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Context of 'February 27, 1973: Senate Using Watergate News Reports to Prepare for FBI Director Hearings'

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Frank Wills, the security guard who discovers the taped doors and alerts the DC police.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 pdf file]
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

White House counsel John Dean orders the opening of a safe belonging to Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Dean orders that the contents be turned over (six days later, after Dean and other White House officials have had a chance to peruse them) to the FBI. The documents will soon be given to FBI acting director L. Patrick Gray, who keeps them for six months before burning them (see Late December 1972). Gray will later admit to the incident in his testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee (see February 28-29, 1973). [Time, 4/2/1973] Dean finds in the safe, among other things, a loaded .25 caliber pistol; the attache case of burglar James McCord, loaded with electronic surveillance equipment and a tear gas canister; CIA psychological profiles of Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see March 1971); pages from the Pentagon Papers; memos to and from Nixon aide Charles Colson; two falsified diplomatic cables implicating former President John F. Kennedy in the 1963 assassination of South Vietnam’s President Ngo Diem Dinh; and a dossier on the personal life of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA). Nixon aide John Ehrlichman advises Dean to throw the contents of the safe into the Potomac River. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 501-502] Shortly thereafter, Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein, in discussions with a young assistant in White House aide Charles Colson’s office, learns that Hunt has been investigating Kennedy’s checkered past, particularly the Chappaquiddick tragedy of 1969, in which an apparently inebriated Kennedy drove his car into a lake, drowning his companion of the evening, Mary Jo Kopechne. Hunt was apparently looking for political ammunition against Kennedy in preparation for a possible presidential run. According to a former Nixon administration official, Colson and fellow Nixon aide H. R. Haldeman were “absolutely paranoid” about a Kennedy campaign run. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 30-31]

Entity Tags: H.R. Haldeman, E. Howard Hunt, Charles Colson, Carl Bernstein, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, L. Patrick Gray, John Ehrlichman, John F. Kennedy, Ngo Dinh Diem, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Mary Jo Kopechne, John Dean

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

’ChapStick’ surveillance devices similar to those destroyed by Gray.’ChapStick’ surveillance devices similar to those destroyed by Gray. [Source: National Archives]FBI Director L. Patrick Gray meets with White House aides John Ehrlichman and John Dean in Ehrlichman’s White House office. Dean gives Gray two files that he says came from Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt’s office safe (see June 22-26, 1972). Gray should keep the files, Dean says; they are “political dynamite” that “should never see the light of day.” Gray will later burn the files rather than turn them over to the FBI (see April 27-30, 1973). [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file] According to Dean’s later testimony to the Senate Watergate Committee (see June 25-29, 1973), among the contents is a briefcase containing “loose wires, Chap Sticks with wires coming out of them, and instruction sheets for walkie-talkies.” [Time, 7/9/1973] According to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s FBI source W. Mark Felt, Ehrlichman tells Dean, “You go across the [Potomac] river every day, John. Why don’t you drop the g_ddamn f_cking things in the river?” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 305-306] Dean tells Ehrlichman “in a joking manner that I would bring the materials over to him and he could take care of them because he also crossed the river on his way home. He said no thank you.” It was after that discussion that the decision was made to give the evidence to Gray. [Time, 7/9/1973] Gray keeps the files for about a week, then puts them in an FBI “burn bag.” A Dean associate later tells Post reporter Carl Bernstein, “You ever heard the expression ‘deep six’? That’s what Ehrlichman said he wanted done with those files.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 305-306]

Entity Tags: W. Mark Felt, L. Patrick Gray, John Dean, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, John Ehrlichman, E. Howard Hunt

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

President Nixon formally nominates acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray to permanently head the agency. His nomination is sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee for action. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file] Many political observers find the nomination inexplicable. It is virtually certain that Gray’s confirmation hearings (see February 28-29, 1973) will turn into a Congressional inquiry into the FBI’s reluctance to investigate the broader aspects of the Watergate conspiracy. Administration officials confirm that the decision to nominate Gray was the result of a contentious debate, with President Nixon personally overruling the strenuous objections of his top aide, John Ehrlichman. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 267-268]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Ehrlichman, L. Patrick Gray, Senate Judiciary Committee

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Tom Hart, an aide to Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), is preparing a card index of all the news and media reports on Watergate in preparation for the confirmation hearings of FBI director L. Patrick Gray (see February 28-29, 1973). Hart has a binder filled with lists of contradictions and unanswered questions that Byrd and other Democratic senators intend to bring up during the hearings. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 271-272]

Entity Tags: Tom Hart, L. Patrick Gray, Robert C. Byrd

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

L. Patrick Gray.L. Patrick Gray. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]The Senate confirmation hearings of FBI director L. Patrick Gray (see February 17, 1973) begin. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 13-14] As predicted (see February 27, 1973), they are an opportunity for angry Democrats to grill Gray about the FBI’s failure to expand their investigation of the Watergate conspiracy beyond the burglary itself (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Gray launches his testimony by insisting that the FBI conducted a “massive special” investigation, a “full-court press” with “no holds barred.” But on the first day of testimony, without even being asked, Gray volunteers that he had given White House Council John Dean some of the raw FBI files of the investigation (see June 28, 1972), and offers the senators the files to peruse for themselves. [Time, 4/2/1973; Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 272-273; O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file] Gray admits to turning over at least 82 FBI documents on the investigation to Dean, even though the FBI’s general counsel had ordered that no documents be turned over without the approval of Attorney General Richard Kleindienst. In doing so, not only did Gray circumvent Kleindienst, whose Justice Department would have to prosecute anyone violating federal laws in the Watergate conspiracy, but gave information to White House officials bent on concealing evidence of their own involvement. Gray turns over a document showing that he spoke with Dean at least 33 times about the Watergate investigation between June and September 1972. [Time, 4/2/1973; O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file] After the second day of testimony, Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein learns from Gray’s lawyer, William Bittman, that Dean had never given the FBI two notebooks from the safe of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see June 19, 1972). Bittman believes the notebooks contained information about who was involved in the Watergate conspiracy. Bittman, clearly disturbed by the missing documents, notes that they were “[v]aluable enough for someone to want them to disappear.” The Gray hearings will bring John Dean’s involvement in Watergate to the fore, and reveal that Gray took possession of the notebooks. [Time, 4/2/1973; Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 272-273; O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file]

Entity Tags: William O. Bittman, John Dean, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard Kleindienst, E. Howard Hunt, Carl Bernstein, L. Patrick Gray

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

President Nixon says he will invoke “executive privilege” to prevent White House counsel John Dean from testifying at the confirmation hearings of FBI director L. Patrick Gray (see February 28-29, 1973). “No president could ever agree to allow the counsel to the president to go down and testify before a committee,” Nixon says. “I stand on the same position there that every president has stood on.” The Washington Post reports Nixon’s claim along with the news that Dean has apparently made two critical sets of Watergate documents disappear (see June 28, 1972). [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 273; Reeves, 2001, pp. 574]

Entity Tags: L. Patrick Gray, Richard M. Nixon, John Dean

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray, mired in contentious Senate hearings about his nomination to permanently take the position (see February 28-29, 1973), says that contrary to media reports, White House counsel John Dean took nothing from the safe of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt. The White House issues a statement making the same claim. But Gray’s claims are critically undermined by another revelation. In FBI documents released to the Senate by Gray as part of his testimony, and subsequently made available to the public, one document catches the eye of reporters: a memo titled “Interview with Herbert W. Kalmbach.” Kalmbach, President Nixon’s personal lawyer, said in the interview that in August or September 1971, he had obeyed instructions from Nixon aide Dwight Chapin to hire Nixon campaign operator Donald Segretti (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond) and pay Segretti for his services. The interview guts the White House’s claim that it never hired any such agents provacateurs as Segretti, destroys Gray’s (and the FBI’s) credibility with many senators, and vindicates the media’s reporting on the broader Watergate conspiracy. The atmosphere at the Washington Post is jubilant. Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward put together a scathing news analysis based on the discovery, using quote after quote from administration sources and pairing each quote with information disproving the administration claims. Unfortunately, the reporters later write, the article is unintentionally “packaged like an ax murder,” with a row of pictures of Nixon officials that resemble a lineup of mug shots. White House officials later tell the reporters that this single story garners a tremendous amount of hatred and resentment among Nixon officials. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 273-274; Woodward, 2005, pp. 13-14]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Donald Segretti, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Dwight Chapin, E. Howard Hunt, John Dean, Richard M. Nixon, Herbert Kalmbach, Washington Post, L. Patrick Gray, Nixon administration

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

The Senate hearings for L. Patrick Gray’s nomination as FBI director (see February 28-29, 1973) become ever more contentious after revelations that the White House lied about its employment of campaign operatives like Donald Segretti (see March 6-7, 1973). Gray testifies that White House counsel John Dean “probably” lied when he told FBI investigators he did not know Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt worked in the White House (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), even though the FBI’s investigation showed that Dean originally hired another of the burglary plotters, G. Gordon Liddy. [Time, 4/2/1973; Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 274; Woodward, 2005, pp. 13-14]

Entity Tags: John Dean, Donald Segretti, E. Howard Hunt, Federal Bureau of Investigation, G. Gordon Liddy, Nixon administration, L. Patrick Gray

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray, writhing under harsh questioning in his Senate confirmation hearings (see February 28-29, 1973), has displayed a candor and a willingness to reveal information that the White House has found disturbing. But that comes to an end; after Gray’s early offer to let senators examine the FBI’s files on the Watergate investigations, Attorney General Richard Kleindienst overrules that offer. Kleindienst insists that Gray has no authority to make such an offer, and instead proposes that only the chairman of the Judiciary Commiteee, James Eastland (D-MS), and its ranking member Roman Hruska (R-NE), be allowed to view the files. Gray is privately ordered by Kleindienst to stop talking about the FBI investigation. Gray reluctantly obeys, and begins responding to questions about the investigation by saying, “I respectfully decline to answer that question.” Towards the end of the hearings, Gray will inform the committee about Kleindienst’s “gag order.” Kleindienst may have issued the order because of Gray’s testimony that he was pressured by White House aides John Dean and John Ehrlichman to find and close media leaks they believed were coming from within the FBI, requests that Gray resented “because I don’t think there were those leaks within the FBI.” [Time, 4/2/1973; O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file]
Gray's Partisanship Questioned - Committee members also question Gray’s open advocacy of the Nixon administration, a position they find unbecoming in a supposedly nonpartisan FBI director. They want to know why in September 1972 he abandoned the agency’s nonpartisan tradition and ordered 21 field offices to file expert advice on how best Nixon and his aides could handle campaign issues related to criminal justice. And they are disturbed that during the 1972 campaign, Gray himself stumped for Nixon in three separate speeches, in what Time magazine calls “blatantly political activity his predecessor [J. Edgar Hoover] would never have undertaken.” Committee member Robert Byrd (D-WV) said before the hearings: “In the nine months that Mr. Gray has held the post of acting director, there has been increasing criticism of that bureau as becoming more and more a political arm of the administration. Under J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI had always been a nonpolitical bureau, and Mr. Hoover meticulously avoided partisanship in campaigns.” Confirmation of Gray, Byrd continued, “would be damaging to the proficiency and morale of the agency.” Many senators also question Gray’s lack of law enforcement experience. [Time, 3/5/1973]
'Twist[ing] in the Wind' - During the hearings, Nixon aide John Ehrlichman privately proposes that the White House not support Gray, and instead leave him to “twist slowly, slowly in the wind” until he resigns (see April 5, 1973). Shortly before his death in 2005, Gray will say, “I made the gravest mistake of my 88 years” in going to work for Nixon. “I put the rudder in the wrong direction.” [New York Times, 7/7/2005]

Entity Tags: Nixon administration, James O. Eastland, J. Edgar Hoover, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Dean, L. Patrick Gray, Senate Judiciary Committee, John Ehrlichman, Roman Hruska, Robert C. Byrd, Richard Kleindienst

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

L. Patrick Gray, the acting director of the FBI, withdraws his name from consideration to become the full-fledged director after a bruising month of Senate hearings (see February 28-29, 1973). [Time, 4/16/1973] Gray resigns from the FBI shortly thereafter (see April 27-30, 1973). [New York Times, 7/7/2005] (Gray and the White House made some fruitless attempts to skew the hearings in Gray’s favor. According to the FBI’s 1974 internal Watergate report, “It is noted that in connection with his confirmation hearings, Mr. Gray on occasion instructed that proposed questions and answers about various matters be prepared which could be furnished to friendly Republican Senators.” One such set of “friendly” questions was indeed asked by Senator Edward Gurney (R-FL) about the ongoing FBI investigation of Donald Segretti—see June 27, 1971, and Beyond.) [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file] The Senate Judiciary Committee was sharply divided over Gray’s nomination, with many senators viewing Gray as little more than a White House operative due to his admitted improper cooperation with White House aides in the FBI’s Watergate investigation, and his admitted destruction of potentially incriminating evidence. Many in the Nixon White House had privately withdrawn their support for Gray. Committee chairman James Eastland (D-MS) told Attorney General Richard Kleindienst that it was unlikely the committee will approve Gray’s ascension to the post. The committee’s ranking minority member, Roman Hruska (R-NE), a Nixon loyalist, proposed that the commitee delay any decision until after the Senate Watergate Committee completes its investigation, giving Gray time to quietly resign, but Gray’s most powerful opponent on the committee, Robert Byrd (D-WV) headed off that proposal. After the session, Gray asked President Nixon to withdraw his name from consideration. Nixon says that Gray is a victim of “totally unfair innuendo and suspicion,” and defends his administration’s access to the FBI files as “completely proper and necessary.” Byrd proposes that the FBI become an independent agency not answerable to the attorney general, as does another lawmaker, Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA). The proposal will not gain much traction. [Time, 4/16/1973]

Entity Tags: Nixon administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Edward Gurney, Donald Segretti, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, L. Patrick Gray, Roman Hruska, Senate Judiciary Committee, James O. Eastland, Richard M. Nixon, Robert C. Byrd, Richard Kleindienst

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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