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

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

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