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Context of 'April 20, 1973: Mitchell Testifies, Says He Would not Approve Bugging Democrats'

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Herbert L. “Bart” Porter, the director of scheduling for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) (see May 1971), gives a statement to the FBI about his knowledge of the Watergate burglary. Porter reluctantly does as his boss and friend, Jeb Magruder, has instructed him to, and lies to the agents. Magruder had assured Porter that White House and CREEP aide G. Gordon Liddy is solely responsible for the burglary, and that no one else—certainly not Magruder—knows anything about the incident. In retrospect, Porter calls Magruder a “master seducer” who used their friendship to help him dodge responsibility for his actions. Magruder criticized Liddy for being a loose cannon, and for spending huge sums of campaign money on “dirty tricks” without higher authorization. According to Magruder, Watergate was jeopardizing the campaign, and needed to be brought into focus. “Call it what you might,” Porter will write, “‘an embellishment of the truth,’ ‘a little white lie,’ or ‘a substitute of one perfectly legal activity for another legal activity’—I did not like any part of it.” But Porter believes Magruder’s protestations of innocence and non-involvement. When the FBI asks Porter about the purpose of money that had passed through his hands from Hugh Sloan, CREEP’s treasurer, to Liddy, Porter answers as instructed: for political intelligence-gathering. Porter believes that his ‘little white lie’ is the end of his involvement in the Watergate investigation, a belief that is quite wrong. [Harper's, 10/1974]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Committee to Re-elect the President, Hugh Sloan, Jeb S. Magruder, Herbert L. Porter, G. Gordon Liddy

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

A confident G. Gordon Liddy leaves the courtroom.A confident G. Gordon Liddy leaves the courtroom. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]The trial of the seven men accusing of breaking into Democratic headquarters at the Watergate hotel and office complex (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) begins. Defendant G. Gordon Liddy is confident to the point of exuberance, waving triumphantly to the jurors; the other defendants are more subdued. Prosecutor Earl Silbert’s opening argument presents a scenario in which Liddy had been given money for legitimate political intelligence-gathering purposes, and on his own decided to mount illegal operations. Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, observing in the courtroom, is dismayed; Silbert is giving the jury the “Liddy-as-fall-guy” tale Woodward and his colleague Carl Bernstein had learned of months before, and which Nixon and his aides had discussed in June (see June 21, 1972). After Silbert’s opening argument, Hunt abruptly changes his plea to guilty; the four Miami-based burglars—Bernard Barker, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, and Frank Sturgis—soon follow suit (see January 10, 1973). [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 229-231; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]

Entity Tags: Eugenio Martinez, Bob Woodward, Bernard Barker, Carl Bernstein, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Earl Silbert, Virgilio Gonzalez, G. Gordon Liddy, Frank Sturgis

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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

James McCord demonstrates a bugging device during his testimony.James McCord demonstrates a bugging device during his testimony. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Convicted Watergate burglar James McCord testifies behind closed doors to the Senate Watergate Committee (see March 25, 1973). The committee’s ranking minority member, Howard Baker (R-TN), tells reporters after the lengthy session that McCord has provided “significant information… covering a lot of territory.” One senator anonymously tells Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of McCord’s testimony: McCord has told the senators that fellow Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy said the burglary and surveillance operation was approved by then-Nixon campaign chairman John Mitchell in February 1972, while Mitchell was still attorney general (see March 20, 1971). In addition, McCord told the senators that White House aide Charles Colson knew about the Watergate operation in advance. Little of this is news to the Post reporters, and they are not heartened by Baker’s admission that McCord’s testimony is almost all secondhand information. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 280-281]

Entity Tags: John Mitchell, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, James McCord, Charles Colson, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, G. Gordon Liddy, Howard Baker

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Jeb Magruder testifies before Watergate investigators.Jeb Magruder testifies before Watergate investigators. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Former CREEP deputy director Jeb Magruder testifies in private to investigators for the Watergate investigation. Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward learns of Magruder’s testimony on April 18, from a CREEP official. The official tells Woodward that “Magruder is your next McCord (see March 28, 1973). He went to the prosecutors last Saturday [April 14] and really tucked it to [John] Dean and [John] Mitchell.” Woodward asks why Magruder, who has a reputation for extreme loyalty, would testify against anyone in either the White House or the campaign. “Bad sh_t, man,” the official responds. “The walls were coming in on him—walls, ceiling, floor, everything.” Magruder blamed Dean and Mitchell for “[t]he whole mess,” says the official, “the bugging plans and the payoff scheme… those meetings, or at least one meeting, in Mitchell’s office when everything was discussed with [G. Gordon] Liddy before the bugging.” Woodward confirms the official’s account with a White House official, who says that Magruder told everything he knew: “The works—all the plans for the bugging, the charts, the payoffs.… This is no hearsay like McCord. It will put Dean and Mitchell in jail.” Magruder’s lawyer confirms that his client will testify before the grand jury when called. And a Justice Department official adds that “other people will testify that Mitchell and Dean were in on the arrangements for the payoffs.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 292-293] The same day, Magruder admits to Bart Porter, the campaign’s director of scheduling, that he has been using Porter to help cover his own involvement in the Watergate conspiracy (see July 31, 1972). Porter, who has lied three times under oath for Magruder (see January 8-11, 1973), is horrified. He decides to stop lying for Magruder or anyone else, and tell the Senate Watergate Committee everything he knows about Watergate, regardless of the consequences. [Harper's, 10/1974]

Entity Tags: James McCord, G. Gordon Liddy, Committee to Re-elect the President, Bob Woodward, Herbert L. Porter, Jeb S. Magruder, John Dean, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, John Mitchell, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

The Washington Post reports that testimony from former Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) director Jeb Magruder (see April 14-18, 1973) shows that White House counsel John Dean and former CREEP director John Mitchell “approved and helped plan the Watergate bugging operation,” and that “Mitchell and Dean later arranged to buy the silence of the seven convicted Watergate conspirators.” A simultaneous piece by the New York Times reports that Attorney General Richard Kleindienst has recused himself from handling the case because of “persistent reports” that three or more of his colleagues will be indicted (see April 16-17, 1973). The Watergate grand jury is shifting its focus from the Watergate bugging itself to the issue of the cover-up and the possibility of obstruction of justice by administration officials. If indicted, the story says, Dean will cooperate with the investigation. Dean’s office issues a statement from Dean that says although he will continue to refrain from making public comments on the case, that policy may change. “[S]ome may hope or think that I will become a scapegoat in the Watergate case. Anyone who believes this does not know me, does not know the true facts, nor understand our system of justice.” A friend of Dean’s confirms Dean’s new defiance, saying: “John welcomes the opportunity to tell his side of the story to the grand jury. He’s not going to go down in flames for the activities of others.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 293-296]

Entity Tags: Richard Kleindienst, Committee to Re-elect the President, Jeb S. Magruder, John Mitchell, John Dean

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Former Nixon campaign director John Mitchell testifies before the Watergate grand jury. An associate of Mitchell’s says that Mitchell is resigned to going to jail. He has no intention of saying anything that might jeopardize President Nixon. It is less certain what he will say about Nixon aides H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman; he hates both of them and blames them for “ruining” Nixon and persuading Nixon to let him take a fall. After his testimony, Mitchell confirms that he participated in meetings where the idea of electronically monitoring the Democrats was discussed, but says he turned down any ideas of gathering intelligence against political opponents that were illegal. Another associate of Mitchell says that the former director admitted paying the seven Watergate defendants during the trial, but that money was supposed to be for legal fees and not to buy their silence, as his former deputy Jeb Magruder has testified (see April 14-18, 1973). Mitchell testified that someone at the White House went over his head to get approval for the electronic surveillance against the Democrats. The associate says Mitchell believes that person was Charles Colson, but has no proof and did not mention Colson’s name to the grand jury. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 300-301]

Entity Tags: H.R. Haldeman, Charles Colson, Richard M. Nixon, John Ehrlichman, John Mitchell

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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