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Context of 'August 1-2, 1972: Nixon Campaign Check Found in Watergate Burglar’s Account; Indications of Huge Campaign Fund'

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Maurice Stans.Maurice Stans. [Source: Southern Methodist University]In a last campaign fundraising swing before April 7, when the new campaign finance laws go into effect, Maurice Stans, the financial chief for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), launches a final fundraising swing across the Southwest on behalf of Richard Nixon. Stans solicits contributions from Republicans and Democrats alike, and tells reluctant contributors that if they do not want their donations traced back to them, their anonymity can be ensured by moving their contributions through Mexican banks. Mexico does not allow the US to subpoena its bank records.
Laundering - “It’s called ‘laundering,’” Miami investigator Martin Dardis later tells Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein on August 26, 1972. “You set up a money chain that makes it impossible to trace the source. The Mafia does it all the time. So does Nixon.… This guy Stans set up the whole thing. It was Stans’s idea.… Stans didn’t want any way they could trace where the money was coming from.” The same money-laundering system allows CREEP to receive illegal contributions from corporations, which are forbidden by law to contribute to political campaigns. Business executives, labor leaders, special-interest groups, even Las Vegas casinos can donate through the system. Stans uses a bank in Mexico City, the Banco Internacional; lawyer Manuel Ogarrio Daguerre handles the transactions. Stans keeps the only records.
Confirmed by Lawyer - Lawyer Robert Haynes confirms the setup for Bernstein, and says breezily: “Sh_t, Stans has been running this operation for years with Nixon. Nothing really wrong with it. That’s how you give your tithe.” Haynes calls the fundraising trip “Stans’s shakedown cruise.” Stans uses a combination of promises of easy access to the White House and veiled threats of government retaliation to squeeze huge donations out of various executives; Haynes says: “If a guy pleaded broke, [Stans] would get him to turn over stock in his company or some other stock. He was talking 10 percent, saying it was worth 10 percent of some big businessman’s income to keep Richard Nixon in Washington and be able to stay in touch.” Haynes represents Robert Allen, who runs the Nixon campaign’s Texas branch; Allen is merely a conduit for the illegal campaign monies. It is from the Banco Internacional account that Watergate burglar Bernard Barker is paid $89,000 (see April-June 1972) and the “Dahlberg check” of $25,000 (see August 1-2, 1972). [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 54-56]

Entity Tags: Robert Allen, Committee to Re-elect the President, Carl Bernstein, Manuel Ogarrio Daguerre, Richard M. Nixon, Martin Dardis, Robert Haynes, Maurice Stans

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

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

A staff member of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), G. Gordon Liddy, is fired after he refuses to answer FBI questions about his possible involvement in the Watergate burglaries (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). [Washington Post, 8/1/1972] Liddy is willing to tell the FBI that he personally misappropriated the campaign money channeled through the bank account of fellow burglar Bernard Barker (see June 21, 1972), specifically the $25,000 from CREEP finance official Kenneth Dahlberg (see August 1-2, 1972) and the $89,000 from Gulf Resources, Inc. channeled through Mexican lawyer Manuel Ogarrio (see April-June 1972 and Before April 7, 1972). Liddy is also willing to say that when CREEP discovered the money had been raised improperly, his superiors ordered him to return the money as the law requires, but instead he decided on his own to use it for covert political operations. “A true believer,” President Nixon says about Liddy. “We’ll take care of him… we’ll wait a discreet interval and pardon him.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 512]
Hunt Dodging FBI - Fellow Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt is battling in court to avoid testifying to FBI investigators. Hunt’s whereabouts are currently unknown. [Washington Post, 8/1/1972] Hunt, a former FBI agent, worked for the White House as a member of Nixon aide John Ehrlichman’s staff until December 1971, when he joined CREEP as the committee’s general counsel. He had soon after been appointed CREEP’s financial counsel, handling legal advice on campaign finances and contributions. CREEP spokesman Devan Shumway says Hunt had no connection to the committee’s security or intelligence gathering operations. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 34-35]

Entity Tags: G. Gordon Liddy, Devan Shumway, Committee to Re-elect the President, E. Howard Hunt, John Ehrlichman, Nixon administration

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Former attorney general John Mitchell resigns as the head of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP). Mitchell says he is resigning at the insistence of his wife. Washington Post metropolitan editor Harry Rosenfeld is not so sure. “A man like John Mitchell doesn’t give up all that power for his wife,” he muses. Rosenfeld is more right than he knows (see June 28, 1972). [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 30]

Entity Tags: John Mitchell, Committee to Re-elect the President, Harry Rosenfeld

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

The New York Times publishes an article alleging that Watergate burglar Bernard Barker (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) made at least 15 telephone calls to the office of G. Gordon Liddy, then working as a lawyer for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP). Barker made the calls between March 15 and June 16, 1972, with the last call coming the day before the Watergate break-in. Using sources inside the Bell telephone system, Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein learns that the Times story is accurate. Further, he learns that Barker’s phone records have been subpoenaed by Miami district attorney Richard Gerstein. Gerstein’s chief investigator, Martin Dardis, confirms that Barker’s bank account contained $89,000 from a Mexico City bank account, money that FBI investigators believe originated from Nixon campaign funds (see August 1-2, 1972). In fact, Bernstein learns, Barker’s account contained over $100,000 from the Mexico City source. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 35-37]

Entity Tags: Carl Bernstein, Bernard Barker, Richard Gerstein, Martin Dardis, G. Gordon Liddy, Committee to Re-elect the President

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

The Washington Post reports that a $25,000 cashier’s check, apparently earmarked for the campaign to re-elect President Nixon, found its way into the Miami bank account of one of the Watergate burglars, Bernard Barker (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Origin of Check - The check, drawn on a Boca Raton, Florida bank, was made out to Kenneth H. Dahlberg, the finance manager for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP). Dahlberg says that in early April, he gave the check to “the treasurer of the Committee [Hugh Sloan, who has since quit the committee and is cooperating with the FBI investigation] or to Maurice Stans himself.” Stans, formerly Nixon’s secretary of commerce, is CREEP’s finance chief. The money is made up of “[c]ontributions I collected in my role as Midwest finance chairman,” Dahlberg explains. “In the process of fund-raising I had accumulated some cash… so I recall making a cash deposit while I was in Florida and getting a cashier’s check made out to myself. I didn’t want to carry all that cash into Washington.”
Watergate Connections - Barker withdrew much of the money from the same Boca Raton bank account, in $100 bills. 53 of those bills were found on the five Watergate burglars after their arrest. Clark MacGregor, who replaced former Attorney General John Mitchell as the head of CREEP (see July 1, 1972), says he knows nothing about the check or the money found on Barker and the other burglars: “[T]hese events took place before I came aboard. Mitchell and Stans would presumably know.” The Post also learns that another $89,000 in four separate checks were deposited in Barker’s Miami bank account in May (see June 23, 1972). The checks were originally made out to Mexican lawyer Manuel Ogarrio Daguerre, on an account at Mexico’s Banco Internacional. While looking over the story before publication, Post editor Barry Sussman says: “We’ve never had a story like this. Just never.” [Washington Post, 8/1/1972; Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 43-44]
GAO Will Investigate Nixon Campaign Finances - Stans’s secretary says her boss cannot comment on the story because he is “agoniz[ing] over the confusing circumstances” and does not want to say anything that might compromise his integrity. Philip S. Hughes, the director of the Federal Elections Division of the General Accounting Office (GAO, the investigative arm of Congress), says that the story reveals “for the first time [that] the bugging incident was related to the campaign finance law.… There’s nothing in Maury [Stans]‘s reports showing anything like that Dahlberg check.” Hughes says his office intends to fully audit the Nixon campaign finances. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 45-47]

Entity Tags: John Mitchell, Bob Woodward, Bernard Barker, Barry Sussman, Clark MacGregor, General Accounting Office, Maurice Stans, Manuel Ogarrio Daguerre, Kenneth H. Dahlberg, Committee to Re-elect the President, Philip S. Hughes

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Nixon campaign finance manager Kenneth H. Dahlberg, the subject of a Washington Post article that shows he handled a check that was found in the account of a Watergate burglar (see August 1-2, 1972), confirms to Post reporter Bob Woodward that he gave the check to Nixon campaign finance chief Maurice Stans on April 11. Dahlberg says he knows nothing about any improprieties. “Obviously I’m caught in the middle of something,” Dahlberg says. “What it is I don’t know.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 45-47]

Entity Tags: Maurice Stans, Bob Woodward, Kenneth H. Dahlberg, Committee to Re-elect the President

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Clark MacGregor, the new head of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), meets with a select group of White House reporters. In the press conference, MacGregor tries to pin the entire blame for the Watergate conspiracy—burglary and financial shenanigans alike—on burglar and CREEP lawyer G. Gordon Liddy. (Inside sources had predicted MacGregor would do just that (see August 1-2, 1972).) Liddy, MacGregor says, had spent campaign money on his own initiative “for the purpose of determining what to do if the crazies made an attack on the president” at the upcoming Republican National Convention. After the conference, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward tries to elicit more information from an obviously exasperated MacGregor. MacGregor shouts: “I have no idea why the departed Gordon Liddy wanted cash.… It’s impossible for me to tell. I never met Liddy. I don’t know what’s going on.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 47]

Entity Tags: Clark MacGregor, Bob Woodward, Republican National Committee, Committee to Re-elect the President, G. Gordon Liddy

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

The General Accounting Office (GAO) completes its preliminary report on financial irregularities inside the Nixon re-election campaign (see August 1-2, 1972). According to the report, the campaign has mishandled over $500,000 in campaign contributions, including an apparently illegal “slush fund” of over $100,000—perhaps more than $350,000. The report lists 11 “apparent and possible violations” of the new campaign finance law (see Before April 7, 1972), and refers the matter to the Justice Department for possible prosecution. The GAO agrees to delay its public issuance of its report after the committee’s finance chairman, Maurice Stans, asks GAO chief investigator Philip Hughes to come to Miami, where the Republican National Convention is in full swing, to receive more information. Another GAO investigator tells Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward that the Nixon campaign does not want the report to be made public on the same day that Richard Nixon accepts the Republican nomination for president. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 48-56]

Entity Tags: General Accounting Office, Bob Woodward, Committee to Re-elect the President, US Department of Justice, Maurice Stans, Philip S. Hughes, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

In his first interview session with former President Richard Nixon about Watergate (see April 13-15, 1977), David Frost moves from the erased Watergate tape (see November 21, 1973) to Nixon’s damning conversation with Charles Colson about “stonewalling” the Watergate investigation. This time around, Frost is far more prepared and ready to deal with Nixon’s tactics of obfuscation and misdirection than in earlier interviews (see April 6, 1977).
Surprise Information - Nixon is unaware that Frost knows about his conversation that same day with Colson (see June 20, 1972). Along with what is known about his conversation with Haldeman, the Colson conversation puts Nixon squarely in the midst of the conspiracy at its outset. More important than Frost’s command of the facts is Frost’s springing of a “surprise card” (Frost researcher James Reston Jr.‘s words) on Nixon at the beginning of the Watergate sessions. Nixon obviously must contend with the questions of what else Frost knows, and how he would ask about it. As Frost details excerpts from the Colson conversation, about “stonewalling” and “hav[ing] our people delay, avoiding depositions,” Reston watches Nixon on the monitor. Reston will later recall: “His jawline seemed to elongate. The corners of his mouth turned down. His eyes seemed more liquid. One could almost see the complicated dials in his head turning feverishly. It was a marvelously expressive face. The range of movement both within the contours of the visage and with the hands was enormous.” Frost concludes with the question, “Now, somewhere you were pretty well informed by this conversation, weren’t you?” After some fumbling and half-hearted admissions of some knowledge, Nixon begins justifying his actions in the conspiracy: “My motive was not to cover up a criminal action, but to be sure that as any slip over—or should I say slop over, a better word—any slop over in a way that would damage innocent people or blow it into political proportions.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 124-126]
Pinning Nixon down on CIA Interference - Frost asks about the conversations of June 23 (see June 23, 1972), when Nixon told his aides to have the CIA interfere with the FBI’s investigation of the burglary. Nixon tries dodging the point, emphasizing how busy he was with other matters that day and quibbling about the definition of the phrase “cover-up,” but finally says that he had no criminal motive in ordering the CIA to stop the FBI from investigating the matter of the Mexican checks found in Watergate burglar Bernard Barker’s bank accounts. He was merely engaged in political containment, he says, and besides, two weeks later, the FBI traced the checks to a Mexican bank anyway (see Before April 7, 1972 and August 1-2, 1972). Nixon emphasizes his instructions to then-FBI director L. Patrick Gray to move forward on the investigation (see July 6, 1972). (Later, Nixon staff member Jack Brennan will admit that they had almost convinced Nixon to admit to the illegality of the June 23 orders, but Nixon had demurred.)
'You Joined a Conspiracy that You Never Left' - It now falls to Frost to confront Nixon with the strictures of the law and the evidence that he had broken those laws. Frost says, “But surely, in all you’ve just said, you have proved exactly that that was the case, that there was a cover-up of criminal activity because you’ve already said, and the record shows you knew, that Hunt and Liddy [E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, the leaders of Nixon’s “Plumbers”] were involved… you knew that, in fact, criminals would be protected.” Nixon protests, “Now just a moment,” but Frost says, “Period.” Frost lectures Nixon on obstruction of justice, saying: “The law states that when intent and foreseeable consequences are sufficient, motive is completely irrelevant.… If I try to rob a bank and fail, that’s no defense. I still tried to rob a bank. I would say you tried to obstruct justice and succeeded in that period” between June 23 and July 6. Nixon retorts that he does not believe Frost knows much about the details of the obstruction of justice statutes, but fails to move Frost, who has been carefully instructed in the obstruction statutes all week. Frost eventually says: “Now, after the Gray conversation, the cover-up went on. You would say that you were not aware of it. I was arguing that you were part of it as a result of the June 23 conversation.” Nixon repeats, “You’re gonna say that I was a part of it as a result of the June 23 conversation?” Reston later writes, “It was a crucial moment, a moment that took considerable courage for David Frost.” Frost replies: “Yes.… I would have said that you joined a conspiracy that you never left.” “Then we totally disagree on that,” Nixon retorts. Reston later writes: “No journalist in America, I concluded, would have had the courage of Frost in that vital moment. But therein lay the failing of American journalism. For Frost here was an advocate. He was far beyond the narrow American definition of ‘objective journalism.’” [Time, 5/9/1977; Reston, 2007, pp. 124-126]

Entity Tags: David Frost, Bernard Barker, Charles Colson, Richard M. Nixon, L. Patrick Gray, James Reston, Jr, E. Howard Hunt, Central Intelligence Agency, G. Gordon Liddy, Jack Brennan

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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