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Context of 'June 19, 1972: Dean Orders Falsified Documents Removed from Watergate Burglar’s Safe'

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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

Donald Segretti.Donald Segretti. [Source: Spartacus Educational]Three attorneys—one the assistant attorney general of Tennessee, Alex Shipley—are asked to work as so-called “agent provocateur” for the Campaign to Re-elect the President (CREEP), an organization working to re-elect President Nixon (see October 10, 1972). The three tell their story to Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein in late September 1972, and Bernstein’s colleague Bob Woodward learns more from his FBI source, “Deep Throat,” days later (see October 7, 1972 and October 9, 1972). They all say they were asked to work to undermine the primary campaigns of Democratic presidential candidates by the same man, Donald Segretti, a former Treasury Department lawyer who lives in California. Segretti will later be identified as a CREEP official. Segretti, the attorneys will say, promises them “big jobs” in Washington after Nixon’s re-election (see November 7, 1972). All three says they rejected Segretti’s offers (see June 27-October 23, 1971). Segretti himself will deny the allegations, calling them “ridiculous.”
Part of a Larger Pattern? - Bernstein and Woodward connect the Segretti story to other Nixon campaign “dirty tricks” they are already aware of, including efforts by Watergate burglar James McCord (see June 19, 1972) to “investigate” reporter Jack Anderson, attempts by Watergate surveillance man Alfred Baldwin (see June 17, 1972) to infiltrate Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt’s successful attempts to electronically “bug” Democratic campaign headquarters (see May 27-28, 1972) and his investigation of Democratic presidential candidate Edward Kennedy (see June 19, 1972), and McCord’s rental of an office next to the offices of Democratic presidential candidate Edmund Muskie. To the reporters, the Segretti story opens up speculation that the Nixon campaign had undertaken political espionage efforts long before the Watergate burglary. In their book All the President’s Men, Bernstein and Woodward write, “Watergate could have been scheduled before the president’s re-election chances looked so good and perhaps someone had neglected to pull the plug.” Bernstein has heard of CIA operations such as this mounted against foreign governments, called “black operations,” but sometimes more colloquially called “mindf_cking.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 114-115]
Segretti a 'Small Fish in a Big Pond' - An FBI official investigating CREEP’s illegal activities will call Segretti “a small fish in a big pond,” and will say that at least 50 undercover Nixon operatives have worked around the country to disrupt and spy on Democratic campaigns. The political intelligence and sabotage operation is called the “offensive security” program both by White House and CREEP officials. FBI investigators will find that many of the acts of political espionage and sabotage conducted by Segretti and his colleagues are traced to this “offensive security” program, which was conceived and directed in the White House and by senior CREEP officials, and funded by the secret “slush fund” directed by CREEP finance manager Maurice Stans (see September 29, 1972). FBI officials will refuse to directly discuss Segretti’s actions, saying that he is part of the Watergate investigation (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), but one FBI official angrily calls Segretti’s actions “indescribable.”
White House Connections Confirmed - In mid-October 1972, the Washington Post will identify Dwight Chapin, President Nixon’s appointments secretary, as the person who hired Segretti and received reports of his campaign activities. Segretti’s other contact is Hunt. Segretti also received at least $35,000 in pay for his activities by Nixon’s personal lawyer, Herbert Kalmbach. [Washington Post, 1/31/1973]

Entity Tags: Donald Segretti, Alex Shipley, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, Herbert Kalmbach, Richard M. Nixon, E. Howard Hunt, US Department of the Treasury, Dwight Chapin, Campaign to Re-elect the President

Timeline Tags: 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

White House counsel John Dean orders the opening of a safe belonging to Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Dean orders that the contents be turned over (six days later, after Dean and other White House officials have had a chance to peruse them) to the FBI. The documents will soon be given to FBI acting director L. Patrick Gray, who keeps them for six months before burning them (see Late December 1972). Gray will later admit to the incident in his testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee (see February 28-29, 1973). [Time, 4/2/1973] Dean finds in the safe, among other things, a loaded .25 caliber pistol; the attache case of burglar James McCord, loaded with electronic surveillance equipment and a tear gas canister; CIA psychological profiles of Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see March 1971); pages from the Pentagon Papers; memos to and from Nixon aide Charles Colson; two falsified diplomatic cables implicating former President John F. Kennedy in the 1963 assassination of South Vietnam’s President Ngo Diem Dinh; and a dossier on the personal life of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA). Nixon aide John Ehrlichman advises Dean to throw the contents of the safe into the Potomac River. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 501-502] Shortly thereafter, Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein, in discussions with a young assistant in White House aide Charles Colson’s office, learns that Hunt has been investigating Kennedy’s checkered past, particularly the Chappaquiddick tragedy of 1969, in which an apparently inebriated Kennedy drove his car into a lake, drowning his companion of the evening, Mary Jo Kopechne. Hunt was apparently looking for political ammunition against Kennedy in preparation for a possible presidential run. According to a former Nixon administration official, Colson and fellow Nixon aide H. R. Haldeman were “absolutely paranoid” about a Kennedy campaign run. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 30-31]

Entity Tags: H.R. Haldeman, E. Howard Hunt, Charles Colson, Carl Bernstein, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, L. Patrick Gray, John Ehrlichman, John F. Kennedy, Ngo Dinh Diem, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Mary Jo Kopechne, John Dean

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray burns key documents in the Watergate case. He has had the documents, originally kept in the safe of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt, in his possession for about five months. The two Nixon aides who gave him the documents, John Ehrlichman and John Dean, warned Gray that they were “political dynamite” and should never see the light of day. Gray dithers over what to do with the documents for that entire time period before finally burning them with his Christmas trash. The documents include falsified diplomatic cables that implicated former President John F. Kennedy in the assassination of President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam, and a dossier on Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy’s troubled personal life. Gray will later tell investigators that he destroyed the papers because they had no relation to Watergate, and in 2005 will admit that he destroyed them on direct orders from White House officials. He will say that he had no idea “that these guys are trying to sandbag me,” and will add, “I know it’s hard for people to think somebody could be so stupid, but I believed them.” [New York Times, 7/7/2005] Gray will reveal his destruction of evidence during the Watergate investigation (see April 27-30, 1973).

Entity Tags: John Ehrlichman, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, E. Howard Hunt, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John F. Kennedy, John Dean, Nixon administration, Ngo Dinh Diem, L. Patrick Gray

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

L. Patrick Gray.L. Patrick Gray. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]The Senate confirmation hearings of FBI director L. Patrick Gray (see February 17, 1973) begin. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 13-14] As predicted (see February 27, 1973), they are an opportunity for angry Democrats to grill Gray about the FBI’s failure to expand their investigation of the Watergate conspiracy beyond the burglary itself (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Gray launches his testimony by insisting that the FBI conducted a “massive special” investigation, a “full-court press” with “no holds barred.” But on the first day of testimony, without even being asked, Gray volunteers that he had given White House Council John Dean some of the raw FBI files of the investigation (see June 28, 1972), and offers the senators the files to peruse for themselves. [Time, 4/2/1973; Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 272-273; O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file] Gray admits to turning over at least 82 FBI documents on the investigation to Dean, even though the FBI’s general counsel had ordered that no documents be turned over without the approval of Attorney General Richard Kleindienst. In doing so, not only did Gray circumvent Kleindienst, whose Justice Department would have to prosecute anyone violating federal laws in the Watergate conspiracy, but gave information to White House officials bent on concealing evidence of their own involvement. Gray turns over a document showing that he spoke with Dean at least 33 times about the Watergate investigation between June and September 1972. [Time, 4/2/1973; O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file] After the second day of testimony, Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein learns from Gray’s lawyer, William Bittman, that Dean had never given the FBI two notebooks from the safe of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see June 19, 1972). Bittman believes the notebooks contained information about who was involved in the Watergate conspiracy. Bittman, clearly disturbed by the missing documents, notes that they were “[v]aluable enough for someone to want them to disappear.” The Gray hearings will bring John Dean’s involvement in Watergate to the fore, and reveal that Gray took possession of the notebooks. [Time, 4/2/1973; Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 272-273; O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file]

Entity Tags: William O. Bittman, John Dean, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard Kleindienst, E. Howard Hunt, Carl Bernstein, L. Patrick Gray

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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