To Americans of a certain age, the law firm that recently claimed to exonerate New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the Bridgegate Affair should sound a tad familiar: Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. In the first and most famous televised character defense, Richard Nixon's "Checkers" speech, it was Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher that provided a favorable report which became exhibit A for the future vice-president. On September 22, 1952, Nixon addressed a nationwide television audience from a Los Angeles theater populated only by television technicians and his wife Pat. Sitting at a desk and consulting notes on a legal pad, Nixon began an extemporaneous defense against the charges that he had an improper slush fund. Opponents had urged Dwight Eisenhower to remove him from the ticket; Nixon took his case honesty directly to the public in one of the most famous speeches of the twentieth century.
The speech was a clever deflection of the charges. It asserted that a fund would be wrong if used in several improper ways and went on to show that his fund had not been used in any of those ways. Nixon then turned the tables to point to others in the race whose funds that were not carefully controlled. Most readers assume he was targeting only democrats but he was subtly threatening Eisenhower as well. Ike snapped his pencil while listening to the remarks: he got the message. It was not widely known that the general had a sweetheart deal from Congress making tax-free the profits from his memoir Crusade in Europe.
Nixon's self-defense has been popularly known as the Checker's speech, after a passage in which he reports receiving a gift of a black and white Cocker Spaniel puppy that his daughter Tricia named Checkers. He observes, no matter the political costs, "And you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we're gonna keep it."
The linchpin in Nixon's defense is establishing that his fund is above board. Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the firm that now supports Governor Christie's account of the Fort Lee lane closures, gives Nixon's fund a clean bill of health. Nixon's 1952 defense rests on this firm's verdict:
"Let me say, incidentally, that some of you may say, 'Well, that is all right, Senator, that is your explanation, but have you got any proof?' And I would like to tell you this evening that just an hour ago we received an independent audit of this entire fund ... and I have that audit in my hand. It is an audit made by Price Waterhouse & Co. firm, and the legal opinion by Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher, lawyers in Los Angeles, the biggest law firm, and incidentally, one of the best ones in Los Angeles ... I would like to read to you the opinion that was prepared by Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher, based on all the pertinent laws, and statutes, together with the audit report prepared by the certified public accountants: 'It is our conclusion that Senator Nixon did not obtain any financial gain from the collection and disbursement of the funds by Dana Smith; that Senator Nixon did not violate any federal or state law by reason of the operation of the fund; and that neither the portion of the fund paid by Dana Smith directly to third persons, nor the portion paid to Senator Nixon, to reimburse him for office expenses, constituted income in a sense which was either reportable or taxable as income under income tax laws. Signed - Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher, by Elmo Conley.' That is not Nixon speaking, but it is an independent audit which was requested because I want the American people to know all the facts and I am not afraid of having independent people go in and check the facts, and that is exactly what they did."
Of Governor Christie's involvement with the controversial lane closures, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher offer this statement as a part of its 360-page, one million dollar examination of the events: "Governor Christie's account of these events rings true. It is corroborated by many witnesses, and he has conducted himself at every turn as someone who has nothing to hide." Again, after six decades, this law firm is offering an opinion that could influence who ascends to the presidency. Governor Christie's camp can only hope that a favorable judgment by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher will work as well for their candidate as it did for Richard Nixon.