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Context of 'January 8-9, 1973: Press Reports Burglars to Receive Money, Executive Clemency for Guilty Pleas and Silence'

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White House aide Charles Colson and Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt discuss Hunt’s demand for “hush money” (see June 20-21, 1972 and March 21, 1973) in a telephone call. Hunt says he called “because the commitments that were made to all of us [Hunt and the other six burglars, all of whom are facing trial] have not been kept.” He continues: “There’s a great deal of concern on the part of the seven defendants. There’s a great deal of financial expense here that is not covered. What we’ve been getting has been coming in very minor drips and drabs. We’re now reaching a point at which—” “Don’t tell me any more,” Colson interjects. Hunt says, “[T]his thing should not break apart for foolish reasons,” which Colson interprets as a veiled threat that Hunt will begin talking to prosecutors about his involvement in the Watergate conspiracy. Colson seems to get the message: “Christ no.… You’ve told me all I need to know… the less I know really about what happened, the more help I can be to you.” Hunt says: “We’ve set a deadline now for the close of business on November 25 for the resolution, the liquidation of everything that’s outstanding.… I’m talking about promises from July and August. We could understand some hesitancy prior to the election (see November 7, 1972), but there doesn’t seem to be any of that now. Of course, we’re well aware of the upcoming problems of the Senate” (see February 7, 1973). Colson replies, “That’s where it gets hairy as hell.” Hunt continues: “We’re protecting the guys who were really responsible. That’s a continuing requirement. But this is a two-way street.… We think now is the time when some moves should be made, and surely your cheapest commodity is money.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 186-190] Shortly thereafter, Hunt receives more money from secret White House sources (see January 8-9, 1973).

Entity Tags: E. Howard Hunt, Charles Colson

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

While awaiting trial, Watergate burglar James McCord (see June 19, 1972) tells his fellow burglars that he is going to get his own lawyer. “I am going to get F. Lee Bailey. He is a big attorney,” McCord tells Bernard Barker. McCord recommends that Barker and the other Cubans—Virgilio Gonzales, Eugenio Martinez, and Frank Sturgis—get their own lawyers, too. Barker meets with lawyer Henry Rothblatt, who assures Barker that he will represent all the Cubans for free. “He had [successfully] defended the Green Berets in their big case” (see September 29, 1969), Barker will write in 1974, and this case is, according to Rothblatt, very similar. Protected by the attorney-client relationship, Barker tells Rothblatt about both the Watergate and Ellsberg burglaries (see August 5, 1971). Barker will write, “So he knew we couldn’t use the truth as our defense in the Watergate case, because we could not reveal our recruitment for the Ellsberg case.” [Harper's, 10/1974]

Entity Tags: James McCord, Bernard Barker, Eugenio Martinez, F. Lee Bailey, Virgilio Gonzales, Frank Sturgis, Henry Rothblatt

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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]

Entity Tags: John Sirica, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, E. Howard Hunt, Henry Rothblatt, William O. Bittman, Seymour Hersh, John Mitchell, Jack Anderson

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

After the press reports that the Watergate burglars will receive cash payments in return for their guilty pleas and their silence (see January 8-9, 1973 and January 8-11, 1973), Judge John Sirica angrily grills the four Miami-based defendants in court about the claims. To a man, they deny any pressure to plead guilty, any knowledge of cash payments to themselves or their families, and any knowledge of discussions of possible executive clemency. Defendant Virgilio Gonzalez even denies being a former CIA agent, when evidence has already established that he was on a $100/month retainer by the agency until the day after the Watergate burglary. (Defendant G. Gordon Liddy laughs aloud when Gonzalez makes this claim.) Gonzalez claims that the entire Watergate operation was somehow involved with the Communist regime of Cuba: Gonzalez says he is committed to “protect[ing] this country against any Communist conspiracy.” Sirica rolls his eyes in disbelief. Gonzalez claims not to know any specifics of the supposed connection between the Democrats and Castro’s Cuba, and says that he trusted the judgement of his superiors, Liddy and E. Howard Hunt. Fellow defendant Bernard Barker claims that none of them were paid for their actions: “These are not men that sell themselves for money,” Barker states. Barker confirms that he worked for Hunt, and says it was an honor for him to perform such a service. Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward later write, “The prosecutors’ assurances that everything would come out at the trial were fading into nothingness, as the defendants ducked into the haze of their guilty pleas.” The five who pled guilty are led off to jail before their bail and sentencing hearings. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 233-235; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] In his Watergate grand jury testimony, White House counsel John Dean will say that President Nixon approved executive clemency for Hunt in December 1972 (see January 10, 1973). [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 312] In 1974, Barker will write that while in jail, James McCord is their group leader, but they do not fully trust him, partly because he is “very friendly with Alfred Baldwin, and to us Baldwin was the first informer” (see May 29, 1972). Another disconnection between McCord and the Cubans is his lack of participation in the Ellsberg burglary (see September 9, 1971). [Harper's, 10/1974]

Entity Tags: James McCord, Bob Woodward, Bernard Barker, Alfred Baldwin, Carl Bernstein, G. Gordon Liddy, Richard M. Nixon, Virgilio Gonzalez, E. Howard Hunt, John Sirica, John Dean

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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

John Dean.John Dean. [Source: Southern Methodist University]According to his later testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee (see June 25-29, 1973), White House counsel John Dean talks for the first time to President Nixon about the payment of “hush money” to the seven Watergate defendants (see June 20-21, 1972 and March 21, 1973). With Nixon’s top aide, H. R. Haldeman, present, Dean, according to his testimony, “told the president that there was no money to pay these individuals to meet their demands. He asked me how much it would cost. I told him that I could only estimate, that it might be as high as a million dollars or more. He told me that that was no problem and he also looked over at Haldeman and repeated the statement. He then asked me who was demanding this money, and I told him it was principally coming from [Watergate burglar E. Howard] Hunt through his attorney.” Nixon then reminds Dean that Hunt has been promised executive clemency (see January 8-9, 1973). Though Nixon will deny any knowledge of either payoffs or executive clemency, if Dean’s testimony is true, Nixon could well be guilty of obstruction of justice. The White House will also claim that this topic first comes up on March 21 rather than today (see March 21, 1973). [Time, 7/9/1973]

Entity Tags: H.R. Haldeman, E. Howard Hunt, Richard M. Nixon, John Dean, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

E. Howard Hunt.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

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