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Context of 'August 5, 1971: ’Plumbers’ Probe Ellsberg, Decide to Break into Psychiatrist’s Office'

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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

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

Eugenio Martinez.Eugenio Martinez. [Source: public domain]President Nixon’s “Plumbers” unit, tasked to plug media leaks from administration officials and outsiders to the media, burglarizes the Los Angeles office of psychiatrist Lewis Fielding to find damaging information on Daniel Ellsberg, the former defense analyst and patient of Fielding who leaked the “Pentagon Papers” to the media. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Ellsberg is a former Marine captain in Vietnam and protege of Henry Kissinger who had a change of heart over the war; he then leaked a secret set of Pentagon documents to the New York Times detailing how the Kennedy and Johnson administrations had secretly escalated the war in Vietnam (see June 13, 1971).
Watergate Connection - One of the burglars is Eugenio Martinez, who later is arrested as one of the five Watergate burglars (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Martinez and two others—Felipe de Diego and the mission leader, E. Howard Hunt, who will supervise the Watergate burglary—are all old “CIA hands” heavily involved in anti-Castro activities. Martinez is still active in the CIA, as is Hunt, whom he often refers to by his old CIA code name of “Eduardo.” Another Watergate burglar, CIA agent Bernard Barker, is also involved in the Ellsberg burglary.
Martinez: Burglary a Near-Disaster - Hunt tells Martinez and Diego that they are to burglarize the offices of a “traitor” who is spying for the Soviet Union, and that the mission was ordered by the White House, where Hunt is now an aide. Barker tells the Cubans, “We have to find some papers of a great traitor to the United States, who is a son of a b_tch .” The men will become a unit outside the normal law enforcement and intelligence channels, operating within but not part of the CIA, FBI, and “all the agencies,” Martinez will later recall. They buy photographic equipment at Sears, and Hunt and Diego use disguises—wigs, fake glasses, false identification, and voice-altering devices. “Barker recognized the name on Hunt’s false identification—Edward J. Hamilton—as the same cover name Eduardo had used during the Bay of Pigs,” Martinez will recall. The planning, Martinez will recall, is far looser and less meticulous than “anything I was used to in the [CIA].” A disguised Hunt and Diego, masquerading as delivery men, deliver the photographic equipment to the office; later that night, they and Martinez break in and rifle the office. Martinez will write that Hunt and de Diego looked “kind of queerish” in their disguises, with their “Peter Lorre-type glasses, and the funny Dita Beard wigs” (see February 22, 1972). Before the break-in, Barker, who does not enter, whispers to Martinez, “Hey, remember this name—Ellsberg.” Martinez does not recognize the name. [Harper's, 10/1974; Reeves, 2001, pp. 369]
Comedy of Errors - The burglars wait for hours until the cleaning lady leaves for the night, and find the door to the building locked. At that point, a fifth man, “George,” whom Martinez learns is G. Gordon Liddy, another of the Watergate burglars also involved in the Ellsberg planning, appears and tells them to break in through a window. [Harper's, 10/1974] Three burglars—Bernard Barker, Felipe de Diego, and Eugenio Martinez—perform the actual break-in, while Hunt and Liddy act as lookouts. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 369] The burglary is quickly turning into a comedy of errors, Martinez will recall. “This was nothing new. It’s what the Company did in the Bay of Pigs when they gave us old ships, old planes, old weapons. They explained that if you were caught in one of those operations with commercial weapons that you could buy anywhere, you could be said to be on your own. They teach you that they are going to disavow you. The Company teaches you to accept those things as the efficient way to work. And we were grateful. Otherwise we wouldn’t have had any help at all. In this operation it seemed obvious—they didn’t want it to be traced back to the White House. Eduardo told us that if we were caught, we should say we were addicts looking for drugs.” Martinez finds nothing concerning Ellsberg in the office except for Fielding’s telephone book, which Martinez photographs. Before leaving, Martinez spills some pills from Fielding’s briefcase—“vitamin C, I think”—over the floor to make it seem as if the burglars had broken in looking for drugs. As they leave the office, Martinez spots a police car trailing them, but they are not stopped. “I thought to myself that the police car was protecting us. That is the feeling you have when you are doing operations for the government. You think that every step has been taken to protect you.”
Failure; Training for Bigger Mission? - Martinez feels that the burglary is a failure, but Hunt insists that they celebrate anyway. Martinez tells Diego that the break-in must either be a training exercise for a more important mission to come, or it was a cover operation for something else. “I thought to myself that maybe these people already had the papers of Ellsberg. Maybe Dr. Fielding had given them out and for ethical reasons he needed to be covered. It seemed that these people already had what we were looking for because no one invites you to have champagne and is happy when you fail,” he will write. Martinez’s CIA supervisor is strangely uninterested in the incident. “I was certain then that the Company knew about his activities,” Martinez will write. “But once again my CO did not pursue the subject.” [Harper's, 10/1974] Hunt telephones Plumbers supervisor Egil Krogh at 4 a.m. to report that the burglary was a success but they found no files on Ellsberg. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 369]

Entity Tags: ’Plumbers’, Dita Beard, Central Intelligence Agency, E. Howard Hunt, Daniel Ellsberg, Richard M. Nixon, Egil Krogh, Henry A. Kissinger, Eugenio Martinez, Lewis Fielding, Felipe de Diego, Federal Bureau of Investigation, G. Gordon Liddy, Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

While awaiting trial, Watergate burglar James McCord (see June 19, 1972) tells his fellow burglars that he is going to get his own lawyer. “I am going to get F. Lee Bailey. He is a big attorney,” McCord tells Bernard Barker. McCord recommends that Barker and the other Cubans—Virgilio Gonzales, Eugenio Martinez, and Frank Sturgis—get their own lawyers, too. Barker meets with lawyer Henry Rothblatt, who assures Barker that he will represent all the Cubans for free. “He had [successfully] defended the Green Berets in their big case” (see September 29, 1969), Barker will write in 1974, and this case is, according to Rothblatt, very similar. Protected by the attorney-client relationship, Barker tells Rothblatt about both the Watergate and Ellsberg burglaries (see August 5, 1971). Barker will write, “So he knew we couldn’t use the truth as our defense in the Watergate case, because we could not reveal our recruitment for the Ellsberg case.” [Harper's, 10/1974]

Entity Tags: James McCord, Bernard Barker, Eugenio Martinez, F. Lee Bailey, Virgilio Gonzales, Frank Sturgis, Henry Rothblatt

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Attorney General Richard Kleindienst stays up until 5 a.m. going over the evidence surrounding the Watergate burglary with other Justice Department officials. He and Assistant Attorney General Henry Petersen meet with President Nixon, and tell the president that they both believe White House officials as well as officials of his re-election campaign are involved in the cover-up conspiracy. Kleindienst, who along with Petersen will testify to this before the Senate Watergate Committee (see Mid-August, 1973), will recall that Nixon is “dumbfounded”; Petersen’s recollection is that Nixon seems concerned but calm. Kleindienst openly weeps as he discusses the likelihood that his friend and former superior at the Justice Department, former campaign head John Mitchell, may be involved. Kleindienst will testify that Nixon consoles him: “I don’t think since my mother died when I was a young boy that I ever had an event that has consumed me emotionally with such sorrow, and he was very considerate of my feelings.” Petersen urges Nixon to fire both of his senior aides, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, because he is certain that their continuation as White House officials will become a “source of vast embarrassment.” Petersen says bluntly that if the Justice Department finds any evidence of Nixon’s own involvement, he will not only resign, but will “waltz it [the information] over to the House of Representatives”—where impeachment proceedings begin. When Petersen asks about Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see August 5, 1971), before he can even ask about the burglary of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office (see September 9, 1971), Nixon cuts him off, saying: “I know about that. That is a national security matter. You stay out of that.” [Time, 8/20/1973] Peterson passes along Nixon’s instructions to chief prosecutor Earl Silbert, who accuses Peterson of acting as Nixon’s agent. The two get into a shouting match, and take the dispute to Kleindienst, who informs them that because he is recusing himself from the matter (see April 19, 1973), he cannot settle the issue. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 593]

Entity Tags: Nixon administration, H.R. Haldeman, Earl Silbert, Daniel Ellsberg, Henry Peterson, John Mitchell, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, John Ehrlichman, Richard Kleindienst, US Department of Justice, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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