he were either ill or tired. I thought how much fun we had when we were friends. That was so long ago.