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Context of 'July 13, 1972: Fractious Democrats Nominate McGovern, Eagleton'

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Donald Segretti.Donald Segretti. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]One of the Nixon campaign’s “agents provocateur,” California lawyer Donald Segretti, attempts to recruit three former colleagues to work with him in disrupting and interfering with Democratic campaign events. Segretti met the three, Alex Shipley, Roger Lee Nixt, and Kenneth Griffiths, while all three served as captains in the Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps during the Vietnam War. Shipley, now an assistant attorney general in Tennessee, later recalls (see October 7, 1972) that according to Segretti, “Money would be no problem, but the people we would be working for wanted results for the cash that would be spent.” Segretti tells the three that they will need false identification papers and fake names, asks Shipley to recruit five more people for the job, and says their primary task will be to disrupt the campaign schedules of Democratic candidates and obtain information from their campaign organizations. Shipley will recall that Segretti tells him not to reveal the names of the five operatives he recruits, not even to Segretti; in return, Segretti can never tell Shipley where the money to fund the operations is coming from. According to Shipley: “I said, ‘How in hell are we going to be taken care of if no one knows what we’re doing?’ and Segretti said: ‘Nixon knows that something is being done. It’s a typical deal.’ Segretti said, ‘Don’t-tell-me-anything-and-I-won’t-know.’”
Working for Nixon, Pretending to Work for Democrats - Segretti gives Shipley an example of what he might do as a campaign operative: “He [Segretti] said: ‘For instance, we’ll go to a [Democratic presidential candidate Edward] Kennedy rally and find an ardent Kennedy worker. Then you say that you’re a Kennedy man too but you’re working behind the scenes; you get them to help you. You send them to work for [Democratic presidential candidate Edmund] Muskie, stuffing envelopes or whatever, and you get them to pass you the information. They’ll think that they are helping Kennedy against Muskie. But actually you’re using the information for something else.’ It was very strange.… I said, ‘Well, who will we be working for?’ He said, ‘Nixon’ and I was really taken aback, because all the actions he had talked about would have taken place in the Democratic primaries. He said the main purpose was that the Democrats have an ability to get back together after a knockdown, drag-out campaign. What we want to do is wreak enough havoc so they can’t.”
Turned Down - Shipley, Nixt and Griffiths all turn Segretti down; a fourth ex-JAG lawyer, Peter Dixon, will later confirm that he, too, turned down Segretti, but before Segretti could reveal any details to him. Shipley is so concerned that he asks a friend who worked for Senator Albert Gore (D-TN) what to do, and the friend advises him to “string [Segretti] along to see what he’s up to.” At a subsequent meeting, Segretti tells Shipley that he is recruiting lawyers because he doesn’t want to break any laws, and says that the emphasis of the operations is to “have fun” as opposed to committing blatant criminal acts. [Washington Post, 10/10/1972] Some of the “fun” activities include waving signs at rallies such as “If you like Hitler, you’ll love Wallace. Vote Muskie!” Perhaps the most well-known trick is the airplane hired to fly over the Democratic National Convention in Miami (see July 13, 1972) trailing the banner, “Peace Pot Promiscuity—Vote McGovern.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 531] Segretti’s last attempt to recruit Shipley is October 23, 1971.
Segretti Always 'Well-Financed' and at Centers of Campaign Activity - Shipley will recall that “the one important thing that struck me was that he seemed to be well-financed. He was always flying across the country. When he came to Washington in June he said he had an appointment at the Treasury Department and that the Treasury Department was picking up the tab on this—his plane and hotel bill.” Segretti later tells Shipley that “it wasn’t the Treasury Department that had paid the bill, it was the Nixon people. [Segretti] said, ‘Don’t ask me any names.’” According to travel documents, Segretti flies to, among other places, Miami; Houston; Manchester, New Hampshire; Knoxville; Los Angeles; New York City; Washington; Salt Lake City; Chicago; Portland, Oregon; Albuquerque; Tucson; San Francisco; and several other California cities. FBI investigations will find that the most concentrated areas of Nixon campaign undercover activity are in Illinois, New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, California, Texas, Florida, and Washington, DC. [Washington Post, 10/10/1972]

Entity Tags: Kenneth Griffiths, Campaign to Re-elect the President, Donald Segretti, Alex Shipley, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Sr., Edmund Muskie, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Peter Dixon, Roger Lee Nixt

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate, Elections Before 2000

Martha Mitchell.Martha Mitchell. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Martha Mitchell, the wife of Nixon campaign director John Mitchell, makes an unexpected phone call to UPI reporter Helen Thomas. Mrs. Mitchell is initially calm and even a bit sad, but when Thomas brings up the subject of Watergate, Mrs. Mitchell becomes agitated. She is “sick of the whole business,” she says, and adds: “I’ve given John an ultimatum. I’m going to leave him unless he gets out of the campaign. I’m sick and tired of politics. Politics is a dirty business.” [Thomas, 1999, pp. 210-211] Suddenly she screams, “You just get away—get away!” and the line goes dead. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 508] Three days later she calls Thomas again and asserts that she is a political prisoner in her own home. “I’m not going to stand for all of those dirty things that go on,” she shouts. “If you could see me, you wouldn’t believe it. I’m black and blue.” Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward believes that Mrs. Mitchell might be an unexpected fount of information about her husband’s inner dealings in the Watergate conspiracy, but when he interviews her in September, she will reveal nothing of import. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 92-95] In October 1972, W. Mark Felt, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s FBI background source (see May 31, 2005), says of Mrs. Mitchell, “She knows nothing, apparently, but that doesn’t mean she won’t talk.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 133]

Entity Tags: Martha Mitchell, W. Mark Felt, Helen Thomas, John Mitchell, Bob Woodward

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

President Nixon and Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman decide to cut campaign chairman John Mitchell loose to try to stymie the Watergate investigation. (Two days before, Nixon had said he would rather lose the 1972 election than let Mitchell take any blame for the Watergate conspiracy.) Mitchell will resign as head of the Nixon re-election campaign (see July 1, 1972), for personal reasons having to do with the illness and instability of his wife Martha, they decide (see June 22-25, 1972). Nixon calls it “a beautiful opportunity” for Mitchell to gain sympathy—“you know, it’s kind of like the Duke of Windsor giving up the throne for the woman he loves, this sort of stuff.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 570-571]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, H.R. Haldeman, John Mitchell

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

The Democratic National Convention, held to nominate George S. McGovern as the Democratic presidential candidate, is chaotic at best. The nomination of McGovern’s running mate is especially troublesome, as recalcitrant and sometimes obstreporous delegates and party officials nominate 39 separate candidates for vice president, including Martha Mitchell (see June 22-25, 1972) and China’s Communist leader Mao Zedong. McGovern and the party officials finally settle on freshman senator Thomas Eagleton (D-MO)—after McGovern goes through 24 separate possibilities who turn him down one after the other. Because of the fractious and time-consuming proceedings, McGovern does not make his speech accepting the nomination until 3 a.m. EST. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 513]

Entity Tags: Mao Zedong, George S. McGovern, Martha Mitchell, Democratic National Committee, Thomas F. Eagleton

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

While researching the story that would reveal the extensive “dirty tricks” operations conducted by the Nixon presidential campaign (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond), Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein learns of the extensive connections between “agent provocateur” Donald Segretti and members of the Nixon administration.
College Connection - Segretti, Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler, White House appointments secretary Dwight Chapin, and Ziegler’s aide Tim Elbourne had all attended college together at the University of Southern California. All were members of a campus political group called “Trojans for Representative Government.” The group carried out a number of dirty campus political operations, which they called “ratf_cking.” Some of their “tricks” included ballot box stuffing, planting of spies in opposition camps, and spreading of bogus campaign literature designed to drive students away from the targeted candidate.
Campaigns - Ziegler and Chapin had joined Richard Nixon’s gubernatorial campaign in 1962, which was managed by H. R. Haldeman, now Nixon’s closest White House aide. After Nixon lost that election, Ziegler, Chapin, and Elbourne had worked for Haldeman in an advertising agency. Ziegler and Chapin had recruited Segretti and Elbourne to take part in the 1972 Nixon campaign.
Confirmation - A Justice Department official confirms that Segretti is under investigation for political sabotage and espionage operations, and says that he is familiar with the term “ratf_cking.” Bernstein discusses Segretti with a Justice Department attorney, who is outraged at the entire idea. “Ratf_cking?” he snarls. “You can go right to the top with that one. I was shocked when I heard it. I couldn’t believe it. These are public servants? God. It’s nauseating. You’re talking about fellows who come from the best schools in the country. Men who run the government!” The attorney calls the Segretti operation “despicable,” and Segretti himself “indescribable.” “You’re dealing with people who act like this is Dodge City, not the capital of the United States.” The attorney hints that the Nixon campaign “slush fund” (see September 29, 1972) helped pay for the operations, and that the “Canuck letter” (see February 24-25, 1972) was one of the Nixon campaign’s operations.
Mitchell Involved - Bernstein prods the attorney about the phrase “go right to the top,” and mentions former campaign manager John Mitchell. The attorney says of Mitchell: “He can’t say he didn’t know about it, because it was strategy—basic strategy that goes all the way to the top. Higher than him, even.” Woodward is stunned. Higher than Mitchell? The only three people in the Nixon administration higher than Mitchell are Nixon’s top aides, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, and Richard Nixon himself. Bernstein and colleague Bob Woodward later write, “For the first time, [Bernstein] considered the possibility that the president of the United States was the head ratf_cker.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 126-129]

Entity Tags: University of Southern California, Trojans for Representative Government, US Department of Justice, Tim Elbourne, Richard M. Nixon, Dwight Chapin, Donald Segretti, Ron Ziegler, Carl Bernstein, John Ehrlichman, John Mitchell, Bob Woodward, H.R. Haldeman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Following his revelatory apology and roundabout admission of guilt in his interview with David Frost (see April 15, 1977), Richard Nixon says that everything has come together to one single, inescapable conclusion. “I let the American people down, and I have to carry that burden with me the rest of my life. My political life is over. I will never yet and never again have an opportunity to serve in any official capacity.” James Reston, Jr, a member of Frost’s research team, later writes that this admission is “the final success of David Frost’s interviews. The danger that this encounter would lead to Nixon’s rehabilitation (see April 6, 1977) had been smothered. His political and personal corruption had been demonstrated. His personality had been exposed. With recognition, with acknowledgment, with acceptance of his guilt, he was a different man now.” As recently as three weeks earlier, he had spoken confidently of his intention to return to public life. That would never happen now.
Anti-Climax - In a scripted television drama, Nixon’s cathartic admission of guilt would have been the final scene. In reality, Nixon and Frost have another twenty minutes of interview time. True to form, as Reston will write, “Not a minute after he accepted responsibility for his own actions, his natural venality asserted itself.” Nixon revisits his claims of persecution by implacably hateful political enemies, and of his own victimization. He even drags Martha Mitchell (see June 22-25, 1972), the recently deceased wife of former campaign chairman John Mitchell, in to share in the blame—according to Nixon, because Mrs. Mitchell was “emotionally disturbed,” she distracted her husband at key times during the Nixon re-election campaign and therefore she is a root cause of the Watergate conspiracy. Reston will call this accusation “tasteless and lowbrow… ghoulish [and] revolting.” (After this story appears in the press, Mrs. Mitchell’s home town of Little Rock, Arkansas, decides to erect a monument of her as a heroine of Watergate.) The interview ends on a final macabre moment, with Frost delicately asking if Nixon had ever considered suicide. “I’m not the suicidal type,” he replies. “I really ought to be. If [I were], I’d have to be like a cat, I’d’a committed suicide a dozen times.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 158-160]
Rehabilitation? - Nixon biographer Conrad Black writes in 2007 that Nixon’s strategy was to rehabilitate himself by admitting his mistakes while refusing to admit to any criminal behavior: “He also knew, but Frost did not, that the first stage in his planned moral renaissance was to resist precisely the desire Frost expressed: that he confess wrongdoing so he could be forgiven. Nixon did not want to be forgiven; he wanted the country to agonize over whether it had unfairly treated him. Apologizing and being forgiven was the easy way out for America, but Nixon wasn’t interested in providing an effortless exit from the moral dilemma he posed to his countrymen.” [Guardian, 9/7/2007] After the interviews, Frost will say that he does not believe Nixon wanted to use the interviews as a way to re-enter public life. [Guardian, 5/27/1977]

Entity Tags: Martha Mitchell, David Frost, James Reston, Jr, Conrad Black, John Mitchell, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

W. Mark Felt.W. Mark Felt. [Source: Life Distilled.com]The identity of “Deep Throat,” the Watergate source made famous in Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s book All the President’s Men, is revealed to have been W. Mark Felt, who at the time was the deputy director of the FBI. As “Deep Throat,” Felt provided critical information and guidance for Bernstein and Woodward’s investigations of the Watergate conspiracy for the Washington Post. Felt’s identity has been a closely guarded secret for over 30 years; Woodward, who knew Felt, had repeatedly said that neither he, Bernstein, nor then-editor Ben Bradlee would release any information about his source’s identity until after his death or until Felt authorized its revelation. Felt’s family confirms Felt’s identity as “Deep Throat” in an article published in Vanity Fair. Felt, 91 years old, suffers from advanced senile dementia. Felt’s character as the romantic government source whispering explosive secrets from the recesses of a Washington, DC, parking garage was burned into the American psyche both by the book and by actor Hal Holbrook’s portrayal in the 1976 film of the same name. Woodward says that Holbrook’s portrayal captured Felt’s character both physically and psychologically. [Washington Post, 6/1/2005] Bernstein and Woodward release a joint statement after the Vanity Fair article is published. It reads, “W. Mark Felt was Deep Throat and helped us immeasurably in our Watergate coverage. However, as the record shows, many other sources and officials assisted us and other reporters for the hundreds of stories written in the Washington Post.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 232]
Surveillance Methods to Protect Both Felt and Woodward - Felt used his experience as an anti-Nazi spy hunter for the FBI to set up secret meetings between himself and the young reporter (see August 1972). “He knew he was taking a monumental risk,” says Woodward. Woodward acknowledges that his continued refusal to reveal Felt’s identity has played a key role in the advancement of his career as a journalist and author, as many sources trust Woodward to keep their identities secret as he did Felt’s.
Obscuring the Greater Meaning - Bernstein cautions that focusing on Felt’s role as a “deep background” source—the source of the nickname, which references a popular 1970s pornographic movie—obscures the greater meaning of the Watergate investigation. “Felt’s role in all this can be overstated,” Bernstein says. “When we wrote the book, we didn’t think his role would achieve such mythical dimensions. You see there that Felt/Deep Throat largely confirmed information we had already gotten from other sources.” [Washington Post, 6/1/2005] Felt was convicted in 1980 of conspiring to violate the civil rights of domestic dissidents belonging to the Weather Underground movement in the early 1970s; Felt was pardoned by then-President Ronald Reagan. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 146-147] At that time, Felt’s identity as “Deep Throat” could have been revealed, but was not.
Felt, Daughter Decide to Go Public - The Vanity Fair article is by Felt family lawyer John D. O’Connor, who helped Felt’s daughter Joan coax Felt into admitting his role as “Deep Throat.” O’Connor’s article quotes Felt as saying, “I’m the guy they used to call Deep Throat.” O’Connor says he wrote the article with the permission of both Felt and his daughter. Woodward has been reluctant to reveal Felt’s identity, though he has already written an as-yet unpublished book about Felt and their relationship, because of his concerns about Felt’s failing health and increasingly poor memory. The Washington Post’s editors concluded that with the publication of the Vanity Fair article, they were not breaking any confidences by confirming Felt’s identity as Woodward’s Watergate source. [Washington Post, 6/1/2005]
Endless Speculation - The identity of “Deep Throat” has been one of the enduring political mysteries of the last 30 years. Many observers, from Richard Nixon to the most obscure Internet sleuth, have speculated on his identity. Watergate-era figures, including then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan, Nixon deputy counsel Fred Fielding, Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig, National Security Council staffers Laurence Lynn and Winston Lord, then-CBS reporter Diane Sawyer, and many others, have been advanced as possibilities for the source. Former White House counsels John Dean and Leonard Garment, two key Watergate figures, have written extensively on the subject, but both have been wrong in their speculations. In 1992, Atlantic Monthly journalist James Mann wrote that “Deep Throat” “could well have been Mark Felt.” At the time, Felt cautiously denied the charge, as he did in his 1979 memoir, The FBI Pyramid. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 153-156; Washington Post, 6/1/2005] In 1999, the Hartford Courant published a story saying that 19-year old Chase Coleman-Beckman identified Felt as “Deep Throat.” Coleman-Beckman had attended a day camp with Bernstein’s son Josh a decade earlier, and Josh Bernstein then told her that Felt was Woodward’s source. Felt then denied the charge, telling a reporter: “No, it’s not me. I would have done better. I would have been more effective. Deep Throat didn’t exactly bring the White House crashing down, did he?” Woodward calls Felt’s response a classic Felt evasion. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 158-159]
Motivated by Anger, Concern over Politicization of the FBI - Woodward believes that Felt decided to become a background source for several reasons both personal and ideological. Felt, who idealized former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, was angered that he was passed over for the job upon Hoover’s death; instead, the position went to L. Patrick Gray, whom Felt considered both incompetent and far too politically aligned with the Nixon White House. The FBI could not become an arm of the White House, Felt believed, and could not be allowed to help Nixon cover up his participation in the conspiracy. He decided to help Woodward and Bernstein in their often-lonely investigation of the burgeoning Watergate scandal. Woodward and Bernstein never identified Felt as anyone other than “a source in the executive branch who had access” to high-level information. Felt refused to be directly quoted, even as an anonymous source, and would not give information, but would merely confirm or deny it as well as “add[ing] some perspective.” Some of Woodward and Felt’s conversations were strictly business, but sometimes they would wax more philosophical, discussing, in the words of the book, “how politics had infiltrated every corner of government—a strong-arm takeover of the agencies by the Nixon White House…. [Felt] had once called it the ‘switchblade mentality’—and had referred to the willingness of the president’s men to fight dirty and for keeps…. The Nixon White House worried him. ‘They are underhanded and unknowable,’ he had said numerous times. He also distrusted the press. ‘I don’t like newspapers,’ he had said flatly.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 167-215; Washington Post, 6/1/2005]

Entity Tags: Diane Sawyer, W. Mark Felt, Vanity Fair, Ronald Reagan, Carl Bernstein, Weather Underground, Winston Lord, Chase Coleman-Beckman, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Ben Bradlee, Bob Woodward, Patrick Buchanan, Nixon administration, Washington Post, Laurence Lynn, Fred F. Fielding, Hartford Courant, Henry A. Kissinger, Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Mann, J. Edgar Hoover, John D. O’Connor, Joan Felt, Josh Bernstein, L. Patrick Gray, Leonard Garment, John Dean

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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