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Profile: John Mitchell
John Mitchell was a participant or observer in the following events:
ITT logo. [Source: Private Line.com]International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) acquires three smaller corporations, prompting the US Justice Department to file suits against ITT charging that the mergers violate antitrust laws. Between 1969 and April 1971, ITT officials meet with several Nixon administration officials, including Vice President Spiro Agnew; White House aides John Ehrlichman, Charles Colson, and Egil Krogh; Cabinet secretaries John Connally and Maurice Stans; Justice Department officials John Mitchell and Richard Kleindienst; and others, in attempts to persuade the administration to drop the lawsuits. [The People's Almanac, 1981]
Entity Tags: John Ehrlichman, Charles Colson, Egil Krogh, John Connally, US Department of Justice, Richard Kleindienst, John Mitchell, Maurice Stans, International Telephone and Telegraph, Nixon administration, Spiro T. Agnew
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Abe Fortas. [Source: US Senate]Abe Fortas resigns from the Supreme Court under pressure. Fortas, a liberal Democrat and political crony of outgoing president Lyndon Johnson, was originally chosen by Johnson to replace retiring Chief Justice Earl Warren, but conservatives in the Senate blocked Fortas’s confirmation (see June 23, 1969). President Nixon intended to fill the Court with as many of his choices as possible, and he, along with conservative Republicans and Democrats who do not agree with Fortas’s liberal stance on civil rights, targeted Fortas for a smear campaign designed to force him off the bench. Nixon used what White House counsel John Dean will later call “an ugly bluff” against Fortas: He has Attorney General John Mitchell inform Fortas that he intends to open a special probe into Fortas’s dealings—while on the bench—with a financier already under investigation. Mitchell insinuates that he will put Fortas’s wife, herself an attorney and partner at Fortas’s former law firm, and other former partners of Fortas’s on the witness stand. Whether Fortas actually had any direct illegal dealings with this financier is unclear—certainly his dealings had such an appearance—but the bluff worked; Fortas agreed to retire early, thus clearing a position on the Court for Nixon to fill. Nixon will find it difficult to replace Fortas with one of the Southern conservatives he wants on the Court; Senate Democrats will lead successful efforts to block the nomination of two of Nixon’s nominees, the respected, moderately conservative Clement Haynsworth, and the virulently racist G. Harrold Carswell, himself recommended by Mitchell’s assistant, William Rehnquist. (Carswell’s failed nomination will produce a memorable statement from Senator Roman Hruska (R-NE), who, in defense of Carswell, tells the Senate: “Even if he is mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance?”) Nixon will use the defeats to make political hay in the South by claiming that Senate Democrats do not want a Southerner on the bench. [Dean, 2007, pp. 127-129]
Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, US Supreme Court, William Rehnquist, Roman Hruska, Lyndon B. Johnson, John Mitchell, G. Harrold Carswell, John Dean, Clement Haynsworth, Earl Warren, Abe Fortas
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Nixon and Watergate
US Attorney General John Mitchell predicts, “This country is going so far to the right you are not even going to recognize it.” [Hunt, 9/1/2009, pp. 7]
After the New York Times publishes excerpts from the “Pentagon Papers” (see June 13, 1971), Attorney General John Mitchell sends a telegram to the Times at the behest of President Nixon demanding that the paper stop further publication of the excerpts. Mitchell argues that disclosing the information would cause “irreparable injury to the defense interests of the United States,” and claims that the publication is in violation of laws against espionage. The Times “respectfully declines” to cease publication of articles based on the documents. [Herda, 1994]
The New York Times publishes its third installment of the “Pentagon Papers” (see June 13, 1971 and June 14, 1971). A furious President Nixon demands an immediate court injunction to keep the paper from printing more excerpts. He orders: “I want to know who is behind this and I want the most complete investigation that can be conducted.… I don’t want excuses. I want results. I want it done, whatever the cost.” Secretary of State Henry Kissinger informs Nixon that he believes Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the documents to the Times, is a “fanatic” and a “drug abuser.” Attorney General John Mitchell says that Ellsberg must be part of a communist “conspiracy” and suggests he be tried for treason. Nixon calls together a group of loyal White House aides to investigate Ellsberg’s leak of classified documents. The group will become known as the “plumbers” for their task to “plug the leaks” (see Late June-July 1971). Other undercover operators, including CIA agent E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, are recruited by White House special counsel Charles Colson. [Herda, 1994]
Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, New York Times, John Mitchell, David Young, Daniel Ellsberg, Henry A. Kissinger, Charles Colson, E. Howard Hunt, G. Gordon Liddy, ’Plumbers’, Egil Krogh, Central Intelligence Agency
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
As another assignment for the newly formed “Plumbers” (see Late June-July 1971), President Nixon orders chief of staff H. R. Haldeman to have the Brookings Institute burglarized (see June 17, 1972). The Brookings Institute is a Washington think tank which Nixon believes has copies of the Pentagon Papers. As secretly recorded, Nixon tells Haldeman: “I want the break-in. Hell, they do that” [presumably referring to the Democrats]. “They have a lot of material. I want—the way I want that handled, Bob, is get it over. I want Brooking. Just break in. Break in and take it out. You understand.” Haldeman replies: “Yeah. But you have to get somebody to do it.” Nixon says: “Well, you—that’s what I’m just telling you. Now don’t discuss it here. You’re to break into the place, rifle the files, and bring them out.” Haldeman is untroubled by the order: “I don’t have any problem with breaking in.” Nixon is direct in his orders for the burglary: “Just go in and take them. Go in around 8 or 9 o’clock. That’s right. You go in and inspect and clean it out.… We’re up against an enemy, a conspiracy. They’re using any means. We are going to use any means. Is that clear?” The next day, Nixon repeats: “Get it done. I want it done. I want the Brookings Institute’s safe cleaned out.” [PBS, 1/2/1997; Reeves, 2001, pp. 339; Werth, 2006, pp. 84-87]
"Talk to Hunt" - When asked who will do it, Nixon replies: “That’s what I’m talking about. Don’t discuss it here. You talk to Hunt.” Nixon is referring to E. Howard Hunt, a recently retired CIA officer currently performing secret operations for Nixon’s aide Charles Colson. Haldeman says approvingly that CIA director Richard Helms “says he’s ruthless, quiet, careful. He’s kind of a tiger.… He spent 20 years in the CIA overthrowing governments.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 339]
"Black-Bag" Team Assembled - Ehrlichman’s deputies Egil “Bud” Krogh and David Young, whom he has put in charge of the operation, soon report that they’ve assembled a “black-bag” team and have recommended a “covert operation” to burglarize an office at the Institute. (Krogh sums up Nixon’s thinking quite eloquently: “Anyone who opposes us, we’ll destroy. As a matter of fact, anyone who doesn’t support us, we’ll destroy.”) Ehrlichman approves the project, noting it must not be “traceable.” The same team of burglars who rifle the office will later be used to break into the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate Hotel (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). [Herda, 1994; Fremon, 1998; Werth, 2006, pp. 84-87] The Brookings Institution burglary never takes place. [PBS, 1/2/1997] Ehrlichman will later claim that the Institution was never burglarized because he “shot it down” (see Late December-Early January 1997). [Herda, 1994]
Newspaper Editor Targeted for Burglary - Another project, which also apparently never takes place, involves stealing documents from the safe of the editor of the Las Vegas Sun, Hank Greenspun. “Plumbers” burglar James McCord will later explain that Greenspun is a target because of his relationship with eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes and former Hughes associate Robert Maheu, and that Maheu has damaging information on a Democratic presidential candidate, Edmund Muskie, that the Nixon aides want. However, author Carl Oglesby will later claim that the material refers to Nixon and not to Muskie. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] In 2001, historian Richard Reeves writes that the files contain information about Nixon and Democratic National Committee chairman Lawrence O’Brien. Nixon’s close friend and political financier Charles “Bebe” Rebozo had just gotten $50,000 in campaign cash from Hughes, and O’Brien is earning $13,000 a month lobbying for one of Hughes’s corporations. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 431]
Call Girl Operation Turned Down - Another “Plumber,” G. Gordon Liddy, suggests using a coterie of Washington, DC call girls to infiltrate the Democratic campaign organization and bring out information, a suggestion that is not seriously considered. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
Inappropriate Conversation? - During the discussion, White House counsel John Dean interrupts to say, “Excuse me for saying this, but I don’t think this kind of conversation should go on in the attorney general’s office.” They are meeting in the office of Attorney General John Mitchell. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 431]
Entity Tags: John Dean, James McCord, John Ehrlichman, Richard Reeves, Las Vegas Sun, John Mitchell, Howard Hughes, Lawrence O’Brien, Hank Greenspun, Edmund Muskie, G. Gordon Liddy, Brookings Institution, Barry Werth, ’Plumbers’, Carl Oglesby, Charles ‘Bebe’ Rebozo, Charles Colson, Egil Krogh, Robert E. Maheu, David Young, H.R. Haldeman, Richard M. Nixon
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
The FBI, acting against the will of Congress, maintains a secret list of citizens to be monitored and/or detained in the event of a national emergency. Congress recently attempted to ban the FBI’s secret “Security Index” by revoking the Emergency Detention Act of the 1950 Subversive Activity Control Act (see 1971). The FBI, in an apparent attempt to subvert the repeal, changes the title of the detention list to the “Administrative Index,” or “ADEX” for short. A source from the FBI will say the change is in “name only.” Another FBI official acknowledges that the new index could be “interpreted as a means to circumvent [the] repeal of the Emergency Detention Act.” The Justice Department secretly decides that Congress has not restricted the FBI’s authority. In a memo to J. Edgar Hoover, Attorney General John N. Mitchell says the repeal by Congress does “not alter or limit” the FBI’s authority to “record, file, and index” names of purportedly subversive individuals. According to Mitchell, the FBI maintains plans for a national emergency that are “prepared on the basis of authority other than” the provisions revoked by Congress. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will later report that the FBI “continued to evade the will of Congress, partly with Justice Department approval, by maintaining a secret administrative index of suspects for round-up in case of a national emergency.” The FBI will maintian control of the list until 1985, when it will be transferred to FEMA (see Late 1971-1985 and 1985). [Associated Press, 12/18/1975; New York Times, 4/29/1976; Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, 5/1976, pp. 542-548; Chicago Tribune, 3/2/1986]
Gemstone file envelope. [Source: MedLibrary.org]“Plumber” G. Gordon Liddy lays out an elaborate $1 million proposal for a plan for political espionage and campaign “dirty tricks” he calls “Operation Gemstone” to Attorney General John Mitchell. Mitchell is preparing to leave his post to head the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP—see March 1, 1972). “Gemstone” is a response to pressure from President Nixon to compile intelligence on Democratic candidates and party officials, particularly Democratic National Committee chairman Lawrence O’Brien. Liddy gives his presentation with one hand bandaged—he had recently charred it in a candle flame to demonstrate the pain he was willing to endure in the name of will and loyalty. Sub-operations such as “Diamond,” “Ruby,” and “Sapphire” engender the following, among other proposed activities:
disrupt antiwar demonstrators before television and press cameras can arrive on the scene, using “men who have worked successfully as street-fighting squads for the CIA” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 429-430] or what White House counsel John Dean, also at the meeting, will later testify to be “mugging squads;” [Time, 7/9/1973]
kidnap, or “surgically relocate,” prominent antiwar and civil rights leaders by “drug[ging” them and taking them “across the border;”
use a pleasure yacht as a floating brothel to entice Democrats and other undesirables into compromising positions, where they can be tape-recorded and photographed with what Liddy calls “the finest call girls in the country… not dumb broads but girls who can be trained and photographed;”
deploy an array of electronic and physical surveillance, including chase planes to intercept messages from airplanes carrying prominent Democrats. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 429-430]
Dean, as he later testifies, is horrified at the ideas. [Time, 7/9/1973] Mitchell seems more amused than anything else at Liddy’s excesses, he merely says that “Gemstone” is “not quite what I had in mind.” He tells Liddy and Liddy’s boss, CREEP deputy director Jeb Stuart Magruder, to come back with a cheaper and more realistic proposal. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 429-430]
Syndicated columnist Jack Anderson receives a memo written by International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) lobbyist Dita Beard; the memo goes a long way towards proving that in return for hefty campaign contributions to the GOP, the Justice Department dropped its antitrust suit against the corporation (see 1969 and July 31, 1971). The memo, written on June 25, 1971 by Beard to ITT vice president Bill Merriam, is entitled “Subject: San Diego Convention.” Beard indicated her distress at the possibility of someone leaking the fact that ITT had quietly contributed $400,000 to the GOP for its 1972 convention in San Diego. Two of the few who know of the contribution, Beard wrote, were President Nixon and Attorney General John Mitchell. She asked whether the $400,000 should be donated in cash or in services, then wrote: “I am convinced because of several conversations with Louie re Mitchell that our noble commitment has gone a long way toward our negotiations on the mergers eventually coming out as Hal wanted them. Certainly the president has told Mitchell to see that things are working out fairly. It is still only McLaren’s mickey-mouse that we are suffering.” Anderson doesn’t know who “Louie” is, but he is sure “Hal” is Harold Geneen, ITT’s president. ITT had announced a $100,000 contribution, but the real amount is four times that. One of Anderson’s aides, Brit Hume, interviews Beard, and during a night of heavy drinking and Beard’s emotional outbursts, finds out that in May 1971, Beard had gone to a party hosted by Kentucky governor Louie Nunn, the “Louie” of the memo. Mitchell was at the party, and Beard was there to prime Mitchell as to what exactly ITT wants in return for its contribution and its assurance that it can secure San Diego as the GOP’s convention site. According to Beard, the deal was hatched between herself and Mitchell at Nunn’s party. Anderson quickly publishes a column based on the memo that causes a tremendous stir in Washington and the press. [Anderson, 1999, pp. 194-200] (In his book The Secret Man, Bob Woodward will give the date for Anderson’s column revealing the Beard memo as February 19. This is apparently a typographical error.) [Woodward, 2005, pp. 37] The White House will successfully pressure Beard to disavow the memo (see Mid-Late March, 1972).
Entity Tags: Jack Anderson, Dita Beard, Brit Hume, Bob Woodward, Bill Merriam, Federal Bureau of Investigation, International Telephone and Telegraph, Richard M. Nixon, Harold Geneen, John Mitchell, Louie B. Nunn
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
John Mitchell. [Source: Southern Methodist University]Attorney General John Mitchell resigns, and immediately assumes the position of chairman of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP). [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
According to the FBI’s Watergate investigation, John Mitchell, the director of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), and his aide Jeb Stuart Magruder discuss the proposal made by G. Gordon Liddy to plant electronic surveillance devices on the phone of the chairman of the Democratic Party, Lawrence O’Brien (see March 20, 1971). Magruder telephones President Nixon’s chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, and Haldeman confirms that Nixon wants the operation carried out. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] On March 30, in a meeting held in Key Biscayne, Florida, Mitchell, the former Attorney General (see March 1, 1972), approves the plan and its budget of approximately $250,000. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ] Other sources list this decision as coming almost a year earlier (see March 20, 1971). In this case, the FBI timeline is almost certainly in error, since the “Plumbers” break-in of the offices of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist came well before this date (see Late June-July 1971 and September 9, 1971).
According to later testimony to Watergate investigators, the deputy director of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), Jeb Magruder, delivers the logs of the wiretaps being secretly conducted on the Democrats by the “Plumbers” (see May 27-28, 1972 and May 29, 1972) to CREEP chairman John Mitchell. The wiretaps are code-named “Gemstone” (see September 29, 1972). Magruder also delivers photos taken inside the Democrats’ headquarters to Mitchell. Mitchell will deny ever receiving any of this material. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
Richard Kleindienst. [Source: public domain]Hours after the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), Attorney General Richard Kleindienst is contacted by burglar G. Gordon Liddy. Liddy, who is accompanied by Nixon campaign press spokesman Powell Moore, tells Kleindienst that campaign chairman John Mitchell wants Liddy to discuss the break-in with Kleindienst. Liddy tells the attorney general that some campaign and/or White House employees might be involved in the break-in, and asks if he can help facilitate their release. Kleindienst refuses, replying that he has a relationship with Mitchell, and therefore does not believe that Mitchell would have sent someone like Liddy to tell him anything. Kleindienst does not tell the FBI about the contact, and therefore the FBI has no early warning of any possible contacts between the burglary and the Nixon administration. In 1974, an internal review of the FBI’s Watergate investigation will be highly critical of Kleindienst’s decision to conceal Liddy’s information, noting: “It is difficult not to find fault with the failure of Kleindienst to immediately advise the Bureau of Liddy’s contact with him.… Had he done so, there is no doubt that our investigative direction at CRP [the Nixon campaign, often given the acronym CREEP] would have been vastly different. First, we would have not have had to conduct an exhaustive investigation to identify Liddy as we had to do. Secondly, it is easy to speculate that the successful cover up would have never gotten off the ground since we would have had reason to zero in on Mitchell and Liddy rather than to waste our time checking into [fellow burglar James] McCord’s security set-up and security co-workers at CRP.” [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
Frank Wills, the security guard who discovers the taped doors and alerts the DC police. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Five burglars (see June 17, 1972) are arrested at 2:30 a.m. while breaking in to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Headquarters offices in Washington’s Watergate hotel and office complex; the DNC occupies the entire sixth floor. [Washington Post, 6/18/1972; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Discovery - They are surprised at gunpoint by three plainclothes officers of the DC Metropolitan Police. Two ceiling panels have been removed from the secretary’s office, which is adjacent to that of DNC chairman Lawrence O’Brien. It is possible to place a surveillance device above those panels that could monitor O’Brien’s office. The five suspects, all wearing surgical gloves, have among them two sophisticated voice-activated surveillance devices that can monitor conversations and telephone calls alike; lock-picks, door jimmies, and an assortment of burglary tools; and $2,300 in cash, most of it in $100 bills in sequence. They also have a walkie-talkie, a shortwave receiver tuned to the police band, 40 rolls of unexposed film, two 35mm cameras, and three pen-sized tear gas guns. Near to where the men are captured is a file cabinet with two open drawers; a DNC source speculates that the men might have been preparing to photograph the contents of the file drawers.
Guard Noticed Taped Door - The arrests take place after a Watergate security guard, Frank Wills, notices a door connecting a stairwell with the hotel’s basement garage has been taped so it will not lock; the guard removes the tape, but when he checks ten minutes later and finds the lock taped once again, the guard calls the police. The police find that all of the stairwell doors leading from the basement to the sixth floor have been similarly taped to prevent them from locking. The door leading from the stairwell to the DNC offices had been jimmied. During a search of the offices, one of the burglars leaps from behind a desk and surrenders. [Washington Post, 6/18/1972] The FBI agents responding to the burglary are initially told that the burglars may have been attempting to plant a bomb in the offices. The “bomb” turns out to be surveillance equipment. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
Last Mission for Martinez - One of the burglars, Cuban emigre and CIA agent Eugenio Martinez, will recall the burglary. They have already successfully burglarized a psychiatrist’s office in search of incriminating material on Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see September 9, 1971), and successfully bugged the DNC offices less than a month previously (see May 27-28, 1972), but Martinez is increasingly ill at ease over the poor planning and amateurish behavior of his colleagues (see Mid-June 1972). This will be his last operation, he has decided. Team leader E. Howard Hunt, whom Martinez calls by his old code name “Eduardo,” is obviously intrigued by the material secured from the previous burglary, and wants to go through the offices a second time to find more. Martinez is dismayed to find that Hunt has two operations planned for the evening, one for the DNC and one for the campaign offices of Democratic candidate George McGovern. Former CIA agent and current Nixon campaign security official James McCord (see June 19, 1972), the electronics expert of the team, is equally uncomfortable with the rushed, almost impromptu plan. Hunt takes all of the burglars’ identification and puts it in a briefcase. He gives another burglar, Frank Sturgis, his phony “Edward J. Hamilton” ID from his CIA days, and gives each burglar $200 in cash to bribe their way out of trouble. Interestingly, Hunt tells the burglars to keep the keys to their hotel rooms. Martinez later writes: “I don’t know why. Even today, I don’t know. Remember, I was told in advance not to ask about those things.”
Taping the Doors - McCord goes into the Watergage office complex, signs in, and begins taping the doors to the stairwells from the eighth floor all the way to the garage. After waiting for everyone to leave the offices, the team prepares to enter. Gonzalez and Sturgis note that the tape to the basement garage has been removed. Martinez believes the operation will be aborted, but McCord disagrees; he convinces Hunt and the other team leader, White House aide G. Gordon Liddy, to continue. It is McCord’s responsibility to remove the tape once the burglars are inside, but he fails to do so. The team is well into the DNC offices when the police burst in. “There was no way out,” Martinez will recall. “We were caught.” Barker is able to surreptitiously advise Hunt, who is still in the hotel, that they have been discovered. Martinez will later wonder if the entire second burglary might have been “a set-up or something like that because it was so easy the first time. We all had that feeling.” The police quickly find the burglars’ hotel keys and then the briefcase containing their identification. As they are being arrested, McCord, who rarely speaks and then not above a whisper, takes charge of the situation. He orders everyone to keep their mouths shut. “Don’t give your names,” he warns. “Nothing. I know people. Don’t worry, someone will come and everything will be all right. This thing will be solved.” [Harper's, 10/1974; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/7/2007]
'Third-Rate Burglary' - White House press secretary Ron Ziegler will respond to allegations that the White House and the Nixon presidential campaign might have been involved in the Watergate burglary by calling it a “third-rate burglary attempt,” and warning that “certain elements may try to stretch this beyond what it is.” [Washington Post, 5/1/1973] The Washington Post chooses, for the moment, to cover it as a local burglary and nothing more; managing editor Howard Simons says that it could be nothing more than a crime committed by “crazy Cubans.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 19]
CIA Operation? - In the weeks and months to come, speculation will arise as to the role of the CIA in the burglary. The Nixon White House will attempt to pin the blame for the Watergate conspiracy on the CIA, an attempt forestalled by McCord (see March 19-23, 1973). In a 1974 book on his involvement in the conspiracy, McCord will write: “The Watergate operation was not a CIA operation. The Cubans may have been misled by others into believing that it was a CIA operation. I know for a fact that it was not.” Another author, Carl Oglesby, will claim otherwise, saying that the burglary is a CIA plot against Nixon. Former CIA officer Miles Copeland will claim that McCord led the burglars into a trap. Journalist Andrew St. George will claim that CIA Director Richard Helms knew of the break-in before it occurred, a viewpoint supported by Martha Mitchell, the wife of Nixon campaign director John Mitchell, who will tell St. George that McCord is a “double agent” whose deliberate blunders led to the arrest of the burglars. No solid evidence of CIA involvement in the Watergate conspiracy has so far been revealed. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
Entity Tags: Nixon administration, Howard Simons, Lawrence O’Brien, James McCord, Martha Mitchell, Richard M. Nixon, Richard Helms, Washington Post, Ron Ziegler, George S. McGovern, Miles Copeland, G. Gordon Liddy, John Mitchell, Frank Sturgis, Carl Oglesby, Bob Woodward, Andrew St. George, Central Intelligence Agency, Carl Bernstein, Democratic National Committee, Daniel Ellsberg, E. Howard Hunt, Eugenio Martinez, Frank Wills
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate, Elections Before 2000
John Mitchell, the former attorney general who now heads the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), responds to the news that one of the Watergate burglars, James McCord, is an employee of the committee (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972): “The person involved is the proprietor of a private security agency who was employed by our committee months ago to assist with the installation of our security system. He has, as we understand it, a number of business clients and relationships, and we have no knowledge of these relationships. We want to emphasize that this man and the other people involved were not operating either on our behalf or with our consent. There is no place in the campaign or in the electoral process for this kind of activity, and we will not permit or condone it.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 20] CREEP will later admit that McCord is the full-time security director for CREEP (see June 19, 1972).
The US Supreme Court, in what becomes informally known as the “Keith case,” upholds, 8-0, an appellate court ruling that strikes down warrantless surveillance of domestic groups for national security purposes. The Department of Justice had wiretapped, without court warrants, several defendants charged with destruction of government property; those wiretaps provided key evidence against the defendants. Attorney General John Mitchell refused to disclose the source of the evidence pursuant to the “national security” exception to the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. The courts disagreed, and the government appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which upheld the lower courts’ rulings against the government in a unanimous verdict. The Court held that the wiretaps were an unconstitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment, establishing the judicial precedent that warrants must be obtained before the government can wiretap a US citizen. [US Supreme Court, 6/19/1972; Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 258-259] Critics of the Nixon administration have long argued that its so-called “Mitchell Doctrine” of warrantlessly wiretapping “subversives” has been misused to spy on anyone whom Nixon officials believe may be political enemies. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 258-259] As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision, Congress passes the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. [John Conyers, 5/14/2003]
Opinion of Justice Powell - Writing for the Court, Justice Lewis Powell observes: “History abundantly documents the tendency of Government—however benevolent and benign its motives—to view with suspicion those who most fervently dispute its policies. Fourth Amendment protections become the more necessary when the targets of official surveillance may be those suspected of unorthodoxy in their political beliefs. The danger to political dissent is acute where the government attempts to act under so vague a concept as the power to protect ‘domestic security.’ Given the difficulty of defining the domestic security interest, the danger of abuse in acting to protect that interest becomes apparent.” [US Supreme Court, 6/19/1972]
Justice Department Wiretapped Reporters, Government Officials - In February 1973, the media will report that, under the policy, the Justice Department had wiretapped both reporters and Nixon officials themselves who were suspected of leaking information to the press (see May 1969 and July 26-27, 1970), and that some of the information gleaned from those wiretaps was given to “Plumbers” E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy for their own political espionage operations. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 258-259]
Conyers Hails Decision 30 Years Later - In 2003, Representative John Conyers (D-MI) will say on the floor of the House: “Prior to 1970, every modern president had claimed ‘inherent Executive power’ to conduct electronic surveillance in ‘national security’ cases without the judicial warrant required in criminal cases by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. Then Attorney General John Mitchell, on behalf of President Richard Nixon sought to wiretap several alleged ‘domestic’ terrorists without warrants, on the ground that it was a national security matter. Judge [Damon] Keith rejected this claim of the Sovereign’s inherent power to avoid the safeguard of the Fourth Amendment. He ordered the government to produce the wiretap transcripts. When the Attorney General appealed to the US Supreme Court, the Court unanimously affirmed Judge Keith. The Keith decision not only marked a watershed in civil liberties protection for Americans. It also led directly to the current statutory restriction on the government’s electronic snooping in national security cases.” [John Conyers, 5/14/2003]
Headline from Washington Post identifying McCord as a ‘GOP Security Aide.’ [Source: Washington Post]James McCord, one of the five Watergate burglars (see June 17, 1972), is identified as the security director for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP). McCord is also identified as a security consultant for the Republican National Committee (RNC), where he has maintained an office since January 1. After his arrest, McCord used a phony name to the police and the court, which kept his identity unclear for two days. The director of CREEP, former attorney general John Mitchell, originally denies that McCord is a member of the campaign, and merely identifies him as a Republican security aide who helped CREEP install a security system. (McCord has his own security business in Maryland, McCord Associates (see June 18, 1972).) [Washington Post, 6/19/1972; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward learns that McCord is a member of a small Air Force Reserve unit in Washington attached to the Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP); the OEP, says a fellow reservist, is tasked with compiling lists of “radicals” and developing contingency plans for censorship of the news media and the US mail in time of war. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 23] RNC chairman Bob Dole says that McCord provided similar services for that organization, and says of the burglary, “we deplore action of this kind in or out of politics.” Democratic Party chairman Lawrence O’Brien, whose offices were burgled and subject to electronic surveillance, says the “bugging incident… raised the ugliest questions about the integrity of the political process that I have encountered in a quarter century,” and adds, “No mere statement of innocence by Mr. Nixon’s campaign manager will dispel these questions.” (O’Brien has inside knowledge of the White House connections (see June 17, 1972).) O’Brien calls on Mitchell’s successor, Attorney General Richard Kleindienst, to order an immediate, “searching professional investigation” of the entire matter by the FBI. The FBI is already mounting an investigation. [Washington Post, 6/19/1972; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Entity Tags: Lawrence O’Brien, Committee to Re-elect the President, Bob Woodward, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Mitchell, Robert J. (“Bob”) Dole, Richard Kleindienst, James McCord, Washington, DC Office of Emergency Preparedness, Republican National Committee
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Former Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman Lawrence O’Brien files a $1 million civil suit against the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) and the five men accused of burglarizing and electronically monitoring DNC offices (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). O’Brien’s suit charges that the surveillance and the burglary violate the constitutional rights of all Democrats. O’Brien says that there is “a developing clear line to the White House,” and notes what he calls the “potential involvement” of the special counsel to President Nixon, Charles Colson. Colson hired E. Howard Hunt, who allegedly planned the burglary, for CREEP. [Washington Post, 8/1/1972] O’Brien says: “We learned of this bugging attempt only because it was bungled. How many other attempts have there been and who was involved? I believe we are about to witness the ultimate test of this administration that so piously committed itself to a new era of law and order just four years ago.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 26] The lawsuit will allow the DNC to get depositions from Nixon’s aides, beginning with CREEP director John Mitchell—something no one in the White House nor in CREEP intend to allow. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 504]
In an early-morning meeting between Nixon campaign director John Mitchell and White House aides H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, the three agree that their first priority in the aftermath of the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) is to protect President Nixon. To that end, the Watergate investigations must be stopped before they lead to other unsavory political operations—campaign “horrors,” Mitchell calls them.
PR 'Counter-Attack' Discussed - Later this morning, Nixon and Haldeman discuss the need to keep the FBI’s Watergate investigation on a tight leash. They discuss “counter-attack” and “public relations” offensives to distract the media by attacking the Democrats. The White House needs a “PR offensive to top” Watergate, they say, and they “need to be on the attack—for diversion.” One suggestion is to dismiss the burglary as nothing but a prank. Most White House staffers, including Haldeman, seem to believe that fellow aide Charles Colson concocted the idea of the burglary; Haldeman says that Colson does not seem to know “specifically that this was underway. He seems to take all the blame himself.” Nixon replies, “Good.” Nixon worries that his secret taping system (see February 1971 and July 13-16, 1973) “complicates things all over.” Nixon closes the conversation by saying: “My God, the [Democratic National C]ommittee isn’t worth bugging, in my opinion. That’s my public line.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 503-505; Reston, 2007, pp. 33]
Nixon, Colson Plan Delays - Later the same day, Nixon meets with senior aide Charles Colson. Several items from the conversation are damning in their specificity. Nixon tells Colson in regard of the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), “If we didn’t know better, we would have thought it was deliberately botched.” This statement shows that Nixon has some detailed knowledge of the burglary, contrary to his later claims. Colson later says: “Bob [Haldeman] is pulling it all together. Thus far, I think we’ve done the right things.” Colson could well be referring to the White House’s attempts to distance itself from the break-in. Nixon says, referring to the burglars, “Basically, they are pretty hard-line guys,” and Colson interrupts, “You mean Hunt?” referring to the burglars’ leader, E. Howard Hunt. Nixon replies: “Of course, we are just going to leave this where it is, with the Cubans.… At time, uh, I just stonewall it.” Nixon then says, regarding the future of the Watergate investigation: “Oh sure, you know who the hell is going to keep it alive. We’re gonna have a court case and indeed… the difficulty we’ll have ahead, we have got to have lawyers smart enough to have our people delay, avoiding depositions, of course.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 46-47]
Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein asks a former Nixon administration official about some of the White House officials who may have connections to the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Bernstein notes that the Nixon presidential campaign committee (CREEP) has identified its personnel director, Robert Odle, as the man who hired Watergate burglar and CREEP security director James McCord (see June 19, 1972). “That’s bullsh_t,” the official retorts. “[Committee director John] Mitchell wouldn’t let go of a thing like that. Mitchell would decide, with advice from somebody who knew something about security.” Mitchell would almost certainly have brought in at least one more aide, Frederick LaRue (see March 20, 1971), Mitchell’s right-hand man. “I would expect that if any wiretaps were active up to the time of the break-in, LaRue would have known about them,” the former official tells Bernstein. A Republican National Committee member tells Bernstein that McCord has, contrary to a statement by RNC chairman Bob Dole, never done any security work for the RNC. “All they care about at CREEP is Richard M. Nixon,” the RNC official says with some bitterness. “They couldn’t care less about the Republican Party. Given the chance, they would wreck it.” The RNC official says he and Dole had discussed the likelihood of White House involvement in the Watergate burglary, and they both believed that it was likely managed by “one of those twenty-five cent generals hanging around the committee or the White House who was responsible. [Murray] Chotiner or [Charles] Colson. Those were the names thrown out.” (Chotiner, well-known for his low-road brand of politics—see 1950—will never be proven to have had any involvement in the Watergate conspiracy.) [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 28-29]
Entity Tags: Murray Chotiner, Charles Colson, Carl Bernstein, Frederick LaRue, John Mitchell, Nixon administration, Republican National Committee, Robert J. (“Bob”) Dole, Richard M. Nixon, Robert C. Odle, Jr, James McCord
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
President Nixon and chief of staff H. R. Haldeman discuss a suggestion by Nixon campaign chief John Mitchell regarding the Watergate burglary and bugging (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Mitchell believes that burglar G. Gordon Liddy should take the entire blame for the burglary, and confess to being the operation’s “mastermind.” “You mean you’d have Liddy confess and say he did it unauthorized?” Nixon asks. Haldeman affirms the question. After further discussion, Nixon says: “The reaction is going to be primarily Washington and not the country, because I think the country doesn’t give much of a sh_t about it other than the ones we’ve already bugged.… Everybody around here is all mortified by it. It’s a horrible thing to rebut [whereas] most people around the country think this is routine, that everybody’s trying to bug everybody else, it’s politics.” Nixon is struck with a new idea during the conversation—use every accusation of the Watergate bugging to claim that it only proves the Democrats were bugging the Nixon campaign. Maybe they should plant a bug on themselves and claim the Democrats planted it, Nixon suggests. Haldeman circles the conversation back to Liddy, and Nixon asks, “Is Liddy willing?” Haldeman replies: “He says he is. Apparently he is a little bit nuts… apparently he’s sort of a Tom Huston-type guy (see June 5, 1970).… He sort of likes the dramatic. He’s said, ‘If you want to put me before a firing squad and shoot me, that’s fine. I’d kind of like to be like Nathan Hale.’” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 505-506]
Martha Mitchell. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Martha Mitchell, the wife of Nixon campaign director John Mitchell, makes an unexpected phone call to UPI reporter Helen Thomas. Mrs. Mitchell is initially calm and even a bit sad, but when Thomas brings up the subject of Watergate, Mrs. Mitchell becomes agitated. She is “sick of the whole business,” she says, and adds: “I’ve given John an ultimatum. I’m going to leave him unless he gets out of the campaign. I’m sick and tired of politics. Politics is a dirty business.” [Thomas, 1999, pp. 210-211] Suddenly she screams, “You just get away—get away!” and the line goes dead. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 508] Three days later she calls Thomas again and asserts that she is a political prisoner in her own home. “I’m not going to stand for all of those dirty things that go on,” she shouts. “If you could see me, you wouldn’t believe it. I’m black and blue.” Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward believes that Mrs. Mitchell might be an unexpected fount of information about her husband’s inner dealings in the Watergate conspiracy, but when he interviews her in September, she will reveal nothing of import. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 92-95] In October 1972, W. Mark Felt, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s FBI background source (see May 31, 2005), says of Mrs. Mitchell, “She knows nothing, apparently, but that doesn’t mean she won’t talk.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 133]
Nixon and Haldeman, three days after the June 23 meeting. [Source: Washington Post]With the FBI tracing the Watergate burglars’ $100 bills to GOP fundraiser Kenneth Dahlberg (see August 1-2, 1972), President Nixon orders the CIA to attempt to stop the FBI from investigating the Watergate conspiracy, using the justification of “national security.” One of the areas Nixon specifically does not want investigated is the $89,000 in Mexican checks found in the account of one of the Watergate burglars, Bernard Barker (see April-June 1972). [Reeves, 2001, pp. 508-510; Woodward, 2005, pp. 59-60] Author James Reston Jr. will write in 2007: “The strategy for the CIA to block the FBI’s investigation of the Mexican checks… was devised by Haldeman and Nixon. This was a clear obstruction of justice.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 33-34] The plan, concocted by Nixon campaign chief John Mitchell, is to have deputy CIA director Vernon Walters tell the new FBI Director, L. Patrick Gray, to, in the words of Nixon chief of staff H. R. Haldeman, “stay the hell out of this… this is, ah, business we don’t want you to go any further on it.” Nixon approves the plan. White House aide John Ehrlichman will later testify that he is the one tasked with carrying out Nixon’s command; Nixon tells Ehrlichman and Haldeman to have the CIA “curb the FBI probe.” [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
Nixon: FBI, CIA Should Back out of Investigation - In his discussion with Nixon, Haldeman says that “the FBI is not under control, because Gray doesn’t exactly know how to control them, and they have, their investigation is now leading into some productive areas, because they’ve been able to trace the money… and it goes in some directions we don’t want it to go.” Haldeman also says that the FBI has a witness in Miami who saw film developed from one of the Watergate burglaries (see Mid-June 1972). He tells Nixon that the FBI is not aware yet that the money for the burglars can be traced to Dahlberg, who wrote a $25,000 check that went directly to one of the Watergate burglars. That check is “directly traceable” to the Mexican bank used by the Nixon re-election campaign (CREEP). Haldeman says that he and Ehrlichman should call in both Gray and CIA Director Richard Helms and tell both of them to have their agencies back out of any investigation. Nixon agrees, saying that considering Hunt’s involvement: “that will uncover a lot of things. You open that scab there’s a hell of a lot of things and that we just feel that it would be very detrimental to have this thing go any further. This involves these Cubans, Hunt, and a lot of hanky-panky that we have nothing to do with ourselves.” Haldeman says he believes that Mitchell knew about the burglary as well, but did not know the operational details. “[W]ho was the assh_le who did?” Nixon asks. “Is it [G. Gordon] Liddy? Is that the fellow? He must be nuts.” Haldeman says Mitchell pressured Liddy “to get more information, and as [Liddy] got more pressure, he pushed the people harder to move harder on.…” Both Nixon and Haldeman think that the FBI may believe the CIA, not the White House, is responsible for the burglary; Nixon says: “… when I saw that news summary item, I of course knew it was a bunch of crap, but I thought ah, well it’s good to have them off on this wild hair thing because when they start bugging us, which they have, we’ll know our little boys will not know how to handle it. I hope they will though. You never know. Maybe, you think about it. Good!” A short time later in the conversation, Nixon instructs Haldeman to tell his staffers not to directly lie under oath about their knowledge of the burglary, but to characterize it as “sort of a comedy of errors, bizarre,” and warn the FBI that to continue investigating the burglary would “open the whole Bay of Pigs thing up again. And, ah, because these people are plugging for, for keeps and that they should call the FBI in and say that we wish for the country, don’t go any further into this case.… That’s the way to put it, do it straight.” [AMDOCS Documents for the Study of American History, 6/1993] Later in the day, both Walters and CIA Director Richard Helms visit Haldeman to discuss the situation. Helms says that he has already heard from Gray, who had said, “I think we’ve run right into the middle of a CIA covert operation.” Helms and Walters both agree to pressure Gray to abandon the investigation, but their efforts are ineffective; the assistant US attorney in Washington, Earl Silbert, is driving the investigation, not the FBI. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 508-510]
Gray: Improper Use of FBI - Soon after Nixon’s order, acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray tells Nixon that his administration is improperly using the CIA to interfere in the FBI’s investigation of Watergate. Gray warns Nixon “that people on your staff are trying to mortally wound you.” Gray is himself sharing Watergate investigation files with the White House, but will claim that he is doing so with the approval of the FBI’s general counsel. [New York Times, 7/7/2005] It is unclear whether Gray knows that Nixon personally issued the order to the CIA. Soon after the order is issued, a number of the FBI agents on the case—15 to 20 in all—threaten to resign en masse if the order is carried out. One of the agents, Bob Lill, will later recall: “There was certainly a unanimity among us that we can’t back off. This is ridiculous. This smacks of a cover-up in itself, and we’ve got to pursue this. Let them know in no uncertain terms we’re all together on this. [T]his request from CIA is hollow.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 189-191] No such mass resignation will take place. Because of evidence being classified and redacted (see July 5, 1974), it will remain unclear as to exactly if and how much the CIA may have interfered in the FBI’s investigation.
'Smoking Gun' - The secret recording of this meeting (see July 13-16, 1973), when revealed in the subsequent Watergate investigation, will become known as the “smoking gun” tape—clear evidence that Nixon knew of and participated in the Watergate cover-up. [Washington Post, 2008]
Entity Tags: Bob Lill, Vernon A. Walters, Earl Silbert, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard M. Nixon, G. Gordon Liddy, L. Patrick Gray, John Ehrlichman, Richard Helms, John Mitchell, Kenneth H. Dahlberg, H.R. Haldeman
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Vernon Walters. [Source: Medal of Freedom (.com)]White House counsel John Dean meets with Vernon Walters, the deputy director of the CIA, to ask if the agency can provide “financial assistance” to the five Watergate burglars. Two days later, after checking with his boss, CIA director Richard Helms, Walters refuses Dean’s request. Dean informs his White House and Nixon campaign associates, John Mitchell, Frederick LaRue, and Robert Mardian. On June 29, Dean meets with President Nixon’s personal lawyer, Herbert Kalmbach, and tells him that Mitchell, along with Nixon’s two top aides, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, want Kalmbach to raise money for the Watergate burglars. Later that day, the finance chairman of the Nixon re-election campaign, Maurice Stans, gives Kalmbach $75,000 for the burglars. Over the next months, money will continue to be raised and disbursed to the burglars in what may be part of a blackmail scheme orchestrated by one of them, E. Howard Hunt (see March 21, 1973). [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
Entity Tags: John Mitchell, H.R. Haldeman, Frederick LaRue, Central Intelligence Agency, Herbert Kalmbach, John Dean, John Ehrlichman, Vernon A. Walters, Maurice Stans, Richard Helms, Robert Mardian, Richard M. Nixon
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
President Nixon and Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman decide to cut campaign chairman John Mitchell loose to try to stymie the Watergate investigation. (Two days before, Nixon had said he would rather lose the 1972 election than let Mitchell take any blame for the Watergate conspiracy.) Mitchell will resign as head of the Nixon re-election campaign (see July 1, 1972), for personal reasons having to do with the illness and instability of his wife Martha, they decide (see June 22-25, 1972). Nixon calls it “a beautiful opportunity” for Mitchell to gain sympathy—“you know, it’s kind of like the Duke of Windsor giving up the throne for the woman he loves, this sort of stuff.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 570-571]
White House counsel John Dean meets with President Nixon’s personal lawyer, Herbert Kalmbach, in Lafayette Park near the White House. Away from possible eavedropping, Dean tells Kalmbach that his job is to secretly raise money for the Watergate defendants (see June 20-21, 1972). The money is to be delivered by former New York policeman and Nixon campaign operative Tony Ulasewicz (see March 20, 1971). Kalmbach checks into a room at the Statler Hilton, where campaign finance chairman Maurice Stans gives him a briefcase containing $70,000 in $100 bills. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 572] Kalmbach will distrubute $187,000 in “hush money” to the burglars over the next three months; after that, the distribution will be handled by former Mitchell aide Frederick LaRue, who will hand out another $230,000. Nixon will claim he knew nothing of this until informed by White House counsel John Dean in March 1973 (see March 21, 1973), but author James Reston, Jr will later write that Kalmbach’s involvement is “strong circumstantial” evidence “that Nixon must have known about the process from the beginning. Had the president’s lawyer been caught at this task, it would have associated the president with the break-in in the summer of 1972, and no one but Nixon would logically have authorized such a risky procedure.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 34]
Former attorney general John Mitchell resigns as the head of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP). Mitchell says he is resigning at the insistence of his wife. Washington Post metropolitan editor Harry Rosenfeld is not so sure. “A man like John Mitchell doesn’t give up all that power for his wife,” he muses. Rosenfeld is more right than he knows (see June 28, 1972). [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 30]
White House aide John Ehrlichman tells President Nixon that the deputy director of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), Jeb Magruder, is probably the next CREEP official to, in his words, “take the slide” over the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). “[H]e’ll just have to take whatever lumps come, have to take responsibility for the thing,” Ehrlichman says. “They’re not going to be able to contrive a story that indicates that he didn’t know what was going on.” White House counsel John Dean is working on the new angle now. Nixon asks, “Did [Dean] know?” and Ehrlichman replies: “Oh Lord, yes. He’s in it with both feet.” Nixon continues: “He won’t contrive a story, then.… If you cover up, you’re going to get caught. And if you lie, you’re going to be guilty of perjury.” Nixon adds, “[W]e’ll take care of Magruder immediately afterwards” (alluding to pardoning Magruder after he is convicted). Nixon has one major worry about Magruder’s testimony to the FBI: “The main thing is whether he is the one where it stops. Or whether he goes to [former CREEP director John] Mitchell or [Nixon’s chief of staff H. R.] Haldeman.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 515-516]
Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward have little luck talking to anyone who works for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP). Both reporters spend several evenings visiting and telephoning CREEP employees at their homes. The first person Bernstein speaks to turns him away, shuddering. He has to leave “before they see you,” she says. “Please leave me alone. I know you’re only trying to do your job, but you don’t realize the pressure we’re under.” Another bursts into tears as she turns him away. “I want to help,” she says, but “God, it’s all so awful.” A third begs: “Please don’t call me on the telephone—God, especially not at work, but not here either. Nobody knows what they’ll do. They are desperate.”
Sally Harmony - One thing they do find out is the level of knowledge possessed by Sally Harmony, G. Gordon Liddy’s secretary at CREEP. Harmony had not been truthful or forthcoming in her recent testimony before the FBI and the grand jury investigating the Watergate break-in (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). This ties in with another Post reporter’s tip to Bernstein that Harmony lied to protect both her boss and CREEP deputy director Jeb Magruder. A Justice Department attorney confirms the fact that prosecutors believe Harmony was not truthful in her testimony, but they lack the evidence to charge her with perjury.
Destruction of Records - Some CREEP employees guardedly tell Bernstein and Woodward about large-scale destruction of records in the days after the Watergate burglary, but they know no specifics. Those who would know were interviewed by FBI investigators, but were interviewed at CREEP headquarters, in the presence of either a CREEP lawyer or Robert Mardian, the political coordinator of the committee and a former assistant attorney general. According to the employees Bernstein and Woodward interview, Mardian never directly told anyone to lie, but told them not to volunteer anything and evade whenever possible.
Pieces of Information - They garner other shreds of information:
John Mitchell, who resigned from the directorship of CREEP (see July 1, 1972), is still heavily involved in the organization, appearing three times a week “telling Fred LaRue and Bob Mardian what to do.”
Magruder himself is terrified, acting “like the roof is going to fall down on him tomorrow.”
CREEP director Clark MacGregor wanted to write a report detailing his knowledge of campaign finance irregularities, “but the White House said no.”
Prosecutors had asked employees if they knew of other surveillance operations besides the one at Democratic headquarters.
FBI officials had asked about documents being shredded.
“I heard from somebody in finance that if they [the FBI] ever got a look at the books it would be all over, so they burned ‘em.”
Liddy “would never talk” and Harmony talked about her “bad memory.”
“From what I hear they were spying on everybody, following them around, the whole bit.”
The obvious terror of the people they interview unsettles the two reporters. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 58-61]
Entity Tags: Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Clark MacGregor, Frederick LaRue, Committee to Re-elect the President, G. Gordon Liddy, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice, Jeb S. Magruder, John Mitchell, Sally Harmony, Robert Mardian
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Herbert L. “Bart” Porter, the director of scheduling for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) (see May 1971), learns that he will have to testify before the Watergate grand jury. Porter has already lied to the FBI in an initial interview (see July 31, 1972), and, as he later writes, is dismayed to learn that he will have to lie under oath again. His boss, Jeb Magruder, instructs him to “tell the same story” that he told the FBI investigators—that the campaign money he had passed along to Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy had been for nothing more than political “intelligence gathering.” Porter will write: “Having been given to believe that Liddy, unauthorized, had used his dirty-trick funds for l’affaire Watergate, I could not see why it sounded better to call them intelligence funds. But if I felt that testifying falsely before a grand jury just to change the name of a few never-to-be-performed campaign pranks, I felt powerless to do otherwise. I was trapped. If I changed my answer, what would I be doing to Jeb, [former CREEP chairman] John Mitchell, [Nixon aide] Bob Haldeman, and others who I was told were depending on me? I would lie awake at night imagining my getting through the ordeal without having to repeat that absurd story. I did not know that I was being used to cover up the truth about Watergate.” [Harper's, 10/1974]
The Washington Post reports that a $25,000 cashier’s check, apparently earmarked for the campaign to re-elect President Nixon, found its way into the Miami bank account of one of the Watergate burglars, Bernard Barker (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Origin of Check - The check, drawn on a Boca Raton, Florida bank, was made out to Kenneth H. Dahlberg, the finance manager for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP). Dahlberg says that in early April, he gave the check to “the treasurer of the Committee [Hugh Sloan, who has since quit the committee and is cooperating with the FBI investigation] or to Maurice Stans himself.” Stans, formerly Nixon’s secretary of commerce, is CREEP’s finance chief. The money is made up of “[c]ontributions I collected in my role as Midwest finance chairman,” Dahlberg explains. “In the process of fund-raising I had accumulated some cash… so I recall making a cash deposit while I was in Florida and getting a cashier’s check made out to myself. I didn’t want to carry all that cash into Washington.”
Watergate Connections - Barker withdrew much of the money from the same Boca Raton bank account, in $100 bills. 53 of those bills were found on the five Watergate burglars after their arrest. Clark MacGregor, who replaced former Attorney General John Mitchell as the head of CREEP (see July 1, 1972), says he knows nothing about the check or the money found on Barker and the other burglars: “[T]hese events took place before I came aboard. Mitchell and Stans would presumably know.” The Post also learns that another $89,000 in four separate checks were deposited in Barker’s Miami bank account in May (see June 23, 1972). The checks were originally made out to Mexican lawyer Manuel Ogarrio Daguerre, on an account at Mexico’s Banco Internacional. While looking over the story before publication, Post editor Barry Sussman says: “We’ve never had a story like this. Just never.” [Washington Post, 8/1/1972; Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 43-44]
GAO Will Investigate Nixon Campaign Finances - Stans’s secretary says her boss cannot comment on the story because he is “agoniz[ing] over the confusing circumstances” and does not want to say anything that might compromise his integrity. Philip S. Hughes, the director of the Federal Elections Division of the General Accounting Office (GAO, the investigative arm of Congress), says that the story reveals “for the first time [that] the bugging incident was related to the campaign finance law.… There’s nothing in Maury [Stans]‘s reports showing anything like that Dahlberg check.” Hughes says his office intends to fully audit the Nixon campaign finances. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 45-47]
Entity Tags: John Mitchell, Bob Woodward, Bernard Barker, Barry Sussman, Clark MacGregor, General Accounting Office, Maurice Stans, Manuel Ogarrio Daguerre, Kenneth H. Dahlberg, Committee to Re-elect the President, Philip S. Hughes
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
US District Court Judge Charles Richey, presiding over the Democratic Party’s lawsuit against the Committee to Re-elect the President (see June 20, 1972), reverses his own ruling and orders all pre-trial statements and depositions to remain sealed until after the lawsuit has run its course. This ensures that court statements by Nixon campaign officials such as John Mitchell, Maurice Stans, and others will not be made public until after the November election. Richey makes the decision unilaterally; no motion for such a decision has been made by campaign lawyers. Richey explains his extraordinary decision by saying he is concerned for the constitutional rights of those involved in the lawsuit. After issuing the ruling, Richey himself calls Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein to explain his decision. He tells Bernstein, “I want it to be very clear that I haven’t discussed this case outside the courtroom with anyone, and that political considerations played no part whatsoever.” Bernstein is astounded at the call; he has never met Richey, and had not contacted Richey for comment. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 49] In November 1972, sources tell Post reporters Bernstein and Bob Woodward that “someone from the government got to Richey through the back door and got him to help the administration; a Republican governor said he could get to Richey and word came back that there was no need, it had already been done.” In their subsequent testimony, White House aides John Dean and H. R. Haldeman and Nixon campaign chairman John Mitchell all confirm that Richey was approached by Roemer McPhee, a close friend of Mitchell’s who, Dean will testify, pressured Richey into siding with the administration in the lawsuit. Richey will deny that McPhee tried to influence him. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 206]
President Nixon responds to the report by the General Accounting Office (GAO) alleging possible illegal campaign finances in his re-election campaign (see August 22, 1972). Nixon tells reporters, “[W]e have a new law here in which technical violations have occurred and are occurring, apparently on both sides.” When asked what illegalities the Democrats have committed, Nixon says: “I think that will come out in the balance of this week. I will let the political people talk about, but I understand that there have been [violations] on both sides.” The financial director of his re-election campaign, Maurice Stans (see Before April 7, 1972), is an honest man, Nixon says, and is currently investigating the matter “very, very thoroughly, because he doesn’t want any evidence at all to be outstanding, indicating that we have not complied with the law.” Between the GAO’s and the FBI’s investigations, Stans’s own internal investigation, and an internal White House investigation by White House counsel John Dean, Nixon says there is no need for a special Watergate prosecutor, as some have requested. Of the Dean investigation: “I can say categorically that his investigation indicates that no one on the White House staff, no one in this administration, presently employed, was involved in this very bizarre incident [the Watergate burglary—see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972]. What really hurts in matters of this sort is not the fact that they occur, because overzealous people in campaigns do things that are wrong. What really hurts is if you try to cover it up.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 57; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] A Washington Post story on the press conference highlights Nixon’s use of the phrase “presently employed,” and notes that several people suspected of campaign wrongdoing—G. Gordon Liddy, E. Howard Hunt, Maurice Stans, Hugh Sloan, and John Mitchell—no longer work for the administration. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 57] An assistant attorney general is convinced that the Dean investigation is “a fraud, a pipeline to [White House aide H. R.] Haldeman.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 206] In April 1973, an associate of Dean tells Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward that there was never any such investigation, that Dean had not even discussed anything to do with Watergate as of August 29. “There never was a report,” the associate says. “Dean was asked to gather certain facts. The facts got twisted around to help some other people above him.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 297-298] Dean later tells Watergate investigators that he never conducted any such internal White House investigation (see June 3, 1973). [Washington Post, 6/3/1973]
Entity Tags: John Dean, General Accounting Office, E. Howard Hunt, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Hugh Sloan, Bob Woodward, G. Gordon Liddy, H.R. Haldeman, Maurice Stans, John Mitchell, Richard M. Nixon
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate, Elections Before 2000
Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are discussing their upcoming story documenting the secret Nixon campaign “slush fund” controlled by former Attorney General John Mitchell (see Early 1970 and September 29, 1972) when Bernstein has an epiphany of sorts—a “literal chill going down my neck,” he will recall in 2005. “Oh my God,” he tells Woodward. “The president is going to be impeached.” After a moment, Woodward replies, “Jesus, I think you’re right.” Woodward then says, “We can never use that word in this newsroom.” No one in Congress has broached the subject of impeachment yet, and will not for another year, but neither journalist wants anyone to think that they might have some sort of agenda in their reporting. “Any suggestion about the future of the Nixon presidency could undermine our work and the Post’s efforts to be fair,” Bernstein will later write. The two will later decide not to include this anecdote in their book All the President’s Men (see June 15, 1974), as it would be published during the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment investigation of President Nixon (see February 6, 1974). “To recount it then might have given the impression that impeachment had been our goal all along,” Bernstein will write. “It was not. It was always about the story.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 229-230]
Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein manages to land a meeting with a low-level employee of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP); like the other employees he and his colleague Bob Woodward have interviewed, she is frightened (see August, 1972), but more willing to speak out.
Meeting - The employee insists that they meet for lunch in a public restaurant frequented by CREEP personnel, so that she will not seem as if she is meeting clandestinely with a reporter. Bernstein asks if she is not being overdramatic, and she responds: “I wish I was. They know everything at the committee. They know that the indictments (see September 15, 1972) will be down in a week and that there will be only seven. Once, another person went back to the [district attorney] because the FBI didn’t ask her the right questions. That night her boss knew about it. I always had one institution I believed in—the FBI. No more.”
Does Not Think Story Will Come Out - She also went back to the DA, she says, but has no faith that the story will ever come to light. “It’ll never come out, the whole truth. You’ll never get the truth. You can’t get it by reporters just talking to the good people. They know you’ve been out talking to people at night. Somebody from the press office came up to our office today and said, ‘I sure wish I knew who in this committee had a link to Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.’ The FBI never even asked me if I was at the committee over the weekend of the break-in. I was there almost the whole time. [Robert] Odle [CREEP’s personnel director] didn’t tell them everything he knew. He kept removing records. I don’t know if he destroyed them or not. He would tell everybody to get out of the room and then close the door. Then he’d leave with the records.… The whole thing is being very well covered up and nobody will ever know what happened.”
Names Named - As Bernstein walks her back to her office—again, to avoid the appearance of trying to hide her contact with the press—she adds: “Okay, I’ll tell you, but it won’t do any good. And don’t ever call me, or come to see me or ask any questions about how I know. LaRue, Porter, and Magruder. They all knew about the bugging, or at least lied to the grand jury about what they know. And Mitchell. But Mitchell is mostly speculation. Take my word on the other three. I know.” Frederick LaRue, Bart Porter, Jeb Magruder, and John Mitchell are all former White House officials who moved over to work for CREEP.
Discovered - Later that afternoon, Bernstein receives a phone call from the woman, who is near hysteria. “I’m in a phone booth,” she says. “When I got back from lunch, I got called into somebody’s office and confronted with the fact that I had been seen talking to a Post reporter. They wanted to know everything. It was high up; that’s all you have to know. I told you they were following me. Please don’t call me again or some to see me.” That evening, Bernstein and Woodward go to her apartment; she refuses to open the door. Shortly thereafter, CREEP director Clark MacGregor calls Post executive editor Ben Bradlee to complain that Bernstein and Woodward have been harassing his employees. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 60-62]
Entity Tags: Frederick LaRue, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Ben Bradlee, Clark MacGregor, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jeb S. Magruder, Robert C. Odle, Jr, Herbert L. Porter, Committee to Re-elect the President, John Mitchell
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Disappointed that the Watergate burglary indictments do not extend further than the five burglars and their two handlers (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972 and September 15, 1972), Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward contacts W. Mark Felt (“Deep Throat”—see May 31, 2005), his FBI source, to ask about a story he and fellow reporter Carl Bernstein have drafted about the indictment. Woodward breaks the rules Felt laid down for contacting him (see August 1972), but Felt does not complain. Instead, Felt tells Woodward that the story is “[t]oo soft.” “You can go much stronger,” he says. Felt tells Woodward to look into “other intelligence gathering activities” beyond Watergate. Felt says that the money for the burglary and other operations is controlled by top assistants to former Attorney General John Mitchell, now chief of the Nixon re-election campaign (CREEP). In a frantic set of meetings with Judy Hoback, the treasurer of CREEP, Bernstein learns of a secret campaign fund managed by two top campaign aides, Jeb Magruder and Herbert L. “Bart” Porter, as well as White House aide and Watergate figure G. Gordon Liddy. Woodward calls Felt for more details, and after Felt abjures Woodward to make this his last phone call, confirms Magruder and Porter’s involvement. In essence, Felt tells Woodward to “follow the money,” though Woodward will not recall Felt using those exact words. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 73; Woodward, 2005, pp. 69-71]
Hugh Sloan. [Source: Washington Post]The former treasurer for the Campaign to Re-elect the President (CREEP), Hugh Sloan, tells Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein that the situation with CREEP’s finances is far worse than the Post has reported (see September 14-17, 1972). “That’s why I left, because I suspected the worst,” he says. He refuses to give specifics, citing the continuing FBI investigation and his lawyer’s advice to remain silent. He does confirm that CREEP officials had instructed employees to be evasive when interviewed by the FBI (see August, 1972), and that the committee’s handling of the FBI investigation was managed by CREEP officials Robert Mardian and Frederick LaRue. He also confirms that former CREEP director John Mitchell knew of the illegal campaign “slush fund” (see September 29, 1972). “Mitchell had to know of the funds,” Sloan says. “You don’t just give out that kind of money without the head of the campaign knowing what it’s going for, especially when his people are getting the cash.” Mitchell, LaRue, and Mardian are the three directly responsible for managing the fund, Sloan believes, and are responsible for ordering the destruction of financial records after the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). The previously reported “convention security” fund (see July 7, 1972) and the campaign “slush fund” are one and the same, Sloan confirms. Sloan acknowledges making payouts from the fund, but will not reveal who authorized him to do so. Perhaps most interestingly, Sloan says that the general perception of the Nixon administration and CREEP as two separate, self-contained entities is wrong, that everything CREEP does is managed by senior White House officials. Coming away from the meeting, Bernstein and his colleague Bob Woodward are now sure that the Watergate conspiracy does not end in CREEP, but extends into the White House itself. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 79-86]
Carl Bernstein, Katherine Graham, and Bob Woodward discuss the newspaper’s Watergate coverage. [Source: Southern Methodist University]The Washington Post reports that John Mitchell, the former attorney general and former head of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), personally controlled a secret Republican “slush fund” used to finance widespread intelligence-gathering operations against the Democratic Party (see Early 1970). [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Mitchell had authorized expenditures from the fund beginning in the spring of 1971, while he was attorney general. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 98-103] The fund was originally conceived by White House aide G. Gordon Liddy, who in 1972 came up with what he called “Operation Gemstone,” a $1 million plan to carry out a series of covert and often illegal actions against President Nixon’s political enemies (see January 29, 1972). Mitchell scaled back the budget to $250,000 (at first) to launch a scaled-down version of Gemstone. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] Mitchell personally approved a number of withdrawals from the fund, which swelled in size from around $350,000 to $700,000 at any given time. Four others besides Mitchell were later authorized to approve payments from the secret fund. One is Maurice Stans, the former commerce secretary who is now finance chairman of CREEP; the fund was kept in a safe in Stans’s office. A second is Jeb Magruder, the former manager of CREEP who is now deputy director of the organization. A third is a senior White House official involved in the campaign, and the other is a campaign aide based outside of Washington. [Washington Post, 9/29/1972] (Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward are all but convinced that the “senior White House official” is H. R. Haldeman, but they cannot get anyone to go on record to confirm their assumption, and therefore do not print Haldeman’s name in the story.) [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 100]
Mitchell's Explosive Reaction - Mitchell is outraged by the allegations. When Bernstein calls to confirm the story, he explodes: “Jesus!… All that crap, you’re putting it in the paper? It’s all been denied. Katie Graham [Katherine Graham, publisher of the Post] is gonna get caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published. Good Christ! That’s the most sickening thing I’ve ever heard.” (The actual quote, which Post executive editor Ben Bradlee cleans up for public consumption, is, “Katie Graham’s gonna get her t_t caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published.”) [Washington Post, 9/29/1972; Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 105; Woodward, 2005, pp. 72] Mitchell continues: “You fellows got a great ball game going. As soon as you’re through paying Williams [Edward Bennett Williams, whose law firm represents the Democratic Party, as well as the Post], we’re going to do a story on all of you.” When Bradlee hears of Mitchell’s reaction, he asks if Mitchell was drunk. When Bernstein replies that he doesn’t believe so, and Bradlee confirms that Bernstein properly identified himself as a reporter, Bradlee tells Bernstein to print Mitchell’s reaction. CREEP spokesman Powell Moore tries to persuade Bradlee not to run the Mitchell quote, saying that it wasn’t fair to run the quote because Bernstein woke Mitchell up, and therefore Mitchell’s “composure [was] not guarded.” Bradlee refuses to delete the quote. [Washington Post, 9/29/1972; Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 105-108]
CREEP Denials - Moore later states that neither Mitchell or Stans knows anything about “any disbursement from an alleged fund as described by the Post and neither of them controlled any committee expenditures while serving as government officials.” One of the planners of the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), G. Gordon Liddy, withdrew well over $50,000 from the fund. Although records of the fund’s disbursements have been destroyed, other sources indicate that some of the other recipients of the fund include Magruder; Herbert L. “Bart” Porter, CREEP’s scheduling director; several White House officials; and other unidentified persons not officially part of either CREEP or the Nixon administration. Magruder denies ever receiving any such funds. The General Accounting Office has said that such a fund is a “possible and apparent” violation of a new, stricter campaign finance disclosure law. [Washington Post, 9/29/1972]
Entity Tags: Edward Bennett Williams, Carl Bernstein, Ben Bradlee, Bob Woodward, Committee to Re-elect the President, Powell Moore, General Accounting Office, Katharine Graham, H.R. Haldeman, Herbert L. Porter, Maurice Stans, Jeb S. Magruder, John Mitchell, G. Gordon Liddy
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
While researching the story that would reveal the extensive “dirty tricks” operations conducted by the Nixon presidential campaign (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond), Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein learns of the extensive connections between “agent provocateur” Donald Segretti and members of the Nixon administration.
College Connection - Segretti, Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler, White House appointments secretary Dwight Chapin, and Ziegler’s aide Tim Elbourne had all attended college together at the University of Southern California. All were members of a campus political group called “Trojans for Representative Government.” The group carried out a number of dirty campus political operations, which they called “ratf_cking.” Some of their “tricks” included ballot box stuffing, planting of spies in opposition camps, and spreading of bogus campaign literature designed to drive students away from the targeted candidate.
Campaigns - Ziegler and Chapin had joined Richard Nixon’s gubernatorial campaign in 1962, which was managed by H. R. Haldeman, now Nixon’s closest White House aide. After Nixon lost that election, Ziegler, Chapin, and Elbourne had worked for Haldeman in an advertising agency. Ziegler and Chapin had recruited Segretti and Elbourne to take part in the 1972 Nixon campaign.
Confirmation - A Justice Department official confirms that Segretti is under investigation for political sabotage and espionage operations, and says that he is familiar with the term “ratf_cking.” Bernstein discusses Segretti with a Justice Department attorney, who is outraged at the entire idea. “Ratf_cking?” he snarls. “You can go right to the top with that one. I was shocked when I heard it. I couldn’t believe it. These are public servants? God. It’s nauseating. You’re talking about fellows who come from the best schools in the country. Men who run the government!” The attorney calls the Segretti operation “despicable,” and Segretti himself “indescribable.” “You’re dealing with people who act like this is Dodge City, not the capital of the United States.” The attorney hints that the Nixon campaign “slush fund” (see September 29, 1972) helped pay for the operations, and that the “Canuck letter” (see February 24-25, 1972) was one of the Nixon campaign’s operations.
Mitchell Involved - Bernstein prods the attorney about the phrase “go right to the top,” and mentions former campaign manager John Mitchell. The attorney says of Mitchell: “He can’t say he didn’t know about it, because it was strategy—basic strategy that goes all the way to the top. Higher than him, even.” Woodward is stunned. Higher than Mitchell? The only three people in the Nixon administration higher than Mitchell are Nixon’s top aides, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, and Richard Nixon himself. Bernstein and colleague Bob Woodward later write, “For the first time, [Bernstein] considered the possibility that the president of the United States was the head ratf_cker.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 126-129]
Entity Tags: University of Southern California, Trojans for Representative Government, US Department of Justice, Tim Elbourne, Richard M. Nixon, Dwight Chapin, Donald Segretti, Ron Ziegler, Carl Bernstein, John Ehrlichman, John Mitchell, Bob Woodward, H.R. Haldeman
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Around 2 a.m., Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward meets his FBI source, W. Mark Felt (popularly called “Deep Throat”—see May 31, 2005) in the underground parking garage Felt has designated as their rendezvous (see August 1972). Woodward’s partner Carl Bernstein has unearthed fascinating but puzzling information about a Nixon campaign “dirty tricks” squad headed by California lawyer Donald Segretti (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond and October 7, 1972). Woodward is desperately searching for a way to pull together the disparate threads of the various Watergate stories. An unusually forthcoming Felt says he will not give Woodward any new names, but directs him to look in “the direction of what was called ‘Offensive Security.’” Things “got all out of hand,” Felt tells Woodward, in “heavy-handed operation[s]” that went farther than perhaps their originators had intended. Felt says bluntly that Nixon campaign chairman John Mitchell was involved, and, “Only the president and Mitchell know” how deep Mitchell’s involvement really is. Mitchell “learned some things in those ten days after Watergate,” information that shocked even him. If what Mitchell knows ever comes to light, it could destroy the Nixon administration. Mitchell himself knew he was ruined after Watergate investigation began, and left the administration to try to limit the damage. Felt adds that Nixon aide John Ehrlichman ordered Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt to leave town (see June 18, 1972), a revelation that surprises Woodward, since Ehrlichman’s name has not yet come up in the conspiracy stories.
Four Major Groups - There are four major groups within the Nixon presidential campaign, Felt says. The “November Group” handles campaign advertising. Another group handles political espionage and sabotage for both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. A third “primary group” did the same for the campaign primaries (this group not only worked to sabotage Democrats, but Republican primary opponents of Nixon’s as well). And a fourth, the “Howard Hunt group,” is also known as the “Plumbers,” working under Hunt (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Felt calls the Plumbers the “really heavy operations team.” Hunt’s group reports directly to Charles Colson, Nixon’s special counsel. One set of operations by Hunt’s group involved planting items in the press; Felt believes Colson and Hunt leaked stories of former Democratic vice presidential candidate Thomas Eagleton’s drunk driving record to reporters. “Total manipulation—that was their goal, with everyone eating at one time or another out of their hands. Even the press.” The Post is specifically being targeted, Felt warns; the White House plans to use the courts to make Woodward and Bernstein divulge their sources.
Watergate Investigation Deliberately Narrow - Felt says that the Justice Department’s indictments against the seven Watergate burglars (see September 15, 1972) was as narrow as Department officials could make it. Evidence of political espionage or illegal campaign finances that was not directly related to the burglary was not considered. Felt says that the investigation, as narrow as it was, was plagued by witness perjury and evasions.
Everything is Interconnected - Everything—surveillance operations, illegal campaign finances, campaign “dirty tricks”—is interconnected, Felt says. The Segretti story is just the tip of the iceberg: “You could write stories from now until Christmas or well beyond that.” The two men have been alternately standing and sitting in the unlighted parking garage for hours; dawn is approaching, and both are exhausted. Woodward knows he needs specifics, the names of these higher-ups. How is he to know if he is not being railroaded down investigative dead ends by White House media manipulation operations? How about the “Canuck letter” that destroyed the candidacy of Democratic presidential hopeful Edmund Muskie? “It was a White House operation,” Felt replies: “done inside the gates surrounding the White House and the Executive Office Building. Is that enough?” It is not, Woodward retorts. Are there more intelligence and sabotage operations still to come? Woodward angrily says that he is tired of their “chickensh_t games,” with Felt pretending he never provided primary information and Woodward contenting himself with scraps of disconnected information. Felt replies: “Okay. This is very serious. You can safely say that 50 people worked for the White House and CREEP [the Nixon re-election campaign] to play games and spy and sabotage and gather intelligence. Some of it is beyond belief, kicking at the opposition in every imaginable way. You already know some of it.” Woodward lists the many examples that he and Bernstein have been able to unearth: surveillance, following people, press leaks, fake letters, campaign sabotage, investigations of campaign workers’ private lives, theft, campaign provacateurs. Felt nods. “It’s all in the [FBI] files. Justice and the Bureau know about it, even though it wasn’t followed up.” Woodward, despite himself, is stunned. The White House had implemented a systematic plan to subvert the entire electoral process? Had used fifty people to do it? “You can safely say more than fifty,” Felt says, and walks up the ramp and out of the garage. It was 6 a.m. Woodward uses Felt’s information to help create one of the most devastating stories yet published about Watergate (see October 10, 1972). [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 130-135; Woodward, 2005, pp. 75-79]
'Organizing Principle' of Watergate - Nixon White House counsel Leonard Garment will write in his 2000 book In Search of Deep Throat (in which he misidentifies the source as obscure Nixon staffer John Sears) that while Woodward’s source did not deliver “much in the way of specific information, he gave Woodward and Bernstein what they needed: an organizing principle.” It is during this time, Garment will write, that the reporters begin to truly understand the entirety of the Watergate conspiracy. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 191-194]
Entity Tags: E. Howard Hunt, Donald Segretti, Charles Colson, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, ’Plumbers’, W. Mark Felt, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard M. Nixon, John Mitchell, John Ehrlichman, Committee to Re-elect the President, Leonard Garment, Edmund Muskie, John Sears, Thomas F. Eagleton
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Clark MacGregor, the head of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), admits to the existence of a CREEP cash fund (see September 29, 1972). MacGregor disputes its secret nature, and says that it was not knowingly used for anything illegal—it was merely to learn of, and counter, possible efforts to sabotage Richard Nixon’s primary campaign. He says five people were authorized to disburse or receive payments from the fund: John Mitchell, Maurice Stans, Herbert L. “Bart” Porter, Jeb Magruder, and G. Gordon Liddy. The day before, press secretary Ron Ziegler had denied the fund’s existence. CREEP officials have testified that the fund had paid out over $900,000. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 194-195]
Dorothy Hunt. [Source: Spartacus Educational]Dorothy Hunt, the wife of accused Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), dies in a plane crash that claims the lives of 44 others when it crashes just after takeoff from Chicago’s Midway Airport. Some believe that the plane crash may have been planned, though there is no hard evidence to support this contention.
Blackmailing the White House? - Hunt and his fellow “Plumbers” (see Late June-July 1971) have been regularly receiving “hush money” payments from the Nixon presidential campaign to stay quiet about their activities (see March 20, 1971). With the prospect of going to prison, Hunt threatened to reveal juicy details of who exactly paid him to organize the Watergate burglary. His wife helped negotiate a payoff deal with Nixon aide Charles Colson. Hunt’s fellow Plumber, James McCord, will later claim that Dorothy Hunt said that her husband has information that would “blow the White House out of the water.” She was, Colson later admits, “upset at the interruption of payments from Nixon’s associates to Watergate defendants.” Former Attorney General John Mitchell, the head of Nixon’s re-election organization, arranged to have Nixon aide Frederick LaRue pay the Hunts $250,000 to keep their mouths shut. The day of the crash, Dorothy Hunt had arranged to meet with CBS journalist Michelle Clark, perhaps to discuss the Watergate investigation. Clark, Dorothy Hunt, and Illinois congressman George Collins are aboard the plane, United Airlines Flight 533, when it crashes into a Chicago neighborhood; all three die. Hunt is reported to be carrying $10,000 in cash as a partial payoff for the burglars (see February 28, 1973), but some sources will later claim that she was carrying far more. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] Shortly after the crash, White House aides H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman tell Nixon that Mrs. Hunt had distributed $250,000 in cash to her husband and the other Watergate burglars. The cash was delivered to Mrs. Hunt by White House courier Tony Ulasewicz, whose standard procedure was to take cash from the White House to Washington’s National Airport and leave the money in a rented locker. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 551] In October 1974, Watergate burglar Bernard Barker will confirm that Dorothy Hunt was the burglars’ connection to the White House. Barker will recall that, months after the burglary, he met her in Miami, where she told him, “From now on, I will be your contact.” [Harper's, 10/1974]
FBI 'Swarms' Crash Site - One reporter, Lalo J. Gastriani, later reports that just after the crash, the downed plane is swarmed by “a battalion of plainclothes operatives in unmarked cars parked on side streets.” The neighbors who report this to Gastriani say that some of the “operatives” look like “FBI types,” and one neighbor recognizes a “rescue worker” as a CIA agent. Gastriani’s account sounds like the worst conspiracy theory and is anything but conclusive, but future FBI director William Ruckelshaus will later admit that his agency had over 50 agents at the crash site. Interestingly, one of Colson’s aides directly involved in overseeing Hunt’s “Plumbers,” Egil Krogh, will be named as undersecretary of transportation one day after the crash; the position gives Krogh direct control over the two agencies responsible for investigating the crash. Another Nixon aide, Dwight Chapin, soon becomes a top executive at United Airlines. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
Entity Tags: Egil Krogh, United Airlines, William Ruckelshaus, E. Howard Hunt, Dorothy Hunt, Charles Colson, Tony Ulasewicz, Bernard Barker, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard M. Nixon, John Mitchell, Lalo J. Gastriani, Frederick LaRue, George Collins, H.R. Haldeman, Michelle Clark, Frank Sturgis, James McCord, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Dwight Chapin, John Ehrlichman
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
President Nixon tells his legal adviser Charles Colson of the lessons he has learned from Watergate. The whole conspiracy was “too g_ddamn close,” and, “That kind of operation should have been on the outside.” “Three steps removed,” Colson agrees. Nixon continues: “We had a White House man, a White House man, directly involved in a political operation, Chuck. You get the point.”
'We Did a Hell of a Lot of Things and Never Got Caught' - Colson, himself a White House man, attempts to dodge any blame that Nixon might be alluding to. “I did a hell of a lot of things on the outside—and you never read about them,” he says. “I didn’t do Watergate and Segretti (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond). I had nothing to do with [those].” Nixon muses: “Particularly with Segretti and the committee [the Committee to Re-elect the President]. It was a mistake to have it financed out of Kalmbach [Nixon’s personal lawyer]. It was very close to me.” “It was unnecessary,” Colson asserts. “I did things out of Boston, we did some blackmail, and you say, my God, I’ll go to my grave before I ever disclose it, but we did a hell of a lot of things and never got caught.” Nixon grumbles: “Our Democratic friends did a hell of a lot of things, too, and never got caught. Because they’re used to it. But our people were too g_ddamn naive, in my opinion, amateurish.”
Haldeman Warns Nixon about Colson - The next day, chief of staff H. R. Haldeman, just returning from a vacation, makes his own attempt to dodge blame. “Even though Colson’s going to be missed (see March 10, 1973), there was more to his involvement in some of this stuff [Watergate] than I realized.” “Colson? Does he know?” Nixon asks. “I think he knows,” Haldeman replies. “Does he know you know?” Nixon asks. “I don’t think he knows I know,” Haldeman returns. Haldeman is sure Colson has extensive knowledge of the Watergate operation through “Plumbers” E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, and warns that if Liddy “decides to pull the cord, Colson could be in some real soup,” adding: “Liddy can do it under oath and then Colson is in a position of having perjured himself [before the Watergate grand jury]. See, Colson and [former campaign director John] Mitchell have both perjured themselves under oath already.” Colson was not only aware of the Watergate surveillance operation, Haldeman says, but pressured Hunt and Liddy for results. Haldeman also believes that Mitchell is aware of Colson’s knowledge of the affair. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 556-557]
President Nixon and senior aide Charles Colson discuss the Watergate trial just underway (see January 8-11, 1973). Nixon has apparently just learned that someone in his re-election campaign planted electronic surveillance on Gary Hart, Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern’s campaign manager. Nixon tells Colson: “I understand [chief of staff H. R.] Haldeman is after some kid that bugged Gary Hart.… But how could that be? Watergate came before McGovern got off the ground, and I don’t know why the hell we bugged McGovern.” Colson replies: “Remember. That was after the California primary” (where McGovern clinched the nomination). Nixon grouses: “That’s the thing about all of this. We didn’t get a g_ddamn thing from any of it that I can see.” Colson disagrees: “Well, frankly, we did, but then, what they mainly used, we know.” Later in the conversation, Nixon brings up the problem of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt, who has what Nixon calls a “sensitive position” in the Watergate investigation—Hunt knows enough to blow the lid off the entire conspiracy, and has threatened to reveal it if he is not paid (see Mid-November, 1972). Colson says: “The others [the other six defendants] will just tell the truth and prove their case. But there is one advantage to it. There’ll be a hell of a lot of stuff that’ll come out.… Some counts will be dropped against Hunt. There will be appeals pending in the other cases.” Nixon adds, “As long as this trial is going on, the Congress will keep its g_ddamn, cotton-pickin’ hands off that trial.” Colson is sure the Senate Watergate Committee (see February 7, 1973) will begin immunizing witnesses to testify.
Using the CIA Connection - As the conversation moves on, Colson agrees with Nixon that he thought the Democrats might drop their interest in the burglary after the election, especially since “I think they figured that these were all guys who were CIA.… And they were all taking orders from people… acting on behalf of John Mitchell [the former head of Nixon’s re-election campaign].” Nixon says that it should be a simple thing to grant Hunt executive clemency, considering Hunt’s wife is dead and he has a child with permanent brain damage suffered in an automobile accident. “We’ll build that son of a b_tch up like nobody’s business. We’ll have Buckley write a column and say that he should have clemency, if you’ve given 18 years of service.” Colson adds that Buckley “served under Hunt in the CIA.” (Conservative columnist William F. Buckley became a CIA agent in 1951, and worked under Hunt in Mexico City.)
Abandoning Five of the Burglars - The five Cuban burglars, Colson says, are irrelevant. They “didn’t have any direct information.… I don’t give a damn if they spend five years in jail…. They can’t hurt us.… Hunt and [G. Gordon] Liddy: direct meetings and discussions are very incriminating to us.” Colson is not worried so much about Liddy, saying: “Apparently he’s one of those masochists. He enjoys punishing himself. That’s okay, as long as he remains stable. I mean, he’s tough…. [Hunt and Liddy are] both good, healthy, right-wing exuberants.” Nixon says wearily, “This… is the last damn fifty miles.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 191-195]
Entity Tags: Gary Hart, E. Howard Hunt, Charles Colson, Central Intelligence Agency, G. Gordon Liddy, George S. McGovern, H.R. Haldeman, Richard M. Nixon, John Mitchell, William F. Buckley
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate, Elections Before 2000
After the first day of testimony in the Watergate trial (see January 8-11, 1973), Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein piles into a taxicab with the four Miami-based Watergate burglars and their lawyer, and accompanies them to the airport and even onto the plane one of them is taking in order to have a conversation—an impromptu interview—with one of the men. (In the book All the President’s Men, Bernstein does not identify the subject of the conversation.) The airborne conversation flows with surprising ease. Bernstein learns that E. Howard Hunt has been pressuring the others for a week to plead guilty; their families will be cared for financially, and they will certainly receive some sort of executive clemency within a few months. Hunt is once again serving as a “case officer” giving orders to his lower-level operatives. Their lawyer, Henry Rothblatt (see Early January, 1973), is furious, and has instructed his clients to “stay away from that son of a b_tch Hunt.” (Hunt’s lawyer, William Bittman, denies that Hunt pressured anyone to do anything.) Bernstein, colleague Bob Woodward, and Post editors are leery of publishing the story, worrying that the trial judge, John Sirica, might consider the interview a possible obstruction of justice or interference with the trial. The next day, the New York Times’s Seymour Hersh prints a story that says burglar Frank Sturgis believes former Nixon campaign chief John Mitchell knew about, and even encouraged, the Watergate operation. Time magazine claims that the four Miami burglars will receive $1,000 a month for their jail sentences. And columnist Jack Anderson writes that campaign money for the defendants is being funneled through burglar E. Howard Hunt. Emboldened by the other stories, the Post prints Bernstein’s story. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 232-233]
During the Watergate trial of G. Gordon Liddy and James McCord (see January 30, 1973), Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward begin poring over the exhibits and papers filed as evidence with the court. Woodward begins calling the phone numbers listed in the address books of the burglars (see June 18, 1972). He is told by one of the first people he calls: “The FBI? They never, never contacted me. I never talked to them.” Woodward is appalled that the FBI has made such a fundamental investigative failure of not calling all of the people listed in the books. (An FBI internal report will later attempt to explain the lapse—see July 5, 1974.)
Woodward Calls Witnesses - When the court releases the names of upcoming witnesses, Woodward begins calling them, too. He asks one witness, who knows burglar E. Howard Hunt (see January 8-9, 1973) very well, what he will testify to. “I’ll tell you what I could testify to, but [prosecutor Earl] Silbert won’t ask,” the witness replies. “If the judge does or any of the attorneys, I’ll say it.” The witness has already told everything he knows to Silbert and FBI investigators.
Ehrlichman Allegedly Ran Plumbers - He says that if asked, he would tell the court that, according to Hunt, White House aide John Ehrlichman was in charge of the Plumbers (see December 7, 1972). Hunt would have rather dealt with another White House aide, Charles Colson, “because Colson understood that such [secret intelligence gathering operations against political opponents] are necessary.” Ehrlichman was reluctant to implement some of Hunt’s schemes, the witness says, but Colson pushed them through. Former Nixon campaign chief John Mitchell received typed logs and reports of the wiretaps on the Democrats, the witness says.
Conspiracy Linked to Dean - Most surprisingly for Woodward, the witness says that when Hunt was in hiding from investigators (see June 18, 1972) and demanding a lawyer, he insisted that White House counsel John Dean find him one. This is the first time anyone has publicly connected Dean to the Watergate conspiracy.
Not Asked - As the witness predicts, he will not be asked any of this when he testifies. Woodward and Bernstein write a long analysis of the trial, headlined “Still Secret: Who Hired Spies and Why,” observing that the Liddy/McCord trial is notable for “questions that were not asked, answers that were not given, witnesses who were not called to testify, and some lapses of memory by those who were.” At the bond hearing for Liddy and McCord after the trial, Judge John Sirica will say that he hopes the proposed Senate investigation (see February 7, 1973) can find out what the trials did not. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 237-241]
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, ’Plumbers’, Charles Colson, Earl Silbert, John Dean, John Mitchell, James McCord, G. Gordon Liddy, John Sirica, E. Howard Hunt, John Ehrlichman
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Hugh Sloan. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Former Nixon campaign treasurer Hugh Sloan testifies during the trial of the “Watergate Seven” (see January 8-11, 1973). Judge John Sirica becomes impatient with the diffident questioning of the prosecutors, excuses the jury, and grills Sloan himself. Sloan admits to disbursing $199,000 in secret campaign funds for G. Gordon Liddy’s covert campaign espionage operations, and that the transaction had been approved by both campaign director John Mitchell and campaign finance director Maurice Stans (see January 23, 1973). [Reeves, 2001, pp. 563-564; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
W. Mark Felt. [Source: Southern Methodist University]Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward once again meets with his FBI background source, W. Mark Felt—known around the Post offices as “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005). Felt says that everyone in the FBI knows, or is convinced, that former Nixon campaign chief John Mitchell and White House aide Charles Colson were the driving forces behind the “Plumbers,” the “special investigative unit” that carried out illegal surveillance and burglaries for the Nixon re-election campaign (see Late June-July 1971). “Colson’s role was active,” Felt says. “Mitchell’s position was more ‘amoral’ and less active—giving the nod but not conceiving the scheme.” While no one at the bureau doubts this, Felt says, there is only “the weakest circumstantial evidence” to prove it. “‘Insulation’ is the key word to understand why the evidence can’t be developed.” He adds, perhaps challengingly, “If the FBI couldn’t prove it, I don’t think the Washington Post can.” Mitchell and Colson sponsored convicted Watergate burglars G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, Felt says. “And if you’ll check, you’ll find that Liddy and Hunt had reputations that are the lowest. The absolute lowest. Hiring these two was immoral. They got exactly what they wanted. Liddy wanted to tap the New York Times and everybody knew it. And not everybody was laughing about it. Mitchell, among others, liked the idea.” (The scheme to wiretap the Times was never carried out.) With the convictions of the burglars (see January 8-11, 1973 and January 30, 1973), the White House’s plan now is to contain the damage and prevent any congressional hearings from finding out anything further. The key to the damage-control plan, Felt says, is the broad claim of presidential “executive privilege” to keep investigators from subpoenaing White House records. Someone from inside the conspiracy is going to have to crack, Felt says, or there will never be more than rumor and circumstantial evidence that will prove nothing. Felt is disgusted with the FBI investigation’s deliberate narrowness (see Mid-January, 1973), saying that it could have gone far deeper and farther afield than it did. “The efforts to separate the Watergate and the espionage-sabotage operations are a lot of bullsh_t,” he says. After heated discussions over Felt’s latest revelations, Woodward and his colleague Carl Bernstein decide there is not enough concrete evidence for a new story. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 243-246]
In a conversation about Watergate with senior aide Charles Colson, President Nixon says: “When I’m speaking about Watergate, though, that’s the whole point, where this tremendous investigation rests. Unless one of the seven [burglars] begins to talk. That’s the problem.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 43-44] Colson and Nixon want to decide how to limit the exposure of top White House aides to the Congressional inquiry (see February 7, 1973), perhaps by allowing access to lower-level officials. Nixon says: “You can let them have lower people. Let them have them. But in terms of the people that are direct advisers to the president, you can say they can do it by written interrogatories, by having [Senate Watergate Committee head Senator Sam] Ervin and the two counsels conduct interrogatories. But don’t go up there on television (see May 17-18, 1973).” Colson believes “it’s a good compromise,” and Nixon goes on to say that he has considered not letting anyone testify, but “I’m afraid that gives an appearance of total cover-up, which would bother me a bit.… You let them have some others.… That’s why you can’t go. The people who have direct access to the president can’t go.” Later in the conversation, Colson makes a bold suggestion: “The other point is, who did order Watergate? If it’s gonna come out in the hearings, for God’s sakes, let it out now.… Least get rid of it. Take our losses.” Nixon asks: “Well, who the hell do you think did this? Mitchell [referring to John Mitchell, the former head of the Nixon re-election campaign]? He can’t do it. He’ll perjure himself. He won’t admit it. Now, that’s the problem. Magruder [Jeb Magruder, Mitchell’s former deputy]?” “I know Magruder does,” Colson says. Nixon responds, “Well, then he’s already perjured himself, hasn’t he?” Colson replies, “Probably.” Nixon knows what to do if and when he or either of his top two aides, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, are called to testify. “In the case of Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and me, the only three you can probably do this with, they should either be written interrogatories or appointive-type things where they list out some highly specific areas. And that’s it and not beyond that. If they try to get beyond that, you just stonewall it or you just don’t remember something when you don’t have to.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 196-199]
President Nixon and his senior political aide, Charles Colson, discuss the Watergate conspiracy and how the White House should handle it. Nixon says, “A cover-up is the main ingredient.” Colson agrees, “That’s the problem.” Nixon continues: “That’s where we gotta cut our losses. My losses are to be cut. The president’s losses got to be cut on the cover-up deal.” Nixon will not admit to knowing anything about a cover-up until March 23, when he will claim to have been told for the first time about a cover-up by White House counsel John Dean (see March 21, 1973). Author James Reston Jr. calls this conversation, and that of the day before (see February 13, 1973), examples of Nixon and his aides’ “very good gangster talk,” and writes that “there could not be more classic evidence of the president wriggling, maneuvering, scheming to escape the reach of the law.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 43-44] Nixon is not so worried about his former campaign chairman, John Mitchell. He “has a great stone face” and a “convenient memory,” he and Colson agree. Colson is fairly sure if burglar E. Howard Hunt begins talking to the Watergate prosecutors, he will “limit the losses,” but neither are fully convinced of Hunt’s commitment to silence. [Reston, 2007, pp. 199-200]
Convicted Watergate burglar James McCord (see January 30, 1973) writes a letter to the presiding judge, John Sirica, in response to Sirica’s requests for more information. McCord writes that he is “whipsawed in a variety of legalities”—he may be forced to testify to the Senate (see February 7, 1973), and he may be involved in future civil and other criminal proceedings. He also fears unspecified “retaliatory measures… against me, my family, and my friends should I disclose” his knowledge of the Watergate conspiracy. But McCord wants some leniency from Sirica in sentencing. McCord alleges that the five defendants who pled guilty did so under duress. The defendants committed perjury, McCord continues, and says that others are involved in the burglary. The burglary is definitely not a CIA operation, though “[t]he Cubans may have been misled” into thinking so. McCord writes, “I know for a fact that it was not,” implying inside knowledge of at least some CIA workings. McCord requests to speak with Sirica privately in the judge’s chambers, because he “cannot feel confident in talking with an FBI agent, in testifying before a Grand Jury whose US attorneys work for the Department of Justice, or in talking with other government representatives.” In his discussion with Sirica, he makes the most explosive charge of all: he and his fellow defendants lied at the behest of former Attorney General John Mitchell, now the head of the Nixon re-election campaign, and current White House counsel John Dean. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 275-276; Time, 1/7/1974; James W. McCord, Jr, 7/3/2007; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] It seems that McCord writes his letter to Sirica in retaliation for President Nixon’s firing of CIA director Richard Helms, and the White House’s attempts to pin the blame for the Watergate conspiracy on the CIA (see December 21, 1972).
White House counsel John Dean warns President Nixon of a “cancer on the presidency.” When this phrase enters the public dialogue, it is popularly misremembered as Dean warning Nixon about the ill effects of the Watergate conspiracy on the Nixon presidency. Instead, Dean is warning Nixon about the deleterious effects of the blackmail efforts being carried out against the White House by the convicted Watergate burglars (see June 20-21, 1972). In a conversation secretly taped by Nixon, Dean says, “We have a cancer within, close to the Presidency, that is growing. Basically it is because we are being blackmailed.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 577-578; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
Cancer Should 'Be Removed Immediately' - In later testimony to the Senate Watergate Investigative Committee (see June 25-29, 1973), Dean states his words somewhat differently: “I began by telling the president that there was a cancer growing on the presidency and that if the cancer was not removed, that the president himself would be killed by it. I also told him that it was important that this cancer be removed immediately because it was growing more deadly every day.” Dean then tells Nixon virtually the entire story of the Watergate conspiracy, noting his discussions with other conspirators about the prospective wiretapping of the Democrats—particularly Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy and campaign officials John Mitchell and Jeb Magruder—and tells Nixon that he had reported the plans to Nixon’s top aide, H. R. Haldeman. He had participated in paying off the burglars to remain silent, and had coached Magruder to perjure himself before the Watergat grand jury (see April 14-18, 1973). Dean will testify: “I concluded by saying that it is going to take continued perjury and continued support of these individuals to perpetuate the cover-up and that I did not believe that it was possible to so continue it. Rather, all those involved must stand up and account for themselves and the president himself must get out in front.” But, Dean will testify, Nixon refuses to countenance Dean’s advice, and instead sets up a meeting with Dean, Haldeman, Mitchell, and his other top aide, John Ehrlichman. Nixon hopes that Mitchell will agree to take the blame for the Watergate wiretapping, and thusly quell the public uproar (Mitchell will refuse). Nixon, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Dean meet a second time that afternoon, a meeting which Dean will later describe as another “tremendous disappointment.” He will testify, “It was quite clear that the cover-up as far as the White House was concerned was going to continue.” He will testify that he believes both Haldeman and Ehrlichman, and himself, are indictable for obstruction of justice, and that “it was time that everybody start thinking about telling the truth.” However, both aides “were very unhappy with my comments.” [Time, 7/9/1973] Dean tells Nixon that to save his presidency, he and his closest aides Haldeman and Ehrlichman are going to have to testify and most likely go to jail. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 304]
Blackmail Payoffs - Between the blackmail and the almost-certainty that White House officials are going to start perjuring themselves, Dean concludes that the problem is critical. Convicted burglar E. Howard Hunt wants another $72,000 for what he is calling personal expenses and $50,000 more for attorneys’ fees. Hunt directly threatened aides John Ehrlichman and Egil Krogh (see July 20, 1971) with his testimony, saying that, Dean reports, “I have done enough seamy things for he and Krogh that they’ll never survive it.” Hunt is threatening to reveal the story behind the Ellsberg break-in (see September 9, 1971) and, in Dean’s words, “other things. I don’t know the full extent of it.” Nixon asks, “How much money do you need?” Dean replies, “I would say these people are going to cost a million dollars over the next two years.” Nixon muses, “You could get a million dollars. You could get it in cash. I know where it could be gotten. I mean it’s not easy but it could be done.” The money can be raised, Nixon says, but the idea of any presidential pardons for anyone is out. Nixon learns from his secretary, Rose Mary Woods, that their secret campaign fund still has over $100,000. That evening, Hunt is given $75,000 in cash. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 577-578; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] Hunt will eventually receive $120,000, almost the exact amount he demands. [Reston, 2007, pp. 35]
William Rogers. [Source: Southern Methodist University]President Nixon spends almost his entire workday on the Watergate case. He orders senior aide John Ehrlichman to conduct his own “independent investigation” of the conspiracy, since White House counsel John Dean has not yet produced the results of his own “investigation” (see March 22, 1973). During the course of the day, Secretary of State William Rogers, who is not in the Watergate loop, tells chief of staff H. R. Haldeman he does not believe the White House denials: “Why did we get into the cover-up if we don’t know what the real story is to begin with?… The attempts to cover up make the basic alibi of noninvolvement of the White House inconceivable.” Nixon reassures Rogers that the denials are true, and pins the blame on former campaign chief John Mitchell and deputy chief Jeb Magruder. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 580-581]
James McCord demonstrates a bugging device during his testimony. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Convicted Watergate burglar James McCord testifies behind closed doors to the Senate Watergate Committee (see March 25, 1973). The committee’s ranking minority member, Howard Baker (R-TN), tells reporters after the lengthy session that McCord has provided “significant information… covering a lot of territory.” One senator anonymously tells Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of McCord’s testimony: McCord has told the senators that fellow Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy said the burglary and surveillance operation was approved by then-Nixon campaign chairman John Mitchell in February 1972, while Mitchell was still attorney general (see March 20, 1971). In addition, McCord told the senators that White House aide Charles Colson knew about the Watergate operation in advance. Little of this is news to the Post reporters, and they are not heartened by Baker’s admission that McCord’s testimony is almost all secondhand information. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 280-281]
Artist’s rendition of McCord’s testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee. [Source: Franklin McMahon / Corbis]The New York Times reports that convicted Watergate burglar James McCord told the Senate Watergate Committee (see March 28, 1973) that the cash payoffs for the burglars came directly from the Nixon re-election campaign (CREEP). McCord’s testimony is the first confirmation that CREEP bought the silence of the burglars during their trial (see January 8-11, 1973). Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, attempting to confirm earlier information that the CREEP “slush fund” had continued to operate well after the Watergate burglaries (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), speaks to a CREEP official; the official explodes about the reaction among his colleagues to McCord’s testimony. “John Mitchell [the former head of CREEP] still sits there smoking on his pipe, not saying much… I used to take that for wisdom—you know, keeping your mouth shut. Now I realize that it’s ignorance.… God, I never thought I’d be telling you guys that I didn’t hate what you did. It’s the way the White House has handled this mess that’s undermined the presidency.… I’ve got friends who look at me now and say, ‘How can you have any self-respect and still work for CREEP?’ I’m sick.” Former CREEP treasurer Hugh Sloan confirms that at least $70,000 of the “slush fund” money (see Early 1970 and September 29, 1972)was used to pay off the burglars, all with the approval of CREEP financial director Maurice Stans. Woodward and colleague Carl Bernstein will later write: “That tied the knot. The secret fund had brought the reporters full circle—first the bugging, and now the cover-up.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 282-284]
White House aide John Ehrlichman presents the results of his “independent investigation” of Watergate (see March 27, 1973) to President Nixon and chief of staff H. R. Haldeman. Ehrlichman is candid in his assessment, telling Nixon that he “can’t just sit here.… You’ve got to make some decisions.” Of the “hush money” paid out to the burglars, Ehrlichman says: “There were eight or ten people around here who knew about this, knew it was going on. Bob knew, I knew, all kinds of people knew—” Nixon interrupts to say, “Well, I knew it.” Ehrlichman’s report, seven handwritten pages, is essentially accurate, though it slants the facts away from the criminality of the Watergate conspiracy and fixes the bulk of the blame on convicted conspirators E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, along with former campaign chief John Mitchell, Mitchell’s then-deputy Jeb Magruder, and White House counsel John Dean. The only involvement of Haldeman and Ehrlichman in Ehrlichman’s version of events is as knowledgeable onlookers; Nixon is not mentioned at all. The memo warns that many lower-level participants, including Dean, Hunt, and Magruder, are either talking to investigators or preparing to talk. Nixon tells Ehrlichman to inform Mitchell that he has to take the blame in his upcoming testimony. Ehrlichman has Mitchell fly to Washington to hear Nixon’s proposal, but Mitchell refuses to take the entire fall. “He’s an innocent man in his heart and in his mind and he does not intend to move off that position,” Ehrlichman reports. In essence, Dean, Magruder, and Mitchell each intend to fix the blame on one another and dodge the blame for themselves, Ehrlichman concludes. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 585-586]
Jeb Magruder testifies before Watergate investigators. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Former CREEP deputy director Jeb Magruder testifies in private to investigators for the Watergate investigation. Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward learns of Magruder’s testimony on April 18, from a CREEP official. The official tells Woodward that “Magruder is your next McCord (see March 28, 1973). He went to the prosecutors last Saturday [April 14] and really tucked it to [John] Dean and [John] Mitchell.” Woodward asks why Magruder, who has a reputation for extreme loyalty, would testify against anyone in either the White House or the campaign. “Bad sh_t, man,” the official responds. “The walls were coming in on him—walls, ceiling, floor, everything.” Magruder blamed Dean and Mitchell for “[t]he whole mess,” says the official, “the bugging plans and the payoff scheme… those meetings, or at least one meeting, in Mitchell’s office when everything was discussed with [G. Gordon] Liddy before the bugging.” Woodward confirms the official’s account with a White House official, who says that Magruder told everything he knew: “The works—all the plans for the bugging, the charts, the payoffs.… This is no hearsay like McCord. It will put Dean and Mitchell in jail.” Magruder’s lawyer confirms that his client will testify before the grand jury when called. And a Justice Department official adds that “other people will testify that Mitchell and Dean were in on the arrangements for the payoffs.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 292-293] The same day, Magruder admits to Bart Porter, the campaign’s director of scheduling, that he has been using Porter to help cover his own involvement in the Watergate conspiracy (see July 31, 1972). Porter, who has lied three times under oath for Magruder (see January 8-11, 1973), is horrified. He decides to stop lying for Magruder or anyone else, and tell the Senate Watergate Committee everything he knows about Watergate, regardless of the consequences. [Harper's, 10/1974]
Attorney General Richard Kleindienst stays up until 5 a.m. going over the evidence surrounding the Watergate burglary with other Justice Department officials. He and Assistant Attorney General Henry Petersen meet with President Nixon, and tell the president that they both believe White House officials as well as officials of his re-election campaign are involved in the cover-up conspiracy. Kleindienst, who along with Petersen will testify to this before the Senate Watergate Committee (see Mid-August, 1973), will recall that Nixon is “dumbfounded”; Petersen’s recollection is that Nixon seems concerned but calm. Kleindienst openly weeps as he discusses the likelihood that his friend and former superior at the Justice Department, former campaign head John Mitchell, may be involved. Kleindienst will testify that Nixon consoles him: “I don’t think since my mother died when I was a young boy that I ever had an event that has consumed me emotionally with such sorrow, and he was very considerate of my feelings.” Petersen urges Nixon to fire both of his senior aides, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, because he is certain that their continuation as White House officials will become a “source of vast embarrassment.” Petersen says bluntly that if the Justice Department finds any evidence of Nixon’s own involvement, he will not only resign, but will “waltz it [the information] over to the House of Representatives”—where impeachment proceedings begin. When Petersen asks about Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see August 5, 1971), before he can even ask about the burglary of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office (see September 9, 1971), Nixon cuts him off, saying: “I know about that. That is a national security matter. You stay out of that.” [Time, 8/20/1973] Peterson passes along Nixon’s instructions to chief prosecutor Earl Silbert, who accuses Peterson of acting as Nixon’s agent. The two get into a shouting match, and take the dispute to Kleindienst, who informs them that because he is recusing himself from the matter (see April 19, 1973), he cannot settle the issue. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 593]
Entity Tags: Nixon administration, H.R. Haldeman, Earl Silbert, Daniel Ellsberg, Henry Peterson, John Mitchell, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, John Ehrlichman, Richard Kleindienst, US Department of Justice, Richard M. Nixon
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
After learning that the White House will soon make a dramatic Watergate admission, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward meets clandestinely with his “Deep Throat” source, FBI deputy director W. Mark Felt (see May 31, 2005). Felt drops a bombshell. “You’d better hang on for this,” he says. “Dean and Haldeman are out—for sure” (see April 30, 1973). John Dean is President Nixon’s White House counsel and one of the key figures in the Watergate conspiracy. H. R. Haldeman is Nixon’s chief of staff and closest confidante. “Out. They’ll resign. There’s no way the president can avoid it.” Woodward and his colleague Carl Bernstein inform Post editor Ben Bradlee of Felt’s revelation (avoiding any identification of Felt). Bradlee is reluctant to print such an explosive story based on one “deep background” source, no matter how reliable. The story does not go to print. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 75-81] Felt’s story is accurate as far as it goes. The day before, Attorney General Richard Kleindienst had informed President Nixon that Dean and former campaign deputy Jeb Magruder testified, and that they named Haldeman, White House aide John Ehrlichman, and former campaign chief John Mitchell as co-conspirators. Dean went even further, demanding complete immunity and threatening to implicate Nixon if he was not given legal protection. Kleindienst says he will have to recuse himself from further involvement in the investigation because of his close relationship with Mitchell (see April 19, 1973), but deputy attorney general Henry Peterson will keep Nixon informed of any and all events that transpire. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 586-587] It is not clear if Felt knew that Mitchell and Ehrlichman had also been implicated; in any event, he does not inform Woodward. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 75-81]
Entity Tags: W. Mark Felt, Richard M. Nixon, Richard Kleindienst, Nixon administration, John Mitchell, H.R. Haldeman, Carl Bernstein, Henry Peterson, Bob Woodward, John Dean, John Ehrlichman, Ben Bradlee, Jeb S. Magruder
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Well after the press conference (see April 17, 1973), President Nixon discusses his reluctance to fire chief of staff H. R. Haldeman with National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, telling Kissinger that he wishes former campaign chief John Mitchell would just step up and take all the blame for himself. Kissinger says that firing Haldeman would probably protect Nixon’s hold on the presidency, and Nixon agrees. Nixon casually mentions the idea of resigning himself: “just throwing myself on the sword and letting [Vice President Spiro] Agnew take it. What the hell.” Kissinger vehemently disagrees with that idea. “That cannot be considered,” Kissinger says. “The personality [of Agnew], what it would do to the presidency, and the historical injustice of it. Why should you do it, and what good would it do? Whom would it help? It wouldn’t help the country.” After Nixon winds down from talking about resigning, Kissinger assures him: “You have saved this country, Mr. President. The history books will show that, when no one will know what Watergate means.” Kissinger has his own problems: he is essentially running the administration’s foreign policy in Vietnam without any input from Nixon whatsoever, and key decisions are not being made as Nixon focuses on Watergate to the exclusion of all else. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 591-592]
The Washington Post reports that testimony from former Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) director Jeb Magruder (see April 14-18, 1973) shows that White House counsel John Dean and former CREEP director John Mitchell “approved and helped plan the Watergate bugging operation,” and that “Mitchell and Dean later arranged to buy the silence of the seven convicted Watergate conspirators.” A simultaneous piece by the New York Times reports that Attorney General Richard Kleindienst has recused himself from handling the case because of “persistent reports” that three or more of his colleagues will be indicted (see April 16-17, 1973). The Watergate grand jury is shifting its focus from the Watergate bugging itself to the issue of the cover-up and the possibility of obstruction of justice by administration officials. If indicted, the story says, Dean will cooperate with the investigation. Dean’s office issues a statement from Dean that says although he will continue to refrain from making public comments on the case, that policy may change. “[S]ome may hope or think that I will become a scapegoat in the Watergate case. Anyone who believes this does not know me, does not know the true facts, nor understand our system of justice.” A friend of Dean’s confirms Dean’s new defiance, saying: “John welcomes the opportunity to tell his side of the story to the grand jury. He’s not going to go down in flames for the activities of others.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 293-296]
Former Nixon campaign director John Mitchell testifies before the Watergate grand jury. An associate of Mitchell’s says that Mitchell is resigned to going to jail. He has no intention of saying anything that might jeopardize President Nixon. It is less certain what he will say about Nixon aides H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman; he hates both of them and blames them for “ruining” Nixon and persuading Nixon to let him take a fall. After his testimony, Mitchell confirms that he participated in meetings where the idea of electronically monitoring the Democrats was discussed, but says he turned down any ideas of gathering intelligence against political opponents that were illegal. Another associate of Mitchell says that the former director admitted paying the seven Watergate defendants during the trial, but that money was supposed to be for legal fees and not to buy their silence, as his former deputy Jeb Magruder has testified (see April 14-18, 1973). Mitchell testified that someone at the White House went over his head to get approval for the electronic surveillance against the Democrats. The associate says Mitchell believes that person was Charles Colson, but has no proof and did not mention Colson’s name to the grand jury. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 300-301]
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in the offices of the Washington Post. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward writes a memo to his editor, Ben Bradlee, largely based on his meetings with his FBI background source, “Deep Throat” (FBI deputy director W. Mark Felt—see May 31, 2005). The memo is full of material that will soon come out in either Senate testimony or the media, but also contains some information that Woodward cannot sufficiently confirm to allow him to write a news report. One of the most explosive items Woodward writes is the line, “Dean talked with Senator Baker after Watergate committee formed and Baker is in the bag completely, reporting back directly to White House.” If this is true, then according to former White House counsel John Dean, now cooperating with the Senate investigation, then the ranking Republican senator on the committee, Howard Baker (R-TN), is a White House “mole,” providing information directly to the White House about the committee’s deliberations, discussions, and future plans. The memo also reports that President Nixon personally threatened Dean and that another White House aide, Jack Caulfield, threatened Watergate burglar James McCord by saying “your life is no good in this country if you don’t cooperate” with the White House efforts to keep the Watergate conspiracy secret. The list of “covert national and international things” done by the Nixon re-election campaign were begun by campaign chief John Mitchell: “The list is longer than anyone could imagine.” According to Felt, “[t]he covert activities involve the whole US intelligence community and are incredible.” Felt refuses to give Woodward “specifics because it is against the law. The cover-up had little to do with the Watergate, but was mainly to protect the covert operations.” Felt has also told Woodward that Nixon himself is being blackmailed by one of the Watergate burglars, E. Howard Hunt (see June 20-21, 1972), at a total cost of around $1 million; the blackmail scheme involves just about every Watergate-connected figure in the White House. One reason the White House “cut loose” Mitchell was because Mitchell could not raise his portion of the money. Felt also told Woodward that senior CIA officials, including CIA director Richard Helms and deputy director Vernon Walters, are involved to some extent. Dean has explosive information that he is ready to reveal, but “plumber” G. Gordon Liddy is willing to go to jail or even die before revealing anything. Finally, rumors are running through the White House and the law enforcement and intelligence communities that Nixon is having “fits of ‘dangerous’ depression.” Some of this information will later be confirmed and reported, some of it will remain unconfirmed. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 317-321; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] Felt also warns Woodward that he, fellow Post reporter Carl Bernstein, and others at the newspaper may be under CIA surveillance and may even be in personal danger. The reporters confirm much of what Felt provided in a discussion with a Dean associate the next day. But both reporters and the Post editors worry that the new information might be part of an elaborate White House scheme to set up the reporters with false, discreditable information. In the following months, information elicted in the Senate committee hearings verifies everything Felt told Woodward, except the warning about being possibly wiretapped by the CIA. That is never verified. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 317-321]
Entity Tags: G. Gordon Liddy, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Ben Bradlee, Washington Post, W. Mark Felt, John Mitchell, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, John J. ‘Jack’ Caulfield, John Dean, Howard Baker, E. Howard Hunt, Vernon A. Walters, Richard Helms, Richard M. Nixon
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
In testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee, former Nixon campaign chairman John Mitchell explains why he was so systematically dishonest with FBI investigators in the early months of the Watergate probe: “I certainly was not about to do anything that would provide for the disclosure of the various aspects of the Watergate conspiracy and its links to the White House.” [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
Howard Hunt during the Senate hearings. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Convicted Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt testifies before the Senate Watergate Committee. He has been adamant about remaining silent before the investigators, both when he was interrogated by the FBI and the Watergate grand jury prosecutors, and had inspired the four so-called “Cubans” among the burglars—Bernard Barker, Virgilio Gonzales, Eugenio Martinez, and Frank Sturgis—to also remain silent. The “Cubans” are aghast at Hunt’s open testimony in the Senate; among other things, he confirms that former Nixon White House and campaign aides John Mitchell, John Dean, and Jeb Magruder were primarily responsible for the covert actions of the Nixon campaign, and says that the CIA is heavily involved in domestic activities. Hunt’s fellow White House aide, G. Gordon Liddy, who has also remained obstinately silent, is overtly disgusted at Hunt. When Hunt is returned to his jail cell, Liddy asks the guards to transfer him to another block, away from Hunt, and says, “From now on, it’s every man for himself.” [Vanderbilt University Television News Archive, 9/25/1973; Harper's, 10/1974]
Entity Tags: Frank Sturgis, Central Intelligence Agency, Bernard Barker, E. Howard Hunt, Federal Bureau of Investigation, G. Gordon Liddy, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, Eugenio Martinez, Jeb S. Magruder, Virgilio Gonzales, John Dean, John Mitchell
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Bo Burlingame, a former member of the radical antiwar group the Weather Underground, interviews former Nixon White House aide Tom Charles Huston, the author of the notorious, unconstitutional “Huston Plan” (see July 14, 1970). Huston is just coming off a speech to a conservative audience in which he said that his plan, and Nixon’s attempt to seize executive power at the expense of Congress and the Constitution, was excessive and mistaken (see Late 1973). Huston, a lawyer, a former Army intelligence officer, and an early leader of the Indiana chapter of the conservative extremist group Young Americans for Freedom, tells Burlingame that he found an interesting parallel between his group of right-wing extremists and Burlingame’s left-wing extremists: “I was interested to learn that you people were frustrated because nobody was listening to you. You know, we felt the same thing at the White House. It seemed as if a momentous crisis was at hand, and nobody was aware of it or cared.”
Coup d'Etat Begins with Creation of Fear in Populace - Huston is contemptuous and dismissive of many of his former White House colleagues, particularly Richard Nixon. “Frankly, I wouldn’t put anything past him and those damn technocrats,” he says of Nixon and his senior aides. “[Y]ou can’t begin to compete with the professional Nixonites when it comes to deception.… If Nixon told them to nationalize the railroads, they’d have nationalized the railroads. If he’d told them to exterminate the Jews, they’d have exterminated the Jews.” He took a position with the White House in January 1969 “believing that things were finally going to be set straight.”
Disillusioned - Huston became increasingly disillusioned with the lack of idealism in the Nixon White House, and left after deciding that Nixon and his top officials were less interested in implementing true conservative reforms and more interested in merely accumulating power. The Nixon team was an apolitical, power-hungry bunch “whose intellectual tradition is rooted in the philosophy of [marketing and advertising guru] J. Walter Thompson.… This administration has done more to debauch conservative values than anything else in recent history.”
Fear and Repression - Considering his plan to abrogate the fundamental rights of hundreds of thousands of Americans, Huston seems quite supportive of those rights even in the face of national danger. “The real threat to national security is repression,” he had told a New York Times interviewer not long before the Burlingame interview. “A handful of people can’t frontally overthrow the government. But if they can engender enough fear, they can generate an atmosphere that will bring out every repressive demagogue in the country.”
Explaining the Huston Plan - Huston explains the rationale behind his radically repressive plan, telling Burlingame that the country was on the brink of mass insurrection and the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover was not doing nearly enough to combat the civil rights and antiwar protesters, particularly groups like the Black Panthers and Burlingame’s Weather Underground. By early 1970, many in the White House were ready to ease Hoover out of power; when, shortly thereafter, the mass protests against the Cambodia bombings (see February 23-24, 1969 and April 24-30, 1970) and the Jackson State and Kent State shootings (see May 4-5, 1970) occurred, Huston and others at the White House thought there was a far more organized and systematic underground, left-wing revolution going on than they had evidence to document. “We just didn’t believe we were getting the whole story,” he says.
Removing Hoover - Getting rid of Hoover and replacing him with someone more amenable to the White House’s agenda was the first goal, Huston says. The June 1970 “Interagency Committee on Intelligence” (see June 5, 1970) was designed to maneuver around Hoover and have him implicitly authorize counter-insurrection methods that he had always opposed, including “surreptitious entry” and “covert mail coverage.” The committee was the genesis of the Huston Plan. But Hoover stops the plan in its tracks by going through Attorney General John Mitchell. Whatever he said to Mitchell is not known, but Mitchell chewed out Huston and saw to it that the plan was terminated. Huston says that the unit of illegal campaign operatives later known as the “Plumbers” (see July 20, 1971) stems in part from the White House’s inability to force Hoover from power. Had Hoover made the FBI available to conduct the illegal burglaries and surveillances that Nixon wanted done—had Nixon supported the Huston Plan—the Plumbers would have never come into existence. “I find that totally indefensible,” Huston observes.
Ethical Confusion - Burlingame is bemused by Huston’s apparent ethical schizophrenia—on the one hand, Huston has come out strongly for constitutional freedoms, and on the other hand is now saying that his plan, which he himself has long admitted was blatantly illegal, would have avoided the entire Watergate contretemps and would have worked to bring the country into line. In fact, Huston asserts, he believed at the time that the Watergate conspiracy was completely legal. “I took the view that in internal security matters the president had the right to infringe on what would, in other circumstances, be constitutional rights, but that decision encompassed a decision that you forfeit the right to prosecute.” This view is why he left the Justice Department entirely out of the loop on his plan, he says.
Deliberately Keeping outside the Framework of the Law - The entire Huston plan would have never been used for anything except intelligence-gathering, he says. It was necessary for the plan to be exercised outside the structure of US law, he says. “[Y]ou don’t want a constitutional or legal mandate,” he says. “You don’t want to institutionalize the excesses required to meet extraordinary threats. The law just can’t anticipate all the contingencies.” He now thinks that he went too far with pushing for extraordinary powers; that if Hoover could have been eased out of power, the FBI could have done what needed doing without breaking the law. Burlingame writes that he cannot help but think that Huston is employing “tortured legalisms” to “cover his flank,” and questions Huston’s portrait of himself as an increasingly marginalized conservative idealist who became so disillusioned with the amoral power-mad bureaucrats of the Nixon administration that he walked out rather than further jeopardize his own principles. [Harper's, 10/1974]
Entity Tags: John Mitchell, Bo Burlingame, Black Panthers, ’Plumbers’, Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Walter Thompson, Young Americans for Freedom, J. Edgar Hoover, Tom Charles Huston, US Department of Justice, Weather Underground, Nixon administration, Richard M. Nixon
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Editorial cartoon from the Washington Post by ‘Herblock,’ July 14, 1974. [Source: Washington Post / Library of Congress]The Watergate grand jury indicts seven Nixon officials and aides for a variety of crimes committed as a part of the Watergate conspiracy, including perjury and conspiring to pay “hush money” to the convicted Watergate burglars. The indicted White House officials are former top Nixon aides John Ehrlichman, H. R. Haldeman, and Charles Colson; former assistant attorney general Robert Mardian; and Haldeman’s former assistant Gordon Strachan. The former Nixon campaign officials are former campaign chairman John Mitchell and former campaign lawyer Kenneth Parkinson. The charges against Colson will be dropped after he pleads guilty to obstruction of justice in the Ellsberg case (see March 7, 1974). [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 335; O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ; Reeves, 2001, pp. 607; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] President Nixon is labeled an “unindicted co-conspirator” by the grand jury, on a 19-0 vote. [Time, 6/17/1974]
The Justice Department’s Office of Planning and Evaluation (OPE) submits a report on the role and actions of the FBI in the Watergate investigations. The report finds that, even with the attempts of former Attorneys General John Mitchell and Richard Kleindienst, White House aides John Dean and Jeb Magruder, and others to “mislead and thwart the Bureau’s legitimate line of inquiry,” and the “contrived covers” used to direct attention away from the White House, the FBI investigation was “the ultimate key to the solution of not only the Watergate break-in (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) but the cover itself.” The report continues: “There can be no question that the actions of former Attorneys General Mitchell and Kleindienst served to thwart and/or impede the Bureau’s investigative effort. The actions of John W. Dean at the White House and Jeb S. Magruder at the Committee to Re-elect the President were purposefully designed to mislead and thwart the Bureau’s legitimate line of inquiry. At every stage of the investigation there were contrived covers placed in order to mislead the investigators.” The OPE notes the following problems in the investigation, and provides explanations of some:
Providing information concerning ongoing investigations to the White House, and allowing Dean to actually sit in on interviews of White House personnel (see June 22, 1972).
Failing to interview key members of CREEP, the Nixon re-election campaign organization, as well as allowing CREEP attorneys to sit in on interviews of CREEP employees and allowing those attorneys access to FBI investigative materials. The report says that the investigation initially focused on James McCord and E. Howard Hunt, and interviewed CREEP officials tied directly to them. The net was widened later on. However, the report acknowledges that many CREEP employees undoubtedly lied to FBI investigators, “most notably John Mitchell, Jeb Magruder, Bart Porter, Sally Harmony, and Maurice Stans.” Porter and Magruder in particular “lied most convincingly.” Another CREEP employee, Robert Reisner (Magruder’s assistant), was not interviewed because Reisner successfully hid from FBI investigators. The FBI believes it was Reisner who cleaned out the “Operation Gemstone” files from Magruder’s office (see January 29, 1972 and September 29, 1972). Numerous other financial and other files were also destroyed after being requested by the FBI, most notably Alfred Baldwin’s surveillance tapes and logs from the Democratic offices in the Watergate (see May 29, 1972). Many of these files were destroyed by G. Gordon Liddy. “It is apparent that most [CREEP] people in the summer of 1972 were quite willing to lie and/or tell us considerably less than the full truth,” the report notes.
An untenable delay in searching and securing Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt’s desk in the White House, putting the contents of that desk at risk of being removed, and the “[a]lleged activities by former Acting Director [L. Patrick] Gray to limit, contain, or obstruct FBI investigation of Watergate” (see June 22, 1972). Gray is known to have destroyed materials from Hunt’s desk given to him by Dean, and is known to have extensively interfered with the FBI’s investigation (see June 28-29, 1972 and Late December 1972). The report notes that while it cannot find specific evidence that Gray broke any laws in his attempts to impede the FBI’s investigation into the Watergate conspiracy, it is clear that Gray cooperated with the White House, specifically through Dean, to ensure that the White House was always aware of what avenues of investigation were being pursued. The OPE says that Gray’s destruction of files from Hunt’s safe did not necessarily impede the FBI’s investigation, because it has no way of knowing what was in those files. The report says that it is unfortunate that “many people make no distinction between the FBI’s actions and Mr. Gray’s actions.”
Failure to interview key individuals with knowledge of the suspicious monies found in the burglars’ bank accounts.
Failing to secure and execute search warrants for the burglars’ homes, automobiles, and offices. The OPE says that many of those issuing this criticism “should know better,” and claims that the FBI agents involved did their level best to obtain search warrants within the bounds of the law. The report notes that after the burglary, the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case, Earl Silbert, did not believe there was probable cause to search burglar James McCord’s home or office until after July 10, 1972, when Baldwin told the FBI that he had taken surveillance equipment to McCord’s home (see June 17, 1972). Even then, Silbert decided that because of the amount of time—23 days—that had expired, a search warrant would have been pointless.
Failing to identify and interview a number of people listed in the burglars’ address books. The OPE report notes that the decision to interview far less than half of the names in the books was made by FBI agents in the Miami field office, and due to the “fast moving extensive investigation which was then being conducted,” the decision to only track down a selected few from the books was right and proper. The report notes that subsequent interviews by reporters of some of the people in the address books elicited no new information. The report also notes that Gray refused to countenance interviews of the remaining subjects in the address book while the trial of the seven burglars (see January 8-11, 1973) was underway.
Failing to find and remove a surveillance device from the Democratic National Committee headquarters (see September 13, 1972). The OPE calls this failure “inexplicable.”
Failure to thoroughly investigate CREEP agent Donald Segretti (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond) and other CREEP operatives. The OPE finds that because Segretti was initially uncooperative with FBI investigators, and because an “extensive investigation” turned up nothing to connect Segretti with the Watergate conspiracy, the agents chose not to continue looking into Segretti’s actions. Only after press reports named Segretti as part of a massive, White House-directed attempt to subvert the elections process (see October 7, 1972) did the FBI discuss reopening its investigation into Segretti. After reviewing its information, the FBI decided again not to bother with Segretti. The OPE finds that the decision was valid, because Segretti had not apparently broken any federal laws, and the FBI does not conduct violations of election laws unless specifically requested to do so by the Justice Department. The report also says that politics were a concern: by opening a large, extensive investigation into the Nixon campaign’s “dirty tricks,” that investigation might have impacted the upcoming presidential elections.
Media leaks from within the FBI concerning key details about the investigation (see May 31, 2005). The report finds no evidence to pin the blame for the leaks on any particular individual. The report notes that New York Times reporter John Crewdson seemed to have unwarranted access to FBI documents and files, but says it has turned that matter over to another agency inside the bureau.
Failing to interview, or adequately interview, key White House officials such as H. R. Haldeman, Charles Colson, Dwight Chapin, and others. The report justifies the decision not to interview Haldeman because the FBI had no information that Haldeman had any knowledge of, or involvement in, the burglary itself.
“Alleged attempt on part of Department of Justice officials to limit, contain, or obstruct FBI investigation.” The report is particularly critical of Kleindienst’s concealment of his contact with Liddy about the burglary (see June 17, 1972).
“Alleged attempt by CIA officials to interfere, contain, or impede FBI Watergate investigation.” The report notes that during the Senate Watergate Committee hearings, Republican co-chairman Howard Baker (R-TN) tried repeatedly to assert that the CIA was behind the burglary. The report calls Baker’s theory “intriguing” but says no evidence of CIA involvement on any operational level was ever found. The report notes that there is still no explanation for the discussions regarding the CIA paying the burglars (see June 26-29, 1972), or the CIA’s involvement with Hunt before the burglary—loaning him cameras, providing him with materials for a disguise, and helping Hunt get film from the first burglary developed. According to the report, Gray stopped the FBI from pursuing these leads. The FBI report says that the CIA involvement apparently had nothing to do with the Watergate burglary, but was more in support of Hunt’s activities with the Ellsberg break-in (see September 9, 1971).
“Alleged activities on part of White House officials to limit, contain, or obstruct FBI Watergate investigation (Dean, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Colson, et cetera).” The report notes, “There is absolutely no question but that the president’s most senior associates at the White House conspired with great success for nine months to obstruct our investigation.” The report says it was “common knowledge” throughout the investigation that the White House was paying only “lip service” to investigators’ requests for honest, complete answers; the report cites Dean as a specific offender. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
Entity Tags: Donald Segretti, Richard Kleindienst, Office of Planning and Evaluation (FBI), Nixon administration, Robert Reisner, Sally Harmony, Democratic National Committee, US Department of Justice, Alfred Baldwin, Central Intelligence Agency, Charles Colson, Maurice Stans, L. Patrick Gray, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, John Dean, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Committee to Re-elect the President, Earl Silbert, Dwight Chapin, E. Howard Hunt, G. Gordon Liddy, John Mitchell, Howard Baker, Herbert L. Porter, James McCord, H.R. Haldeman, John Crewdson, Jeb S. Magruder
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Judge John Sirica, presiding over the Watergate trial of H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and John Mitchell, postpones their trial until September 30. This gives Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski some much-desired breathing room. Jaworski must decide whether to indict Richard Nixon. Jaworski’s staff unanimously believes Nixon must at least be indicted, if not actively prosecuted, or history will condemn the entire work of the special prosecution. George Frampton, one of Jaworski’s staff, notes that the politicians who could have made a decision on the issue have not done so. In a memo to Jaworski, Frampton writes that no one “can expect you now to abandon your mandate and responsibilities to the administration of justice in order to assume their burden.… I wonder if ten years from now history will endorse the notion that Mr. Nixon has ‘suffered enough.’ The powerful men around him have lost their liberty and their livelihoods. Mr. Nixon, on the other hand, will be supported in lavish style with a pension and subsidies at taxpayer expense until his death. He may reenter public life, no matter how morally crippled.” The breadth and depth of crimes allegedly committed by Nixon are such that Jaworski is not sure where to even start with an indictment. [Werth, 2006, pp. 162-163]
A US marshal serves two judicial subpoenas to Richard Nixon at his home in San Clemente, California. Nixon is slated to testify at the upcoming Watergate trials of H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and John Mitchell. [Werth, 2006, pp. 223-224]
Philip Lacovara. [Source: Oyez.org]One of Leon Jaworski’s senior Watergate prosecutors, Philip Lacovara, is incensed at what he and many others perceive as waffling by President Ford on the decision to pardon Richard Nixon. Ford has repeatedly acknowledged that he has the right to pardon Nixon if he so chooses, but he has also said that he is leaving the decision to indict to Jaworski. In Lacovara’s opinion, Ford is shifting the burden of responsibility and the possibility of any future blame directly onto Jaworski. Lacovara says that Jaworski should confront Ford, and “put [the matter] squarely to [Ford] over whether he wishes to have a criminal prosecution of the former president or not.… I believe he should be asked to face this issue now and make the operative judgment concerning the former president, rather than leaving this matter in the limbo of uncertainty that has been created.” Lacovara also knows that the question of a pardon hangs over the trial of the Watergate “Big Three”—H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and John Mitchell. If Nixon is to be indicted along with these three, and then pardoned during the trial, it would wreak havoc on any chance of winning a guilty verdict for any of the three. If Ford is going to pardon Nixon, Lacovara says, he should do it now, before the Watergate trials can commence. Jaworski has an additional worry, fueled by Nixon’s lawyers: that Nixon might die during the proceedings, and Jaworski will be held to blame. Nixon’s lawyers are calling their client “mortally ill with phlebitis,” Lacovara will recall, and are arguing: “Why should the special prosecutor put this man into his grave? He’d suffered horribly enough and been forced to resign in disgrace. Just as a matter of human decency, this fatally ill man should not be called before the bar.” According to Lacovara, Jaworski does not want to make the decision to indict Nixon. Later, Jaworski tells former Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig, with whom Jaworski stays in close contact, that his staff is pressuring hm to push Ford to either “fish or cut bait… and not dangle the possibility of a pardon out there. The president needs to know that this is a call that he’s ultimately going to have to make.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 229-232]
One of the outbuildings at Fort Holabird. [Source: Hugh D. Cox]Former White House counsel John Dean begins a one-to-four-year term in prison for his role in the Watergate coverup. Dean’s sentence would have been far longer had he not cooperated so completely with the Watergate investigators. He is the 15th Watergate figure to go to jail, but the first to be asked whether Richard Nixon should join him in prison. (Dean refuses to comment.) Privately, Dean is shaken that Nixon is still insisting on his innocence. Later, Dean will write that he believes a number of reasons—hubris, victimization, self-pity, belief that history will exonerate him, and fear of jail—is all part of Nixon’s recalcitrance, but Dean does not believe that Nixon made a deal with President Ford for any sort of clemency. Dean will serve his term at Fort Holabird, a former army base just outside Baltimore used for government witnesses. Dean will mingle with three fellow Watergate convicts—Charles Colson, Jeb Stuart Magruder, and Herbert Kalmbach—and a number of organized crime figures in the government’s witness protection program. [Werth, 2006, pp. 269-270] Colson, who has provided damning testimony against Nixon as part of his plea agreement (see June 1974), leads the others in reaching out to Dean in prison. Dean, who is held in relative isolation, briefly meets Magruder in the hallway. Magruder is preparing to testify against the “Big Three” of John Mitchell, John Ehrlichman, and H. R. Haldeman in their upcoming trial. Magruder says to Dean: “Welcome to the club, John. This place looks just like the White House with all of us here.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 269-270]
E. Howard Hunt. [Source: Michael Brennan / Corbis]Convicted Watergate burglar and former CIA operative E. Howard Hunt (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) denies that his requests for money from the Nixon White House ever amounted to blackmail or “hush money” (see Mid-November, 1972 and January 8-9, 1973). Writing in Harper’s magazine, Hunt says his situation was comparable to a CIA agent caught and incarcerated in a foreign country. Those agents, he says, are entitled to expect that the government will financially support their families and continue to pay their salaries until the agents are released.
Comparisons to CIA Agents Captured by Foreign Governments - He compares himself to American pilot Francis Gary Powers, whose U-2 surveillance plane was shot down over the Soviet Union during the Eisenhower administration, and who was financially supported by the government until his release. Another agent, John Downey, was kept prisoner for 20 years by China; when he returned, Hunt notes, he was paid twenty years’ worth of back salary. Hunt says that his situation is no different, and that not only was his efforts to secure large sums of cash from the Nixon administration understandable in the context of these captured intelligence agents, but something that should have been expected and handled without comment. “It was this time-honored understanding that for a time buoyed the hopes of the seven men who were indicted—and in two cases tried—for surreptitious entry into Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate,” he writes. “That their attorneys’ fees were partially paid, that family living allowances were provided—and that these support funds were delivered by clandestine means—was to be expected.”
Dropoff of White House Support - He names then-Nixon campaign chairman John Mitchell, Mitchell’s deputy Jeb Magruder, and then-White House counsel John Dean as the “official sponsors of their project.” The fact that the White House and the CIA paid on Hunt’s demands “clearly indicates,” Hunt claims, “a perception on the Haldeman-Ehrlichman level of the appropriateness of clandestine support.” (H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman were then-President Nixon’s top aides and closest confidantes.) It is only because “[a]s time passed, however, the burden of providing moneys was assumed by less sophisticated personnel” that Hunt’s “urgent requests for overdue support began to be interpreted as threats, i.e. ‘blackmail.’” He says that Dean and perhaps Nixon “misconstrued” the situation. Since there was no question that the “Watergate Seven” would be granted immunity from prosecution, “there was no question of buying silence, of suppressing the truth with ‘hush money.’” He concludes: “The Watergate Seven understood the tradition of clandestine support. Tragically for the nation, not all the president’s men were equally aware.” [Harper's, 10/1974]
Conflict with Other Versions of Events - Hunt’s reconstruction of events directly clashes with others’ recollections and interpretations, as well as the facts themselves (see June 20-21, 1972, June 26-29, 1972, June 29, 1972, July 7, 1972, July 25, 1972, August 29, 1972, December 8, 1972, January 10, 1973, January 10, 1973, March 13, 1973, March 21, 1973, March 21, 1973, and July 5, 1974).
Entity Tags: Francis Gary Powers, E. Howard Hunt, Central Intelligence Agency, Eisenhower administration, H.R. Haldeman, Jeb S. Magruder, John Mitchell, John Downey, John Dean, Nixon administration, John Ehrlichman
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Former President Richard Nixon is admitted to the hospital with life-threatening blood clots. His lawyer tells Judge John Sirica, who is presiding over the conjoined trials of former Nixon aides John Ehrlichman, H. R. Haldeman, and John Mitchell, that even though Nixon has been subpoenaed to testify (see August 28, 1974), he will not be available to the court until early 1975. Sirica wants the trial over and done with by Christmas. Nixon thusly escapes ever having to publicly answer for, or even discuss under oath, his crimes. [Werth, 2006, pp. 338-339]
H. R. Haldeman testifying to Congress in July 1973. Haldeman’s testimony was damaging to all four defendants. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Former Nixon aides John Ehrlichman, H. R. Haldeman, and John Mitchell, along with former Mitchell aide Robert Mardian, are convicted of various Watergate-related crimes, including conspiracy, obstruction of justice, fraud, and perjury. Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Mitchell receive sentences of two to eight years in prison; Mardian will be given a sentence of ten months to three years. They immediately appeal their convictions on the grounds that they could not receive a fair trial because of the massive publicity surrounding Watergate. This was the same argument President Nixon’s lawyers used to influence President Ford’s decision to pardon Nixon (see September 8, 1974). The appeals court will reject the contention. [New York Times, 2/16/1999; Werth, 2006, pp. 334]
Ehrlichman Asks for Leniency - All four will write letters to Judge John Sirica asking for leniency in sentencing. The only letter that is made public is Ehrlichman’s; he writes of his “profound regret” for his role in the Watergate conspiracy, and adds: “I have been found to be a perjurer. No reversal on appeal can remove the stigma.” Ehrlichman asks that he be allowed to spend his sentence working with the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico, using his legal talents to help them with land-use problems. Sirica will ignore the letter in his sentencing. Sirica will also ignore Haldeman’s argument that he only did the bidding of his boss, President Nixon, and that since Nixon never served jail time, neither should Haldeman. Mitchell, mired in divorce proceedings from his wife, says of the sentence: “It could have been a hell of a lot worse. They could have sentenced me to spend the rest of my life with Martha Mitchell.” [Time, 3/3/1975]
'Abdicated My Moral Judgments' - Reflecting on his conviction and his conduct during the Nixon years, Ehrlichman will say in 1977: “I abdicated my moral judgments and turned them over to somebody else. And if I had any advice for my kids, it would be never—to never, ever—defer your moral judgments to anybody: your parents, your wife, anybody.” [New York Times, 2/16/1999]
In his Watergate interview with former President Richard Nixon (see Early 1976 and April 13-15, 1977), David Frost continues from his earlier questioning about Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate conspiracy (see April 13, 1977) to the events of March 21, 1973 (see March 21, 1973). Now that Nixon’s status as a co-conspirator from the outset has been established, Frost wants to know why Nixon claims not to have known about the illegal aspects of the cover-up, or about the blackmail demands of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt, until this date. Nixon is cautious, claiming only that he learned of Hunt’s blackmail demands on March 21, and refusing to acknowledge that he knew anything about the $400,000 in payouts during the eight months preceding (see June 20-21, 1972).
Springing the Trap - Frost circles back, hoping for a flat confirmation: “So March 21 was the first day you learned about an illegal cover-up?” Nixon carefully says that March 21 was the day he learned of the “full import” of the cover-up, only having heard “smatterings” beforehand and being reassured by then-White House counsel John Dean that no White House personnel were involved. Frost springs his trap: “In that case, why did you say in such strong terms to [White House aide Charles] Colson on February 14, more than a month before, ‘The cover-up is the main ingredient, that’s where we gotta cut our losses. My losses are to be cut. The president’s losses got to be cut on the cover-up deal’” (see February 14, 1973). Nixon’s face betrays his shock. “Why did I say that?” he asks rhetorically, trying to gather himself. He fishes around for excuses, quickly settling on media reports at the time that tossed around charges of conspiracies, “hush money” payouts, and promises of executive clemency. That’s all he was referring to in the February 14 conversation, he says: the cover-up itself had to be avoided at all costs. Frost researcher James Reston, Jr. later writes, “It was an exquisite lie, a superb time warp.”
Error Goes Unnoticed - Only later do Reston and other research team members realize that no such stories had appeared in the media by February 14; in fact, allegations of a cover-up never made it into print until after burglar James McCord wrote his letter to Judge John Sirica on March 19 warning the judge of involvement of “higher-ups” in a conspiracy of silence (see March 19-23, 1973). No one had written publicly of any executive clemency deals until the subject was broached during the Senate Watergate investigative hearings (see February 7, 1973). But few of the millions who will see the interview will have the grasp of the chronology of events necessary to realize the extent of Nixon’s dishonesty.
Second Colson Bombshell - Frost reminds Nixon of his conversation with Colson of February 13 (see February 13, 1973), the day before, when they had discussed which Nixon official will have to take the fall for Watergate. Former campaign director John Mitchell couldn’t do it, the conversation went, but Nixon wants to know about Mitchell’s former deputy, Jeb Magruder. “He’s perjured himself, hasn’t he?” Nixon asked Colson. Frost asks Nixon, “So you knew about Magruder’s perjury as early as February the thirteenth?” Nixon bobs and weaves, talking about events from the year before, how Mitchell and Colson hated each other, how Colson and Ehrlichman hated each other. Frost brings Nixon back on point by reading another quote from the February 13 conversation, where Nixon says that “the problem” will come up if “one of the seven [indicted Watergate burglars] begins to talk…” Frost asks, “Now, in that remark, it seems to be that someone running the cover-up couldn’t have expressed it more clearly than that, could he?” Frost wants to know precisely what the phrase “one of the seven begins to talk” means. Nixon argues, but Frost refuses to be distracted. How can it mean anything else except “some sort of conspiracy to stop Hunt from talking about something damaging?” Frost asks. Nixon retorts, “You could state your conclusion, and I’ve stated my views.”
Nixon's Own Words Prove Knowledge, Complicity - Frost proceeds to pepper Nixon with his own quotes proving his knowledge and complicity, nine of them, a barrage that leaves Nixon nearly breathless. Nixon finally accuses Frost of taking his words out of context. Frost’s final quote is from an April 21 meeting where Nixon told aides John Dean and H. R. Haldeman, “Christ, just turn over any cash we got.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 126-134] After the taping, Nixon asks his aides about the Colson transcripts: “What was that tape? I’m sure I never heard that tape before. Find out about that tape.” [Time, 5/9/1977]
Entity Tags: James Reston, Jr, David Frost, Charles Colson, E. Howard Hunt, James McCord, John Sirica, Richard M. Nixon, John Dean, H.R. Haldeman, Jeb S. Magruder, John Mitchell
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Following his revelatory apology and roundabout admission of guilt in his interview with David Frost (see April 15, 1977), Richard Nixon says that everything has come together to one single, inescapable conclusion. “I let the American people down, and I have to carry that burden with me the rest of my life. My political life is over. I will never yet and never again have an opportunity to serve in any official capacity.” James Reston, Jr, a member of Frost’s research team, later writes that this admission is “the final success of David Frost’s interviews. The danger that this encounter would lead to Nixon’s rehabilitation (see April 6, 1977) had been smothered. His political and personal corruption had been demonstrated. His personality had been exposed. With recognition, with acknowledgment, with acceptance of his guilt, he was a different man now.” As recently as three weeks earlier, he had spoken confidently of his intention to return to public life. That would never happen now.
Anti-Climax - In a scripted television drama, Nixon’s cathartic admission of guilt would have been the final scene. In reality, Nixon and Frost have another twenty minutes of interview time. True to form, as Reston will write, “Not a minute after he accepted responsibility for his own actions, his natural venality asserted itself.” Nixon revisits his claims of persecution by implacably hateful political enemies, and of his own victimization. He even drags Martha Mitchell (see June 22-25, 1972), the recently deceased wife of former campaign chairman John Mitchell, in to share in the blame—according to Nixon, because Mrs. Mitchell was “emotionally disturbed,” she distracted her husband at key times during the Nixon re-election campaign and therefore she is a root cause of the Watergate conspiracy. Reston will call this accusation “tasteless and lowbrow… ghoulish [and] revolting.” (After this story appears in the press, Mrs. Mitchell’s home town of Little Rock, Arkansas, decides to erect a monument of her as a heroine of Watergate.) The interview ends on a final macabre moment, with Frost delicately asking if Nixon had ever considered suicide. “I’m not the suicidal type,” he replies. “I really ought to be. If [I were], I’d have to be like a cat, I’d’a committed suicide a dozen times.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 158-160]
Rehabilitation? - Nixon biographer Conrad Black writes in 2007 that Nixon’s strategy was to rehabilitate himself by admitting his mistakes while refusing to admit to any criminal behavior: “He also knew, but Frost did not, that the first stage in his planned moral renaissance was to resist precisely the desire Frost expressed: that he confess wrongdoing so he could be forgiven. Nixon did not want to be forgiven; he wanted the country to agonize over whether it had unfairly treated him. Apologizing and being forgiven was the easy way out for America, but Nixon wasn’t interested in providing an effortless exit from the moral dilemma he posed to his countrymen.” [Guardian, 9/7/2007] After the interviews, Frost will say that he does not believe Nixon wanted to use the interviews as a way to re-enter public life. [Guardian, 5/27/1977]
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