Leonard Garment, close friend of Nixon and Meir, dies

(JTA) — Leonard Garment, a close friend of President Richard Nixon and White House counsel during the Watergate scandal, has died.

Garment died Saturday at his home in Manhattan. He was 89.

St. Louis Symphony Orchestra ad

In 1963, Nixon joined the law firm where Garment was a partner. Nixon later invited Garment to join him in the White House.

Garment encouraged Nixon not to destroy the tapes of his conversations in the White House with officials and staff members that led to the president’s resignation. He left the White House in 1973, before Nixon stepped down.

Garment was a personal friend of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and helped persuade Nixon to provide Phantom jets to Israel. Garment played a key role in the formulation of the 1974 Jackson-Vannik amendment that punished the Soviet Union for not allowing Soviet Jews to leave the country, according to Haaretz.

Garment also served as what Haaretz called a “sounding board” for Henry Kissinger, an influential Nixon aide and later secretary of state. In a Nixon tape released in 2011, Kissinger, who is Jewish, criticized Jewish lobbyists working to free Soviet Jews and asked, “Is there a more self-serving group of people than the Jewish community?”

Garment responds, “None in the world.”

Garment also served as an intermediary between Israeli officials and the U.S. government for appeals for intervention during the Yom Kippur War in 1973, according to Haaretz.

After leaving the White House, Garment served as an informal adviser on Washington politics to several Israeli prime ministers and foreign ministers, according to Haaretz.

In 1985, at the request of the Israeli government, he represented Aviem Sella,   the Israeli Air Force colonel who had served as Jonathan Pollard’s contact while he studied for a doctorate at New York University. He resigned from representing Sella after major disagreements with the Israeli government over tactics.

He also worked to secure Pollard’s release, believing that the life sentence was excessive, Haaretz reported.

The Brooklyn-born Garment was the son of Jewish immigrants — a Lithuanian father and a Polish mother.