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Context of 'February 28, 1973: Nixon Aide Resigns from White House'

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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)

Dwight Chapin.Dwight Chapin. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Dwight Chapin, President Nixon’s appointments secretary, resigns his position and returns to private business. He will be indicted several months later (see November 29, 1973). (O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 pdf file)

Former White House appointment secretary Dwight Chapin is indicted on four counts of lying to the Watergate grand jury. Chapin will be convicted on two of the four counts in May 1974. (O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 pdf file)


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