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Context of 'October 6, 1997: Former Watergate Lawyer Argues that Supreme Court Does Not Have Final Word on Constitutional Questions; Advocates Expanded Presidential Powers'

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Daniel Ellsberg.Daniel Ellsberg. [Source: PBS / Corbis]The source of the Pentagon Papers leak, former defense consultant Daniel Ellsberg (see March 1971), surrenders to police. He is indicted for theft, conspiracy, and espionage. [National Security Archives, 6/29/2001; Online Highways, 8/18/2007] Almost two years later, all the charges against Ellsberg will be dismissed because of government misconduct (see May 11, 1973).

Entity Tags: Daniel Ellsberg

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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

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

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein learns of White House aide Charles Colson’s plan to burglarize the Brookings Institution (see June 30-July 1, 1971 and June 1974), and, alarmingly, of Colson’s plans to actually firebomb the building. An associate of former White House counsel John Dean tells Bernstein that Colson did not want to just burglarize the Institute: “Chuck Colson wanted to rub two sticks together.”
Urgent Trip to See Nixon - Colson could not have been serious, Bernstein says, but the associate replies: “Serious enough for [White House aide] John Caulfield to run out of Colson’s office in a panic. He came straight to John Dean, saying he didn’t ever want to talk to that man Colson again because he was crazy. And that John better do something before it was too late. John caught the first courier flight out to San Clemente [President Nixon’s home in California] to see [then-White House aide John] Ehrlichman. That’s how serious it was.” Ehrlichman indeed shut the operation down before it could start, but the associate implies Ehrlichman’s decision may have been based more on the fact that Dean knew about it than over any shock or outrage over the firebombing plan.
Reasoning behind Attack - Colson wanted to firebomb Brookings because former Kissinger aide Morton Halperin, a Brookings fellow, may have had classified State Department documents at the Institute that the White House wanted back. A fire at the Institute would cover up a burglary of Halperin’s office.
Confirmation from Associate - Bernstein confirms the story from an associate of Caulfield’s, who clarifies: “Not a fire, a firebombing. That was what Colson thought would do the trick. Caulfield said, ‘This has gone too far’ and [that] he didn’t ever want anything to do with Colson again in his life.” Both Dean and Caulfield told FBI investigators about the plan, Caulfield’s associate says.
Woodward Calls Colson - When Bernstein’s colleague Bob Woodward calls Colson for a comment on the story, Colson jokes: “There’s no question about that. There is one mistake. It was not the Brookings, but the Washington Post. I told them to hire a wrecking crane and go over and knock down the building and Newsweek also.… I wanted the Washington Post destroyed.” When Woodward tells him the newspaper is printing the story, Colson retorts: “Explicitly, it is bullsh_t. I absolutely made no such statement or suggestion. It is ludicrous.… [T]his one has gone too far.” Colson calls back and says he may have made such a suggestion, but he was not serious. The Post prints the story. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 324-325]
Confirmation by Dean - In 2006, Dean will write that when he “learned of [Colson’s] insane plan, I flew to California… to plead my case to John Ehrlichman, a titular superior to both Colson and myself. By pointing out, with some outrage, that if anyone died it would involve a capital crime that might be traced back to the White House, I was able to shut down Colson’s scheme.” [Dean, 2006, pp. xxiii]

Entity Tags: Washington Post, John J. ‘Jack’ Caulfield, John Ehrlichman, Brookings Institution, Carl Bernstein, Charles Colson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Dean, Morton H. Halperin, Nixon administration

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Former White House aides John Ehrlichman, Charles Colson, and G. Gordon Liddy, and three Cuban-Americans, including two of the convicted Watergate burglars (see January 8-11, 1973), Bernard Barker and Eugenio Martinez, are charged with planning and executing the burglary of the offices of Dr. Lewis Fielding, Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist (see September 9, 1971). Colson will quickly reach a plea-bargain agreement, promise to cooperate with the prosecution, plead guilty to one count of obstruction of justice, and serve approximately seven months in prison. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 335; Billy Graham Center, 12/8/2004] He will also be disbarred. In the guilty plea agreement, Colson admits to having devised “a scheme to obtain derogatory information about Daniel Ellsberg,” who himself was facing criminal charges relating to the Pentagon Papers leak. Colson wanted to smear Ellsberg’s reputation in the media, in essence having Ellsberg “tried in the newspapers” even though this would have an “adverse effect on his right to a fair trial.” Colson also admits to having written a “scurrilous and libelous memorandum” about one of Ellsberg’s attorneys. He does not admit to actually taking part in the planning of the Fielding burglary. [Time, 6/17/1974] In 2006, White House counsel John Dean will write that Colson’s promise of cooperation is virtually worthless: “[I]n the end he proved to be utterly useless as a government witness, since the government could not vouch for his honesty.” [Dean, 2006, pp. xxiii]

Entity Tags: Lewis Fielding, John Dean, Daniel Ellsberg, Eugenio Martinez, G. Gordon Liddy, Bernard Barker, Charles Colson, John Ehrlichman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Former Nixon White House aide Charles Colson, later described by reporter David Plotz as “Richard Nixon’s hard man, the ‘evil genius’ of an evil administration,” is sentenced to jail after pleading guilty (see March 7, 1974) to taking part in the plan to break into Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office (see September 9, 1971) and interfering with Ellsberg’s trial (see June 28, 1971). Colson also, according to Watergate historian Stanley Kutler, tried to hire Teamster thugs to beat up antiwar demonstrators, and plotted to either raid or firebomb the Brookings Institution (see June 8-9, 1973). Colson will serve seven months in jail (see September 3, 1974). [Slate, 3/10/2000] Colson tells the court: “I shall be cooperating with the prosecutor, but that is not to say that the prosecutor has bargained for my testimony, that there is any quid pro quo: there was not. I reached my own conclusion that I have a duty to tell everything I know about these important issues, and a major reason for my plea was to free me to do so.” Colson’s testimony against Richard Nixon is damning, as he tells the court Nixon had “on numerous occasions urged me to disseminate damaging information about Daniel Ellsberg.” Vice President Ford defends Nixon, saying, “There’s a big difference between telling Chuck Colson to smear Ellsberg and ordering—or allegedly ordering—a break-in.” Colson will later become a born-again Christian evangelist, and found an influential prison ministry. [Slate, 3/10/2000; Werth, 2006, pp. 273-274]

Entity Tags: Brookings Institution, David Plotz, Stanley Kutler, Richard M. Nixon, Daniel Ellsberg, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Charles Colson, Nixon administration

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

One of the outbuildings at Fort Holabird.One of the outbuildings at Fort Holabird. [Source: Hugh D. Cox]Former White House counsel John Dean begins a one-to-four-year term in prison for his role in the Watergate coverup. Dean’s sentence would have been far longer had he not cooperated so completely with the Watergate investigators. He is the 15th Watergate figure to go to jail, but the first to be asked whether Richard Nixon should join him in prison. (Dean refuses to comment.) Privately, Dean is shaken that Nixon is still insisting on his innocence. Later, Dean will write that he believes a number of reasons—hubris, victimization, self-pity, belief that history will exonerate him, and fear of jail—is all part of Nixon’s recalcitrance, but Dean does not believe that Nixon made a deal with President Ford for any sort of clemency. Dean will serve his term at Fort Holabird, a former army base just outside Baltimore used for government witnesses. Dean will mingle with three fellow Watergate convicts—Charles Colson, Jeb Stuart Magruder, and Herbert Kalmbach—and a number of organized crime figures in the government’s witness protection program. [Werth, 2006, pp. 269-270] Colson, who has provided damning testimony against Nixon as part of his plea agreement (see June 1974), leads the others in reaching out to Dean in prison. Dean, who is held in relative isolation, briefly meets Magruder in the hallway. Magruder is preparing to testify against the “Big Three” of John Mitchell, John Ehrlichman, and H. R. Haldeman in their upcoming trial. Magruder says to Dean: “Welcome to the club, John. This place looks just like the White House with all of us here.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 269-270]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, John Ehrlichman, Jeb S. Magruder, H.R. Haldeman, John Mitchell, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, John Dean, Charles Colson, Herbert Kalmbach

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Disbarred lawyer and convicted Watergate figure Charles Colson (see June 1974), now the head of the Christian Prison Fellowship ministry, writes that “the Constitution does not give the Supreme Court final say on constitutional questions.” Colson, a traditional social conservative, makes this startling claim in an op-ed about the recent Boerne v. Flores decision of the Court, in which the Court struck down the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as an unconstitutional encroachment on the fundamental concept of the separation of church and state. Colson writes that the decision has “precipitat[ed] what may be the greatest constitutional crisis of our age.” Colson, a supporter of the RFRA, says the striking down of the act makes “religious liberties… once again vulnerable.” The overarching question Colson raises is whether the Supreme Court is the final judicial arbiter of the Constitution. Colson gives a blunt answer: “Contrary to what most Americans think, the Constitution does not give the Supreme Court final say on constitutional questions. And the Founders resisted the idea.” Colson cites the landmark 1803 case of Marbury v. Madison, in which the Court, he says, took up the power of judicial review, then gives three examples of presidents defying Court orders. However, fellow convicted Watergate figure John Dean, a former White House counsel, refutes Colson’s arguments. In 2006, Dean will write that “Colson, like [televangelist Pat] Robertson and others on the religious right, is seeking, in effect, to nullify Supreme Court decisions of which he does not approve.” Dean will note that although Colson has long since lost his license to practice law, he is considered a scholar of some importance by his conservative contemporaries, and therefore has some influence.
'Marbury' and Judicial Review - Dean notes that Colson’s interpretation of the bedrock Marbury case is wrong. Judicial review by federal courts of Congressional legislation was a long-established principle by the time the Court issued its ruling. Even before the Constitutional Conventions, state courts had routinely overturned state legislative acts. The assumption of most during the debates over the contents of the Constitution was that federal courts, and most specifically the Supreme Court, would have similar power over federal legislation.
Thomas Jefferson and the Alien Imposition Act - Colson writes that “Thomas Jefferson refused to execute the Alien Imposition Act.” Colson is wrong: there was never such an act. Dean writes, “If Colson is referring to the infamous Alien and Sedition Act of 1798, it had nothing to do with a court order, and the example is therefore very misleading.” Jefferson’s predecessor, John Adams, enforced the law, which Jefferson considered unconstitutional. Jefferson pardoned those convicted of sedition under the statute when he gained the presidency. He never “refused to execute” it because it expired the day before he was inaugurated, March 4, 1801.
Andrew Jackson and the Bank of the United States - Colson writes that Andrew Jackson “spurned a Court order in a banking case.” Again, as Dean notes, the citation is misleading. Dean believes Colson is referring to Jackson’s 1832 veto of a bill to recharter the Bank of the United States. The Court had not issued an opinion on the rechartering of a federal bank, so Jackson did not defy a Court order.
Abraham Lincoln and the 'Dred Scott' Decision - Colson concludes his historical argument by saying that Abraham Lincoln “rejected the Dred Scott decision. Lincoln even asked Congress to overrule the Court—which it did, passing a law that reversed Dred Scott (1862).” Dean calls Colson’s argument “a stunning summation, not to mention distortion, of history.” The infamous 1857 Dred Scott v. Sanford decision found that slaves were neither citizens nor persons under the Constitution, that Congress could not prohibit slavery in the territories, and that the Declaration of Independence’s statement that “all men are created equal” applied only to white men. Lincoln argued passionately against the decision during his 1858 debates with his Senate opponent, Stephen Douglas, and swore that he would seek to reverse the decision. But, as Dean will note, “Seeking reversal is not defiance of the law.” Lincoln did defy the Court in 1861 by suspending the writ of habeas corpus, and explained his unprecedented action to Congress by arguing that he did so to save the Union from dissolution. Dred Scott was overturned, not by Congressional legislation, but by the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Bill of Rights.
The Danger Inherent in Colson's Arguments - Dean will note: “Colson’s baseless arguments are unfortunately typical of those that authoritarian conservatives insist on making, using facts that are irrelevant or misleading, if not demonstrably wrong. The self-righteousness of authoritarians [such as] Colson and Pat Robertson… has become so pronounced that at times it seems as if they believe themselves actually to be speaking ex cathedra [a sardonic reference to the infallibility of the Pope]. Their contention that the president of the United States is not bound by rulings of the Supreme Court, or, for that matter, by the laws of Congress, when these rulings or laws relate to the functions of the presidency, has gained increasing currency with authoritarian conservatives, both leaders and followers.” Such acceptance “is truly frightening in its implications.” [Christianity Today, 10/6/1997; Dean, 2006, pp. 111-115; Catholic Encyclopedia, 2008]

Entity Tags: Charles Colson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Pat Robertson, US Supreme Court, John Dean

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Author and former Nixon White House counsel John Dean reviews former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s new book, The Politics of Truth (see April 2004). Dean, who has long been a fierce critic of the Bush administration, uses the review to examine aspects of the controversy surrounding the White House’s disproven claim that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003) and the outing of Wilson’s wife as a CIA agent through a White House leak (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, Before July 14, 2003, and July 14, 2003). Dean calls the book “riveting and all-engaging… provid[ing] context to yesterday’s headlines, and perhaps tomorrow’s, about the Iraq war and about our politics of personal destruction,” as well as detailed information about Wilson’s long diplomatic service in Africa and the Middle East, and what Dean calls “a behind-the-scenes blow-by-blow of the run-up to the 1991 Persian Gulf war.”
'Anti-Dumb-War' - Dean also admires Wilson’s opposition to the Iraq war, saying that “Wilson is not antiwar. Rather, he is ‘anti-dumb-war’” and noting that while Wilson is not himself particularly conservative (or liberal), he considers the neoconservatives who make up the driving force in President Bush’s war cabinet “right-wing nuts.”
'Vicious Hatchet Job' - Dean quickly moves into the White House-orchestrated attempt to besmirch Wilson’s credibility, calling it “the most vicious hatchet job inside the Beltway since my colleague in Richard Nixon’s White House, the dirty trickster Charles W. Colson, copped a plea for defaming Daniel Ellsberg and his lawyer (see June 1974).… It was an obvious effort to discredit Wilson’s [Niger] report, and, Wilson believes, a you-hurt-us-we-will-hurt-you warning to others.” While Wilson writes with passion and anger about the outing of his wife, he restrains himself from giving too many personal details about her, relying instead on material already revealed in press interviews and reports. Dean notes that Wilson believes his wife’s name was leaked to the press by any or all of the following White House officials: Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney; Karl Rove, Bush’s chief political strategist; and Elliott Abrams, a national security adviser and former Iran-Contra figure (see October 7, 1991). Though Dean is correct in noting that Wilson comes to his conclusions “based largely on hearsay from the Washington rumor mill,” he will be proven accurate in two out of three of his assertions (see July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Wilson continues to fight attacks from Bush supporters, but, Dean notes, if they actually read his book, “they should understand that they have picked a fight with the wrong fellow.” [New York Times, 5/12/2004]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Bush administration (43), John Dean, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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