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Context of 'April 13, 1977: Frost Demonstrates Nixon’s Early Complicity in Watergate Conspiracy'

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Maurice Stans.Maurice Stans. [Source: Southern Methodist University]In a last campaign fundraising swing before April 7, when the new campaign finance laws go into effect, Maurice Stans, the financial chief for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), launches a final fundraising swing across the Southwest on behalf of Richard Nixon. Stans solicits contributions from Republicans and Democrats alike, and tells reluctant contributors that if they do not want their donations traced back to them, their anonymity can be ensured by moving their contributions through Mexican banks. Mexico does not allow the US to subpoena its bank records.
Laundering - “It’s called ‘laundering,’” Miami investigator Martin Dardis later tells Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein on August 26, 1972. “You set up a money chain that makes it impossible to trace the source. The Mafia does it all the time. So does Nixon.… This guy Stans set up the whole thing. It was Stans’s idea.… Stans didn’t want any way they could trace where the money was coming from.” The same money-laundering system allows CREEP to receive illegal contributions from corporations, which are forbidden by law to contribute to political campaigns. Business executives, labor leaders, special-interest groups, even Las Vegas casinos can donate through the system. Stans uses a bank in Mexico City, the Banco Internacional; lawyer Manuel Ogarrio Daguerre handles the transactions. Stans keeps the only records.
Confirmed by Lawyer - Lawyer Robert Haynes confirms the setup for Bernstein, and says breezily: “Sh_t, Stans has been running this operation for years with Nixon. Nothing really wrong with it. That’s how you give your tithe.” Haynes calls the fundraising trip “Stans’s shakedown cruise.” Stans uses a combination of promises of easy access to the White House and veiled threats of government retaliation to squeeze huge donations out of various executives; Haynes says: “If a guy pleaded broke, [Stans] would get him to turn over stock in his company or some other stock. He was talking 10 percent, saying it was worth 10 percent of some big businessman’s income to keep Richard Nixon in Washington and be able to stay in touch.” Haynes represents Robert Allen, who runs the Nixon campaign’s Texas branch; Allen is merely a conduit for the illegal campaign monies. It is from the Banco Internacional account that Watergate burglar Bernard Barker is paid $89,000 (see April-June 1972) and the “Dahlberg check” of $25,000 (see August 1-2, 1972). [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 54-56]

Entity Tags: Robert Allen, Committee to Re-elect the President, Carl Bernstein, Manuel Ogarrio Daguerre, Richard M. Nixon, Martin Dardis, Robert Haynes, Maurice Stans

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate, Elections Before 2000

June 20, 1972: Colson: Blame CIA for Watergate

After an Oval Office discussion about having Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy take the entire blame for the Watergate bugging (see June 21, 1972), President Nixon and his aide Charles Colson have another idea—blame the operation on the CIA. “I think we could develop a theory as to the CIA if we wanted to,” Colson says. “We know that [burglar E. Howard] Hunt has all those ties with these people [referring to the other Watergate burglars]. He was their boss, and they were all CIA. You take the cash, you go down to Latin America.… We’re in great shape with the Cubans, and they’re proud of it. There’s a lot of muscle in that gang.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 506]

Entity Tags: Charles Colson, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard M. Nixon, E. Howard Hunt, G. Gordon Liddy

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Nixon and Haldeman, three days after the June 23 meeting.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 pdf file]
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

Acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray calls President Nixon to warn him that some of his White House aides are trying to “mortally wound” him by interfering with the FBI and the CIA in the Watergate investigation (see June 23, 1972). Nixon merely replies, “Pat, you just continue to conduct your aggressive and thorough investigation.” Gray later testifies (see August 1973), “I expected the president to ask me some questions.” When Gray hears nothing for two weeks from Nixon, he concludes that he is just being “alarmist” about the situation. [Time, 8/20/1973]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, L. Patrick Gray, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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

Rose Mary Woods.Rose Mary Woods. [Source: Genevieve Naylor / Corbis]A gap of 18 and ½ minutes is found on the tape of a conversation between President Nixon and his aide, H. R. Haldeman, from June 20, 1972 (see July 13-16, 1973). Nixon lawyer Fred Buzhardt says he has no explanation for “the phenomenon.” Nixon’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods, denies any deliberate erasure. But electronics experts will eventually find that the tape has been deliberately erased at least five separate times. White House chief of staff Alexander Haig will blame “some sinister force” for the erasure.
Watergate Discussed - Former Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox’s subpoena of the tape (see July 23-26, 1973) says that “there is every reason to infer that the meeting included discussion of the Watergate incident.” That supposition is bolstered by previous testimony from former White House aide John Ehrlichman (see July 24, 1973). Watergate prosecutor Leon Jaworski says he is considering having all the remaining Watergate tapes placed under guard to prevent any further tampering. [Washington Post, 11/22/1973; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Three Suspects - Evidence later shows that only three people could have made the erasure: Woods; Stephen Bull, Nixon’s assistant; and Nixon himself. [Reston, 2007, pp. 33]
Washington Post Learns of Gap - Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward learned of “deliberate erasures” in the first week of November from his FBI source, W. Mark Felt (see May 31, 2005). White House sources confirmed that the tapes were often of poor quality, and that some inadvertent gaps existed, but, as press secretary Ron Ziegler tells Woodward’s colleague Carl Bernstein, to say that those gaps were deliberate would be “inaccurate.” When the deliberate gap is reported, Ziegler calls Bernstein to say that he did not know about the gap beforehand. Neither Bernstein nor Woodward doubt Ziegler—by this time, it is obvious that Nixon’s paranoia and penchant for secrecy extends even to the most trusted members of his staff. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 333-334]
Symbolic - In 2005, Woodward will write: “The missing 18 1/2-minute gap soon becomes a symbol for Nixon’s entire Watergate problem. The truth had been deleted. The truth was missing.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 103]

Entity Tags: Rose Mary Woods, Stephen Bull, Richard M. Nixon, W. Mark Felt, Leon Jaworski, Ron Ziegler, H.R. Haldeman, Archibald Cox, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., John Ehrlichman, Carl Bernstein, Fred Buzhardt, Bob Woodward

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

After 14 hours (of the allotted 24) of the Nixon/Frost interviews (see Early 1976), most of the Frost research team feels that former President Richard Nixon has gotten the best of interviewer David Frost. Nixon has largely been allowed to expound at length on his many self-proclaimed triumphs in foreign policy until the last few sessions, and except for brief moments where Frost tried to corner Nixon over his Vietnam and Cambodia policies, Nixon has escaped with his reputation not only untarnished, but likely even somewhat burnished.
Frost Enabling Nixon's Resurrection? - After the day’s interview (see April 6, 1977), many on Frost’s research team lambast him for not pressing the point that Nixon’s arguments contravene almost everything the US stands for. (One television technician wisecracks after the first round of interviews, “If he keeps talking like that, I may vote for him.”) Team member Robert Zelnick tells Frost, “You sound like two old chums, sitting around a pork barrel, talking about a bowling game, rather than about the incredible divisiveness that Nixon himself deliberately caused.” Frost defends himself by saying that Nixon “admitted what we wanted him to,” but Zelnick retorts: “But how is the audience to know? You have to state the opposite view.” Frost’s producer John Birt adds: “Sniping at him is not good enough anymore. The absurdity of his position must be underlined. If you don’t respond to the absurdity, then it appears as if you not only accept his view, but endorse it.” Frost’s afternoon session with Nixon is more challenging, and later some observers categorize the Huston Plan interview as, in the words of author James Reston Jr., “the most damaging period in all the Nixon interviews” (see April 6, 1977).
Intensive Preparation - But Frost’s team is not satisfied. With a week’s break before the next interview, the team decides to push Frost to prepare more intensively for the upcoming Watergate interview sessions. Reston will later note that the Watergate sessions “had to be solid gold. Otherwise the series was dead—commercially as well as substantively. Did Frost realize the jeopardy we were in now? Worse than that: if Nixon’s guilt and his authoritarian impulses were not clearly demonstrated, Frost would take an equivalent position in the history of television to that of Nixon in the history of politics. The epitaph would read, He paid $1 million for Nixon’s resurrection.[Time, 5/30/1977; Reston, 2007, pp. 102-105]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, James Reston, Jr, Robert Zelnick, David Frost, John Birt

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

In his first interview session with former President Richard Nixon about Watergate (see April 13-15, 1977), David Frost moves from the erased Watergate tape (see November 21, 1973) to Nixon’s damning conversation with Charles Colson about “stonewalling” the Watergate investigation. This time around, Frost is far more prepared and ready to deal with Nixon’s tactics of obfuscation and misdirection than in earlier interviews (see April 6, 1977).
Surprise Information - Nixon is unaware that Frost knows about his conversation that same day with Colson (see June 20, 1972). Along with what is known about his conversation with Haldeman, the Colson conversation puts Nixon squarely in the midst of the conspiracy at its outset. More important than Frost’s command of the facts is Frost’s springing of a “surprise card” (Frost researcher James Reston Jr.‘s words) on Nixon at the beginning of the Watergate sessions. Nixon obviously must contend with the questions of what else Frost knows, and how he would ask about it. As Frost details excerpts from the Colson conversation, about “stonewalling” and “hav[ing] our people delay, avoiding depositions,” Reston watches Nixon on the monitor. Reston will later recall: “His jawline seemed to elongate. The corners of his mouth turned down. His eyes seemed more liquid. One could almost see the complicated dials in his head turning feverishly. It was a marvelously expressive face. The range of movement both within the contours of the visage and with the hands was enormous.” Frost concludes with the question, “Now, somewhere you were pretty well informed by this conversation, weren’t you?” After some fumbling and half-hearted admissions of some knowledge, Nixon begins justifying his actions in the conspiracy: “My motive was not to cover up a criminal action, but to be sure that as any slip over—or should I say slop over, a better word—any slop over in a way that would damage innocent people or blow it into political proportions.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 124-126]
Pinning Nixon down on CIA Interference - Frost asks about the conversations of June 23 (see June 23, 1972), when Nixon told his aides to have the CIA interfere with the FBI’s investigation of the burglary. Nixon tries dodging the point, emphasizing how busy he was with other matters that day and quibbling about the definition of the phrase “cover-up,” but finally says that he had no criminal motive in ordering the CIA to stop the FBI from investigating the matter of the Mexican checks found in Watergate burglar Bernard Barker’s bank accounts. He was merely engaged in political containment, he says, and besides, two weeks later, the FBI traced the checks to a Mexican bank anyway (see Before April 7, 1972 and August 1-2, 1972). Nixon emphasizes his instructions to then-FBI director L. Patrick Gray to move forward on the investigation (see July 6, 1972). (Later, Nixon staff member Jack Brennan will admit that they had almost convinced Nixon to admit to the illegality of the June 23 orders, but Nixon had demurred.)
'You Joined a Conspiracy that You Never Left' - It now falls to Frost to confront Nixon with the strictures of the law and the evidence that he had broken those laws. Frost says, “But surely, in all you’ve just said, you have proved exactly that that was the case, that there was a cover-up of criminal activity because you’ve already said, and the record shows you knew, that Hunt and Liddy [E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, the leaders of Nixon’s “Plumbers”] were involved… you knew that, in fact, criminals would be protected.” Nixon protests, “Now just a moment,” but Frost says, “Period.” Frost lectures Nixon on obstruction of justice, saying: “The law states that when intent and foreseeable consequences are sufficient, motive is completely irrelevant.… If I try to rob a bank and fail, that’s no defense. I still tried to rob a bank. I would say you tried to obstruct justice and succeeded in that period” between June 23 and July 6. Nixon retorts that he does not believe Frost knows much about the details of the obstruction of justice statutes, but fails to move Frost, who has been carefully instructed in the obstruction statutes all week. Frost eventually says: “Now, after the Gray conversation, the cover-up went on. You would say that you were not aware of it. I was arguing that you were part of it as a result of the June 23 conversation.” Nixon repeats, “You’re gonna say that I was a part of it as a result of the June 23 conversation?” Reston later writes, “It was a crucial moment, a moment that took considerable courage for David Frost.” Frost replies: “Yes.… I would have said that you joined a conspiracy that you never left.” “Then we totally disagree on that,” Nixon retorts. Reston later writes: “No journalist in America, I concluded, would have had the courage of Frost in that vital moment. But therein lay the failing of American journalism. For Frost here was an advocate. He was far beyond the narrow American definition of ‘objective journalism.’” [Time, 5/9/1977; Reston, 2007, pp. 124-126]

Entity Tags: David Frost, Bernard Barker, Charles Colson, Richard M. Nixon, L. Patrick Gray, James Reston, Jr, E. Howard Hunt, Central Intelligence Agency, G. Gordon Liddy, Jack Brennan

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate


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