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Context of 'July 20, 1971: Ehrlichman Announces Creation of ‘Plumbers’'

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President Nixon authorizes the creation of a “special investigations unit,” later nicknamed the “Plumbers,” to root out and seal media leaks. The first target is Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press (see June 13, 1971); the team will burglarize the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis Fielding, in hopes of securing information that the White House can use to smear Ellsberg’s character and undermine his credibility (see September 9, 1971). Nixon aide John Ehrlichman, who supervises the “Plumbers,” will later say that the Ellsberg burglary is “the seminal Watergate episode.” Author Barry Werth will later write, “[L]ike all original sins, it held the complete DNA of subsequent misdeeds.” During the upcoming court battle over the documents, Nixon tells his aide Charles Colson: “We’ve got a countergovernment here and we’ve got to fight it. I don’t give a damn how it’s done. Do whatever has to be done to stop those leaks.… I don’t want to be told why it can’t be done.” Whatever damaging information the “Plumbers” can find on Ellsberg will be itself leaked to the press, Nixon says. “Don’t worry about his trial [referring to Ellsberg’s arrest on conspiracy and espionage charges (see June 28, 1971) ]. Just get everything out. Try him in the press… leak it out.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 84-87] As he is wont to do, Nixon refers to his own success in convicting suspected Communist spy Alger Hiss in 1950. “We won the Hiss case in the papers,” he says. “We did. I had to leak stuff all over the place. Because the Justice Department would not prosecute it.… It was won in the papers…. I leaked out the papers. I leaked everything.… I leaked out the testimony. I had Hiss convicted before he ever got to the grand jury.” [Kutler, 1997, pp. 10; Reeves, 2001, pp. 337-338] In July 1973, FBI deputy director W. Mark Felt, the notorious “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005) will tell reporter Bob Woodward that Nixon created the Plumbers because the FBI would not do his bidding in regards to Ellsberg. Had the FBI agreed to investigate Ellsberg to the extent Nixon wanted, he would not have created the “Plumbers.” “The problem was that we [the FBI] wouldn’t burglarize” (see June 30-July 1, 1971), Felt will say. Ehrlichman will later testify, “Those fellows were going out as substitutes for the FBI.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 107]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, ’Plumbers’, Alger Hiss, Daniel Ellsberg, Richard M. Nixon, W. Mark Felt, Lewis Fielding, Bob Woodward, John Ehrlichman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

E. Howard Hunt.E. Howard Hunt. [Source: American Patriot Friends Network]Nixon White House aides Charles Colson and John Ehrlichman appoint former CIA agent E. Howard Hunt to the White House staff. Hunt will become a key figure in the “Plumbers” unit that will burglarize and plant surveillance devices in the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee (see April-June 1972). [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] Hunt is a longtime US intelligence veteran, having started with the CIA’s predecessor, the Office of Special Services (OSS) during World War II. He worked extensively in Central America during the 1950s, helping build the US’s relationship with Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, working to topple the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz of Guatamala, and coordinating US efforts against Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Hunt also writes spy novels. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]

Entity Tags: Charles Colson, ’Plumbers’, Central Intelligence Agency, John Ehrlichman, Nixon administration, E. Howard Hunt

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Nixon aide John Ehrlichman reports that he has successfully created the special investigations unit ordered by the president (see Late June-July 1971). His first choice to head the unit, speechwriter Pat Buchanan, refused the position. Ehrlichman rejected fellow aide Charles Colson’s own choice, retired CIA agent E. Howard Hunt, who has recently joined the White House staff (see July 7, 1971). Ehrlichman turned to his own protege, Egil “Bud” Krogh, and David Young, a former assistant to National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, to head the unit. Young gives the unit its nickname of “Plumbers” after he hangs a sign on his office door reading, “D. YOUNG—PLUMBER.” Their first hire is former FBI agent and county prosecutor G. Gordon Liddy, a reputed “wild man” currently being pushed out of the Treasury Department for his strident opposition to the administration’s gun control policies. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 348-349]

Entity Tags: Egil Krogh, Charles Colson, David Young, G. Gordon Liddy, E. Howard Hunt, Patrick Buchanan, John Ehrlichman, US Department of the Treasury

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Nixon aide John Ehrlichman passes on the president’s recommendations to the heads of the “Plumbers,” Egil Krogh and David Young (see July 20, 1971), regarding “Pentagon Papers” leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see Late June-July 1971): “Tell Keogh he should do whatever he considers necessary to get to the bottom of this matter—to learn what Ellsberg’s motives and potential further harmful action might be.” Within days, Keogh and Young will give Ehrlichman a memo detailing the results of investigations into Ellsberg and a dozen of Ellsberg’s friends, family members, and colleagues. The memo also says that the CIA’s psychological profile of Ellsberg is “superficial.” Keogh and Young recommend a covert operation be undertaken to examine the medical files held by Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis Fielding (see September 9, 1971). Ehrlichman approves the idea, with the caveat, “If done under your assurance that it is not traceable.” They also suggest that MI5 (British intelligence) wiretaps on Soviet KGB personnel in England in 1952 and 1953, the years when Ellsberg attended Cambridge University, be examined for any mention of Ellsberg. Ehrlichman approves this also. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 352-353]

Entity Tags: David Young, Daniel Ellsberg, Richard M. Nixon, Lewis Fielding, John Ehrlichman, Egil Krogh

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

White House counsel John Dean warns President Nixon of a “cancer on the presidency.” When this phrase enters the public dialogue, it is popularly misremembered as Dean warning Nixon about the ill effects of the Watergate conspiracy on the Nixon presidency. Instead, Dean is warning Nixon about the deleterious effects of the blackmail efforts being carried out against the White House by the convicted Watergate burglars (see June 20-21, 1972). In a conversation secretly taped by Nixon, Dean says, “We have a cancer within, close to the Presidency, that is growing. Basically it is because we are being blackmailed.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 577-578; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
Cancer Should 'Be Removed Immediately' - In later testimony to the Senate Watergate Investigative Committee (see June 25-29, 1973), Dean states his words somewhat differently: “I began by telling the president that there was a cancer growing on the presidency and that if the cancer was not removed, that the president himself would be killed by it. I also told him that it was important that this cancer be removed immediately because it was growing more deadly every day.” Dean then tells Nixon virtually the entire story of the Watergate conspiracy, noting his discussions with other conspirators about the prospective wiretapping of the Democrats—particularly Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy and campaign officials John Mitchell and Jeb Magruder—and tells Nixon that he had reported the plans to Nixon’s top aide, H. R. Haldeman. He had participated in paying off the burglars to remain silent, and had coached Magruder to perjure himself before the Watergat grand jury (see April 14-18, 1973). Dean will testify: “I concluded by saying that it is going to take continued perjury and continued support of these individuals to perpetuate the cover-up and that I did not believe that it was possible to so continue it. Rather, all those involved must stand up and account for themselves and the president himself must get out in front.” But, Dean will testify, Nixon refuses to countenance Dean’s advice, and instead sets up a meeting with Dean, Haldeman, Mitchell, and his other top aide, John Ehrlichman. Nixon hopes that Mitchell will agree to take the blame for the Watergate wiretapping, and thusly quell the public uproar (Mitchell will refuse). Nixon, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Dean meet a second time that afternoon, a meeting which Dean will later describe as another “tremendous disappointment.” He will testify, “It was quite clear that the cover-up as far as the White House was concerned was going to continue.” He will testify that he believes both Haldeman and Ehrlichman, and himself, are indictable for obstruction of justice, and that “it was time that everybody start thinking about telling the truth.” However, both aides “were very unhappy with my comments.” [Time, 7/9/1973] Dean tells Nixon that to save his presidency, he and his closest aides Haldeman and Ehrlichman are going to have to testify and most likely go to jail. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 304]
Blackmail Payoffs - Between the blackmail and the almost-certainty that White House officials are going to start perjuring themselves, Dean concludes that the problem is critical. Convicted burglar E. Howard Hunt wants another $72,000 for what he is calling personal expenses and $50,000 more for attorneys’ fees. Hunt directly threatened aides John Ehrlichman and Egil Krogh (see July 20, 1971) with his testimony, saying that, Dean reports, “I have done enough seamy things for he and Krogh that they’ll never survive it.” Hunt is threatening to reveal the story behind the Ellsberg break-in (see September 9, 1971) and, in Dean’s words, “other things. I don’t know the full extent of it.” Nixon asks, “How much money do you need?” Dean replies, “I would say these people are going to cost a million dollars over the next two years.” Nixon muses, “You could get a million dollars. You could get it in cash. I know where it could be gotten. I mean it’s not easy but it could be done.” The money can be raised, Nixon says, but the idea of any presidential pardons for anyone is out. Nixon learns from his secretary, Rose Mary Woods, that their secret campaign fund still has over $100,000. That evening, Hunt is given $75,000 in cash. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 577-578; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] Hunt will eventually receive $120,000, almost the exact amount he demands. [Reston, 2007, pp. 35]

Entity Tags: Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, Richard M. Nixon, Rose Mary Woods, John Mitchell, Nixon administration, John Dean, John Ehrlichman, E. Howard Hunt, H.R. Haldeman, Egil Krogh

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Bo Burlingame, a former member of the radical antiwar group the Weather Underground, interviews former Nixon White House aide Tom Charles Huston, the author of the notorious, unconstitutional “Huston Plan” (see July 14, 1970). Huston is just coming off a speech to a conservative audience in which he said that his plan, and Nixon’s attempt to seize executive power at the expense of Congress and the Constitution, was excessive and mistaken (see Late 1973). Huston, a lawyer, a former Army intelligence officer, and an early leader of the Indiana chapter of the conservative extremist group Young Americans for Freedom, tells Burlingame that he found an interesting parallel between his group of right-wing extremists and Burlingame’s left-wing extremists: “I was interested to learn that you people were frustrated because nobody was listening to you. You know, we felt the same thing at the White House. It seemed as if a momentous crisis was at hand, and nobody was aware of it or cared.”
Coup d'Etat Begins with Creation of Fear in Populace - Huston is contemptuous and dismissive of many of his former White House colleagues, particularly Richard Nixon. “Frankly, I wouldn’t put anything past him and those damn technocrats,” he says of Nixon and his senior aides. “[Y]ou can’t begin to compete with the professional Nixonites when it comes to deception.… If Nixon told them to nationalize the railroads, they’d have nationalized the railroads. If he’d told them to exterminate the Jews, they’d have exterminated the Jews.” He took a position with the White House in January 1969 “believing that things were finally going to be set straight.”
Disillusioned - Huston became increasingly disillusioned with the lack of idealism in the Nixon White House, and left after deciding that Nixon and his top officials were less interested in implementing true conservative reforms and more interested in merely accumulating power. The Nixon team was an apolitical, power-hungry bunch “whose intellectual tradition is rooted in the philosophy of [marketing and advertising guru] J. Walter Thompson.… This administration has done more to debauch conservative values than anything else in recent history.”
Fear and Repression - Considering his plan to abrogate the fundamental rights of hundreds of thousands of Americans, Huston seems quite supportive of those rights even in the face of national danger. “The real threat to national security is repression,” he had told a New York Times interviewer not long before the Burlingame interview. “A handful of people can’t frontally overthrow the government. But if they can engender enough fear, they can generate an atmosphere that will bring out every repressive demagogue in the country.”
Explaining the Huston Plan - Huston explains the rationale behind his radically repressive plan, telling Burlingame that the country was on the brink of mass insurrection and the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover was not doing nearly enough to combat the civil rights and antiwar protesters, particularly groups like the Black Panthers and Burlingame’s Weather Underground. By early 1970, many in the White House were ready to ease Hoover out of power; when, shortly thereafter, the mass protests against the Cambodia bombings (see February 23-24, 1969 and April 24-30, 1970) and the Jackson State and Kent State shootings (see May 4-5, 1970) occurred, Huston and others at the White House thought there was a far more organized and systematic underground, left-wing revolution going on than they had evidence to document. “We just didn’t believe we were getting the whole story,” he says.
Removing Hoover - Getting rid of Hoover and replacing him with someone more amenable to the White House’s agenda was the first goal, Huston says. The June 1970 “Interagency Committee on Intelligence” (see June 5, 1970) was designed to maneuver around Hoover and have him implicitly authorize counter-insurrection methods that he had always opposed, including “surreptitious entry” and “covert mail coverage.” The committee was the genesis of the Huston Plan. But Hoover stops the plan in its tracks by going through Attorney General John Mitchell. Whatever he said to Mitchell is not known, but Mitchell chewed out Huston and saw to it that the plan was terminated. Huston says that the unit of illegal campaign operatives later known as the “Plumbers” (see July 20, 1971) stems in part from the White House’s inability to force Hoover from power. Had Hoover made the FBI available to conduct the illegal burglaries and surveillances that Nixon wanted done—had Nixon supported the Huston Plan—the Plumbers would have never come into existence. “I find that totally indefensible,” Huston observes.
Ethical Confusion - Burlingame is bemused by Huston’s apparent ethical schizophrenia—on the one hand, Huston has come out strongly for constitutional freedoms, and on the other hand is now saying that his plan, which he himself has long admitted was blatantly illegal, would have avoided the entire Watergate contretemps and would have worked to bring the country into line. In fact, Huston asserts, he believed at the time that the Watergate conspiracy was completely legal. “I took the view that in internal security matters the president had the right to infringe on what would, in other circumstances, be constitutional rights, but that decision encompassed a decision that you forfeit the right to prosecute.” This view is why he left the Justice Department entirely out of the loop on his plan, he says.
Deliberately Keeping outside the Framework of the Law - The entire Huston plan would have never been used for anything except intelligence-gathering, he says. It was necessary for the plan to be exercised outside the structure of US law, he says. “[Y]ou don’t want a constitutional or legal mandate,” he says. “You don’t want to institutionalize the excesses required to meet extraordinary threats. The law just can’t anticipate all the contingencies.” He now thinks that he went too far with pushing for extraordinary powers; that if Hoover could have been eased out of power, the FBI could have done what needed doing without breaking the law. Burlingame writes that he cannot help but think that Huston is employing “tortured legalisms” to “cover his flank,” and questions Huston’s portrait of himself as an increasingly marginalized conservative idealist who became so disillusioned with the amoral power-mad bureaucrats of the Nixon administration that he walked out rather than further jeopardize his own principles. [Harper's, 10/1974]

Entity Tags: John Mitchell, Bo Burlingame, Black Panthers, ’Plumbers’, Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Walter Thompson, Young Americans for Freedom, J. Edgar Hoover, Tom Charles Huston, US Department of Justice, Weather Underground, Nixon administration, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Special prosecutor Leon Jaworski issues a subpoena for 64 formerly secret Watergate tapes (see July 13-16, 1973). The case will be decided in the Supreme Court (see July 24, 1974). [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Jaworski also demands information concerning:
bullet The possible “sale” of ambassadorships to large campaign contributors (see March-April 1972);
bullet The Nixon administration’s settlement of the ITT antitrust lawsuit (see 1969);
bullet The White House’s negotiation with milk producers to artificially inflate prices in return for campaign contributions (see March 23, 1971);
bullet President Nixon’s notes on his daily news summaries;
bullet Former Nixon aide John Ehrlichman’s records on his dealings with the “Plumbers” (see July 20, 1971);
bullet Other Nixon conversations concerning the Watergate cover-up; and
bullet The location of the tape containing the 18 1/2 minute gap (see November 21, 1973) during the time when Nixon claimed the tapes were in his custody. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 607]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Leon Jaworski, John Ehrlichman, International Telephone and Telegraph, Nixon administration, ’Plumbers’, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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