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Context of 'April 14, 1973: Angry Arguments at White House Correspondents Dinner'

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Donald Segretti.Donald Segretti. [Source: Spartacus Educational]Three attorneys—one the assistant attorney general of Tennessee, Alex Shipley—are asked to work as so-called “agent provocateur” for the Campaign to Re-elect the President (CREEP), an organization working to re-elect President Nixon (see October 10, 1972). The three tell their story to Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein in late September 1972, and Bernstein’s colleague Bob Woodward learns more from his FBI source, “Deep Throat,” days later (see October 7, 1972 and October 9, 1972). They all say they were asked to work to undermine the primary campaigns of Democratic presidential candidates by the same man, Donald Segretti, a former Treasury Department lawyer who lives in California. Segretti will later be identified as a CREEP official. Segretti, the attorneys will say, promises them “big jobs” in Washington after Nixon’s re-election (see November 7, 1972). All three says they rejected Segretti’s offers (see June 27-October 23, 1971). Segretti himself will deny the allegations, calling them “ridiculous.”
Part of a Larger Pattern? - Bernstein and Woodward connect the Segretti story to other Nixon campaign “dirty tricks” they are already aware of, including efforts by Watergate burglar James McCord (see June 19, 1972) to “investigate” reporter Jack Anderson, attempts by Watergate surveillance man Alfred Baldwin (see June 17, 1972) to infiltrate Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt’s successful attempts to electronically “bug” Democratic campaign headquarters (see May 27-28, 1972) and his investigation of Democratic presidential candidate Edward Kennedy (see June 19, 1972), and McCord’s rental of an office next to the offices of Democratic presidential candidate Edmund Muskie. To the reporters, the Segretti story opens up speculation that the Nixon campaign had undertaken political espionage efforts long before the Watergate burglary. In their book All the President’s Men, Bernstein and Woodward write, “Watergate could have been scheduled before the president’s re-election chances looked so good and perhaps someone had neglected to pull the plug.” Bernstein has heard of CIA operations such as this mounted against foreign governments, called “black operations,” but sometimes more colloquially called “mindf_cking.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 114-115]
Segretti a 'Small Fish in a Big Pond' - An FBI official investigating CREEP’s illegal activities will call Segretti “a small fish in a big pond,” and will say that at least 50 undercover Nixon operatives have worked around the country to disrupt and spy on Democratic campaigns. The political intelligence and sabotage operation is called the “offensive security” program both by White House and CREEP officials. FBI investigators will find that many of the acts of political espionage and sabotage conducted by Segretti and his colleagues are traced to this “offensive security” program, which was conceived and directed in the White House and by senior CREEP officials, and funded by the secret “slush fund” directed by CREEP finance manager Maurice Stans (see September 29, 1972). FBI officials will refuse to directly discuss Segretti’s actions, saying that he is part of the Watergate investigation (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), but one FBI official angrily calls Segretti’s actions “indescribable.”
White House Connections Confirmed - In mid-October 1972, the Washington Post will identify Dwight Chapin, President Nixon’s appointments secretary, as the person who hired Segretti and received reports of his campaign activities. Segretti’s other contact is Hunt. Segretti also received at least $35,000 in pay for his activities by Nixon’s personal lawyer, Herbert Kalmbach. [Washington Post, 1/31/1973]

Entity Tags: Donald Segretti, Alex Shipley, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, Herbert Kalmbach, Richard M. Nixon, E. Howard Hunt, US Department of the Treasury, Dwight Chapin, Campaign to Re-elect the President

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate, Elections Before 2000

Arthur Bremer being restrained after shooting George Wallace.Arthur Bremer being restrained after shooting George Wallace. [Source: Kansas City Star]Around 4 p.m, gunman Arthur Bremer shoots Alabama Governor George Wallace in a Maryland shopping center. Wallace, mounting a third-party bid for the presidency, survives the shooting, but is crippled for life. He is also essentially out of the race. The political ramifications are powerful: Wallace, a segregationist Democrat, is doing well in many Southern states. With Wallace out of the picture, his voters will almost uniformly go to Richard Nixon, and whatever threadbare chance of victory Democratic candidate George McGovern has of defeating Nixon is over.
Lone Gunman - There is no evidence to connect Nixon or the GOP with Bremer—all evidence will show that Bremer is a classic “lone gunman” who stalked several presidential candidates before gunning down Wallace—but Nixon and his campaign officials know that even a hint of a connection between the Nixon campaign and Bremer would be politically devastating.
Break-in - On the night of the shooting, Nixon aide Charles Colson orders campaign operative E. Howard Hunt (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) to break into Bremer’s Milwaukee apartment to discover if Bremer had any political connections (hopefully Democratic or liberal connections, though none are ascertained). [Woodward, 2005, pp. 47-50] Interestingly, by 6:30 p.m., White House communications official Ken Clawson calls the Washington Post to announce that “left-wing” literature had been found in Bremer’s apartment, and that Bremer may have been associated with the presidential campaign of George McGovern. No such evidence is found. Colson tells reporters that Bremer is a dues-paying member of the Young Democrats of Milwaukee, a lie that makes it into several newspapers. Post editor Howard Simons will consider the idea that Wallace was assassinated on the orders of the White House—“the ultimate dirty trick”—but no evidence of that connection ever surfaces. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 326; Reeves, 2001, pp. 480]
FBI Leaves Apartment - Hunt will claim in his autobiography, Undercover, that he refused the order to burglarize Bremer’s apartment. The FBI finds both left-wing and right-wing literature in Bremer’s apartment, as well as a diary whose opening line is, “Now I start my diary of my personal plot to kill by pistol either Richard Nixon or George Wallace.” Local reporters will later claim that the FBI leaves Bremer’s apartment for about 90 minutes, during which time reporters and other unidentified figures are able to spirit away papers and other materials. It is not clear whether Hunt is one of those “unidentified figures.” [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
Deep Throat - Top FBI official W. Mark Felt provides useful information for Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s profile of Bremer, operating as a “deep background” source. It is the first time Felt, who will become Woodward’s “Deep Throat” Watergate source (see May 31, 2005), gives important information to Woodward. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 47-50]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Howard Simons, W. Mark Felt, George S. McGovern, Ken Clawson, E. Howard Hunt, Arthur Bremer, Bob Woodward, Charles Colson, George C. Wallace

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate, Elections Before 2000

Neoconservatives see Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern’s floundering campaign and eventual landslide defeat (see November 7, 1972) as emblematic of, in author Craig Unger’s words, everything that is wrong with the “defeatist, isolationist policies of the liberals who had captured the Democratic Party.” If the neoconservatives had had their way, their favorite senator, Henry “Scoop” Jackson (see Early 1970s), would have won the nomination. But the Vietnam War has put hawkish Cold Warriors like Jackson in disfavor in the party, and Jackson was set aside for the disastrous McGovern candidacy. The Republicans offer little interest themselves for the neoconservatives. Richard Nixon is enamored of one of their most hated nemeses, National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, whose “realpolitik” did nothing to excite their ideological impulses. And under Nixon, the icy Cold War is slowly thawing, with summit meetings, bilateral commissions, and arms limitations agreements continually bridging the gap between the US and the neoconservatives’ implacable foe, the Soviet Union. In Nixon’s second term, the Coalition for a Democratic Majority (CDM)—populated by Democratic neoconservatives like Jackson, Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Midge Decter, Daniel Patrick Moynihan (Nixon’s domestic adviser), Jeane Kirkpatrick, Ben Wattenberg, and James Woolsey, and joined by 1968 Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey, will pressure Nixon to adopt a tough “peace through strength” policy towards the Soviet Union. Although it will take time, and the formation of countless other organizations with similar memberships and goals, this group of neoconservatives and hawkish hardliners will succeed in marginalizing Congress, demonizing their enemies, and taking over the entire foreign policy apparatus of the US government. [Unger, 2007, pp. 47-48]

Entity Tags: Norman Podhoretz, Midge Decter, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Richard M. Nixon, James Woolsey, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, Ben Wattenberg, Coalition for a Democratic Majority, Irving Kristol, George S. McGovern, Craig Unger, Henry A. Kissinger, Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Timeline Tags: US International Relations, Neoconservative Influence

Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman orders the White House files to be culled and the most sensitive, and potentially embarrassing, documents removed. Designated “White House Special Files,” these are to be destroyed if President Nixon loses the election (see November 7, 1972). They will not actually be destroyed; eventually they will be seized by the FBI as part of its Watergate probe. Historian Richard Reeves will write, “Many White House papers were destroyed or disappeared during the Watergate investigations, but much more survived for history than Richard Nixon ever intended.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 17]

Entity Tags: Richard Reeves, H.R. Haldeman, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate, Elections Before 2000

Shortly after the Watergate indictments are handed down (see September 15, 1972), White House counsel John Dean is summoned to the Oval Office. He arrives to find President Nixon and chief of staff H. R. Haldeman “all grins,” as Dean will recall for his Watergate grand jury testimony. They are pleased the indictments have only gone as far as the seven burglars. “Great job, John,” Nixon tells Dean. “Bob told me what a great job you’re doing.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 312]
Nixon Encouraging Cover-up, Illegal Influence of Judge - According to Dean’s later testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee (see June 25-29, 1973), Nixon “told me that Bob had kept him posted on my handling of the Watergate case. The President told me I had done a good job and he appreciated how difficult a task it had been and the President was pleased that the case had stopped with Liddy.… I responded that I could not take credit because others had done much more difficult things than I had done.” Dean will say that he is thinking of senior campaign official Jeb Magruder, who had perjured himself to keep the Watergate grand jury from learning of higher involvement (see August 1972). “I also told him that there was a long way to go before this matter would end, and that I certainly could make no assurance that the day would not come when this matter would start to unravel.” Dean tells Nixon that there is a good chance to delay the Democrats’ civil suits against the Nixon campaign (see June 20, 1972) until after the election because campaign lawyers are talking out of court to the judge, Charles Richey, who is “very understanding and trying to accommodate their problems” (see August 22, 1972). Nixon says, “Well, that’s helpful.” If Dean’s testimony is accurate, Nixon is encouraging the cover-up of criminal activity, and is supportive of attempts to illegally influencing a judge in a civil suit. [Time, 7/9/1973]
Nixon: Is Everyone Together 'to Stonewall?' - Nixon says he particularly enjoyed the burglars’ assertions to reporters that they would not inform on any superiors, and their memorized tirades about the Communist threat. He then asks, “Is the line pretty well set now on, when asked about the Watergate, as to what everybody says and does, to stonewall?” Haldeman responds that the burglars, particularly the four Cubans, “really believe” what they’re saying. “I mean, that was their motivation. They’re afraid of [Democratic candidate George] McGovern. They’re afraid he’ll sell out to the communists, which he will.” Dean predicts that “nothing will come crashing down” between now and the elections (see November 7, 1972). Nixon is already planning his post-election vengeance. “I want the most comprehensive notes on all those that tried to do us in,” he orders. “They are asking for it and they are going to get it…. We have not used the power in the first four years, as you know… but things are going to change now.” “That’s an exciting prospect,” Dean replies. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 526-527]

Entity Tags: H.R. Haldeman, John Dean, George S. McGovern, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Ron Ziegler.Ron Ziegler. [Source: San Diego Union Tribune]The White House, the Nixon re-election campaign, and Republican supporters begin publicly attacking the Washington Post over its Watergate coverage.
'Character Assassination' - White House press secretary Ron Ziegler says, when asked about the Watergate conspiracy: “I will not dignify with comment stories based on hearsay, character assassination, innuendo or guilt by association.… The president is concerned about the technique being applied by the opposition in the stories themselves.… The opposition has been making charges which have not been substantiated.” Ziegler later calls the Post reports “a blatant effort at character assassination that I do not think has been witnessed in the political process in some time.”
'Political Garbage' - The chairman of the Republican National Committee, Senator Robert Dole (R-KS) attacks what he calls “political garbage” printed about Watergate: “The Washington Post is conducting itself by journalistic standards that would cause mass resignations on principle from the Quicksilver Times, a local underground newspaper,” and accuses the Post of essentially working for the Democrats. (Six months after his attacks, Dole will say that the credibility of the Nixon administration is “zilch, zero.” Years later, Dole will apologize to Post reporter Bob Woodward for his comments.)
CREEP Accusations - Clark MacGregor, the chairman of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), holds a press conference to say, “The Post has maliciously sought to give the appearance of a direct connection between the White House and the Watergate—a charge the Post knows—and a half dozen investigations have found—to be false.” (MacGregor fields angry questions from the gathered reporters, some of whom bluntly challenge his credibility and his truthfulness, with stoicism, refusing to answer any of them, and instead sticking with his prepared statement.) MacGregor demands to know why the Post hasn’t investigated apparent campaign “dirty tricks” carried out against the Nixon campaign. Like Dole, MacGregor accuses the Post of collaborating with the Democrats, and even charges that Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern encouraged former defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg to leak the “Pentagon Papers” to the press (see March 1971).
Post Thinks Campaign Orchestrated by White House - Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, examining the statements by Ziegler, Dole, and MacGregor, is certain that the entire attack was orchestrated by the White House and perhaps by President Nixon himself. Bradlee issues a statement saying that everything the Post has reported on Watergate is factual and “unchallenged by contrary evidence.” He tells reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward that “this is the hardest hardball that has ever been played in this town,” and warns them to keep out of any compromising situations that could be used by the White House to challenge their credibility. After Nixon’s landslide presidential victory (see November 7, 1972), the attacks continue. Senior White House aide Charles Colson says, “The charge of subverting the whole political process, that is a fantasy, a work of fiction rivaling only Gone With the Wind in circulation and Portnoy’s Complaint for indecency.” [Washington Post, 5/1/1973; Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 161-166; Woodward, 2005, pp. 83-84]

Entity Tags: Robert J. (“Bob”) Dole, Washington Post, Richard M. Nixon, Ron Ziegler, Republican National Committee, George S. McGovern, Bob Woodward, Ben Bradlee, Nixon administration, Carl Bernstein, Clark MacGregor, Daniel Ellsberg, Committee to Re-elect the President, Charles Colson

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

New York Times headline announcing Nixon victory.New York Times headline announcing Nixon victory. [Source: New York Times]Richard Nixon defeats Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern in the largest landslide in modern electoral history. Nixon wins over 60 percent of the votes and 49 of the 50 states. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Democrats retain control of the House and Senate. Nixon’s victory breaches traditional Democratic strongholds in the Northeast, and his “Southern strategy” creates a “Solid South” of Republican support. Harry Dent, a White House aide involved in the “Southern strategy” of targeting conservative Democrats who once supported segregationist candidate George Wallace (see May 15, 1972), says, “[T]he Southern strategy is working—in fact, it’s working all over the country.” Democrats, on the other hard, were sharply divided throughout the campaign, with many traditional Democratically aligned organizations such as trade unions refusing to back the McGovern candidacy, problems with finding and keeping a suitable vice-presidential running mate, and McGovern surviving a challenge to his primary victory at the Democratic convention. [Washington Post, 11/8/1972] The simmering Watergate investigations apparently have little drag on the Nixon re-election efforts.

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, George S. McGovern, George C. Wallace, Harry Dent

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate, Elections Before 2000

The day after the elections (see November 7, 1972), President Nixon, appearing somber and even angry, calls a morning meeting with his White House staff. He briefly addresses the gathering, talking about how people can “exhaust themselves in government without realizing it,” then turns the meeting over to his chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, and leaves. Haldeman informs the group that they will all submit letters of resignation by November 10. Nixon will decide which staffers will lose their jobs in a month’s time. An hour later, the two hold an identical meeting with the Cabinet. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 541-542]

Entity Tags: H.R. Haldeman, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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

Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward is steered to a George Washington University student named Craig Hillegass. The student tells Woodward that his fraternity brother, Theodore Brill, was paid $150 a week by the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) to infiltrate the group of Quakers who maintain a 24-hour a day “peace vigil” in front of the White House. Brill reported information on the protesters’ demonstration plans and personal lives, and then helped plan and execute raids for drug possession. The Washington police eventually did raid the vigil, but found nothing. Brill, the chairman of GWU’s Young Republicans chapter, was terminated by CREEP two days after the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). “The idea,” Hillegass tells Woodward, “was to create an embarrassment to the Democrats, because any embarrassment to radical groups would be considered an embarrassment to liberal politics and Senator [George] McGovern,” the Democratic presidential candidate in 1972 (see November 7, 1972). Hillegass recalls that the method of paying Brill was almost cartoonish in its covert nature: “Ted said he once was told to meet a woman in a red dress with a white carnation, carrying a newspaper. He exchanged his written report for an envelope containing his pay.” Woodward is most interested in Hillegass’s recollection that Brill’s campaign “dirty tricks” were connected to higher-level officials in CREEP—and the number of other “agents provacateurs” being employed by the campaign. Donald Segretti (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond) was only one of 50 or so provacateurs employed by the campaign, and the Post has always wanted to know who the other 49 were. Brill was definitely small fry, but, Woodward believes, part of a larger pattern. When Woodward speaks with Brill himself, the student confirms his former job with CREEP, and says that he was hired by George Gorton, CREEP’s national youth director. He was paid five times—four times in cash and once with Gorton’s personal check, never in a way that could be traced back to the campaign. Brill says he was supposed to go to Miami and join other campaign operatives in similar operations to the Quaker infiltration, but the Watergate burglary brought that to an abrupt close. Gorton confirms that Brill worked for him in the campaign, but denies he or Brill ever did anything illegal. Interestingly, Gorton initially boasts that he had people gathering information on “radicals” in 38 states, then backs off and says Brill was his only operative. Gorton says he reported to Kenneth Rietz, the director of CREEP’s Youth Vote Division. Rietz had been recommended by H. R. Haldeman to take over as the head of the Republican National Committee. The Posts prints a story based on Woodward’s information, and notes that Brill’s salary was not reported in CREEP’s financial disclosures. The General Accounting Office (GAO) will audit CREEP’s finances and discover that the campaign had maintained a clandestine “Kiddie Corps” of young spies working around the country. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 262-265]

Entity Tags: George S. McGovern, Committee to Re-elect the President, Bob Woodward, Craig Hillegass, Donald Segretti, H.R. Haldeman, Kenneth Rietz, George Gorton, Republican National Committee, Theodore Brill, General Accounting Office

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Tempers flare at the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner. President Nixon and his entourage (including H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and Henry Kissinger—see April 14, 1973) sit stolidly through the evening’s entertainment, which contains plenty of biting Watergate humor, but the real fireworks take place between members of the press and Nixon officials. Edward Bennett Williams, the eminent lawyer whose firm represents both the Washington Post and the Democratic National Committee, gets into a heated sparring match with Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan. Buchanan is gloating over the November 1972 re-election landslide (see November 7, 1972), calling Williams a “sore loser.” Williams retorts: “But you did it dirty, Pat. You had to do it dirty. You won, but you had to steal it.” Buchanan says: “The Watergate’s all you had. Some Cubans going in to look at Larry O’Brien’s mail.… You blew it out of proportion.” Williams responds: “Dirty, Pat, dirty election. Aren’t you ashamed? You’re a conservative, and all this law-breaking. And the Washington Post really sticking it to you. Oh, that must have hurt the most.” Buchanan counters: “A little spying. That’s politics.” Buchanan continues by attacking Williams’s client list, which includes ex-Senate aide Bobby Baker and former Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa. “There’s a big difference,” Williams says. “I didn’t run any of my clients for president.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 285-287]

Entity Tags: Henry A. Kissinger, White House Correspondents Association, H.R. Haldeman, Washington Post, Patrick Buchanan, John Ehrlichman, Richard M. Nixon, Lawrence O’Brien, Edward Bennett Williams

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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