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Context of 'April 16, 1973: Nixon, Aides Attempt to Craft Testimony to Give Nixon Credit for ‘Breaking’ Watergate Case'

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White House counsel John Dean warns President Nixon of a “cancer on the presidency.” When this phrase enters the public dialogue, it is popularly misremembered as Dean warning Nixon about the ill effects of the Watergate conspiracy on the Nixon presidency. Instead, Dean is warning Nixon about the deleterious effects of the blackmail efforts being carried out against the White House by the convicted Watergate burglars (see June 20-21, 1972). In a conversation secretly taped by Nixon, Dean says, “We have a cancer within, close to the Presidency, that is growing. Basically it is because we are being blackmailed.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 577-578; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
Cancer Should 'Be Removed Immediately' - In later testimony to the Senate Watergate Investigative Committee (see June 25-29, 1973), Dean states his words somewhat differently: “I began by telling the president that there was a cancer growing on the presidency and that if the cancer was not removed, that the president himself would be killed by it. I also told him that it was important that this cancer be removed immediately because it was growing more deadly every day.” Dean then tells Nixon virtually the entire story of the Watergate conspiracy, noting his discussions with other conspirators about the prospective wiretapping of the Democrats—particularly Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy and campaign officials John Mitchell and Jeb Magruder—and tells Nixon that he had reported the plans to Nixon’s top aide, H. R. Haldeman. He had participated in paying off the burglars to remain silent, and had coached Magruder to perjure himself before the Watergat grand jury (see April 14-18, 1973). Dean will testify: “I concluded by saying that it is going to take continued perjury and continued support of these individuals to perpetuate the cover-up and that I did not believe that it was possible to so continue it. Rather, all those involved must stand up and account for themselves and the president himself must get out in front.” But, Dean will testify, Nixon refuses to countenance Dean’s advice, and instead sets up a meeting with Dean, Haldeman, Mitchell, and his other top aide, John Ehrlichman. Nixon hopes that Mitchell will agree to take the blame for the Watergate wiretapping, and thusly quell the public uproar (Mitchell will refuse). Nixon, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Dean meet a second time that afternoon, a meeting which Dean will later describe as another “tremendous disappointment.” He will testify, “It was quite clear that the cover-up as far as the White House was concerned was going to continue.” He will testify that he believes both Haldeman and Ehrlichman, and himself, are indictable for obstruction of justice, and that “it was time that everybody start thinking about telling the truth.” However, both aides “were very unhappy with my comments.” [Time, 7/9/1973] Dean tells Nixon that to save his presidency, he and his closest aides Haldeman and Ehrlichman are going to have to testify and most likely go to jail. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 304]
Blackmail Payoffs - Between the blackmail and the almost-certainty that White House officials are going to start perjuring themselves, Dean concludes that the problem is critical. Convicted burglar E. Howard Hunt wants another $72,000 for what he is calling personal expenses and $50,000 more for attorneys’ fees. Hunt directly threatened aides John Ehrlichman and Egil Krogh (see July 20, 1971) with his testimony, saying that, Dean reports, “I have done enough seamy things for he and Krogh that they’ll never survive it.” Hunt is threatening to reveal the story behind the Ellsberg break-in (see September 9, 1971) and, in Dean’s words, “other things. I don’t know the full extent of it.” Nixon asks, “How much money do you need?” Dean replies, “I would say these people are going to cost a million dollars over the next two years.” Nixon muses, “You could get a million dollars. You could get it in cash. I know where it could be gotten. I mean it’s not easy but it could be done.” The money can be raised, Nixon says, but the idea of any presidential pardons for anyone is out. Nixon learns from his secretary, Rose Mary Woods, that their secret campaign fund still has over $100,000. That evening, Hunt is given $75,000 in cash. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 577-578; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] Hunt will eventually receive $120,000, almost the exact amount he demands. [Reston, 2007, pp. 35]

Entity Tags: Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, Richard M. Nixon, Rose Mary Woods, John Mitchell, Nixon administration, John Dean, John Ehrlichman, E. Howard Hunt, H.R. Haldeman, Egil Krogh

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

White House counsel John Dean begins cooperating with the Watergate prosecutors. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Dean has already been asked to resign and has refused, fearing that President Nixon and his top aides will try to pin the blame for Watergate on him. Shortly after agreeing to cooperate with the investigation, Dean issues a statement making it clear that he is unwilling to be a “scapegoat in the Watergate case.” [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] According to an associate of Dean’s, when Dean told Nixon that he and aides H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman would have to go to jail to protect the presidency (see March 21, 1973), Nixon seemed resigned to the possibility. But shortly thereafter, Haldeman and Ehrlichman convinced Nixon that Dean could be the “fall guy” for the entire White House. “Instead of agreeing to cooperate, they are still telling [Nixon] that John should walk the plank for all of them. [Nixon] is ready to give John the final shove.” A Nixon campaign official will verify the Dean associate’s account, and say that Dean wanted to be honest, but was following orders from Haldeman and Ehrlichman. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 305] Dean will soon begin sharing evidence that implicates Haldeman and Ehrlichman in the Watergate conspiracy (see June 25-29, 1973). [Washington Post, 5/1/1973]

Entity Tags: John Dean, H.R. Haldeman, Nixon administration, Richard M. Nixon, John Ehrlichman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

White House counsel John Dean meets with President Nixon to discuss his upcoming testimony before the Watergate grand jury (see April 6-20, 1973). Dean apologizes for not telling Nixon himself (Nixon had learned of Dean’s intent to testify from the Justice Department—see April 6-20, 1973). Dean agrees not to talk about “national security” matters such as the indiscriminate wiretapping the White House has had the FBI perform. Nixon also says that “he had, of course, only been joking” when he the remark he made earlier to Dean about being able to provide $1 million in “hush money” to the Watergate burglars (see March 21, 1973). According to later testimony by Dean (see June 25-29, 1973), during the meeting, Nixon “went behind his chair to the corner of the office and in a nearly inaudible tone said to me he was probably foolish to have discussed Hunt’s clemency with Colson” (see March 21, 1973). Dean concludes by saying that he hopes nothing he’s done will “result in the impeachment of the President.” According to Dean’s testimony, Nixon replies jokingly, “I certainly hope so also.” Both men are stilted and formal; Nixon knows he is being tape-recorded for posterity (see July 13-16, 1973), and Dean suspects the taping. The White House will contend that Dean’s version of events is wrong, and that Nixon tells Dean he has to testify without immunity. The audiotapes later show that Dean’s version of events is accurate. [Time, 7/9/1973; Reeves, 2001, pp. 587-588]

Entity Tags: John Dean, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice, Nixon administration, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

White House counsel John Dean tells President Nixon that he and senior aides H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman should resign in an attempt to protect Nixon from the Watergate fallout. Nixon concurs; in fact, he has already had two letters of resignation drawn up for Dean to sign. One reads, “In view of my increasing involvement in the Watergate matter, my impending appearance before the grand jury and the probability of its action, I request an immediate and indefinite leave of absence from my position on your staff.” The other is similarly worded, but tenders Dean’s resignation. Dean balks at signing them, and asks to rewrite and resubmit them. Nixon continues trying to rewrite his earlier exchanges with Dean, hoping to shape Dean’s testimony about Nixon’s earlier assertions of executive privilege and the payout of “hush money” to the convicted burglars (see April 15, 1973). Dean attempts to take credit for attempting to stop the Watergate conspiracy in its inception, but Nixon wants Dean’s testimony to credit him and not Dean. He even wants Dean to testify that the case was broken because of Nixon’s actions. After Dean leaves, Nixon, Haldeman, and Ehrlichman discuss the way they want the Watergate story to be told, deflecting and minimizing their own roles in the conspiracy and crediting themselves for bringing the story to light. Dean later returns with a written request for an indefinite leave of absence that says nothing about his Watergate involvement. Nixon wants to fire Dean and retain Haldeman and Ehrlichman, but knows that will send Dean into a spate of testimony that will drag everyone, including Nixon, down. “There’s no sense in aggravating Dean,” Nixon says. “He’ll do anything to save his own ass. He’s pissing as high as he can get now. We can’t let him piss any higher” and implicate Nixon. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 588-590]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, John Dean

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

John Dean being sworn in by committee chairman Sam Ervin.John Dean being sworn in by committee chairman Sam Ervin. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]In five days of explosive testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee, former White House counsel John Dean claims that President Nixon was personally involved with the cover-up of the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972 and June 3, 1973) within days of the crime. Dean gives a seven-hour opening statement detailing a program of political and campaign espionage activities conducted by the White House in recent years. He also tells the committee that he believes Nixon has tape-recorded some of the conversations regarding the Watergate conspiracy (see July 13-16, 1973). Dean tells the committee that he has White House documents detailing elements of the conspiracy in a safe-deposit box, and has given the keys to that box to Judge John Sirica, the judge overseeing the Watergate prosecutions. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] Dean, described by Time Magazine as “owlish” and speaking “in a lifeless monotone,” nevertheless displays “impressive poise and a masterly memory” as he “sp[ins] his detailed web of evidence. He readily admit[s] his own illegal and improper acts. But he emerge[s] unshaken from five full days of recital and cross examination, with his basic story challenged but intact.” Without a convincing rebuttal, it would be difficult for either the committee or the nation to believe that Nixon “was not an active and fully aware participant in the Watergate cover-up, as Dean charged.”
Implicates Nixon Aides - While Dean admits that he had no first-hand knowledge of Nixon’s complicity until September 1972, he directly implicates Nixon’s two most senior aides at the time, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, of what Time calls “multiple actions in the Watergate coverup,” as well as former Nixon campaign chairman John Mitchell.
White House-Sourced Questioning of Dean Backfires - An initial White House attempt at rebutting Dean’s testimony, consisting of a statement and a list of questions drawn up by White House counsel Fred Buzhardt, are “easily handled” by Dean, and even backfires, to the point where the White House disavows any involvement in the material, saying that they were “Buzhardt’s friendly personal contribution to the proceedings.” The questions attempt to portray Dean as the “mastermind” behind the Watergate conspiracy, with Mitchell his “patron.” Time writes, “Creating a constitutional crisis almost alone, the Buzhardt statement in effect charge[s], Dean and Mitchell kept the truth of all that concealed for some nine months from such shrewd White House officials as H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, Charles W. Colson—and the president.” But few on the committee find Buzhardt’s contention believable, considering the increasing amount of evidence to the contrary.
Testimony Details 'Climate of Fear' at White House - As yet much of Dean’s testimony remains uncorroborated, but, Time writes: “even if those facts leave many unconvinced of Nixon’s complicity in Watergate, Dean’s dismaying description of the climate of fear existing within the Nixon White House is almost as alarming as the affair that it spawned. With little regard for the law and under repeated proddings by the president himself. Dean contended, the Nixon staff used or contemplated using almost any available tactic to undermine political opponents, punish press critics, subdue antiwar protesters and gather political intelligence, including lists of ‘enemies’” (see June 27, 1973). Overall, Dean says, the Watergate break-in (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) was “the first act in a great American tragedy” and he finds it “very difficult” to testify about what others, including “men I greatly admire and respect,” had done. He finds it easier to admit to his own crimes. [Time, 7/9/1973]

Entity Tags: John Sirica, John Dean, Richard M. Nixon, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

’Newsweek’ cover on the revelation of the White House taping system.’Newsweek’ cover on the revelation of the White House taping system. [Source: Ideobook.net]White House aide Alexander Butterfield shocks the Senate Watergate Committee with his revelation of a secret recording system in the White House. Butterfield reveals that since 1971, President Nixon has been recording every conversation and telephone call in the Oval Office. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Butterfield is actually the aide who, at Nixon’s request, had the taping system installed. [Sussman, 1974] He is now the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Taping System Installed in 1970 at Nixon's Behest - Butterfield says the taping system was installed in the spring or summer of 1970, but corrects his testimony after committee chairman Sam Ervin reads him a letter from Nixon lawyer Fred Buzhardt stating that the first time the system was used was the spring of 1971; Butterfield then says the system was installed at that time (see February 1971). The system was installed and operated by Secret Service agents. Asked why Nixon would have such a system, Butterfield replies, perhaps ingenuously, “There was no doubt in my mind they were installed to record things for posterity, for the Nixon library.” Committee counsel Samuel Dash says the committee will request selected tapes to hear for themselves. Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox is also expected to request some of the tapes. Dash acknowledges that two other Nixon aides, H. R. Haldeman and Lawrence Higby, were also asked about the existence of the taping system, but both have refused to confirm the existence of the device. [Washington Post, 7/17/1973] Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s deputy, Alexander Haig, also knew of the taping system, but Kissinger himself did not know. Former White House counsel John Dean suspected that such a system existed. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 331]
'Small Fry' - Butterfield is described by one reporter as a “small fry,” the man responsible for keeping Nixon’s schedule and handling paper flow. On July 13, three committee staff members prepare Butterfield for his public testimony of July 16. They ask whether there is a White House recording system, but are not prepared for Butterfield’s answer, or the ramifications of his admission. Butterfield makes the same admission three days later, in open testimony before the committee and the television cameras, and in more detail. [Houston Chronicle, 6/7/1997] Butterfield explains his reluctance to discuss the recording system by saying, “It is very obvious that this could be—I cannot say that any longer—is embarrassing to our government.” [Washington Post, 7/17/1973]
No Longer Dean's Word Against Nixon's - During preparation, when the staff members ask Butterfield how the White House could have such detailed knowledge of the conversations, Butterfield replies: “I was hoping you guys wouldn’t ask me that.… Well, yes, there’s a recording system in the White House.” Nixon had had five voice-activated microphones placed in his desk in the Oval Office and two in wall lamps by the office fireplace, Butterfield reveals. More were in the Cabinet Room, Nixon’s “hideaway” office in the Old Executive Office Building, and even at Camp David, the presidential retreat. Before Butterfield’s testimony, Nixon and his top legal advisers felt they could duck and deny the worst charges against them. They feel that much of the Watergate imbroglio boils down to Nixon’s word against White House whistleblower John Dean (who had informed the committee that he suspected a recording system existed), and as Haig, who succeeded Haldeman as Nixon’s chief of staff, told Nixon: “Nobody in Congress likes [Dean]. We can take the son of a b_tch on.” Few in the White House know of Nixon’s secret and extensive taping system. Although senior Nixon aide H. R. Haldeman had told the few aides who do know of the system to invoke executive privilege and refuse to discuss it, Haig quietly told at least one aide, his former deputy Lawrence Higby, to “tell the truth” if asked under oath. Nixon’s lawyers had effectively rebutted Dean’s earlier testimony when Buzhardt secretly supplied a sympathetic Senate lawyer with highly detailed, nearly verbatim accounts of Nixon and Dean’s private conversations—accounts drawn from the secret tapes. Haig will later claim to be “shocked” at Butterfield’s revelation, saying, “It never occurred to me that anyone in his right mind would install anything so Orwellian as a system that never shut off, that preserved every word, every joke, every curse, every tantrum, every flight of presidential paranoia, every bit of flattery and bad advice and tattling by his advisers.” In reality, Haig had known of the system for months before Butterfield’s testimony, and had advised Nixon to have the tapes destroyed before the Watergate prosecutors could get their hands on them. [Washington Post, 7/17/1973; Werth, 2006, pp. 81-82] “Without the tapes,” reporter Mike Feinsilber will write in 1997, “it was unlikely Nixon would have had to give up the presidency.” [Houston Chronicle, 6/7/1997] Butterfield was considered so unimportant that, had Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein not pressured committee lawyers to interview him, the committee may not have bothered with him. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 330-331]

Entity Tags: H.R. Haldeman, Mike Feinsilber, John Dean, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Lawrence Higby, Alexander Butterfield, Fred Buzhardt, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, Richard M. Nixon, Nixon administration

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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