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Context of 'September 17, 1972: Magruder Denies Involvement with Campaign ‘Slush Fund’'

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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

Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt emerges from hiding (see June 18, 1972). In the following days, Washington reporter Carl Bernstein learns that Hunt’s lawyer William O. Bittman had received $25,000 in cash to represent Hunt. Bernstein learns this from a legal colleague of Bittman’s, who is disturbed that such a well-respected attorney as Bittman—a former assistant attorney general in the Justice Department—might have taken illicit monies. Bittman’s colleague also tells Bernstein that the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) has earmarked at least $100,000 for something committee officials call “Convention Security.” Bittman refuses to confirm or deny the transaction. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 34] According to later testimony by senior campaign aide Frederick LaRue, LaRue gave $210,000 in CREEP slush fund money to Bittman for Bittman to distribute to the seven defendants. LaRue will claim he gave Bittman the money on the orders of White House counsel John Dean. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file]

Entity Tags: E. Howard Hunt, Carl Bernstein, Committee to Re-elect the President, John Dean, William O. Bittman, Frederick LaRue

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward have little luck talking to anyone who works for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP). Both reporters spend several evenings visiting and telephoning CREEP employees at their homes. The first person Bernstein speaks to turns him away, shuddering. He has to leave “before they see you,” she says. “Please leave me alone. I know you’re only trying to do your job, but you don’t realize the pressure we’re under.” Another bursts into tears as she turns him away. “I want to help,” she says, but “God, it’s all so awful.” A third begs: “Please don’t call me on the telephone—God, especially not at work, but not here either. Nobody knows what they’ll do. They are desperate.”
Sally Harmony - One thing they do find out is the level of knowledge possessed by Sally Harmony, G. Gordon Liddy’s secretary at CREEP. Harmony had not been truthful or forthcoming in her recent testimony before the FBI and the grand jury investigating the Watergate break-in (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). This ties in with another Post reporter’s tip to Bernstein that Harmony lied to protect both her boss and CREEP deputy director Jeb Magruder. A Justice Department attorney confirms the fact that prosecutors believe Harmony was not truthful in her testimony, but they lack the evidence to charge her with perjury.
Destruction of Records - Some CREEP employees guardedly tell Bernstein and Woodward about large-scale destruction of records in the days after the Watergate burglary, but they know no specifics. Those who would know were interviewed by FBI investigators, but were interviewed at CREEP headquarters, in the presence of either a CREEP lawyer or Robert Mardian, the political coordinator of the committee and a former assistant attorney general. According to the employees Bernstein and Woodward interview, Mardian never directly told anyone to lie, but told them not to volunteer anything and evade whenever possible.
Pieces of Information - They garner other shreds of information:
bullet John Mitchell, who resigned from the directorship of CREEP (see July 1, 1972), is still heavily involved in the organization, appearing three times a week “telling Fred LaRue and Bob Mardian what to do.”
bullet Magruder himself is terrified, acting “like the roof is going to fall down on him tomorrow.”
bullet CREEP director Clark MacGregor wanted to write a report detailing his knowledge of campaign finance irregularities, “but the White House said no.”
bullet Prosecutors had asked employees if they knew of other surveillance operations besides the one at Democratic headquarters.
bullet FBI officials had asked about documents being shredded.
bullet “I heard from somebody in finance that if they [the FBI] ever got a look at the books it would be all over, so they burned ‘em.”
bullet Liddy “would never talk” and Harmony talked about her “bad memory.”
bullet “From what I hear they were spying on everybody, following them around, the whole bit.”
The obvious terror of the people they interview unsettles the two reporters. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 58-61]

Entity Tags: Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Clark MacGregor, Frederick LaRue, Committee to Re-elect the President, G. Gordon Liddy, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice, Jeb S. Magruder, John Mitchell, Sally Harmony, Robert Mardian

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are discussing their upcoming story documenting the secret Nixon campaign “slush fund” controlled by former Attorney General John Mitchell (see Early 1970 and September 29, 1972) when Bernstein has an epiphany of sorts—a “literal chill going down my neck,” he will recall in 2005. “Oh my God,” he tells Woodward. “The president is going to be impeached.” After a moment, Woodward replies, “Jesus, I think you’re right.” Woodward then says, “We can never use that word in this newsroom.” No one in Congress has broached the subject of impeachment yet, and will not for another year, but neither journalist wants anyone to think that they might have some sort of agenda in their reporting. “Any suggestion about the future of the Nixon presidency could undermine our work and the Post’s efforts to be fair,” Bernstein will later write. The two will later decide not to include this anecdote in their book All the President’s Men (see June 15, 1974), as it would be published during the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment investigation of President Nixon (see February 6, 1974). “To recount it then might have given the impression that impeachment had been our goal all along,” Bernstein will write. “It was not. It was always about the story.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 229-230]

Entity Tags: Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Richard M. Nixon, House Judiciary Committee, John Mitchell

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein interviews a reluctant source, a bookkeeper for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP). In All the President’s Men (see June 15, 1974), Bernstein and co-author Bob Woodward merely identify her as “The Bookkeeper” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 63-68] , but she will later be identified as Judy Hoback. Hoback tries to persuade Bernstein to leave her apartment, but Hoback’s sister, who is also present, seems supportive of Bernstein, and the reporter tries to find ways to stay and winkle information out of Hoback. But Hoback seems willing to play along with Bernstein to an extent. She will not provide damaging information against her boss, Maurice Stans, but otherwise she says she wants the truth to come out. She says the top officials at CREEP have decided to try to pin the blame for everything on former CREEP treasurer Hugh Sloan, for whom she feels great sympathy. She confirms that documents have been destroyed to prevent investigators from finding the truth behind the financial improprieties, and confirms the existence of a secret campaign “slush fund,” saying that CREEP deputy director Jeb Magruder was one official in charge of managing the fund. In a subsequent interview conducted by both reporters, Hoback confirms that G. Gordon Liddy received cash from the fund, as well as CREEP scheduling director Bart Porter. She confirms that several CREEP officials, including personnel director Robert Odle, lied to the investigating grand jury. Like so many other CREEP employees, Hoback has no faith that the FBI is conducting any sort of impartial investigation: “My feeling is that the FBI turns the information in and it goes upstairs,” presumably to the White House. Although Hoback’s information is more tantalizing than useful at the moment, Bernstein and Woodward will use her statements as confirmation for other, subsequent allegations. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974; Woodward, 2005, pp. 228]

Entity Tags: Hugh Sloan, Committee to Re-elect the President, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Herbert L. Porter, Jeb S. Magruder, Nixon administration, Maurice Stans, Robert C. Odle, Jr, G. Gordon Liddy, Judy Hoback

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward lands a telephone interview with the deputy director of the Nixon re-election campaign, Jeb Magruder. Magruder figures heavily in the illegal finances of the campaign (see September 14-17, 1972), and wants to clear his name. He says that the FBI determined that reports of his receiving $50,000 or more from the CREEP “slush fund” are incorrect. Woodward refuses to back off on an upcoming story detailing Magruder’s involvement in the campaign fund, but agrees to say that “government investigators,” and not the FBI specifically, had informed Magruder of the allegations against him. The interview has little of substance, but Woodward notes Magruder’s tone: though he is the second most powerful official at CREEP, his voice shakes while talking to the reporter. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 77-78]

Entity Tags: Jeb S. Magruder, Bob Woodward, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Hugh Sloan.Hugh Sloan. [Source: Washington Post]The former treasurer for the Campaign to Re-elect the President (CREEP), Hugh Sloan, tells Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein that the situation with CREEP’s finances is far worse than the Post has reported (see September 14-17, 1972). “That’s why I left, because I suspected the worst,” he says. He refuses to give specifics, citing the continuing FBI investigation and his lawyer’s advice to remain silent. He does confirm that CREEP officials had instructed employees to be evasive when interviewed by the FBI (see August, 1972), and that the committee’s handling of the FBI investigation was managed by CREEP officials Robert Mardian and Frederick LaRue. He also confirms that former CREEP director John Mitchell knew of the illegal campaign “slush fund” (see September 29, 1972). “Mitchell had to know of the funds,” Sloan says. “You don’t just give out that kind of money without the head of the campaign knowing what it’s going for, especially when his people are getting the cash.” Mitchell, LaRue, and Mardian are the three directly responsible for managing the fund, Sloan believes, and are responsible for ordering the destruction of financial records after the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). The previously reported “convention security” fund (see July 7, 1972) and the campaign “slush fund” are one and the same, Sloan confirms. Sloan acknowledges making payouts from the fund, but will not reveal who authorized him to do so. Perhaps most interestingly, Sloan says that the general perception of the Nixon administration and CREEP as two separate, self-contained entities is wrong, that everything CREEP does is managed by senior White House officials. Coming away from the meeting, Bernstein and his colleague Bob Woodward are now sure that the Watergate conspiracy does not end in CREEP, but extends into the White House itself. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 79-86]

Entity Tags: Frederick LaRue, Bob Woodward, Campaign to Re-elect the President, Carl Bernstein, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert Mardian, Nixon administration, John Mitchell, Hugh Sloan

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Carl Bernstein, Katherine Graham, and Bob Woodward discuss the newspaper’s Watergate coverage.Carl Bernstein, Katherine Graham, and Bob Woodward discuss the newspaper’s Watergate coverage. [Source: Southern Methodist University]The Washington Post reports that John Mitchell, the former attorney general and former head of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), personally controlled a secret Republican “slush fund” used to finance widespread intelligence-gathering operations against the Democratic Party (see Early 1970). [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Mitchell had authorized expenditures from the fund beginning in the spring of 1971, while he was attorney general. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 98-103] The fund was originally conceived by White House aide G. Gordon Liddy, who in 1972 came up with what he called “Operation Gemstone,” a $1 million plan to carry out a series of covert and often illegal actions against President Nixon’s political enemies (see January 29, 1972). Mitchell scaled back the budget to $250,000 (at first) to launch a scaled-down version of Gemstone. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] Mitchell personally approved a number of withdrawals from the fund, which swelled in size from around $350,000 to $700,000 at any given time. Four others besides Mitchell were later authorized to approve payments from the secret fund. One is Maurice Stans, the former commerce secretary who is now finance chairman of CREEP; the fund was kept in a safe in Stans’s office. A second is Jeb Magruder, the former manager of CREEP who is now deputy director of the organization. A third is a senior White House official involved in the campaign, and the other is a campaign aide based outside of Washington. [Washington Post, 9/29/1972] (Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward are all but convinced that the “senior White House official” is H. R. Haldeman, but they cannot get anyone to go on record to confirm their assumption, and therefore do not print Haldeman’s name in the story.) [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 100]
Mitchell's Explosive Reaction - Mitchell is outraged by the allegations. When Bernstein calls to confirm the story, he explodes: “Jesus!… All that crap, you’re putting it in the paper? It’s all been denied. Katie Graham [Katherine Graham, publisher of the Post] is gonna get caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published. Good Christ! That’s the most sickening thing I’ve ever heard.” (The actual quote, which Post executive editor Ben Bradlee cleans up for public consumption, is, “Katie Graham’s gonna get her t_t caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published.”) [Washington Post, 9/29/1972; Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 105; Woodward, 2005, pp. 72] Mitchell continues: “You fellows got a great ball game going. As soon as you’re through paying Williams [Edward Bennett Williams, whose law firm represents the Democratic Party, as well as the Post], we’re going to do a story on all of you.” When Bradlee hears of Mitchell’s reaction, he asks if Mitchell was drunk. When Bernstein replies that he doesn’t believe so, and Bradlee confirms that Bernstein properly identified himself as a reporter, Bradlee tells Bernstein to print Mitchell’s reaction. CREEP spokesman Powell Moore tries to persuade Bradlee not to run the Mitchell quote, saying that it wasn’t fair to run the quote because Bernstein woke Mitchell up, and therefore Mitchell’s “composure [was] not guarded.” Bradlee refuses to delete the quote. [Washington Post, 9/29/1972; Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 105-108]
CREEP Denials - Moore later states that neither Mitchell or Stans knows anything about “any disbursement from an alleged fund as described by the Post and neither of them controlled any committee expenditures while serving as government officials.” One of the planners of the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), G. Gordon Liddy, withdrew well over $50,000 from the fund. Although records of the fund’s disbursements have been destroyed, other sources indicate that some of the other recipients of the fund include Magruder; Herbert L. “Bart” Porter, CREEP’s scheduling director; several White House officials; and other unidentified persons not officially part of either CREEP or the Nixon administration. Magruder denies ever receiving any such funds. The General Accounting Office has said that such a fund is a “possible and apparent” violation of a new, stricter campaign finance disclosure law. [Washington Post, 9/29/1972]

Entity Tags: Edward Bennett Williams, Carl Bernstein, Ben Bradlee, Bob Woodward, Committee to Re-elect the President, Powell Moore, General Accounting Office, Katharine Graham, H.R. Haldeman, Herbert L. Porter, Maurice Stans, Jeb S. Magruder, John Mitchell, G. Gordon Liddy

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Cover for ‘All the President’s Men.’Cover for ‘All the President’s Men.’ [Source: Amazon (.com)]Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward publish the book All the President’s Men, documenting their 26-month coverage of the Watergate scandal. The Post will win a Pulitzer Prize for its Watergate reporting and the book will be made into an Oscar-winning film of the same name. Between the book and the film, All the President’s Men will become the touchstone for defining the complex, multilayered Watergate conspiracy. [Washington Post, 1996]

Entity Tags: Washington Post, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

FBI official R. E. Lewis writes an internal memo suggesting that the FBI disclose “some information from the Watergate investigation aimed at restoring to the FBI any prestige lost during that investigation. He argues, “Such information could also serve to dispel the false impression left by the book All the President’s Men (see June 15, 1974) that its authors, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, not the FBI, solved the Watergate case.”
FBI Ahead of Reporters - “[A] comparison of the chronology of our investigation with the events cited in All the President’s Men will show we were substantially and constantly ahead of these Washington Post investigative reporters,” Lewis writes. “In essence, they were interviewing the same people we had interviewed but subsequent to our interviews and often after the interviewer had testified before the grand jury. The difference, which contributes greatly to the false image, is that the Washington Post blatantly published whatever they learned (or thought they learned) while we reported our findings to the US attorney and the Department [of Justice] solely for prosecutorial consideration.”
Decision Not to Go Public - The FBI will decide not to make any of its information public, citing ongoing prosecutions. In 2005, Woodward will counter: “What Long didn’t say—and what Felt [FBI deputy director Mark Felt, Woodward’s “Deep Throat”—see May 31, 2005] understood—was that the information wasn’t going anywhere until it was public. The US attorney and the Justice Department failed the FBI, as they folded too often to White House and other political pressure to contain the investigation and prosecution to the Watergate bugging (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). There was also a failure of imagination on the part of lots of experienced prosecutors, including US Attorney Earl Silbert, who could not initially bring himself to believe that the corruption ran to the top of the Justice Department and the White House. Only when an independent special prosecutor was appointed (see May 18, 1973) did the investigation eventually go to the broader sabotage and espionage matters. In other words, during 1972, the cover-up was working exceptionally well.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 120-121]

Entity Tags: W. Mark Felt, R. E. Lewis, Earl Silbert, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Washington Post reviewer and history professor William L. O’Neill lambasts the Watergate book Silent Coup (see May 6, 1991). O’Neill writes: “Woodward and Bernstein’s All the President’s Men (see June 15, 1974) is represented as a tissue of lies, except when something in it can be made to support Silent Coup’s theories, at which point it becomes an important source.… Most of the ‘new’ material is based upon interviews during which informants seized every opportunity to make themselves look good while contradicting their own past statements, each other, and the known facts. When all else fails the authors fall back upon supposition, innuendo, and guesswork. Their documentation is pathetic.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 11/1991]

Entity Tags: William L. O’Neill

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

The cover of ‘Bush at War.’The cover of ‘Bush at War.’ [Source: Amazon (.co.uk)]Author and famed reporter Bob Woodward’s book Bush at War is published.
Unprecedented Access - Woodward, who made his reputation uncovering the Watergate conspiracy from 30 years before (see June 15, 1974), is no longer an unknown young reporter working to find sources that will confide in him. Now he is an established Washington insider. For this book, Woodward was granted “unprecedented access” to Bush administration officials, including notes from National Security Council meetings and two long interviews with President Bush himself, far more access than even that granted to the 9/11 Commission and Congressional inquiries into other events of interest. Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich will find this level of access inexplicable, saying that “it makes no sense for an administration that has jealously guarded its executive privilege to allow a reporter the access it denies to members of Congress.”
Hagiographic Account - The Observer’s Peter Preston calls Woodward’s book a “more-or-less instant study of the White House after 9/11,” and writes that while Woodward could have created “a classic of investigative journalism,” instead he gave us a compendium of “painful, obsessively useless detail” that generally paints the picture the White House wants painted. If Woodward’s book is to be believed, Preston writes, the Colin Powell moderates and the Dick Cheney hawks “had their snappy moments, but they’re OK-ish now.” CIA Director George Tenet “is a far-sighted man” who not only immediately divined that Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks, but while the towers were still burning, wondered if the attacks had anything to do with “that guy taking pilot training,” Zacarias Moussaoui. Iraq war planner General Tommy Franks usually feels “finer than the hair on a frog’s back.” Former President Clinton’s “weak-willed men used to ‘pound the desert’ ineffectually, while his brilliant successors like to hit something, if at all possible.” And President Bush “is bright and talented and eloquent and decisive,” who runs National Security Council meetings himself and knows all he needs to know about the state of the world (Woodward quotes Bush as saying, “I’m not a textbook player—I’m a gut player”). Both Preston and author Frank Rich accuse Woodward of “burnishing” Bush’s image at the expense of the truth. A few potentially embarrassing tidbits manage to poke their way through what both Preston and Rich call the “hagiography,” mostly relating to senior administration officials’ lack of knowledge about Afghan tribal politics and the lack of evidence tying Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks. But all told, the book seems to tell a clear story: where Clinton was indecisive, Bush is forthright; where Clinton muddled around with bin Laden and Middle East terrorism, Bush is taking the war straight into the heart of the Islamist redoubt. [Observer, 12/1/2002; Rich, 2006, pp. 66-67] The book gives such a favorable impression of Bush and his administration that the Republican National Committee will recommend it on its Web site. [New York Times, 11/12/2006]
Selective Reporting - The administration officials who talked to Woodward are painted in largely glowing terms, while those who did not (including Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security head Tom Ridge) are, in Preston’s words, “written out of the script.” Potentially embarrassing incidents such as the administration’s complete failure to find the source of the anthrax mailings of 2001 (see September 17-18, 2001 and October 5-November 21, 2001) and the ineffective roundup of thousands of Middle Eastern “terror suspects” after 9/11 (see Late November, 2001) are ignored entirely. The pivotal Afghan battle of Tora Bora, where bin Laden was allowed to escape US clutches (see Mid-November 2001-Mid-December 2001), gets two paragraphs. [Observer, 12/1/2002; Rich, 2006, pp. 66-67] Guardian reviewer Peter Symon notes that Woodward even fails to ask the most “obvious questions” about the 9/11 attacks, instead accepting the administration’s accounts of events and its responses as absolute and unquestionable. [Guardian, 1/29/2003] Rich notes that Woodward grants Bush and his officials tremendous individual credence, taking their word on one issue after another without question: for example, when Bush calls investigative journalist Seymour Hersh “a liar,” Woodward takes Bush’s word without giving Hersh a chance to respond. More generally, Woodward never asks the obvious follow-up questions. Bush explains why the US didn’t attack Afghanistan and Iraq simultaneously after the 9/11 attacks: “If we tried to do too many things… militarily, then… the lack of focus would have been a huge risk.” Rich notes, “The follow-up question that was not to be found in Bush at War was simple enough: If it was a huge risk to split our focus between Saddam and al-Qaeda then, why wasn’t it now?” Preston concludes: “Maybe the Woodward of three decades ago would have given [the Bush administration more intense scrutiny]. No longer. Today’s Woodward, eight bestsellers later, skates breathlessly from interview to interview and notepad to notepad without ever, seemingly, stopping to think, ‘Why am I being told all this? What does it mean?’ It isn’t investigation, just cross-referenced compilation.” [Observer, 12/1/2002; Rich, 2006, pp. 66-67]

Entity Tags: Peter Preston, National Security Council, John Ashcroft, Frank Rich, Bob Woodward, Bush administration (43), Newt Gingrich, Thomas Franks, Peter Symon, George W. Bush, Republican National Committee, Seymour Hersh, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

A few days after the Supreme Court’s refusal to quash the subpoenas of two reporters in the Valerie Plame Wilson case (see June 27, 2005), Plame Wilson and her husband, Joseph Wilson, pass one of the reporters, Matthew Cooper, on the street. Cooper buttonholes Wilson and, obviously struggling with himself, asks, “Could you do something for me?” Cooper asks Wilson if he would write the judge who ruled against Cooper and fellow reporter Judith Miller (see August 9, 2004) a letter asking for leniency for him. Wilson, whom his wife will describe as “taken aback,” tells Cooper that he will ask his lawyer about the request. Over dinner, the Wilsons marvel over Cooper’s request. They wonder if “Matt [had] momentarily lost his mind.” Plame Wilson will write: “A request from Joe for leniency on Matt’s behalf would carry little or no weight with the presiding judge. More pointedly, it was obviously in our interest to have the reporters testify. We, along with the entire country, wanted to hear what they would say under oath. We wanted to know what sources in the administration had leaked my name to the media, thereby undermining our national security.” More generally, Plame Wilson will reflect: “In the debate over whether reporters should be compelled to reveal their sources, it seemed to me that some of the leading advocates of reporters’ First Amendment rights had lost sight of a basic fact in this case: people in the administration had used reporters to advance their own political agenda. That alone is not unusual, or even criminal. But the reporters’ refusal to testify would not help to uncover government wrongdoing, but assist officials who wanted to cover up their illegal behavior. It was the Pentagon Papers (see March 1971) or Watergate (see June 15, 1974) turned on its head.… [T]his particular case was not about the freedom of the press, or about reporters’ roles as watchdogs on behalf of the governed, the citizens of this country. These reporters were allowing themselves to be exploited by the administration and were obstructing the investigation. It didn’t make much ethical sense to me.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 220-221]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, US Supreme Court, Matthew Cooper

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The Village Voice’s Sydney Schanberg castigates Washington Post reporter and managing editor Bob Woodward for his behavior in the Plame Wilson investigation. Schanberg is referring to Woodward’s repeated attacks on the investigation and his support for the Bush administration (see December 1, 2004, July 7, 2005, July 11, 2005, July 17, 2005, July 31, 2005, and October 27, 2005). He is as yet unaware of Woodward’s status as a recipient of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see June 13, 2003 and November 14, 2005). Woodward is a rightful icon of investigative journalism due to “the groundbreaking shoe-leather reporting he and Carl Bernstein did on the Watergate scandal in 1972” (see June 15, 1974). Now, though, Schanberg writes, he has become just another well-connected Washington insider. “Doesn’t Woodward remember the reaction by many in the White House press corps, who initially sneered at the [Watergate] story and brushed it off as the fevered product of two lowly cityside reporters covering crime and the courts—which is what Woodward and Bernstein were at the time? I wish I were wrong, but to me Woodward sounds as if he has come a long way from those shoe-leather days—and maybe on a path that does not become him. He sounds, I think, like those detractors in 1972, as they pooh-poohed the scandal that unraveled the Nixon presidency—the scandal that Woodward and Bernstein doggedly uncovered.” Schanberg believes that Woodward has sacrificed his independence and his aggressive stance as an investigator in order to receive the unprecedented access to the White House and other Washington governmental agencies that he enjoys as a high-profile political author. “Critics in the press have suggested that Woodward is too close to some of his sources to provide readers with an undiluted picture of their activities,” Schanberg notes. “His remarks about the Fitzgerald investigation convey the attitude of a sometime insider reluctant to offend—and that is hardly a definition of what a serious, independent reporter is supposed to be. It’s a far piece from Watergate.” [Village Voice, 11/8/2005]

Entity Tags: Sydney Schanberg, Bob Woodward

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz profiles Bob Woodward, the Post reporter and managing editor who has gone from trailblazing investigative reporter during the Watergate days (see June 15, 1974) to protecting Bush administration sources and lambasting the Plame Wilson investigation while concealing his own involvement as a leak recipient (see November 15-17, 2005 and November 16-17, 2005). “Three decades older and millions of dollars richer, Woodward still has plenty of secret sources, but they work in the highest reaches of the Bush administration,” Kurtz writes. “They are molding history rather than revealing Watergate-style corruption. Some have even used the press to strike back against a critic of their war by revealing the identity of a CIA operative. And the public is no longer as enamored of reporters and their unnamed informants.… In today’s polarized political atmosphere, Woodward’s journalistic methods have been assailed by those who view him as dependent on the Bush inner circle for the narratives that drive his bestsellers.” Kurtz quotes Post executive editor Leonard Downie, Jr. as saying that Woodward “has gone from being someone who was on the outside to someone who has such access, who’s famous, who’s recognized on the street, who’s treated by celebrities and very high officials as an equal.… [H]is access has produced a lot of information about the inner workings of this White House, the Clinton White House, the first Bush administration, and documents, actual documents, that nobody else has gotten.” Downie says that Woodward has admitted to withholding newsworthy information for his books, and has promised to write in a more timely fashion for the Post when he receives such information. But Kurtz then quotes journalism professor Jay Rosen: “Woodward for so long was a symbol of adversarial journalism because of the Watergate legend. But he really has become an access journalist, someone who’s an insider.” David Gergen, a Harvard professor and editor at US News and World Report, says of Woodward: “I do think that Bob’s politics have changed some over the years. He’s much more sympathetic to the establishment, especially the Republican establishment.” Mary Matalin, a former adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, says: “There is a really deep respect for his work, and a deep desire by [President Bush] to have a contemporaneous, historically accurate account. The president rightly believed that Woodward, for good and ill, warts and all, would chronicle what happened. It’s in the White House’s interest to have a neutral source writing the history of the way Bush makes decisions. That’s why the White House gives him access.” [Washington Post, 11/28/2005] Author and media critic Frank Rich will note that “some of what Woodward wrote was ‘in the White House’s interest’ had to be the understatement of the year. Dubious cherry-picked intelligence from the Feith-WHIG conveyor belt (see August 2002) ended up in Plan of Attack (see Summer 2003) before that information was declassified.… No wonder Matalin thought Woodward had done ‘an extraordinary job.’ The WHIG gang had spun him silly.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 192]

Entity Tags: Howard Kurtz, Bush administration (43), Bob Woodward, Clinton administration, Frank Rich, Leonard Downie, Jr., Washington Post, Jay Rosen, David Gergen, Mary Matalin, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Author and media observer Eric Boehlert, writing for the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, criticizes the majority of mainstream news reporters and publications for failing to report aggressively and even accurately on the Plame Wilson leak investigation. Boehlert writes that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald “has consistently shown more interest—and determination—in uncovering the facts of the Plame scandal than most Beltway journalists, including the often somnambulant DC newsroom of the New York Times. Indeed, for long stretches, the special counsel easily supplanted the timid DC press corps and become the fact-finder of record for the Plame story. It was Fitzgerald and his team of G-men—not journalists—who were running down leads, asking tough questions, and, in the end, helping inform the American people about possible criminal activity inside the White House.” While Fitzgerald had subpoena power, Boehlert admits, reporters often had inside information that they consistently failed to reveal, instead “dutifully keeping their heads down and doing their best to make sure the details never got out about the White House’s obsession with discrediting former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV by outing his undercover CIA wife, Valerie Plame” Wilson. Boehlert writes that if not for Fitzgerald’s dogged investigation, the entire leak story would have “simply faded into oblivion like so many other disturbing suggestions of Bush administration misdeeds. And it would have faded away because lots of high-profile journalists at the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, and NBC wanted it to.”
'Watergate in Reverse' - “In a sense, it was Watergate in reverse,” Boehlert writes. “Instead of digging for the truth, lots of journalists tried to bury it. The sad fact remains the press was deeply involved in the cover-up, as journalists reported White House denials regarding the Plame leak despite the fact scores of them received the leak and knew the White House was spreading rampant misinformation about an unfolding criminal case.”
Going Along to Avoid Angering White House - Boehlert believes that in the early days of the investigation, most Washington reporters agreed with President Bush, who said that it was unlikely the leaker’s identity would ever be unearthed (see October 7, 2003). Historically, leak investigations rarely produced the leaker. “So if the leakers weren’t going to be found out, what was the point of reporters going public with their information and angering a then-popular White House that had already established a habit for making life professionally unpleasant for reporters who pressed too hard?” Boehlert asks. Now, of course, the press is pursuing the Libby trial for all it’s worth.
Early Instances of Misleading - Boehlert notes a number of instances where media figures either deliberately concealed information they had about who leaked Plame Wilson’s name, or were transparently disingenuous about speculating on the leaker’s identity. ABC reported in July 2005 that “it’s been unknown who told reporters the identity of Valerie Plame” for two years, an assertion Boehlert calls “silly” (see October 3, 2003). The following Washington journalists all had inside information to one extent or another about the case long before the summer of 2005: Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003), Tim Russert (see August 7, 2004), Andrea Mitchell (see July 20, 2003 and July 21, 2003), David Gregory (see 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), Chris Matthews (see July 21, 2003), Matthew Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), Michael Duffy (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), John Dickerson (see February 7, 2006), Viveca Novak (see March 1, 2004), Judith Miller (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), and Bob Woodward (see June 13, 2003). Had they come forward with the information they had, the identity of the various White House leakers would have been revealed much sooner. “[B]ut none of them did,” Boehlert writes. “Instead, at times there was an unspoken race away from the Bush scandal, a collective retreat that’s likely unprecedented in modern-day Beltway journalism.”
Cheerleading for Bush - Many journalists without inside information were openly cheering for the Bush administration and against the investigation, Boehlert contends. They included the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof (see October 1, 2003 and October 25, 2005), Newsweek’s Evan Thomas (see October 1, 2003 and November 7, 2005), Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen (see October 13, 2005 and January 30, 2007), fellow Post columnist Michael Kinsley (see October 28, 2005 and January 31, 2007), Slate editor Jacob Weisberg (see October 18, 2005), and Post columnist David Broder (see July 10, 2005 and September 7, 2006). Author and liberal blogger Marcy Wheeler, in her book on the Plame affair entitled Anatomy of Deceit, wrote that in her view, the media was attempting to “mak[e] the case that the press should retain exclusive judgment on the behavior of politicians, with no role for the courts.”
Fighting to Stay Quiet during the Election Campaign - Many journalists tried, and succeeded, to keep the story quiet during the 2004 presidential election campaign. Matthew Cooper refused to testify before Fitzgerald’s grand jury until mid-2005, when he asked for and was granted a waiver from Karl Rove to reveal him as the source of his information that Plame Wilson was a CIA agent (see July 13, 2005). Boehlert notes that Cooper’s bosses at Time decided to fight the subpoena in part because they “were concerned about becoming part of such an explosive story in an election year” (see July 6, 2005).
Russert, NBC Withheld Information from Public - Russert also withheld information from Fitzgerald, and the American public, until well after the November 2004 election. Boehlert notes that Russert “enjoyed a very close working relationship with Libby’s boss, Cheney,” and “chose to remain silent regarding central facts.” Russert could have revealed that in the summer of 2004, he had told Fitzgerald of his conversation with Libby during the summer of 2003 (see August 7, 2004). Libby had perjured himself by telling Fitzgerald that Russert had told him of Plame Wilson’s CIA status, when in reality, the reverse was true (see March 24, 2004). Instead, Russert testified that he and Libby never discussed Plame Wilson’s identity during that conversation, or at any other time. But neither Russert nor his employer, NBC News, admitted that to the public, instead merely saying that Libby did not reveal Plame Wilson’s identity to Russert (see August 7, 2004). Boehlert writes, “But why, in the name of transparency, didn’t the network issue a statement that made clear Russert and Libby never even discussed Plame?”
Woodward's Involvement - Washington Post editor Bob Woodward, an icon of investigative reporting (see June 15, 1974), told various television audiences that Fitzgerald’s investigation was “disgraceful” and called Fitzgerald a “junkyard prosecutor” (see October 27, 2005), and said the leak had not harmed the CIA (see July 14, 2003, July 21, 2003, September 27, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, and October 23-24, 2003). Woodward predicted that when “all of the facts come out in this case, it’s going to be laughable because the consequences are not that great” (see July 7, 2005). While Woodward was disparaging the investigation (see July 11, 2005, July 17, 2005, and October 28, 2005), he was failing to reveal that he himself had been the recipient of a leak about Plame Wilson’s identity years before (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, and June 27, 2003), which, Boehlert notes, “meant Woodward, the former sleuth, had been sitting been sitting on a sizeable scoop for more than two years.” Boehlert continues: “If at any point prior to the Libby indictments Woodward had come forward with his information, it would have been politically devastating for the White House. Instead, Woodward remained mum about the facts while publicly mocking Fitzgerald’s investigation.”
Conclusion - Boehlert concludes: “Regardless of the outcome from the Libby perjury case, the trial itself will be remembered for pulling back the curtain on the Bush White House as it frantically tried to cover up its intentional effort to mislead the nation to war. Sadly, the trial will also serve as a touchstone for how the Beltway press corps completely lost its way during the Bush years and became afraid of the facts—and the consequences of reporting them.” [Media Matters, 2/6/2007]

Entity Tags: David Gregory, David Broder, Richard Cohen, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Steve Soto, Tim Russert, Time magazine, Viveca Novak, Andrea Mitchell, Nicholas Kristof, Bob Woodward, Washington Post, Bush administration (43), New York Times, Robert Novak, Michael Kinsley, Chris Matthews, Jacob Weisberg, George W. Bush, Evan Thomas, Eric Boehlert, John Dickerson, Joseph C. Wilson, NBC News, Karl C. Rove, Marcy Wheeler, Matthew Cooper, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Media Matters, Michael Duffy, Judith Miller

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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