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Context of 'June 23, 1972: Nixon Orders CIA to Stop FBI Watergate Investigation'

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Nixon and Haldeman, three days after the June 23 meeting.Nixon and Haldeman, three days after the June 23 meeting. [Source: Washington Post]With the FBI tracing the Watergate burglars’ $100 bills to GOP fundraiser Kenneth Dahlberg (see August 1-2, 1972), President Nixon orders the CIA to attempt to stop the FBI from investigating the Watergate conspiracy, using the justification of “national security.” One of the areas Nixon specifically does not want investigated is the $89,000 in Mexican checks found in the account of one of the Watergate burglars, Bernard Barker (see April-June 1972). [Reeves, 2001, pp. 508-510; Woodward, 2005, pp. 59-60] Author James Reston Jr. will write in 2007: “The strategy for the CIA to block the FBI’s investigation of the Mexican checks… was devised by Haldeman and Nixon. This was a clear obstruction of justice.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 33-34] The plan, concocted by Nixon campaign chief John Mitchell, is to have deputy CIA director Vernon Walters tell the new FBI Director, L. Patrick Gray, to, in the words of Nixon chief of staff H. R. Haldeman, “stay the hell out of this… this is, ah, business we don’t want you to go any further on it.” Nixon approves the plan. White House aide John Ehrlichman will later testify that he is the one tasked with carrying out Nixon’s command; Nixon tells Ehrlichman and Haldeman to have the CIA “curb the FBI probe.” [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file]
Nixon: FBI, CIA Should Back out of Investigation - In his discussion with Nixon, Haldeman says that “the FBI is not under control, because Gray doesn’t exactly know how to control them, and they have, their investigation is now leading into some productive areas, because they’ve been able to trace the money… and it goes in some directions we don’t want it to go.” Haldeman also says that the FBI has a witness in Miami who saw film developed from one of the Watergate burglaries (see Mid-June 1972). He tells Nixon that the FBI is not aware yet that the money for the burglars can be traced to Dahlberg, who wrote a $25,000 check that went directly to one of the Watergate burglars. That check is “directly traceable” to the Mexican bank used by the Nixon re-election campaign (CREEP). Haldeman says that he and Ehrlichman should call in both Gray and CIA Director Richard Helms and tell both of them to have their agencies back out of any investigation. Nixon agrees, saying that considering Hunt’s involvement: “that will uncover a lot of things. You open that scab there’s a hell of a lot of things and that we just feel that it would be very detrimental to have this thing go any further. This involves these Cubans, Hunt, and a lot of hanky-panky that we have nothing to do with ourselves.” Haldeman says he believes that Mitchell knew about the burglary as well, but did not know the operational details. “[W]ho was the assh_le who did?” Nixon asks. “Is it [G. Gordon] Liddy? Is that the fellow? He must be nuts.” Haldeman says Mitchell pressured Liddy “to get more information, and as [Liddy] got more pressure, he pushed the people harder to move harder on.…” Both Nixon and Haldeman think that the FBI may believe the CIA, not the White House, is responsible for the burglary; Nixon says: “… when I saw that news summary item, I of course knew it was a bunch of crap, but I thought ah, well it’s good to have them off on this wild hair thing because when they start bugging us, which they have, we’ll know our little boys will not know how to handle it. I hope they will though. You never know. Maybe, you think about it. Good!” A short time later in the conversation, Nixon instructs Haldeman to tell his staffers not to directly lie under oath about their knowledge of the burglary, but to characterize it as “sort of a comedy of errors, bizarre,” and warn the FBI that to continue investigating the burglary would “open the whole Bay of Pigs thing up again. And, ah, because these people are plugging for, for keeps and that they should call the FBI in and say that we wish for the country, don’t go any further into this case.… That’s the way to put it, do it straight.” [AMDOCS Documents for the Study of American History, 6/1993] Later in the day, both Walters and CIA Director Richard Helms visit Haldeman to discuss the situation. Helms says that he has already heard from Gray, who had said, “I think we’ve run right into the middle of a CIA covert operation.” Helms and Walters both agree to pressure Gray to abandon the investigation, but their efforts are ineffective; the assistant US attorney in Washington, Earl Silbert, is driving the investigation, not the FBI. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 508-510]
Gray: Improper Use of FBI - Soon after Nixon’s order, acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray tells Nixon that his administration is improperly using the CIA to interfere in the FBI’s investigation of Watergate. Gray warns Nixon “that people on your staff are trying to mortally wound you.” Gray is himself sharing Watergate investigation files with the White House, but will claim that he is doing so with the approval of the FBI’s general counsel. [New York Times, 7/7/2005] It is unclear whether Gray knows that Nixon personally issued the order to the CIA. Soon after the order is issued, a number of the FBI agents on the case—15 to 20 in all—threaten to resign en masse if the order is carried out. One of the agents, Bob Lill, will later recall: “There was certainly a unanimity among us that we can’t back off. This is ridiculous. This smacks of a cover-up in itself, and we’ve got to pursue this. Let them know in no uncertain terms we’re all together on this. [T]his request from CIA is hollow.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 189-191] No such mass resignation will take place. Because of evidence being classified and redacted (see July 5, 1974), it will remain unclear as to exactly if and how much the CIA may have interfered in the FBI’s investigation.
'Smoking Gun' - The secret recording of this meeting (see July 13-16, 1973), when revealed in the subsequent Watergate investigation, will become known as the “smoking gun” tape—clear evidence that Nixon knew of and participated in the Watergate cover-up. [Washington Post, 2008]

Entity Tags: Bob Lill, Vernon A. Walters, Earl Silbert, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard M. Nixon, G. Gordon Liddy, L. Patrick Gray, John Ehrlichman, Richard Helms, John Mitchell, Kenneth H. Dahlberg, H.R. Haldeman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Vernon Walters.Vernon Walters. [Source: Medal of Freedom (.com)]White House counsel John Dean meets with Vernon Walters, the deputy director of the CIA, to ask if the agency can provide “financial assistance” to the five Watergate burglars. Two days later, after checking with his boss, CIA director Richard Helms, Walters refuses Dean’s request. Dean informs his White House and Nixon campaign associates, John Mitchell, Frederick LaRue, and Robert Mardian. On June 29, Dean meets with President Nixon’s personal lawyer, Herbert Kalmbach, and tells him that Mitchell, along with Nixon’s two top aides, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, want Kalmbach to raise money for the Watergate burglars. Later that day, the finance chairman of the Nixon re-election campaign, Maurice Stans, gives Kalmbach $75,000 for the burglars. Over the next months, money will continue to be raised and disbursed to the burglars in what may be part of a blackmail scheme orchestrated by one of them, E. Howard Hunt (see March 21, 1973). [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]

Entity Tags: John Mitchell, H.R. Haldeman, Frederick LaRue, Central Intelligence Agency, Herbert Kalmbach, John Dean, John Ehrlichman, Vernon A. Walters, Maurice Stans, Richard Helms, Robert Mardian, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

CIA Director Richard Helms confers with FBI Director L. Patrick Gray over the FBI’s investigation into the Mexican bank account apparently used to launder illegal campaign contributions (see Before April 7, 1972). Helms tells Gray that the Midwest finance chairman of the Nixon campaign, Kenneth Dahlberg, last had contact with the CIA in 1961. The FBI is not sure what the nature of this contact between Dahlberg and the CIA is. The next day, Gray tells his deputy, Mark Felt, that neither Dahlberg nor Mexican lawyer Manuel Ogarrio Daguerre (see Before April 7, 1972) are to be interviewed because of “national security considerations.” The CIA’s deputy director, Vernon Walters, will tell Gray on June 27 and 28 that neither Dahlberg nor Ogarrio have any connection with the agency, and the CIA has no reason to object to their being interviewed. Gray will give belated permission for the FBI to interview the two on July 6, 1972. Dahlberg will initially lie to the FBI about some of the money he collected that found its way into the account of one of the Watergate burglars (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Ogarrio will also be interviewed, but only after Dean reverses his initial decision not to allow the FBI to talk with him. (Note on source: This information comes from a 1974 FBI report about the efficacy of the investigation; much of the information in these sections concerning the CIA is redacted. Also, another section of the FBI report says that Gray canceled the meeting with Helms at the request of Nixon aide John Ehrlichman.) [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Manuel Ogarrio Daguerre, Central Intelligence Agency, Campaign to Re-elect the President, Federal Bureau of Investigation, L. Patrick Gray, John Dean, Vernon A. Walters, Kenneth H. Dahlberg, Richard Helms, W. Mark Felt

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate


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