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Context of 'December 21, 1972: McCord Warns White House Not to Pin Blame for Watergate on CIA'

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Accused Watergate burglar James McCord (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) writes a letter to former Nixon aide Jack Caulfield in an attempt to warn the Nixon administration not to try to pin the blame for Watergate on the CIA, as some White House aides have suggested. McCord writes in part: “Sorry to have to write you this letter but felt you had to know. If Helms goes [Richard Helms, the director of the CIA, who was asked to resign by Nixon—see November 20, 1972)], and if the WG [Watergate] operation is laid at the CIA’s feet, where it does not belong, every tree in the forest will fall. It will be a scorched desert. The whole matter is at the precipice right now. Just pass the message that if they want it to blow, they are on exactly the right course. I’m sorry that you will get hurt in the fallout.” [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]

Entity Tags: James McCord, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard Helms, John J. ‘Jack’ Caulfield, Nixon administration

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

During the trial of the “Watergate Seven” (see January 8-11, 1973), unbeknownst to the press, the prosecution, or Judge John Sirica, Watergate defendant James McCord has been quietly writing anonymous letters to his former supervisors and friends at the CIA. McCord’s letters warn them that the White House intends to blame the agency for the Watergate conspiracy. His last unsigned letter goes to former White House aide Jack Caulfield, now working for the IRS (see December 21, 1972). “If [CIA director Richard] Helms goes and the Watergate operation is laid at CIA’s feet, where it does not belong, every tree in the forest will fall,” he writes, apparently alluding to his intention to tell what he knows. “Just pass the message that if they want it to blow, they are on exactly the right course.” Caulfield did indeed pass the message to the White House. During the trial, Caulfield met with McCord, representing “the highest level of the White House,” promising money and executive clemency for McCord if he will plead guilty and stay quiet. McCord does not take the deal (see March 19-23, 1973). [Reeves, 2001, pp. 561-562]

Entity Tags: James McCord, Central Intelligence Agency, John J. ‘Jack’ Caulfield, John Sirica, Richard Helms

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

James McCord demonstrates a bugging device during his testimony.James McCord demonstrates a bugging device during his testimony. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Convicted Watergate burglar James McCord testifies behind closed doors to the Senate Watergate Committee (see March 25, 1973). The committee’s ranking minority member, Howard Baker (R-TN), tells reporters after the lengthy session that McCord has provided “significant information… covering a lot of territory.” One senator anonymously tells Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of McCord’s testimony: McCord has told the senators that fellow Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy said the burglary and surveillance operation was approved by then-Nixon campaign chairman John Mitchell in February 1972, while Mitchell was still attorney general (see March 20, 1971). In addition, McCord told the senators that White House aide Charles Colson knew about the Watergate operation in advance. Little of this is news to the Post reporters, and they are not heartened by Baker’s admission that McCord’s testimony is almost all secondhand information. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 280-281]

Entity Tags: John Mitchell, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, James McCord, Charles Colson, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, G. Gordon Liddy, Howard Baker

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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