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Context of 'June 17, 1972: Five ‘Plumbers’ Arraigned for Watergate Burglary'

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Prosecutor Earl Silbert.Prosecutor Earl Silbert. [Source: Washington Post]The five men caught burglarizing the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate hotel (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) are arraigned in a Washington, DC, city court on charges of felony burglary and possession of implements of crime. All five originally gave the police false names. [Washington Post, 6/18/1972] The real identities of the five are:
bullet Bernard Barker of Miami, a Cuban-American whom Cuban exiles say has worked on and off for the CIA since the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. Barker was one of the principal leaders of the Cuban Revolutionary Council, the exile organization established with CIA help to organize the Bay of Pigs invasion. Barker’s wife reportedly told attorney Douglas Caddy, one of the team’s lawyers, that, as Caddy says, “her husband told her to call me if he hadn’t called her by 3 a.m.: that it might mean he was in trouble.” [Washington Post, 6/18/1972; Washington Post, 6/19/1972] Barker owns a Miami real estate firm, Barker & Associates. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file]
bullet Virgilio Gonzalez, a Miami locksmith of Cuban extraction. Gonzalez’s boss, Harry Collot, says Gonzalez came to the US about the time Fidel Castro became well-known, and is an ardent opponent of the Castro regime. Collot describes Gonzalez as “pro-American and anti-Castro… he doesn’t rant or rave like some of them do.”
bullet Eugenio Martinez, a real estate agent from Miami, who authorities say is active in anti-Castro activities in Florida, and violated US immigration laws in 1958 by flying a private plane to Cuba.
bullet James W. McCord, the security director for the Committee for the Re-election of the President (CREEP). McCord initially identifies himself as “Edward Martin,” a former CIA agent and “security consultant” who resides in New York City and possibly the DC area. Neither the police or the press are aware, at the moment, of McCord’s true identity (see June 19, 1972).
bullet Frank Sturgis, a former Cuban army intelligence officer, mercenary, and now the agent for a Havana salvage firm in Miami. Sturgis uses the alias “Frank Florini” during the arraignment. “Fiorini” was identified in 1959 by the Federal Aviation Agency as the pilot of a plane that dropped anti-Castro leaflets over Havana. Previous news reports describe “Fiorini” as a “soldier of fortune” and the former head of the International Anti-Communist Brigade, an organization formed after the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of 1962. The Brigade trained and ferried 23 Cuban exiles into Cuba, where they began guerrilla operations against Castro. “Florini” reportedly fought with, not against, Castro during the Cuban revolution and was originally slated to be named overseer of Cuba’s gambling operations before Castro shut down Cuba’s casinos. Apparently, Sturgis is involved in trying to orchestrate Miami Cubans to demonstrate against the Democratic National Convention, to be held in Miami in July. Sturgis is also involved in the John Birch Society and the Reverend Billy James Hargis’s Christian Crusade.
During their arraignment, one of the burglars describes the team as “anti-Communists,” and the others nod in agreement. Prosecutor Earl Silbert calls the operation “professional” and “clandestine.” The court learns that four of the five, all using fictitious names, rented two rooms at the Watergate, and dined together in the Watergate restaurant on February 14. A search of the two rooms turns up $4,200, again in sequential $100 bills, more burglary tools, and more electronic surveillance equipment, all stashed in six suitcases. Currently, FBI and Secret Service agents are investigating the burglary. Caddy, who says he met Barker a year ago at the Army Navy Club and had a “sympathetic conversation [with Barker]—that’s all I’ll say,” attempts to stay in the background during the arraignment, instead having another attorney, Joseph Rafferty Jr, plead before the court. Caddy is a corporate lawyer with no criminal law experience. [Washington Post, 6/18/1972; Washington Post, 6/19/1972] Interestingly, Caddy shows up at the arraignment apparently without any of the burglars contacting him (see June 17, 1972). [Woodward, 2005, pp. 35] Silbert argues unsuccessfully that the five should be held without bail, citing their use of fictitious names, their lack of community ties, and the likelihood that they would flee the country after they post bail. “They were caught red-handed,” Silbert tells the court. [Washington Post, 6/18/1972; Washington Post, 6/19/1972]

Entity Tags: Harry Collot, US Secret Service, James McCord, Joseph Rafferty, Jr, Frank Sturgis, Earl Silbert, Eugenio Martinez, ’Plumbers’, Bernard Barker, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Democratic National Committee, Douglas Caddy, Committee to Re-elect the President, Virgilio Gonzalez

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

Headline from Washington Post identifying McCord as a ‘GOP Security Aide.’Headline from Washington Post identifying McCord as a ‘GOP Security Aide.’ [Source: Washington Post]James McCord, one of the five Watergate burglars (see June 17, 1972), is identified as the security director for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP). McCord is also identified as a security consultant for the Republican National Committee (RNC), where he has maintained an office since January 1. After his arrest, McCord used a phony name to the police and the court, which kept his identity unclear for two days. The director of CREEP, former attorney general John Mitchell, originally denies that McCord is a member of the campaign, and merely identifies him as a Republican security aide who helped CREEP install a security system. (McCord has his own security business in Maryland, McCord Associates (see June 18, 1972).) [Washington Post, 6/19/1972; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward learns that McCord is a member of a small Air Force Reserve unit in Washington attached to the Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP); the OEP, says a fellow reservist, is tasked with compiling lists of “radicals” and developing contingency plans for censorship of the news media and the US mail in time of war. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 23] RNC chairman Bob Dole says that McCord provided similar services for that organization, and says of the burglary, “we deplore action of this kind in or out of politics.” Democratic Party chairman Lawrence O’Brien, whose offices were burgled and subject to electronic surveillance, says the “bugging incident… raised the ugliest questions about the integrity of the political process that I have encountered in a quarter century,” and adds, “No mere statement of innocence by Mr. Nixon’s campaign manager will dispel these questions.” (O’Brien has inside knowledge of the White House connections (see June 17, 1972).) O’Brien calls on Mitchell’s successor, Attorney General Richard Kleindienst, to order an immediate, “searching professional investigation” of the entire matter by the FBI. The FBI is already mounting an investigation. [Washington Post, 6/19/1972; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]

Entity Tags: Lawrence O’Brien, Committee to Re-elect the President, Bob Woodward, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Mitchell, Robert J. (“Bob”) Dole, Richard Kleindienst, James McCord, Washington, DC Office of Emergency Preparedness, Republican National Committee

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Accused Watergate burglar Bernard Barker after being arraigned in June 1972.Accused Watergate burglar Bernard Barker after being arraigned in June 1972. [Source: Wally McNamee / Corbis]The first indictments against the five men accused of burglarizing Democratic National Headquarters (see June 17, 1972)—James McCord, Frank Sturgis, Bernard Barker, Eugenio Martinez, and Virgilio Gonzalez—are handed down. White House aides G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt are also indicted. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] The indictments are for conspiracy, interception of communications, and burglary. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file]
Washington Post Investigation - In its story of the indictments, the Washington Post will note that the indictments do “not touch on the central questions about the purpose or sponsorship of the alleged espionage” against the Democrats. Post reporter Carl Bernstein asks a Justice Department official why the indictments are so narrowly focused, as the FBI has certainly unearthed the same information as the Post investigation. After the source admits that the Justice Department knows about the campaign “slush fund” and the White House connections to the electronic surveillance, an indignant Bernstein asks why the Post should not run a story accusing the department of ignoring evidence. The official responds that the department does not intend to file any future indictments, and that the investigation is currently “in a state of repose.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 69-70]
FBI Continues to Probe - FBI spokesman J. W. Hushen says that the indictments have ended the investigation and the agency has “absolutely no evidence to indicate that any others should be charged.” Contrary to Hushen’s statement and the Justice Department official’s comment to Bernstein, the FBI will continue its investigation. A day later, Deputy Attorney General Henry Peterson says that any charges that the FBI has conducted a “whitewash” of the Watergate conspiracy are untrue. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file; Reeves, 2001, pp. 526-527]
Bay of Pigs Forged Bond - Martinez will later recall Hunt as one of his heroes from the time of the Cuban Revolution. Hunt, a CIA agent using the code name “Eduardo,” endeared himself to Martinez and other anti-Castro Cubans by denouncing the failed Bay of Pigs invasion as the fault of then-President Kennedy and others unwilling to fight against Fidel Castro. Martinez, himself then a CIA agent and an associate of Barker, Sturgis, McCord, and Gonzalez, will later write, “I can’t help seeing the whole Watergate affair as a repetition of the Bay of Pigs.” [Harper's, 10/1974]

Entity Tags: James McCord, J. W. Hushen, Henry Peterson, US Department of Justice, Virgilio Gonzalez, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Frank Sturgis, Bernard Barker, G. Gordon Liddy, E. Howard Hunt, Eugenio Martinez, Carl Bernstein

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Representative William S. Moorhead (D-PA) publicly criticizes a secret government contingency plan to censor public information in the event of a national emergency or war. Moorhead claims he has obtained a copy of the plan as part of an investigation by the House Foreign Operations and Government Information Subcommittee. His primary concern is that the censorship plans could be implemented in the event of a “limited war,” such as the conflict in Vietnam. According to Moorhead, representatives of the Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP), which is responsible for managing the secret censorship program, testified to the committee that the plans were for use only in the event of nuclear attack within the United States. Moorhead, however, after reviewing the plans first-hand, says the program could be activated during “limited war or conflicts of the ‘brush fire’ type, in which United States forces are involved elsewhere in the world on land, sea, or in the air.” The plans would involve “opening mail, monitoring broadcasts, and questioning travelers entering the country.” Moorhead says James W. McCord Jr., who was arrested as part of the Watergate scandal (see June 17, 1972), was one of several individuals responsible for drafting the plans. Moorhead alleges McCord developed a “National Watchlist” as part of the program. [United Press International, 10/23/1972; United Press International, 10/23/1972]

Entity Tags: William Moorhead, House Foreign Operations and Government Information Subcommittee, Office of Emergency Preparedness (1968-1973), James McCord

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Nixon announces that his closest senior aides, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, have resigned (see April 30, 1973). Attorney General Richard Kleindienst also resigns, to be replaced by Elliot Richardson; White House counsel John Dean, who is cooperating with Congressional investigators (see April 6-20, 1973), is also said to resign, although actually he was fired. Nixon makes his announcements on prime-time television; he tells his listeners that he wants to speak “from my heart.”
Knew Nothing Until He Watched the News - Nixon claims that he knew nothing of the so-called “Watergate affair” until he learned of the Watergate burglary (see June 17, 1972) from news reports. He describes himself as “appalled at this senseless, illegal action,” and “shocked to learn that employees of the Re-Election Committee [Committee to Re-elect the President, or CREEP)] were apparently among those guilty. I immediately ordered an investigation by appropriate government authorities.” Nixon says that he asked those authorities on several occasions “[I]f there was any reason to believe that members of my administration were in any way involved. I received repeated assurances that there were not. Because of these continuing reassurances, because I believed the reports I was getting, because I had faith in the persons from whom I was getting them, I discounted the stories in the press that appeared to implicate members of my administration or other officials of the campaign committee.”
'Personally Assumed Responsibility' for Inquiries, Demanded Cooperation - Nixon goes on to say that he believed the denials until March 1973, and the denials and comments he made were not intended to mislead, but merely “based on the information provided to us at the time we made those comments.” He then learned that “there was a real possibility that some of these charges were true, and suggesting further that there had been an effort to conceal the facts both from the public, from you, and from me.” On March 21, Nixon says, “I personally assumed the responsibility for coordinating intensive new inquiries into the matter, and I personally ordered those conducting the investigations to get all the facts and to report them directly to me, right here in this office.” Nixon says that he ordered everyone in government and at CREEP to fully cooperate with the investigators, the prosecutors, and the grand jury looking into the matter. Although insisting on “ground rules… that would preserve the basic constitutional separation of powers between the Congress and the presidency,” he “directed” members of his staff to testify under oath to the Senate Watergate Committee. The “integrity of this office” must “take priority over all personal considerations.”
Concerns with Ethics, Integrity Impelled Resignations - It is this concern for the integrity of the presidency, and his commitment to the most “rigorous legal and ethical standards,” that moved Nixon to accept the resignations of Haldeman and Ehrlichman, which he hastens to note do not imply any “implication whatever of personal wrongdoing on their part.” He asked Kleindienst to resign, not because of any implication of wrongdoing, but because of his “close personal and professional [association with] some of those who are involved in this case.” He has given Kleindienst’s successor, Richardson, the authority to name a special prosecutor to take over the investigation if Richardson deems it necessary. Nixon says: “[J]ustice will be pursued fairly, fully, and impartially, no matter who is involved. This office is a sacred trust and I am determined to be worthy of that trust.”
Shifting the Blame - Nixon says that until 1972, he had personally run his own political campaigns. But he was too busy with “crucially important decisions… intense negotiations [and] vital new directions” for the nation; he decided “the presidency should come first and politics second.” He therefore delegated as much of his campaign’s operations to others, and attempted to keep the campaign and the functions of the White House as separate as possible. Though Nixon makes it clear that unidentified subordinates “whose zeal exceeded their judgment and who may have done wrong in a cause they deeply believed to be right” are the criminals in Watergate, since he is “the man at the top,” he “must bear the responsibility.” “That responsibility, therefore, belongs here, in this office. I accept it. And I pledge to you tonight, from this office, that I will do everything in my power to ensure that the guilty are brought to justice and that such abuses are purged from our political processes in the years to come, long after I have left this office.” The nation must allow the judicial system to do its work without interference, he says, and it must not distract the nation from “the vital work before us… at a time of critical importance to America and the world.” Nixon himself intends to return his “full attention” to the “larger duties of this office,” and allow the investigation to proceed without his direction. [White House, 4/30/1973; White House, 4/30/1973; White House, 4/30/1973; CNN, 5/20/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, John Ehrlichman, John Dean, Richard Kleindienst, Committee to Re-elect the President, H.R. Haldeman, Elliot Richardson

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Washington Post headline from Dean story.Washington Post headline from Dean story. [Source: Washington Post]Former White House counsel John Dean has told Watergate investigators that he discussed the Watergate cover-up with President Nixon at least 35 times [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] between January and April of 1973, according to sources quoted by the Washington Post. Dean plans on testifying to his assertions in the Senate Watergate hearings (see May 17-18, 1973), whether or not he is granted immunity from prosecution. He will also allege that Nixon himself is deeply involved with the Watergate cover-up. Nixon had prior knowledge of payments used to buy the silence of various Watergate conspirators, and knew of offers of executive clemency for the conspirators issued in his name. Dean has little solid evidence besides his own personal knowledge of events inside the White House.
Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Nixon Central Figures in Cover-Up - Dean will testify that two of Nixon’s closest aides, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman (see April 30, 1973), were also present at many of the meetings where the cover-up was discussed in Nixon’s presence. The White House, and Haldeman and Ehrlichman, have tried to portray Dean as the central figure in the Watergate conspiracy, and the Justice Department says there is ample evidence to indict Dean for a number of crimes related to the cover-up. Dean and his supporters paint Dean as a White House loyalist who merely did what he was told, until he began agonizing over the effect Watergate was having on Nixon. Dean alleges that Nixon asked him how much the seven Watergate defendants (see June 17, 1972) would have to be paid to ensure their silence, aside from the $460,000 already paid out; when Dean replied that the cost would be around $1 million, Nixon allegedly replied that such a payoff would be no problem. Dean has told investigators that later Nixon insisted he had been merely “joking” about the payoff. Dean says by that time—March 26—Nixon knew that Dean would be cooperating with the Watergate investigation, and that he believes Nixon was trying to retract the statement for his own legal well-being.
Pressured to Confess - Dean has also testified that Nixon tried to force him to sign a letter of resignation that would have amounted to a confession that Dean had directed the Watergate cover-up without the knowledge of Nixon, Haldeman, or Ehrlichman. When Dean refused to sign, he says, Nixon warned him “in the strongest terms” never to reveal the Nixon administration’s covert activities and plans. Dean also says that Nixon personally directed the White House’s efforts to counterattack the press over Watergate (see October 16-November, 1972). Until January 1, Dean has told investigators, he usually reported to Haldeman and Ehrlichman regarding his Watergate-related activities, but after that date Nixon began taking more of an active role in dealing with Dean, and gave Dean direct orders on handling the cover-up.
Reliable Witness - Dean has so far met eight times with the Watergate prosecutors, and twice with the chief legal counsel of the Senate Watergate committee, Samuel Dash. Dash and the prosecutors find Dean a compelling and believable witness. “[E]verything we have gotten from Dean that we were able to check out has turned out to be accurate,” says one Justice Department source. Dean says he tried without success to obtain records that would support his allegations in his final days in the White House, and believes that many of those records may have been destroyed by now. Dean did manage to remove some secret documents before his firing, documents that prompted Nixon to recently admit to “covert activities” surrounding Watergate. Dean’s information has already led to the revelation of the burglary of the office of Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see September 9, 1971), and to the resignation of FBI director L. Patrick Gray after Gray was found to have destroyed evidence taken from the safe of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see June 28, 1972). [Washington Post, 6/3/1973]

Entity Tags: L. Patrick Gray, E. Howard Hunt, Daniel Ellsberg, H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, Samuel Dash, Washington Post, Richard M. Nixon, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, Nixon administration, John Dean

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

August 16, 1972 front page of the Washington Post, reporting on Nixon’s address.August 16, 1972 front page of the Washington Post, reporting on Nixon’s address. [Source: Southern Methodist University]President Nixon delivers his second prime-time televised speech about Watergate to the nation. He says that both the Senate investigations have focused more on trying to “implicate the president personally in the illegal activities that took place,” and reminds listeners that he has already taken “full responsibility” for the “abuses [that] occurred during my administration” (see April 30, 1973). But in light of the increasing evidence being revealed about the Watergate conspiracy, Nixon’s speech is later proven to be a compilation of lies, half-truths, justifications, and evasions.
'No Prior Knowledge' - He again insists that “I had no prior knowledge of the Watergate break-in; I neither took part in nor knew about any of the subsequent cover-up activities; I neither authorized nor encouraged subordinates to engage in illegal or improper campaign tactics. That was and that is the simple truth.” He says that in all the Senate testimony, “there is not the slightest suggestion that I had any knowledge of the planning for the Watergate break-in.” He says only one witness has challenged his statement under oath, referring to former White House counsel John Dean (see April 6-20, 1973) and June 25-29, 1973), and says Dean’s “testimony has been contradicted by every other witness in a position to know the facts.” Instead, says Nixon, he insisted from the outset that the investigation into the Watergate burglary be “thorough and aboveboard,” and if there were any evidence of “higher involvement, we should get the facts out first.” A cover-up would be unconscionable, he says. He again insists that he was told in September 1972 that an FBI investigation, “the most extensive investigation since the assassination of President Kennedy… had established that only those seven (see June 17, 1972) were involved.” Throughout, Nixon says, he relied on the reports of his staff members, Justice Department, and FBI officials, who consistently reassured him that there was no involvement by anyone in the White House in the burglaries. “Because I trusted the agencies conducting the investigations, because I believed the reports I was getting, I did not believe the newspaper accounts that suggested a cover-up. I was convinced there was no cover-up, because I was convinced that no one had anything to cover up.”
Internal Investigation - He didn’t realize that those assurances were wrong until March 21, when he “received new information from [Dean] that led me to conclude that the reports I had been getting for over nine months were not true.” He immediately launched an internal investigation (see August 29, 1972), initially relying on Dean to conduct the investigation, then turning the task over to his senior aide, John Ehrlichman, and to the Attorney General, Richard Kleindienst. The results prompted him to give the case to the Criminal Division of the Justice Department, ordering the complete cooperation of “all members of the administration.” He never tried to hide the facts, Nixon asserts, but instead has consistently tried “to discover the facts—and to lay those facts before the appropriate law enforcement authorities so that justice could be done and the guilty dealt with.”
Refusal to Turn over Tapes; 'Privileged' Communications - Nixon says he is resisting subpoenas to turn over the secret recordings he has had made of White House and other conversations (see July 13-16, 1973) because of “a much more important principle… than what the tapes might prove about Watergate.” A president must be able to talk “openly and candidly with his advisers about issues and individuals” without having those conversations ever made public. These are “privileged” conversations, he says, similar to those between a lawyer and his client or “a priest and a penitent.” The conversations between a president and his advisers, Nixon says, are “even more important.” The conversations on those tapes are “blunt and candid,” made without thought to any future public disclosure, and for future presidents and their advisers to know that their conversations and advice might one day be made public would cripple their ability to talk freely and offer unfettered opinions. “That is why I shall continue to oppose efforts which would set a precedent that would cripple all future presidents by inhibiting conversations between them and those they look to for advice,” he says. “This principle of confidentiality of presidential conversations is at stake in the question of these tapes. I must and I shall oppose any efforts to destroy this principle.”
'Hard and Tough' Politics - Watergate has come to encompass more than just a burglary, Nixon says, but has brought up issues of partisan politics, “enemy lists” (see June 27, 1973), and even threats to national security. Nixon has always run “hard and tough” political campaigns, but has never stepped outside the law and “the limits of decency” in doing so. “To the extent that these things were done in the 1972 campaign, they were serious abuses, and I deplore them,” he says. The “few overzealous people” involved in the Watergate burglary should not reflect on his administration or the political process as a whole. He will “ensure that one of the results of Watergate is a new level of political decency and integrity in America—in which what has been wrong in our politics no longer corrupts or demeans what is right in our politics.”
Legal Wiretapping to Protect the Nation - The measures he has taken to protect the security of the nation have all been within the law and with the intention of protecting the government from possible subversion and even overthrow, he asserts. The wiretaps he authorized had been legal, he says, until the 1972 decision by the Supreme Court that rejected such wiretaps as unlawful (see June 19, 1972). Until then, Nixon says, he—like his predecessors—had implemented such wiretaps “to protect the national security in the public interest.” Since the Supreme Court decision, he says, he has stopped all such surveillance efforts. But the law must be mindful of “tying the president’s hands in a way that would risk sacrificing our security, and with it all our liberties.” He will continue to “protect the security of this nation… by constitutional means, in ways that will not threaten [American] freedom.”
The Fault of the Radicals - He blames the antiwar and civil rights movements of the 1960s as encouraging “individuals and groups… to take the law into their own hands,” often with the praise and support from the media and even from “some of our pulpits as evidence of a new idealism. Those of us who insisted on the old restraints, who warned of the overriding importance of operating within the law and by the rules, were accused of being reactionaries.” In the wake of this radical, anti-government atmosphere, the country was plagued by “a rising spiral of violence and fear, of riots and arson and bombings, all in the name of peace and in the name of justice. Political discussion turned into savage debate. Free speech was brutally suppressed as hecklers shouted down or even physically assaulted those with whom they disagreed. Serious people raised serious questions about whether we could survive as a free democracy.” That attitude permeated political campaigns, to the extent that “some persons in 1972 adopted the morality that they themselves had tightly condemned and committed acts that have no place in our political system… who mistakenly thought their cause justified their violations of the law.”
Looking Forward - It is time to put Watergate behind us, Nixon says, to abandon this “continued, backward-looking obsession with Watergate” and stop “neglect[ing] matters of far greater importance to all of the American people.… The time has come to turn Watergate over to the courts, where the questions of guilt or innocence belong. The time has come for the rest of us to get on with the urgent business of our nation.” [White House, 8/15/1973; White House, 8/15/1973; White House, 8/15/1973; AMDOCS Documents for the Study of American History, 6/1993; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, US Supreme Court, John Dean, Richard Kleindienst, Richard M. Nixon, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Ehrlichman, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

The timing of the unauthorized accesses of presidential contender Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport files at the State Department (see March 20, 2008) raises questions among political observers. The first breach of Obama’s files was on January 9, six days after Obama defeated fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton (D-NY) in the Iowa caucuses and thereby became a national frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, and the day after Clinton defeated Obama in New Hampshire. The second breach took place on February 21, a day after Obama’s primary victories in Wisconsin and Hawaii and the same day that Clinton and Obama debated in Texas. The third took place on March 14, ten days after Clinton and Obama split the votes in the key states of Ohio and Texas, and three days after Obama won Mississippi. March 14 is also the same day that the mainstream media began reporting the divisive and inflammatory comments made in months and years past by Obama’s pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. [Project VoteSmart, 2008; Independent, 3/21/2008] British journalist Leonard Doyle notes that the file violations seem similar to the 1991 violations of Democratic presidential contender Bill Clinton, when campaign officials for President George H. W. Bush not only broke into Clinton’s passport files, but asked for information about Clinton’s collegiate days at Oxford University from Britain’s Conservative government. Doyle adds, “The security breach also has echoes of the Watergate break-in during the Nixon administration” (see June 17, 1972). [Independent, 3/21/2008]

Entity Tags: Leonard Doyle, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Jeremiah A. Wright Jr, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections

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