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Context of 'June 4, 1969: Nixon Decides No More NSC Meetings'

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Henry Kissinger.Henry Kissinger. [Source: Library of Congress]Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, determined to prove to President Nixon that news stories about the secret Cambodian bombings are not being leaked to the press by liberals in the National Security Council offices, urges FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to wiretap several of Nixon’s top aides, as well as a selection of reporters. Kissinger will later deny making the request. [Werth, 2006, pp. 169] In March 1973, W. Mark Felt, the deputy director of the FBI and Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s famous “Deep Throat” background source, will confirm the wiretappings, saying: “In 1969, the first targets of aggressive wiretapping were the reporters and those in the administration who were suspected of disloyalty. Then the emphasis was shifted to the radical political opposition during the [Vietnam] antiwar protests. When it got near election time [1972], it was only natural to tap the Democrats (see Late June-July 1971 and May 27-28, 1972). The arrests in the Watergate (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) sent everybody off the edge because the break-in could uncover the whole program.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 271] Felt will tell Woodward that two of the reporters placed under electronic surveillance are Neil Sheehan and Hedrick Smith. Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg will leak the Defense Department documents to Sheehan (see March 1971). Eventually, future FBI director William Ruckelshaus will reveal that at least 17 wiretaps are ordered between 1969 and 1971. The logs of those wiretaps are stored in a safe in White House aide John Ehrlichman’s office. In all, 13 government officials and four reporters are monitored. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 313] The FBI will send Kissinger 37 letters reporting on the results of the surveillance between May 16, 1969 and May 11, 1970. When the surveillance is revealed to the Senate Watergate Committee, it will be shown that among those monitored are Nixon speechwriter and later New York Times columnist William Safire; Anthony Lake, a top Kissinger aide who will later resign over the secret bombings of Cambodia; and the military assistant to Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, whom Kissinger regards as a political enemy. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 21-22]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, J. Edgar Hoover, Henry A. Kissinger, Hedrick Smith, Anthony Lake, Melvin Laird, Neil Sheehan, William Safire, W. Mark Felt, National Security Council, William Ruckelshaus

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Nixon and Watergate

Two National Security Council assistants, Richard Moose and Richard Sneider, are wiretapped by the FBI as part of President Nixon and Henry Kissinger’s attempt to seal media leaks (see May 1969). [Reeves, 2001, pp. 86]

Entity Tags: Richard Sneider, Richard Moose, Richard M. Nixon, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Henry A. Kissinger

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Nixon and Watergate

The press reports an upcoming announcement of US troop withdrawals from Vietnam. President Nixon, convinced that the media leaks (see May 1969) are coming from the National Security Council, decides to stop holding NSC meetings entirely. Instead, he and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger will decide national security matters between themselves, in secret. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 86]

Entity Tags: Henry A. Kissinger, National Security Council, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Book cover of the Pentagon Papers.Book cover of the Pentagon Papers. [Source: Daniel Ellsberg]The New York Times receives a huge amount of secret Defense Department documents and memos that document the covert military and intelligence operations waged by previous administrations in Vietnam (see January 15, 1969). The documents are leaked by Daniel Ellsberg, a former Defense Department official who worked in counterintelligence and later for the RAND Corporation while remaining an active consultant to the government on Vietnam. Ellsberg, a former aide to Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger and a member of the task force that produced the Defense Department documents, has, over his tenure as a senior government official, become increasingly disillusioned with the actions of the US in Vietnam. [Herda, 1994] The documents are given to Times reporter Neil Sheehan by Ellsberg (see May 1969). [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 313]
Ellsberg Tried to Interest Senators - After he and his friend Anthony Russo had copied the documents (see September 29, 1969), Ellsberg had spent months attempting to persuade several antiwar senators, including William Fulbright (D-AR), Charles Mathias Jr (R-MD), George McGovern (D-SD), and Paul “Pete” McCloskey (R-CA), to enter the study into the public record, all to no avail. But McGovern suggested that Ellsberg provide copies of the documents either to the New York Times or the Washington Post. Ellsberg knew Sheehan in Vietnam, and decided that the Times reporter was his best chance for making the documents public. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 333; Moran, 2007] Ellsberg originally gave copies of the documents—later dubbed the “Pentagon Papers”—to Phil Geyelin of the Washington Post, but the Post’s Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee decided not to publish any of the documents. Ellsberg then gave a copy to Sheehan.
Documents Prove White House Deceptions - The documents include information that showed former President Dwight D. Eisenhower had made a secret commitment to help the French defeat the insurgents in Vietnam. They also show that Eisenhower’s successor, John F. Kennedy, had used a secret “provocation strategy” to escalate the US’s presence into a full-blown war that eventually led to the infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident. The documents also show that Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson, had planned from the outset of his presidency to expand the war [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] , and show how Johnson secretly paved the way for combat troops to be sent to Vietnam, how he had refused to consult Congress before committing both ground and air forces to war, and how he had secretly, and illegally, shifted government funds from other areas to fund the war. Finally, the documents prove that all three presidents had broken Constitutional law in bypassing Congress and sending troops to wage war in Vietnam on their own authority. [Herda, 1994]
Times Publishes Against Legal Advice - The Times will begin publishing them in mid-June 1971 (see June 13, 1971) after putting Sheehan and several other reporters up in the New York Hilton to sift through the mountain of photocopies and the senior editors, publishers, and lawyers argued whether or not to publish such a highly classified set of documents. The management will decide, against the advice of its lawyers, to publish articles based on the documents as well as excerpts from the documents themselves. [Moran, 2007]

Entity Tags: Paul McCloskey, Washington Post, Phil Geyelin, RAND Corporation, New York Times, Johnson administration, Kennedy administration, Charles Mathias, Jr, Ben Bradlee, Anthony Russo, Neil Sheehan, Daniel Ellsberg, Henry A. Kissinger, George S. McGovern, Katharine Graham, J. William Fulbright, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

President Nixon authorizes the creation of a “special investigations unit,” later nicknamed the “Plumbers,” to root out and seal media leaks. The first target is Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press (see June 13, 1971); the team will burglarize the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis Fielding, in hopes of securing information that the White House can use to smear Ellsberg’s character and undermine his credibility (see September 9, 1971). Nixon aide John Ehrlichman, who supervises the “Plumbers,” will later say that the Ellsberg burglary is “the seminal Watergate episode.” Author Barry Werth will later write, “[L]ike all original sins, it held the complete DNA of subsequent misdeeds.” During the upcoming court battle over the documents, Nixon tells his aide Charles Colson: “We’ve got a countergovernment here and we’ve got to fight it. I don’t give a damn how it’s done. Do whatever has to be done to stop those leaks.… I don’t want to be told why it can’t be done.” Whatever damaging information the “Plumbers” can find on Ellsberg will be itself leaked to the press, Nixon says. “Don’t worry about his trial [referring to Ellsberg’s arrest on conspiracy and espionage charges (see June 28, 1971) ]. Just get everything out. Try him in the press… leak it out.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 84-87] As he is wont to do, Nixon refers to his own success in convicting suspected Communist spy Alger Hiss in 1950. “We won the Hiss case in the papers,” he says. “We did. I had to leak stuff all over the place. Because the Justice Department would not prosecute it.… It was won in the papers…. I leaked out the papers. I leaked everything.… I leaked out the testimony. I had Hiss convicted before he ever got to the grand jury.” [Kutler, 1997, pp. 10; Reeves, 2001, pp. 337-338] In July 1973, FBI deputy director W. Mark Felt, the notorious “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005) will tell reporter Bob Woodward that Nixon created the Plumbers because the FBI would not do his bidding in regards to Ellsberg. Had the FBI agreed to investigate Ellsberg to the extent Nixon wanted, he would not have created the “Plumbers.” “The problem was that we [the FBI] wouldn’t burglarize” (see June 30-July 1, 1971), Felt will say. Ehrlichman will later testify, “Those fellows were going out as substitutes for the FBI.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 107]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, ’Plumbers’, Alger Hiss, Daniel Ellsberg, Richard M. Nixon, W. Mark Felt, Lewis Fielding, Bob Woodward, John Ehrlichman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Frank Sturgis, one of the Watergate burglars.Frank Sturgis, one of the Watergate burglars. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]A covert unit of President Nixon’s “Plumbers” installs surveillance equipment in the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington’s Watergate hotel and office complex. The Washington police report an attempt to unscrew a lock on the door of the Committee’s office between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m., but do not know as yet who tried to force the lock. Some of the five men caught burglarizing the same offices six weeks later (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) are currently registered at the Watergate Hotel, according to subsequent police investigations. [Washington Post, 6/18/1972; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Change of Plans - According to one of the burglary team (see April-June 1972), Eugenio Martinez, the original plan centers on a fake “banquet” in the Watergate hotel for their fake company, the Ameritus Corporation, to be held in a private dining room that has access to the elevators. While team leader and White House aide E. Howard Hunt hosts the banquet, Martinez and the other burglars will use the elevator to go to the DNC offices and “complete the mission.” Virgilio Gonzalez, a locksmith, will open the door; Frank Sturgis, Reinaldo Pico, and Felipe de Diego will act as lookouts; Bernard Barker will get the documents; Martinez will take photographs; and James McCord will “do his job,” apparently involving electronics that Martinez does not understand.
First Time Failure - Apparently they do not follow their plan. Instead, Hunt and the seven members of what Martinez calls “McCord’s army” enter the Watergate complex at midnight, and they enter and sign in under the eye of a policeman. McCord explains that they are all going to work at the Federal Reserve offices on the eighth floor, an explanation Martinez feels is shaky. They are unable to get in through the doors of the sixth floor, and are forced to cancel the operation. Martinez recalls that while the others attempt to get in to the sixth floor, McCord is busy doing something else on the eighth floor; at 2 a.m., he sees McCord on the eighth floor talking to two guards. What McCord is doing, Martinez does not know. “I did not ask questions, but I thought maybe McCord was working there,” he will later recall. “It was the only thing that made sense. He was the one who led us to the place and it would not have made sense for us to have rooms at the Watergate and go on this operation if there was not someone there on the inside.” Hunt is furious at the failure to get into the DNC offices, and reschedules the operation for the next night. Gonzales flies to Miami and brings back his entire set of lockpicking tools. Martinez questions the laxity of the plan—the lack of floor plans, information about the elevators, knowledge of the guards’ schedules, and no contingency plans for failure. Hunt tells him, through Barker: “You are an operative. Your mission is to do what you are told and not to ask questions.”
Success - The second try is successful. Gonzalez and Sturgis get through the doors and usher everyone in, with one of them calling over their walkie-talkie, “The horse is in the house.” Martinez recalls taking “thirty or forty” photographs of campaign contributor documents, and McCord plants three phone taps, telling the others that while the first two might be discovered, the third will not. They return to their hotel rooms about 5 a.m. [Harper's, 10/1974]

Entity Tags: Reinaldo Pico, US Federal Reserve, Richard M. Nixon, Felipe de Diego, Democratic National Committee, Bernard Barker, ’Plumbers’, Frank Sturgis, James McCord, E. Howard Hunt, Eugenio Martinez

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Nixon and Watergate, Elections Before 2000

Frank Wills, the security guard who discovers the taped doors and alerts the DC police.Frank Wills, the security guard who discovers the taped doors and alerts the DC police. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Five burglars (see June 17, 1972) are arrested at 2:30 a.m. while breaking in to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Headquarters offices in Washington’s Watergate hotel and office complex; the DNC occupies the entire sixth floor. [Washington Post, 6/18/1972; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Discovery - They are surprised at gunpoint by three plainclothes officers of the DC Metropolitan Police. Two ceiling panels have been removed from the secretary’s office, which is adjacent to that of DNC chairman Lawrence O’Brien. It is possible to place a surveillance device above those panels that could monitor O’Brien’s office. The five suspects, all wearing surgical gloves, have among them two sophisticated voice-activated surveillance devices that can monitor conversations and telephone calls alike; lock-picks, door jimmies, and an assortment of burglary tools; and $2,300 in cash, most of it in $100 bills in sequence. They also have a walkie-talkie, a shortwave receiver tuned to the police band, 40 rolls of unexposed film, two 35mm cameras, and three pen-sized tear gas guns. Near to where the men are captured is a file cabinet with two open drawers; a DNC source speculates that the men might have been preparing to photograph the contents of the file drawers.
Guard Noticed Taped Door - The arrests take place after a Watergate security guard, Frank Wills, notices a door connecting a stairwell with the hotel’s basement garage has been taped so it will not lock; the guard removes the tape, but when he checks ten minutes later and finds the lock taped once again, the guard calls the police. The police find that all of the stairwell doors leading from the basement to the sixth floor have been similarly taped to prevent them from locking. The door leading from the stairwell to the DNC offices had been jimmied. During a search of the offices, one of the burglars leaps from behind a desk and surrenders. [Washington Post, 6/18/1972] The FBI agents responding to the burglary are initially told that the burglars may have been attempting to plant a bomb in the offices. The “bomb” turns out to be surveillance equipment. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file]
Last Mission for Martinez - One of the burglars, Cuban emigre and CIA agent Eugenio Martinez, will recall the burglary. They have already successfully burglarized a psychiatrist’s office in search of incriminating material on Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see September 9, 1971), and successfully bugged the DNC offices less than a month previously (see May 27-28, 1972), but Martinez is increasingly ill at ease over the poor planning and amateurish behavior of his colleagues (see Mid-June 1972). This will be his last operation, he has decided. Team leader E. Howard Hunt, whom Martinez calls by his old code name “Eduardo,” is obviously intrigued by the material secured from the previous burglary, and wants to go through the offices a second time to find more. Martinez is dismayed to find that Hunt has two operations planned for the evening, one for the DNC and one for the campaign offices of Democratic candidate George McGovern. Former CIA agent and current Nixon campaign security official James McCord (see June 19, 1972), the electronics expert of the team, is equally uncomfortable with the rushed, almost impromptu plan. Hunt takes all of the burglars’ identification and puts it in a briefcase. He gives another burglar, Frank Sturgis, his phony “Edward J. Hamilton” ID from his CIA days, and gives each burglar $200 in cash to bribe their way out of trouble. Interestingly, Hunt tells the burglars to keep the keys to their hotel rooms. Martinez later writes: “I don’t know why. Even today, I don’t know. Remember, I was told in advance not to ask about those things.”
Taping the Doors - McCord goes into the Watergage office complex, signs in, and begins taping the doors to the stairwells from the eighth floor all the way to the garage. After waiting for everyone to leave the offices, the team prepares to enter. Gonzalez and Sturgis note that the tape to the basement garage has been removed. Martinez believes the operation will be aborted, but McCord disagrees; he convinces Hunt and the other team leader, White House aide G. Gordon Liddy, to continue. It is McCord’s responsibility to remove the tape once the burglars are inside, but he fails to do so. The team is well into the DNC offices when the police burst in. “There was no way out,” Martinez will recall. “We were caught.” Barker is able to surreptitiously advise Hunt, who is still in the hotel, that they have been discovered. Martinez will later wonder if the entire second burglary might have been “a set-up or something like that because it was so easy the first time. We all had that feeling.” The police quickly find the burglars’ hotel keys and then the briefcase containing their identification. As they are being arrested, McCord, who rarely speaks and then not above a whisper, takes charge of the situation. He orders everyone to keep their mouths shut. “Don’t give your names,” he warns. “Nothing. I know people. Don’t worry, someone will come and everything will be all right. This thing will be solved.” [Harper's, 10/1974; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/7/2007]
'Third-Rate Burglary' - White House press secretary Ron Ziegler will respond to allegations that the White House and the Nixon presidential campaign might have been involved in the Watergate burglary by calling it a “third-rate burglary attempt,” and warning that “certain elements may try to stretch this beyond what it is.” [Washington Post, 5/1/1973] The Washington Post chooses, for the moment, to cover it as a local burglary and nothing more; managing editor Howard Simons says that it could be nothing more than a crime committed by “crazy Cubans.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 19]
CIA Operation? - In the weeks and months to come, speculation will arise as to the role of the CIA in the burglary. The Nixon White House will attempt to pin the blame for the Watergate conspiracy on the CIA, an attempt forestalled by McCord (see March 19-23, 1973). In a 1974 book on his involvement in the conspiracy, McCord will write: “The Watergate operation was not a CIA operation. The Cubans may have been misled by others into believing that it was a CIA operation. I know for a fact that it was not.” Another author, Carl Oglesby, will claim otherwise, saying that the burglary is a CIA plot against Nixon. Former CIA officer Miles Copeland will claim that McCord led the burglars into a trap. Journalist Andrew St. George will claim that CIA Director Richard Helms knew of the break-in before it occurred, a viewpoint supported by Martha Mitchell, the wife of Nixon campaign director John Mitchell, who will tell St. George that McCord is a “double agent” whose deliberate blunders led to the arrest of the burglars. No solid evidence of CIA involvement in the Watergate conspiracy has so far been revealed. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]

Entity Tags: Nixon administration, Howard Simons, Lawrence O’Brien, James McCord, Martha Mitchell, Richard M. Nixon, Richard Helms, Washington Post, Ron Ziegler, George S. McGovern, Miles Copeland, G. Gordon Liddy, John Mitchell, Frank Sturgis, Carl Oglesby, Bob Woodward, Andrew St. George, Central Intelligence Agency, Carl Bernstein, Democratic National Committee, Daniel Ellsberg, E. Howard Hunt, Eugenio Martinez, Frank Wills

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate, Elections Before 2000

The US Supreme Court, in what becomes informally known as the “Keith case,” upholds, 8-0, an appellate court ruling that strikes down warrantless surveillance of domestic groups for national security purposes. The Department of Justice had wiretapped, without court warrants, several defendants charged with destruction of government property; those wiretaps provided key evidence against the defendants. Attorney General John Mitchell refused to disclose the source of the evidence pursuant to the “national security” exception to the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. The courts disagreed, and the government appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which upheld the lower courts’ rulings against the government in a unanimous verdict. The Court held that the wiretaps were an unconstitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment, establishing the judicial precedent that warrants must be obtained before the government can wiretap a US citizen. [US Supreme Court, 6/19/1972; Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 258-259] Critics of the Nixon administration have long argued that its so-called “Mitchell Doctrine” of warrantlessly wiretapping “subversives” has been misused to spy on anyone whom Nixon officials believe may be political enemies. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 258-259] As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision, Congress passes the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. [John Conyers, 5/14/2003]
Opinion of Justice Powell - Writing for the Court, Justice Lewis Powell observes: “History abundantly documents the tendency of Government—however benevolent and benign its motives—to view with suspicion those who most fervently dispute its policies. Fourth Amendment protections become the more necessary when the targets of official surveillance may be those suspected of unorthodoxy in their political beliefs. The danger to political dissent is acute where the government attempts to act under so vague a concept as the power to protect ‘domestic security.’ Given the difficulty of defining the domestic security interest, the danger of abuse in acting to protect that interest becomes apparent.” [US Supreme Court, 6/19/1972]
Justice Department Wiretapped Reporters, Government Officials - In February 1973, the media will report that, under the policy, the Justice Department had wiretapped both reporters and Nixon officials themselves who were suspected of leaking information to the press (see May 1969 and July 26-27, 1970), and that some of the information gleaned from those wiretaps was given to “Plumbers” E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy for their own political espionage operations. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 258-259]
Conyers Hails Decision 30 Years Later - In 2003, Representative John Conyers (D-MI) will say on the floor of the House: “Prior to 1970, every modern president had claimed ‘inherent Executive power’ to conduct electronic surveillance in ‘national security’ cases without the judicial warrant required in criminal cases by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. Then Attorney General John Mitchell, on behalf of President Richard Nixon sought to wiretap several alleged ‘domestic’ terrorists without warrants, on the ground that it was a national security matter. Judge [Damon] Keith rejected this claim of the Sovereign’s inherent power to avoid the safeguard of the Fourth Amendment. He ordered the government to produce the wiretap transcripts. When the Attorney General appealed to the US Supreme Court, the Court unanimously affirmed Judge Keith. The Keith decision not only marked a watershed in civil liberties protection for Americans. It also led directly to the current statutory restriction on the government’s electronic snooping in national security cases.” [John Conyers, 5/14/2003]

Entity Tags: Lewis Powell, US Supreme Court, John Mitchell, E. Howard Hunt, US Department of Justice, G. Gordon Liddy, ’Plumbers’, Damon Keith, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Nixon and Watergate

After FBI Director William Ruckelshaus announces that 13 government officials and four reporters had been illegally wiretapped by the FBI at the behest of the Nixon administration (see May 1969), Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward learns that Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had authorized at least “some” of the taps. Incredulous, Woodward phones Kissinger for his response. Kissinger blames then-White House chief of staff H. R. Haldeman for authorizing the taps. But Kissinger does not directly deny authorizing any wiretaps, and Woodward presses the point. Kissinger admits that he may have given the FBI some names of people suspected of leaking information to the press, and that the agency might have construed that as authorization to wiretap. Woodward tells Kissinger that two separate sources have named him as personally authorizing electronic surveillance, and Kissinger replies, “Almost never.” As Woodward continues to press, Kissinger becomes angry, accusing Woodward of subjecting him to “police interrogation.” Kissinger says that if his office issued the authorizations, then he is responsible. Kissinger then asks Woodward if the reporter intends to quote him. Woodward says yes, and Kissinger explodes, “I’m telling you what I said was for background!” They had made no such agreement, Woodward says; Kissinger accuses Woodward of trying to penalize him for being honest. “In five years in Washington,” Kissinger complains, “I’ve never been trapped into talking like this.” Woodward cannot imagine what kind of treatment Kissinger is used to receiving. After the conversation, Woodward learns that Kissinger is routinely allowed to put his remarks on so-called “retroactive background” by other reporters. The Post editors decide to hold off on writing about Kissinger; as a result, they are beaten to the punch by the New York Times, which reports that Kissinger had fingered his own aides as being responsible for the wiretaps. The Post will report the 17 wiretaps, and add that the Secret Service had forwarded information on the private life of a Democratic presidential candidate to the White House; information on 1972 vice-presidential candidate Thomas Eagleton arrived in Haldeman’s office before it was leaked to the press; and Haldeman ordered the FBI to investigate CBS reporter Daniel Schorr in early 1973. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 313-316]

Entity Tags: H.R. Haldeman, Bob Woodward, Daniel Schorr, Henry A. Kissinger, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Thomas F. Eagleton, Nixon administration, William Ruckelshaus

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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