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Context of 'September 15, 1972: Nixon Pleased over Indictments Going No Farther'

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Former Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman Lawrence O’Brien files a $1 million civil suit against the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) and the five men accused of burglarizing and electronically monitoring DNC offices (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). O’Brien’s suit charges that the surveillance and the burglary violate the constitutional rights of all Democrats. O’Brien says that there is “a developing clear line to the White House,” and notes what he calls the “potential involvement” of the special counsel to President Nixon, Charles Colson. Colson hired E. Howard Hunt, who allegedly planned the burglary, for CREEP. [Washington Post, 8/1/1972] O’Brien says: “We learned of this bugging attempt only because it was bungled. How many other attempts have there been and who was involved? I believe we are about to witness the ultimate test of this administration that so piously committed itself to a new era of law and order just four years ago.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 26] The lawsuit will allow the DNC to get depositions from Nixon’s aides, beginning with CREEP director John Mitchell—something no one in the White House nor in CREEP intend to allow. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 504]

Entity Tags: E. Howard Hunt, Committee to Re-elect the President, Charles Colson, Democratic National Committee, John Mitchell, Lawrence O’Brien

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Herbert L. “Bart” Porter, the director of scheduling for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) (see May 1971), learns that he will have to testify before the Watergate grand jury. Porter has already lied to the FBI in an initial interview (see July 31, 1972), and, as he later writes, is dismayed to learn that he will have to lie under oath again. His boss, Jeb Magruder, instructs him to “tell the same story” that he told the FBI investigators—that the campaign money he had passed along to Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy had been for nothing more than political “intelligence gathering.” Porter will write: “Having been given to believe that Liddy, unauthorized, had used his dirty-trick funds for l’affaire Watergate, I could not see why it sounded better to call them intelligence funds. But if I felt that testifying falsely before a grand jury just to change the name of a few never-to-be-performed campaign pranks, I felt powerless to do otherwise. I was trapped. If I changed my answer, what would I be doing to Jeb, [former CREEP chairman] John Mitchell, [Nixon aide] Bob Haldeman, and others who I was told were depending on me? I would lie awake at night imagining my getting through the ordeal without having to repeat that absurd story. I did not know that I was being used to cover up the truth about Watergate.” [Harper's, 10/1974]

Entity Tags: John Mitchell, Committee to Re-elect the President, Federal Bureau of Investigation, G. Gordon Liddy, H.R. Haldeman, Herbert L. Porter, Jeb S. Magruder

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

US District Court Judge Charles Richey, presiding over the Democratic Party’s lawsuit against the Committee to Re-elect the President (see June 20, 1972), reverses his own ruling and orders all pre-trial statements and depositions to remain sealed until after the lawsuit has run its course. This ensures that court statements by Nixon campaign officials such as John Mitchell, Maurice Stans, and others will not be made public until after the November election. Richey makes the decision unilaterally; no motion for such a decision has been made by campaign lawyers. Richey explains his extraordinary decision by saying he is concerned for the constitutional rights of those involved in the lawsuit. After issuing the ruling, Richey himself calls Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein to explain his decision. He tells Bernstein, “I want it to be very clear that I haven’t discussed this case outside the courtroom with anyone, and that political considerations played no part whatsoever.” Bernstein is astounded at the call; he has never met Richey, and had not contacted Richey for comment. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 49] In November 1972, sources tell Post reporters Bernstein and Bob Woodward that “someone from the government got to Richey through the back door and got him to help the administration; a Republican governor said he could get to Richey and word came back that there was no need, it had already been done.” In their subsequent testimony, White House aides John Dean and H. R. Haldeman and Nixon campaign chairman John Mitchell all confirm that Richey was approached by Roemer McPhee, a close friend of Mitchell’s who, Dean will testify, pressured Richey into siding with the administration in the lawsuit. Richey will deny that McPhee tried to influence him. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 206]

Entity Tags: John Mitchell, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Charles Richey, Committee to Re-elect the President, Maurice Stans, Roemer McPhee, H.R. Haldeman, John Dean

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Shortly after the Watergate indictments are handed down (see September 15, 1972), White House counsel John Dean is summoned to the Oval Office. He arrives to find President Nixon and chief of staff H. R. Haldeman “all grins,” as Dean will recall for his Watergate grand jury testimony. They are pleased the indictments have only gone as far as the seven burglars. “Great job, John,” Nixon tells Dean. “Bob told me what a great job you’re doing.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 312]
Nixon Encouraging Cover-up, Illegal Influence of Judge - According to Dean’s later testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee (see June 25-29, 1973), Nixon “told me that Bob had kept him posted on my handling of the Watergate case. The President told me I had done a good job and he appreciated how difficult a task it had been and the President was pleased that the case had stopped with Liddy.… I responded that I could not take credit because others had done much more difficult things than I had done.” Dean will say that he is thinking of senior campaign official Jeb Magruder, who had perjured himself to keep the Watergate grand jury from learning of higher involvement (see August 1972). “I also told him that there was a long way to go before this matter would end, and that I certainly could make no assurance that the day would not come when this matter would start to unravel.” Dean tells Nixon that there is a good chance to delay the Democrats’ civil suits against the Nixon campaign (see June 20, 1972) until after the election because campaign lawyers are talking out of court to the judge, Charles Richey, who is “very understanding and trying to accommodate their problems” (see August 22, 1972). Nixon says, “Well, that’s helpful.” If Dean’s testimony is accurate, Nixon is encouraging the cover-up of criminal activity, and is supportive of attempts to illegally influencing a judge in a civil suit. [Time, 7/9/1973]
Nixon: Is Everyone Together 'to Stonewall?' - Nixon says he particularly enjoyed the burglars’ assertions to reporters that they would not inform on any superiors, and their memorized tirades about the Communist threat. He then asks, “Is the line pretty well set now on, when asked about the Watergate, as to what everybody says and does, to stonewall?” Haldeman responds that the burglars, particularly the four Cubans, “really believe” what they’re saying. “I mean, that was their motivation. They’re afraid of [Democratic candidate George] McGovern. They’re afraid he’ll sell out to the communists, which he will.” Dean predicts that “nothing will come crashing down” between now and the elections (see November 7, 1972). Nixon is already planning his post-election vengeance. “I want the most comprehensive notes on all those that tried to do us in,” he orders. “They are asking for it and they are going to get it…. We have not used the power in the first four years, as you know… but things are going to change now.” “That’s an exciting prospect,” Dean replies. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 526-527]

Entity Tags: H.R. Haldeman, John Dean, George S. McGovern, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

New York Times headline announcing Nixon victory.New York Times headline announcing Nixon victory. [Source: New York Times]Richard Nixon defeats Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern in the largest landslide in modern electoral history. Nixon wins over 60 percent of the votes and 49 of the 50 states. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Democrats retain control of the House and Senate. Nixon’s victory breaches traditional Democratic strongholds in the Northeast, and his “Southern strategy” creates a “Solid South” of Republican support. Harry Dent, a White House aide involved in the “Southern strategy” of targeting conservative Democrats who once supported segregationist candidate George Wallace (see May 15, 1972), says, “[T]he Southern strategy is working—in fact, it’s working all over the country.” Democrats, on the other hard, were sharply divided throughout the campaign, with many traditional Democratically aligned organizations such as trade unions refusing to back the McGovern candidacy, problems with finding and keeping a suitable vice-presidential running mate, and McGovern surviving a challenge to his primary victory at the Democratic convention. [Washington Post, 11/8/1972] The simmering Watergate investigations apparently have little drag on the Nixon re-election efforts.

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, George S. McGovern, George C. Wallace, Harry Dent

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate, Elections Before 2000

John Dean being sworn in by committee chairman Sam Ervin.John Dean being sworn in by committee chairman Sam Ervin. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]In five days of explosive testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee, former White House counsel John Dean claims that President Nixon was personally involved with the cover-up of the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972 and June 3, 1973) within days of the crime. Dean gives a seven-hour opening statement detailing a program of political and campaign espionage activities conducted by the White House in recent years. He also tells the committee that he believes Nixon has tape-recorded some of the conversations regarding the Watergate conspiracy (see July 13-16, 1973). Dean tells the committee that he has White House documents detailing elements of the conspiracy in a safe-deposit box, and has given the keys to that box to Judge John Sirica, the judge overseeing the Watergate prosecutions. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] Dean, described by Time Magazine as “owlish” and speaking “in a lifeless monotone,” nevertheless displays “impressive poise and a masterly memory” as he “sp[ins] his detailed web of evidence. He readily admit[s] his own illegal and improper acts. But he emerge[s] unshaken from five full days of recital and cross examination, with his basic story challenged but intact.” Without a convincing rebuttal, it would be difficult for either the committee or the nation to believe that Nixon “was not an active and fully aware participant in the Watergate cover-up, as Dean charged.”
Implicates Nixon Aides - While Dean admits that he had no first-hand knowledge of Nixon’s complicity until September 1972, he directly implicates Nixon’s two most senior aides at the time, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, of what Time calls “multiple actions in the Watergate coverup,” as well as former Nixon campaign chairman John Mitchell.
White House-Sourced Questioning of Dean Backfires - An initial White House attempt at rebutting Dean’s testimony, consisting of a statement and a list of questions drawn up by White House counsel Fred Buzhardt, are “easily handled” by Dean, and even backfires, to the point where the White House disavows any involvement in the material, saying that they were “Buzhardt’s friendly personal contribution to the proceedings.” The questions attempt to portray Dean as the “mastermind” behind the Watergate conspiracy, with Mitchell his “patron.” Time writes, “Creating a constitutional crisis almost alone, the Buzhardt statement in effect charge[s], Dean and Mitchell kept the truth of all that concealed for some nine months from such shrewd White House officials as H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, Charles W. Colson—and the president.” But few on the committee find Buzhardt’s contention believable, considering the increasing amount of evidence to the contrary.
Testimony Details 'Climate of Fear' at White House - As yet much of Dean’s testimony remains uncorroborated, but, Time writes: “even if those facts leave many unconvinced of Nixon’s complicity in Watergate, Dean’s dismaying description of the climate of fear existing within the Nixon White House is almost as alarming as the affair that it spawned. With little regard for the law and under repeated proddings by the president himself. Dean contended, the Nixon staff used or contemplated using almost any available tactic to undermine political opponents, punish press critics, subdue antiwar protesters and gather political intelligence, including lists of ‘enemies’” (see June 27, 1973). Overall, Dean says, the Watergate break-in (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) was “the first act in a great American tragedy” and he finds it “very difficult” to testify about what others, including “men I greatly admire and respect,” had done. He finds it easier to admit to his own crimes. [Time, 7/9/1973]

Entity Tags: John Sirica, John Dean, Richard M. Nixon, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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