My Dinner With Mr. Sprague
Last night my wife and I had dinner with an interesting man. A legendary man, actually. A Philadelphia trial lawyer with a national reputation. Attorney Richard A. Sprague - all 94 years of him.
With my wife’s able assistance, he recently downsized from an incredible estate where he resided for forty years to a luxurious two-bedroom apartment.
We had a delightful dinner prepared by his staff.
Just three years ago, in 2016, while he was in the midst of a lengthy trial, the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote this about him:
“Beginning in 1957, Sprague spent 17 years with the District Attorney's office, most as Chief of Homicide, the last eight as First Assistant District Attorney.
He was still a Philadelphia prosecutor in 1970 when Washington County, PA., appointed him special prosecutor to oversee the investigation, arrest, and prosecution of the killers of United Mine Workers official Joseph A. "Jock" Yablonski and his wife and daughter.
In 1976, he was named Chief Counsel and Director of the ill-starred U.S. House select committee on assassinations, reviewing the 1963 killing of president John F. Kennedy and the 1968 slaying of the rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr..
Leaving the role of prosecutor behind, Sprague became wealthy as a private litigator representing such celebrities as famed trial lawyer F. Lee Bailey and former Philadelphia 76ers star guard Allen Iverson.
He also became famous for a difficult relationship with the media, including The Inquirer.
Sprague sued The Inquirer over an investigative report about Sprague's alleged involvement in a 1963 murder investigation when he was a city prosecutor. The case spanned nearly a quarter century and two trials before sprague won $34 million in damages and a settlement.
Despite that history, sprague became The Inquirer's unlikely champion when he was hired by two of its co-owners, the late Lewis Katz and H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, in their successful 2014 legal battle with co-owner George e. Norcross III over control of the company that owns The Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.Com….
Former Philadelphia district attorney Lynne M. Abraham, who calls Sprague a friend and colleague of 50 years, would not bet on this being his last bow, saying Sprague's mind is as sharp as ever.
"He really is a warrior," Abraham said. "He doesn't give up on anything. They'll probably carry him out of the courtroom on a stretcher."“
He still goes to his law office daily. His mind is that of a much younger man.
When I was a younger man, serving in the Bush 41 Administration as a Regional Administrator for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, he sued me in my official capacity.
We joked about that last night.
Dick Sprague was a close friend of…and client of…my legal mentor, the late great James E Beasley - namesake of the Temple University Law School. Jim passed in 2004. We reminisced about him last night. Jim was Dick’s lawyer in that defamation verdict I referenced a moment ago. Actually, Sprague and Beasley beat The Inquirer twice.
So last night was a night of storytelling. And reflection on current events. He lamented that Americans today seem too complacent to protest.
This World War II veteran wondered if people today would have the courage to fight King George. Or to head west.
Dick Sprague might benefit from larger print these days, but he’s paying attention and up to speed about the impeachment fight.
What makes his perspective even more interesting is that he once represented Donald Trump - although ever the confidant, he would not discuss the circumstances.
Whatever the relationship might have been, I can tell that Sprague is not a fan of this president.
With regard to impeachment, we addressed the law.
We had an interesting dialogue as to whether the impeachable standard of “treason, bribery or other high crimes or misdemeanors” could be satisfied. His answer was yes, yes and yes.
But what I most want to share from my dinner with this legal giant is not so much a matter of law, but a practical consideration that he offered which I had not previously considered.
And here it is…
He wondered: where is Barack Obama? Why has the 44th President not let his voice be heard in the current debate over impeachment?
I said that he was honoring the tradition of giving your presidential successor wide berth.
And that as elder statesman of the DNC, he felt obligated to stay neutral.
But Sprague responded that we are living in extraordinary times. And those considerations no longer apply.
And so, we addressed that.
I made the point that maybe nothing would please the president more than to have Obama emerge from the shadows and take him on.
After all, he never misses an opportunity to undue part of the Obama legacy.
If Obama was for it…you can count on Trump to be against it.
Put anything in front of him and say he is undoing an Obama initiative, and he will sign it.
ACA…Paris Accord…Iran Nuclear Agreement…etc etc.
And vilifying Obama in contemporary terms might be just what Trump thinks he needs to ward off impeachment.
Awaken the base with a threat that now the deep state has enlisted “the other”.
In fact…better yet would be that Obama and Hillary Clinton start saying the same things!! Now we are talkin’!
Trump has never stopped running against the two of them…So just when that sounds like a stretch to be talking about Obama and Clinton yet again…if they are front and center, he has license to keep doing so.
That’s what I said to this sage…The legendary Dick Sprague…The wise trial lawyer who has unimpeachable street smarts.
And so it is with a tip of the hat to attorney Dick Sprague that I offer today’s survey question:
Survey Q: Would President Barack Obama coming out for impeachment help or hurt President Trump?
He heard me out. Seemed to reflect. Then he upped me.
Acknowledging that there might be political advantage to Trump in having Barack Obama enter this impeachment debate, he posed a different scenario:
What about Bush 43?
What if Geroge W. Bush entered the fray with Obama?
What if both …43 and 44…Came out and said that the facts require the impeachment of 45?
He correctly observed that there is no love lost between the Bush family and Donald Trump.
As I am reminded from this snippet which appeared in Newsweek in 2017:
Both former President Bushes had choice words for current President Donald Trump in a new book scheduled to be published later this month, with the elder Bush reportedly calling the billionaire commander-in-chief a "Blowhard" and flatly stating he does not "Like" him.
Presidents George Bush and George W. Bush, the 41st and 43rd top executives respectively, spoke to author Mark K. Updegrove for the book "The Last Republicans." It detailed the relationship between the father-and-son presidents and how they were fretful of what Trump had done to the Republican Party.
Furthermore, both ex-presidents admitted they did not vote for Trump. The elder Bush pulled the lever for Democrat Hillary Clinton while the younger told updegrove he voted for "None of the above."
"I don't like him," George Bush said in May 2016 according to a the New York Times on Saturday. "I don't know much about him, but I know he's a blowhard. And I'm not too excited about him being a leader.
Trump, who started his first trip to Asia as President on Friday, shot back in a statement that the Iraq War was "One of the greatest foreign policy mistakes in American history," and challenged both Bushes legacies and effect on the GOP.
"If one presidential candidate can disassemble a political party, it speaks volumes about how strong a legacy its past to presidents really had," the statement to CNN on Saturday read. "And that begins with the Iraq War, one of the greatest foreign policy mistakes in American history. President Trump remains focused on keeping his promises to the american people by bringing back jobs, promoting america first foreign policy and standing up for the forgotten men and women of our great country."
George W. Bush took umbrage with Trump's divisive brand of political machinery, a common accusation the current president faced along the campaign trail as throughout his first year in office.
One final thought, courtesy of my friend the noted trial lawyer and law professor, Shanin Specter - what if Mr. Sprague’s thought about Obama and Bush extended to all living presidents and vice presidents? Jimmy carter. Walter Mondale. Dick Cheney. Dan Quayle. Bill Clinton. Al Gore. Obviously Biden. Am I forgetting anyone??
Now that would be monumental, would dissipate any argument about obama himself being a liability - and would certainly move the needle.