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Context of 'June 8-9, 1973: Colson Planned to Firebomb Brookings Institution, Post Reports'

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Daniel Ellsberg.Daniel Ellsberg. [Source: PBS / Corbis]The source of the Pentagon Papers leak, former defense consultant Daniel Ellsberg (see March 1971), surrenders to police. He is indicted for theft, conspiracy, and espionage. [National Security Archives, 6/29/2001; Online Highways, 8/18/2007] Almost two years later, all the charges against Ellsberg will be dismissed because of government misconduct (see May 11, 1973).

Entity Tags: Daniel Ellsberg

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

As another assignment for the newly formed “Plumbers” (see Late June-July 1971), President Nixon orders chief of staff H. R. Haldeman to have the Brookings Institute burglarized (see June 17, 1972). The Brookings Institute is a Washington think tank which Nixon believes has copies of the Pentagon Papers. As secretly recorded, Nixon tells Haldeman: “I want the break-in. Hell, they do that” [presumably referring to the Democrats]. “They have a lot of material. I want—the way I want that handled, Bob, is get it over. I want Brooking. Just break in. Break in and take it out. You understand.” Haldeman replies: “Yeah. But you have to get somebody to do it.” Nixon says: “Well, you—that’s what I’m just telling you. Now don’t discuss it here. You’re to break into the place, rifle the files, and bring them out.” Haldeman is untroubled by the order: “I don’t have any problem with breaking in.” Nixon is direct in his orders for the burglary: “Just go in and take them. Go in around 8 or 9 o’clock. That’s right. You go in and inspect and clean it out.… We’re up against an enemy, a conspiracy. They’re using any means. We are going to use any means. Is that clear?” The next day, Nixon repeats: “Get it done. I want it done. I want the Brookings Institute’s safe cleaned out.” [PBS, 1/2/1997; Reeves, 2001, pp. 339; Werth, 2006, pp. 84-87]
"Talk to Hunt" - When asked who will do it, Nixon replies: “That’s what I’m talking about. Don’t discuss it here. You talk to Hunt.” Nixon is referring to E. Howard Hunt, a recently retired CIA officer currently performing secret operations for Nixon’s aide Charles Colson. Haldeman says approvingly that CIA director Richard Helms “says he’s ruthless, quiet, careful. He’s kind of a tiger.… He spent 20 years in the CIA overthrowing governments.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 339]
"Black-Bag" Team Assembled - Ehrlichman’s deputies Egil “Bud” Krogh and David Young, whom he has put in charge of the operation, soon report that they’ve assembled a “black-bag” team and have recommended a “covert operation” to burglarize an office at the Institute. (Krogh sums up Nixon’s thinking quite eloquently: “Anyone who opposes us, we’ll destroy. As a matter of fact, anyone who doesn’t support us, we’ll destroy.”) Ehrlichman approves the project, noting it must not be “traceable.” The same team of burglars who rifle the office will later be used to break into the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate Hotel (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). [Herda, 1994; Fremon, 1998; Werth, 2006, pp. 84-87] The Brookings Institution burglary never takes place. [PBS, 1/2/1997] Ehrlichman will later claim that the Institution was never burglarized because he “shot it down” (see Late December-Early January 1997). [Herda, 1994]
Newspaper Editor Targeted for Burglary - Another project, which also apparently never takes place, involves stealing documents from the safe of the editor of the Las Vegas Sun, Hank Greenspun. “Plumbers” burglar James McCord will later explain that Greenspun is a target because of his relationship with eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes and former Hughes associate Robert Maheu, and that Maheu has damaging information on a Democratic presidential candidate, Edmund Muskie, that the Nixon aides want. However, author Carl Oglesby will later claim that the material refers to Nixon and not to Muskie. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] In 2001, historian Richard Reeves writes that the files contain information about Nixon and Democratic National Committee chairman Lawrence O’Brien. Nixon’s close friend and political financier Charles “Bebe” Rebozo had just gotten $50,000 in campaign cash from Hughes, and O’Brien is earning $13,000 a month lobbying for one of Hughes’s corporations. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 431]
Call Girl Operation Turned Down - Another “Plumber,” G. Gordon Liddy, suggests using a coterie of Washington, DC call girls to infiltrate the Democratic campaign organization and bring out information, a suggestion that is not seriously considered. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
Inappropriate Conversation? - During the discussion, White House counsel John Dean interrupts to say, “Excuse me for saying this, but I don’t think this kind of conversation should go on in the attorney general’s office.” They are meeting in the office of Attorney General John Mitchell. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 431]

Entity Tags: John Dean, James McCord, John Ehrlichman, Richard Reeves, Las Vegas Sun, John Mitchell, Howard Hughes, Lawrence O’Brien, Hank Greenspun, Edmund Muskie, G. Gordon Liddy, Brookings Institution, Barry Werth, ’Plumbers’, Carl Oglesby, Charles ‘Bebe’ Rebozo, Charles Colson, Egil Krogh, Robert E. Maheu, David Young, H.R. Haldeman, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Eugenio Martinez.Eugenio Martinez. [Source: public domain]President Nixon’s “Plumbers” unit, tasked to plug media leaks from administration officials and outsiders to the media, burglarizes the Los Angeles office of psychiatrist Lewis Fielding to find damaging information on Daniel Ellsberg, the former defense analyst and patient of Fielding who leaked the “Pentagon Papers” to the media. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Ellsberg is a former Marine captain in Vietnam and protege of Henry Kissinger who had a change of heart over the war; he then leaked a secret set of Pentagon documents to the New York Times detailing how the Kennedy and Johnson administrations had secretly escalated the war in Vietnam (see June 13, 1971).
Watergate Connection - One of the burglars is Eugenio Martinez, who later is arrested as one of the five Watergate burglars (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Martinez and two others—Felipe de Diego and the mission leader, E. Howard Hunt, who will supervise the Watergate burglary—are all old “CIA hands” heavily involved in anti-Castro activities. Martinez is still active in the CIA, as is Hunt, whom he often refers to by his old CIA code name of “Eduardo.” Another Watergate burglar, CIA agent Bernard Barker, is also involved in the Ellsberg burglary.
Martinez: Burglary a Near-Disaster - Hunt tells Martinez and Diego that they are to burglarize the offices of a “traitor” who is spying for the Soviet Union, and that the mission was ordered by the White House, where Hunt is now an aide. Barker tells the Cubans, “We have to find some papers of a great traitor to the United States, who is a son of a b_tch .” The men will become a unit outside the normal law enforcement and intelligence channels, operating within but not part of the CIA, FBI, and “all the agencies,” Martinez will later recall. They buy photographic equipment at Sears, and Hunt and Diego use disguises—wigs, fake glasses, false identification, and voice-altering devices. “Barker recognized the name on Hunt’s false identification—Edward J. Hamilton—as the same cover name Eduardo had used during the Bay of Pigs,” Martinez will recall. The planning, Martinez will recall, is far looser and less meticulous than “anything I was used to in the [CIA].” A disguised Hunt and Diego, masquerading as delivery men, deliver the photographic equipment to the office; later that night, they and Martinez break in and rifle the office. Martinez will write that Hunt and de Diego looked “kind of queerish” in their disguises, with their “Peter Lorre-type glasses, and the funny Dita Beard wigs” (see February 22, 1972). Before the break-in, Barker, who does not enter, whispers to Martinez, “Hey, remember this name—Ellsberg.” Martinez does not recognize the name. [Harper's, 10/1974; Reeves, 2001, pp. 369]
Comedy of Errors - The burglars wait for hours until the cleaning lady leaves for the night, and find the door to the building locked. At that point, a fifth man, “George,” whom Martinez learns is G. Gordon Liddy, another of the Watergate burglars also involved in the Ellsberg planning, appears and tells them to break in through a window. [Harper's, 10/1974] Three burglars—Bernard Barker, Felipe de Diego, and Eugenio Martinez—perform the actual break-in, while Hunt and Liddy act as lookouts. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 369] The burglary is quickly turning into a comedy of errors, Martinez will recall. “This was nothing new. It’s what the Company did in the Bay of Pigs when they gave us old ships, old planes, old weapons. They explained that if you were caught in one of those operations with commercial weapons that you could buy anywhere, you could be said to be on your own. They teach you that they are going to disavow you. The Company teaches you to accept those things as the efficient way to work. And we were grateful. Otherwise we wouldn’t have had any help at all. In this operation it seemed obvious—they didn’t want it to be traced back to the White House. Eduardo told us that if we were caught, we should say we were addicts looking for drugs.” Martinez finds nothing concerning Ellsberg in the office except for Fielding’s telephone book, which Martinez photographs. Before leaving, Martinez spills some pills from Fielding’s briefcase—“vitamin C, I think”—over the floor to make it seem as if the burglars had broken in looking for drugs. As they leave the office, Martinez spots a police car trailing them, but they are not stopped. “I thought to myself that the police car was protecting us. That is the feeling you have when you are doing operations for the government. You think that every step has been taken to protect you.”
Failure; Training for Bigger Mission? - Martinez feels that the burglary is a failure, but Hunt insists that they celebrate anyway. Martinez tells Diego that the break-in must either be a training exercise for a more important mission to come, or it was a cover operation for something else. “I thought to myself that maybe these people already had the papers of Ellsberg. Maybe Dr. Fielding had given them out and for ethical reasons he needed to be covered. It seemed that these people already had what we were looking for because no one invites you to have champagne and is happy when you fail,” he will write. Martinez’s CIA supervisor is strangely uninterested in the incident. “I was certain then that the Company knew about his activities,” Martinez will write. “But once again my CO did not pursue the subject.” [Harper's, 10/1974] Hunt telephones Plumbers supervisor Egil Krogh at 4 a.m. to report that the burglary was a success but they found no files on Ellsberg. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 369]

Entity Tags: ’Plumbers’, Dita Beard, Central Intelligence Agency, E. Howard Hunt, Daniel Ellsberg, Richard M. Nixon, Egil Krogh, Henry A. Kissinger, Eugenio Martinez, Lewis Fielding, Felipe de Diego, Federal Bureau of Investigation, G. Gordon Liddy, Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

During a conversation on how to best use the “Pentagon Papers” to their own advantage (see June 17, 1971), President Nixon asks chief of staff H. R. Haldeman and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger why they could never prove that former President Lyndon Johnson halted US bombings of Vietnam for political reasons. Haldeman has suggested that they could use such proof to blackmail Johnson. “G_ddamnit, I asked for it,” he says. “I said I needed it.” Kissinger replies: “Bob and I have been trying to put the thing together for three years. We have nothing here, Mr. President.” Then Haldeman interjects, “But there is a file on it.” Nixon pounces. “Where?” Haldeman replies that White House aide Tom Charles Huston is sure that such a file exists at the Brookings Institution. Nixon suggests that someone break into the Institution and take the files (see June 30-July 1, 1971). “I want it implemented.… G_ddamnit, get in there and get those files. Blow the safe and get them.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 334-335]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Tom Charles Huston, Brookings Institution, H.R. Haldeman, Henry A. Kissinger, Lyndon B. Johnson

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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

US District Court Judge W. M. Byrne, Jr dismisses all charges against “Pentagon Papers” leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see March 1971) and Ellsberg’s co-defendant, Anthony Russo. [New York Times, 5/11/1973] Byrne was shocked to learn that Watergate burglars G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt had supervised the burglary of the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist (see September 9, 1971). The source of the information was probably White House counsel John Dean. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 307] Initially, government prosecutors had insisted that Ellsberg had never been wiretapped, but FBI director William Ruckelshaus found that Ellsberg had indeed been recorded, during a conversation with former Kissinger aide Morton Halperin, who had been wiretapped (see June 19, 1972). Ruckelshaus tells the court that Halperin had been monitored for 21 months. It is the first public acknowledgement that the Nixon administration had used wiretaps against its political enemies (see June 27, 1973). Additionally, the government had broken the law when it failed to disclose the wiretap to Ellsberg’s defense lawyers. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 313] Byrne cites “improper government conduct shielded so long from public view” and an array of governmental misconduct in dismissing the charges. “The conduct of the government has placed the case in such a posture that it precludes the fair, dispassionate resolution of these issues by a jury,” Byrne rules. Ellsberg and Russo were charged with theft, conspiracy, and fraud in the case. The government’s actions in attempting to prosecute Ellsberg and Russo “offended a sense of justice,” he says. One of the governmental actions that Byrne decries was the wiretapping of Ellsberg’s telephone conversations by the FBI in 1969 and 1970, and the subsequent destruction of the tapes and surveillance logs of those conversations. Byrne is also disturbed by the burglary of the offices of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist by government agents (see June 30-July 1, 1971 and September 9, 1971), and the apparent involvement of the FBI and the CIA in the prosecution of the case at the “request of the White House.” Referring to the burglary, Byrne says, “We may have been given only a glimpse of what this special unit did.” After the trial, Ellsberg is asked if he would disclose the Pentagon documents again, and he replies, “I would do it tomorrow, if I could do it.” [New York Times, 5/11/1973]

Entity Tags: Nixon administration, Central Intelligence Agency, Anthony Russo, Daniel Ellsberg, Morton H. Halperin, W. M. Byrne, Jr, US Department of Defense, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein learns of White House aide Charles Colson’s plan to burglarize the Brookings Institution (see June 30-July 1, 1971 and June 1974), and, alarmingly, of Colson’s plans to actually firebomb the building. An associate of former White House counsel John Dean tells Bernstein that Colson did not want to just burglarize the Institute: “Chuck Colson wanted to rub two sticks together.”
Urgent Trip to See Nixon - Colson could not have been serious, Bernstein says, but the associate replies: “Serious enough for [White House aide] John Caulfield to run out of Colson’s office in a panic. He came straight to John Dean, saying he didn’t ever want to talk to that man Colson again because he was crazy. And that John better do something before it was too late. John caught the first courier flight out to San Clemente [President Nixon’s home in California] to see [then-White House aide John] Ehrlichman. That’s how serious it was.” Ehrlichman indeed shut the operation down before it could start, but the associate implies Ehrlichman’s decision may have been based more on the fact that Dean knew about it than over any shock or outrage over the firebombing plan.
Reasoning behind Attack - Colson wanted to firebomb Brookings because former Kissinger aide Morton Halperin, a Brookings fellow, may have had classified State Department documents at the Institute that the White House wanted back. A fire at the Institute would cover up a burglary of Halperin’s office.
Confirmation from Associate - Bernstein confirms the story from an associate of Caulfield’s, who clarifies: “Not a fire, a firebombing. That was what Colson thought would do the trick. Caulfield said, ‘This has gone too far’ and [that] he didn’t ever want anything to do with Colson again in his life.” Both Dean and Caulfield told FBI investigators about the plan, Caulfield’s associate says.
Woodward Calls Colson - When Bernstein’s colleague Bob Woodward calls Colson for a comment on the story, Colson jokes: “There’s no question about that. There is one mistake. It was not the Brookings, but the Washington Post. I told them to hire a wrecking crane and go over and knock down the building and Newsweek also.… I wanted the Washington Post destroyed.” When Woodward tells him the newspaper is printing the story, Colson retorts: “Explicitly, it is bullsh_t. I absolutely made no such statement or suggestion. It is ludicrous.… [T]his one has gone too far.” Colson calls back and says he may have made such a suggestion, but he was not serious. The Post prints the story. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 324-325]
Confirmation by Dean - In 2006, Dean will write that when he “learned of [Colson’s] insane plan, I flew to California… to plead my case to John Ehrlichman, a titular superior to both Colson and myself. By pointing out, with some outrage, that if anyone died it would involve a capital crime that might be traced back to the White House, I was able to shut down Colson’s scheme.” [Dean, 2006, pp. xxiii]

Entity Tags: Washington Post, John J. ‘Jack’ Caulfield, John Ehrlichman, Brookings Institution, Carl Bernstein, Charles Colson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Dean, Morton H. Halperin, Nixon administration

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Former White House aides John Ehrlichman, Charles Colson, and G. Gordon Liddy, and three Cuban-Americans, including two of the convicted Watergate burglars (see January 8-11, 1973), Bernard Barker and Eugenio Martinez, are charged with planning and executing the burglary of the offices of Dr. Lewis Fielding, Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist (see September 9, 1971). Colson will quickly reach a plea-bargain agreement, promise to cooperate with the prosecution, plead guilty to one count of obstruction of justice, and serve approximately seven months in prison. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 335; Billy Graham Center, 12/8/2004] He will also be disbarred. In the guilty plea agreement, Colson admits to having devised “a scheme to obtain derogatory information about Daniel Ellsberg,” who himself was facing criminal charges relating to the Pentagon Papers leak. Colson wanted to smear Ellsberg’s reputation in the media, in essence having Ellsberg “tried in the newspapers” even though this would have an “adverse effect on his right to a fair trial.” Colson also admits to having written a “scurrilous and libelous memorandum” about one of Ellsberg’s attorneys. He does not admit to actually taking part in the planning of the Fielding burglary. [Time, 6/17/1974] In 2006, White House counsel John Dean will write that Colson’s promise of cooperation is virtually worthless: “[I]n the end he proved to be utterly useless as a government witness, since the government could not vouch for his honesty.” [Dean, 2006, pp. xxiii]

Entity Tags: Lewis Fielding, John Dean, Daniel Ellsberg, Eugenio Martinez, G. Gordon Liddy, Bernard Barker, Charles Colson, John Ehrlichman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Former Nixon White House aide Charles Colson, later described by reporter David Plotz as “Richard Nixon’s hard man, the ‘evil genius’ of an evil administration,” is sentenced to jail after pleading guilty (see March 7, 1974) to taking part in the plan to break into Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office (see September 9, 1971) and interfering with Ellsberg’s trial (see June 28, 1971). Colson also, according to Watergate historian Stanley Kutler, tried to hire Teamster thugs to beat up antiwar demonstrators, and plotted to either raid or firebomb the Brookings Institution (see June 8-9, 1973). Colson will serve seven months in jail (see September 3, 1974). [Slate, 3/10/2000] Colson tells the court: “I shall be cooperating with the prosecutor, but that is not to say that the prosecutor has bargained for my testimony, that there is any quid pro quo: there was not. I reached my own conclusion that I have a duty to tell everything I know about these important issues, and a major reason for my plea was to free me to do so.” Colson’s testimony against Richard Nixon is damning, as he tells the court Nixon had “on numerous occasions urged me to disseminate damaging information about Daniel Ellsberg.” Vice President Ford defends Nixon, saying, “There’s a big difference between telling Chuck Colson to smear Ellsberg and ordering—or allegedly ordering—a break-in.” Colson will later become a born-again Christian evangelist, and found an influential prison ministry. [Slate, 3/10/2000; Werth, 2006, pp. 273-274]

Entity Tags: Brookings Institution, David Plotz, Stanley Kutler, Richard M. Nixon, Daniel Ellsberg, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Charles Colson, Nixon administration

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

One of the outbuildings at Fort Holabird.One of the outbuildings at Fort Holabird. [Source: Hugh D. Cox]Former White House counsel John Dean begins a one-to-four-year term in prison for his role in the Watergate coverup. Dean’s sentence would have been far longer had he not cooperated so completely with the Watergate investigators. He is the 15th Watergate figure to go to jail, but the first to be asked whether Richard Nixon should join him in prison. (Dean refuses to comment.) Privately, Dean is shaken that Nixon is still insisting on his innocence. Later, Dean will write that he believes a number of reasons—hubris, victimization, self-pity, belief that history will exonerate him, and fear of jail—is all part of Nixon’s recalcitrance, but Dean does not believe that Nixon made a deal with President Ford for any sort of clemency. Dean will serve his term at Fort Holabird, a former army base just outside Baltimore used for government witnesses. Dean will mingle with three fellow Watergate convicts—Charles Colson, Jeb Stuart Magruder, and Herbert Kalmbach—and a number of organized crime figures in the government’s witness protection program. [Werth, 2006, pp. 269-270] Colson, who has provided damning testimony against Nixon as part of his plea agreement (see June 1974), leads the others in reaching out to Dean in prison. Dean, who is held in relative isolation, briefly meets Magruder in the hallway. Magruder is preparing to testify against the “Big Three” of John Mitchell, John Ehrlichman, and H. R. Haldeman in their upcoming trial. Magruder says to Dean: “Welcome to the club, John. This place looks just like the White House with all of us here.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 269-270]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, John Ehrlichman, Jeb S. Magruder, H.R. Haldeman, John Mitchell, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, John Dean, Charles Colson, Herbert Kalmbach

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Disbarred lawyer and convicted Watergate figure Charles Colson (see June 1974), now the head of the Christian Prison Fellowship ministry, writes that “the Constitution does not give the Supreme Court final say on constitutional questions.” Colson, a traditional social conservative, makes this startling claim in an op-ed about the recent Boerne v. Flores decision of the Court, in which the Court struck down the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as an unconstitutional encroachment on the fundamental concept of the separation of church and state. Colson writes that the decision has “precipitat[ed] what may be the greatest constitutional crisis of our age.” Colson, a supporter of the RFRA, says the striking down of the act makes “religious liberties… once again vulnerable.” The overarching question Colson raises is whether the Supreme Court is the final judicial arbiter of the Constitution. Colson gives a blunt answer: “Contrary to what most Americans think, the Constitution does not give the Supreme Court final say on constitutional questions. And the Founders resisted the idea.” Colson cites the landmark 1803 case of Marbury v. Madison, in which the Court, he says, took up the power of judicial review, then gives three examples of presidents defying Court orders. However, fellow convicted Watergate figure John Dean, a former White House counsel, refutes Colson’s arguments. In 2006, Dean will write that “Colson, like [televangelist Pat] Robertson and others on the religious right, is seeking, in effect, to nullify Supreme Court decisions of which he does not approve.” Dean will note that although Colson has long since lost his license to practice law, he is considered a scholar of some importance by his conservative contemporaries, and therefore has some influence.
'Marbury' and Judicial Review - Dean notes that Colson’s interpretation of the bedrock Marbury case is wrong. Judicial review by federal courts of Congressional legislation was a long-established principle by the time the Court issued its ruling. Even before the Constitutional Conventions, state courts had routinely overturned state legislative acts. The assumption of most during the debates over the contents of the Constitution was that federal courts, and most specifically the Supreme Court, would have similar power over federal legislation.
Thomas Jefferson and the Alien Imposition Act - Colson writes that “Thomas Jefferson refused to execute the Alien Imposition Act.” Colson is wrong: there was never such an act. Dean writes, “If Colson is referring to the infamous Alien and Sedition Act of 1798, it had nothing to do with a court order, and the example is therefore very misleading.” Jefferson’s predecessor, John Adams, enforced the law, which Jefferson considered unconstitutional. Jefferson pardoned those convicted of sedition under the statute when he gained the presidency. He never “refused to execute” it because it expired the day before he was inaugurated, March 4, 1801.
Andrew Jackson and the Bank of the United States - Colson writes that Andrew Jackson “spurned a Court order in a banking case.” Again, as Dean notes, the citation is misleading. Dean believes Colson is referring to Jackson’s 1832 veto of a bill to recharter the Bank of the United States. The Court had not issued an opinion on the rechartering of a federal bank, so Jackson did not defy a Court order.
Abraham Lincoln and the 'Dred Scott' Decision - Colson concludes his historical argument by saying that Abraham Lincoln “rejected the Dred Scott decision. Lincoln even asked Congress to overrule the Court—which it did, passing a law that reversed Dred Scott (1862).” Dean calls Colson’s argument “a stunning summation, not to mention distortion, of history.” The infamous 1857 Dred Scott v. Sanford decision found that slaves were neither citizens nor persons under the Constitution, that Congress could not prohibit slavery in the territories, and that the Declaration of Independence’s statement that “all men are created equal” applied only to white men. Lincoln argued passionately against the decision during his 1858 debates with his Senate opponent, Stephen Douglas, and swore that he would seek to reverse the decision. But, as Dean will note, “Seeking reversal is not defiance of the law.” Lincoln did defy the Court in 1861 by suspending the writ of habeas corpus, and explained his unprecedented action to Congress by arguing that he did so to save the Union from dissolution. Dred Scott was overturned, not by Congressional legislation, but by the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Bill of Rights.
The Danger Inherent in Colson's Arguments - Dean will note: “Colson’s baseless arguments are unfortunately typical of those that authoritarian conservatives insist on making, using facts that are irrelevant or misleading, if not demonstrably wrong. The self-righteousness of authoritarians [such as] Colson and Pat Robertson… has become so pronounced that at times it seems as if they believe themselves actually to be speaking ex cathedra [a sardonic reference to the infallibility of the Pope]. Their contention that the president of the United States is not bound by rulings of the Supreme Court, or, for that matter, by the laws of Congress, when these rulings or laws relate to the functions of the presidency, has gained increasing currency with authoritarian conservatives, both leaders and followers.” Such acceptance “is truly frightening in its implications.” [Christianity Today, 10/6/1997; Dean, 2006, pp. 111-115; Catholic Encyclopedia, 2008]

Entity Tags: Charles Colson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Pat Robertson, US Supreme Court, John Dean

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

John Ehrlichman.John Ehrlichman. [Source: PBS]After years of protracted legal wrangling, selected portions of former President Richard Nixon’s secret White House recordings (see July 13-16, 1973) are made public. In a January 2, 1997 panel discussion on PBS, two former Nixon aides, John Ehrlichman and Monica Crowley, and former New York Times reporter Tom Wicker, discuss the content and dissemination of the tapes. All three have listened to the released portions of the tapes, currently housed at the National Archives.
Context - Ehrlichman complains that the selections lack context: “The archivist has snipped little tiny segments, in some cases six or eight seconds, and you don’t know what was said before or after. And it’s tough on a listener.… I think there could be a lot more context given. What they’ve done is try and select out the things that embodied abuses of government power under their regulations, and that’s what they’re giving you.” Wicker says it is hard to know when Nixon’s “popping off” about this or that supposed enemy was ever acted upon and when his instructions to “get” a particular person were ignored. Crowley says: “I think all presidents say things in the heat of disappointment, frustration, anger, even fatigue, that they never intend to have acted upon. And Nixon’s rantings have become a lightning rod for criticism because we can hear his but we can’t hear those of other presidents.”
Brookings Institution Burglary Halted - Ehrlichman explains why Nixon’s 1972 order to burglarize the Brookings Institution (see June 30-July 1, 1971) was never carried out: “because I shot it down.… I tracked down who had followed up—who was proposing to do this thing and I told ‘em to stop. It sounded ridiculous to me. So that was the end of it.”
Comparison of Ellsberg and Hiss - Ehrlichman says that, listening to the tapes, it seems as if Nixon was comparing Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the notorious “Pentagon Papers” (see June 13, 1971), to his “Communist” nemesis of the 1950s, Alger Hiss. Hiss, prosecuted by Nixon for allegedly selling US intelligence to the Soviet Union, helped Nixon vault to national prominence. Ehrlichman now says Nixon seemed to hope that Ellsberg could provide him with another, similar boost to his political stature before the 1972 presidential elections. In general, Ehrlichman says, Nixon was “very sensitive” to press leaks, especially those that he considered a threat to national security, and “his reaction in some cases was pretty extreme.”
Mentions of Jews - Ehrlichman goes on to address Nixon’s well-documented diatribes against Jews (see September 1971), and says that such outbursts were not confined to Jews: another day “it was major Italian donors to the Democrats, and [the next] it would be black contributors.… He broke it down along ethnic lines. He broke it down along socioeconomic lines. I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on the fact that he was talking about Jewish people in this particular segment.” Wicker says the tapes largely confirm the public impression of Nixon as a “dark… evil man” because of his blatant orders of criminal behavior and his rampant ethnic slurs. [PBS, 1/2/1997]

Entity Tags: Tom Wicker, Monica Crowley, Daniel Ellsberg, John Ehrlichman, Brookings Institution, Alger Hiss, National Archives and Records Administration

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Author and former Nixon White House counsel John Dean reviews former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s new book, The Politics of Truth (see April 2004). Dean, who has long been a fierce critic of the Bush administration, uses the review to examine aspects of the controversy surrounding the White House’s disproven claim that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003) and the outing of Wilson’s wife as a CIA agent through a White House leak (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, Before July 14, 2003, and July 14, 2003). Dean calls the book “riveting and all-engaging… provid[ing] context to yesterday’s headlines, and perhaps tomorrow’s, about the Iraq war and about our politics of personal destruction,” as well as detailed information about Wilson’s long diplomatic service in Africa and the Middle East, and what Dean calls “a behind-the-scenes blow-by-blow of the run-up to the 1991 Persian Gulf war.”
'Anti-Dumb-War' - Dean also admires Wilson’s opposition to the Iraq war, saying that “Wilson is not antiwar. Rather, he is ‘anti-dumb-war’” and noting that while Wilson is not himself particularly conservative (or liberal), he considers the neoconservatives who make up the driving force in President Bush’s war cabinet “right-wing nuts.”
'Vicious Hatchet Job' - Dean quickly moves into the White House-orchestrated attempt to besmirch Wilson’s credibility, calling it “the most vicious hatchet job inside the Beltway since my colleague in Richard Nixon’s White House, the dirty trickster Charles W. Colson, copped a plea for defaming Daniel Ellsberg and his lawyer (see June 1974).… It was an obvious effort to discredit Wilson’s [Niger] report, and, Wilson believes, a you-hurt-us-we-will-hurt-you warning to others.” While Wilson writes with passion and anger about the outing of his wife, he restrains himself from giving too many personal details about her, relying instead on material already revealed in press interviews and reports. Dean notes that Wilson believes his wife’s name was leaked to the press by any or all of the following White House officials: Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney; Karl Rove, Bush’s chief political strategist; and Elliott Abrams, a national security adviser and former Iran-Contra figure (see October 7, 1991). Though Dean is correct in noting that Wilson comes to his conclusions “based largely on hearsay from the Washington rumor mill,” he will be proven accurate in two out of three of his assertions (see July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Wilson continues to fight attacks from Bush supporters, but, Dean notes, if they actually read his book, “they should understand that they have picked a fight with the wrong fellow.” [New York Times, 5/12/2004]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Bush administration (43), John Dean, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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