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Context of 'Early September, 1972: CREEP Employee Confirms Top Campaign Officials Knew of Watergate Surveillance, Says Officials Lied to FBI'

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Prosecutor Earl Silbert.Prosecutor Earl Silbert. [Source: Washington Post]The five men caught burglarizing the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate hotel (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) are arraigned in a Washington, DC, city court on charges of felony burglary and possession of implements of crime. All five originally gave the police false names. [Washington Post, 6/18/1972] The real identities of the five are:
bullet Bernard Barker of Miami, a Cuban-American whom Cuban exiles say has worked on and off for the CIA since the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. Barker was one of the principal leaders of the Cuban Revolutionary Council, the exile organization established with CIA help to organize the Bay of Pigs invasion. Barker’s wife reportedly told attorney Douglas Caddy, one of the team’s lawyers, that, as Caddy says, “her husband told her to call me if he hadn’t called her by 3 a.m.: that it might mean he was in trouble.” [Washington Post, 6/18/1972; Washington Post, 6/19/1972] Barker owns a Miami real estate firm, Barker & Associates. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file]
bullet Virgilio Gonzalez, a Miami locksmith of Cuban extraction. Gonzalez’s boss, Harry Collot, says Gonzalez came to the US about the time Fidel Castro became well-known, and is an ardent opponent of the Castro regime. Collot describes Gonzalez as “pro-American and anti-Castro… he doesn’t rant or rave like some of them do.”
bullet Eugenio Martinez, a real estate agent from Miami, who authorities say is active in anti-Castro activities in Florida, and violated US immigration laws in 1958 by flying a private plane to Cuba.
bullet James W. McCord, the security director for the Committee for the Re-election of the President (CREEP). McCord initially identifies himself as “Edward Martin,” a former CIA agent and “security consultant” who resides in New York City and possibly the DC area. Neither the police or the press are aware, at the moment, of McCord’s true identity (see June 19, 1972).
bullet Frank Sturgis, a former Cuban army intelligence officer, mercenary, and now the agent for a Havana salvage firm in Miami. Sturgis uses the alias “Frank Florini” during the arraignment. “Fiorini” was identified in 1959 by the Federal Aviation Agency as the pilot of a plane that dropped anti-Castro leaflets over Havana. Previous news reports describe “Fiorini” as a “soldier of fortune” and the former head of the International Anti-Communist Brigade, an organization formed after the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of 1962. The Brigade trained and ferried 23 Cuban exiles into Cuba, where they began guerrilla operations against Castro. “Florini” reportedly fought with, not against, Castro during the Cuban revolution and was originally slated to be named overseer of Cuba’s gambling operations before Castro shut down Cuba’s casinos. Apparently, Sturgis is involved in trying to orchestrate Miami Cubans to demonstrate against the Democratic National Convention, to be held in Miami in July. Sturgis is also involved in the John Birch Society and the Reverend Billy James Hargis’s Christian Crusade.
During their arraignment, one of the burglars describes the team as “anti-Communists,” and the others nod in agreement. Prosecutor Earl Silbert calls the operation “professional” and “clandestine.” The court learns that four of the five, all using fictitious names, rented two rooms at the Watergate, and dined together in the Watergate restaurant on February 14. A search of the two rooms turns up $4,200, again in sequential $100 bills, more burglary tools, and more electronic surveillance equipment, all stashed in six suitcases. Currently, FBI and Secret Service agents are investigating the burglary. Caddy, who says he met Barker a year ago at the Army Navy Club and had a “sympathetic conversation [with Barker]—that’s all I’ll say,” attempts to stay in the background during the arraignment, instead having another attorney, Joseph Rafferty Jr, plead before the court. Caddy is a corporate lawyer with no criminal law experience. [Washington Post, 6/18/1972; Washington Post, 6/19/1972] Interestingly, Caddy shows up at the arraignment apparently without any of the burglars contacting him (see June 17, 1972). [Woodward, 2005, pp. 35] Silbert argues unsuccessfully that the five should be held without bail, citing their use of fictitious names, their lack of community ties, and the likelihood that they would flee the country after they post bail. “They were caught red-handed,” Silbert tells the court. [Washington Post, 6/18/1972; Washington Post, 6/19/1972]

Entity Tags: Harry Collot, US Secret Service, James McCord, Joseph Rafferty, Jr, Frank Sturgis, Earl Silbert, Eugenio Martinez, ’Plumbers’, Bernard Barker, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Democratic National Committee, Douglas Caddy, Committee to Re-elect the President, Virgilio Gonzalez

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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

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

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

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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

White House counsel John Dean reports that the Watergate grand jury will hand down seven indictments—the five Watergate burglars and their two handlers, E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy (see September 15, 1972). It is good news in the Oval Office, as it seems the conspiracy investigation will end with these seven. Chief of staff H. R. Haldeman tells President Nixon: “Everybody’s satisfied [referring to the seven accused criminals]. They’re all out of jail, they’ve all been taken care of (see June 20-21, 1972). We’ve done a lot of discreet checking to be sure there’s no discontent in the ranks, and there isn’t any.” Nixon notes that Hunt’s “happiness” was bought at “considerable cost,” but says it is worth it. “That’s what the money’s for,” he says. “They have to be paid. That’s all there is to that.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 519-520]

Entity Tags: G. Gordon Liddy, E. Howard Hunt, John Dean, H.R. Haldeman, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein manages to land a meeting with a low-level employee of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP); like the other employees he and his colleague Bob Woodward have interviewed, she is frightened (see August, 1972), but more willing to speak out.
Meeting - The employee insists that they meet for lunch in a public restaurant frequented by CREEP personnel, so that she will not seem as if she is meeting clandestinely with a reporter. Bernstein asks if she is not being overdramatic, and she responds: “I wish I was. They know everything at the committee. They know that the indictments (see September 15, 1972) will be down in a week and that there will be only seven. Once, another person went back to the [district attorney] because the FBI didn’t ask her the right questions. That night her boss knew about it. I always had one institution I believed in—the FBI. No more.”
Does Not Think Story Will Come Out - She also went back to the DA, she says, but has no faith that the story will ever come to light. “It’ll never come out, the whole truth. You’ll never get the truth. You can’t get it by reporters just talking to the good people. They know you’ve been out talking to people at night. Somebody from the press office came up to our office today and said, ‘I sure wish I knew who in this committee had a link to Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.’ The FBI never even asked me if I was at the committee over the weekend of the break-in. I was there almost the whole time. [Robert] Odle [CREEP’s personnel director] didn’t tell them everything he knew. He kept removing records. I don’t know if he destroyed them or not. He would tell everybody to get out of the room and then close the door. Then he’d leave with the records.… The whole thing is being very well covered up and nobody will ever know what happened.”
Names Named - As Bernstein walks her back to her office—again, to avoid the appearance of trying to hide her contact with the press—she adds: “Okay, I’ll tell you, but it won’t do any good. And don’t ever call me, or come to see me or ask any questions about how I know. LaRue, Porter, and Magruder. They all knew about the bugging, or at least lied to the grand jury about what they know. And Mitchell. But Mitchell is mostly speculation. Take my word on the other three. I know.” Frederick LaRue, Bart Porter, Jeb Magruder, and John Mitchell are all former White House officials who moved over to work for CREEP.
Discovered - Later that afternoon, Bernstein receives a phone call from the woman, who is near hysteria. “I’m in a phone booth,” she says. “When I got back from lunch, I got called into somebody’s office and confronted with the fact that I had been seen talking to a Post reporter. They wanted to know everything. It was high up; that’s all you have to know. I told you they were following me. Please don’t call me again or some to see me.” That evening, Bernstein and Woodward go to her apartment; she refuses to open the door. Shortly thereafter, CREEP director Clark MacGregor calls Post executive editor Ben Bradlee to complain that Bernstein and Woodward have been harassing his employees. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 60-62]

Entity Tags: Frederick LaRue, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Ben Bradlee, Clark MacGregor, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jeb S. Magruder, Robert C. Odle, Jr, Herbert L. Porter, Committee to Re-elect the President, John Mitchell

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Accused Watergate burglar Bernard Barker after being arraigned in June 1972.Accused Watergate burglar Bernard Barker after being arraigned in June 1972. [Source: Wally McNamee / Corbis]The first indictments against the five men accused of burglarizing Democratic National Headquarters (see June 17, 1972)—James McCord, Frank Sturgis, Bernard Barker, Eugenio Martinez, and Virgilio Gonzalez—are handed down. White House aides G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt are also indicted. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] The indictments are for conspiracy, interception of communications, and burglary. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file]
Washington Post Investigation - In its story of the indictments, the Washington Post will note that the indictments do “not touch on the central questions about the purpose or sponsorship of the alleged espionage” against the Democrats. Post reporter Carl Bernstein asks a Justice Department official why the indictments are so narrowly focused, as the FBI has certainly unearthed the same information as the Post investigation. After the source admits that the Justice Department knows about the campaign “slush fund” and the White House connections to the electronic surveillance, an indignant Bernstein asks why the Post should not run a story accusing the department of ignoring evidence. The official responds that the department does not intend to file any future indictments, and that the investigation is currently “in a state of repose.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 69-70]
FBI Continues to Probe - FBI spokesman J. W. Hushen says that the indictments have ended the investigation and the agency has “absolutely no evidence to indicate that any others should be charged.” Contrary to Hushen’s statement and the Justice Department official’s comment to Bernstein, the FBI will continue its investigation. A day later, Deputy Attorney General Henry Peterson says that any charges that the FBI has conducted a “whitewash” of the Watergate conspiracy are untrue. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file; Reeves, 2001, pp. 526-527]
Bay of Pigs Forged Bond - Martinez will later recall Hunt as one of his heroes from the time of the Cuban Revolution. Hunt, a CIA agent using the code name “Eduardo,” endeared himself to Martinez and other anti-Castro Cubans by denouncing the failed Bay of Pigs invasion as the fault of then-President Kennedy and others unwilling to fight against Fidel Castro. Martinez, himself then a CIA agent and an associate of Barker, Sturgis, McCord, and Gonzalez, will later write, “I can’t help seeing the whole Watergate affair as a repetition of the Bay of Pigs.” [Harper's, 10/1974]

Entity Tags: James McCord, J. W. Hushen, Henry Peterson, US Department of Justice, Virgilio Gonzalez, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Frank Sturgis, Bernard Barker, G. Gordon Liddy, E. Howard Hunt, Eugenio Martinez, Carl Bernstein

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Disappointed that the Watergate burglary indictments do not extend further than the five burglars and their two handlers (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972 and September 15, 1972), Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward contacts W. Mark Felt (“Deep Throat”—see May 31, 2005), his FBI source, to ask about a story he and fellow reporter Carl Bernstein have drafted about the indictment. Woodward breaks the rules Felt laid down for contacting him (see August 1972), but Felt does not complain. Instead, Felt tells Woodward that the story is “[t]oo soft.” “You can go much stronger,” he says. Felt tells Woodward to look into “other intelligence gathering activities” beyond Watergate. Felt says that the money for the burglary and other operations is controlled by top assistants to former Attorney General John Mitchell, now chief of the Nixon re-election campaign (CREEP). In a frantic set of meetings with Judy Hoback, the treasurer of CREEP, Bernstein learns of a secret campaign fund managed by two top campaign aides, Jeb Magruder and Herbert L. “Bart” Porter, as well as White House aide and Watergate figure G. Gordon Liddy. Woodward calls Felt for more details, and after Felt abjures Woodward to make this his last phone call, confirms Magruder and Porter’s involvement. In essence, Felt tells Woodward to “follow the money,” though Woodward will not recall Felt using those exact words. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 73; Woodward, 2005, pp. 69-71]

Entity Tags: John Mitchell, Campaign to Re-elect the President, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, Herbert L. Porter, G. Gordon Liddy, W. Mark Felt, Judy Hoback, Jeb S. Magruder

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

Around 2 a.m., Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward meets his FBI source, W. Mark Felt (popularly called “Deep Throat”—see May 31, 2005) in the underground parking garage Felt has designated as their rendezvous (see August 1972). Woodward’s partner Carl Bernstein has unearthed fascinating but puzzling information about a Nixon campaign “dirty tricks” squad headed by California lawyer Donald Segretti (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond and October 7, 1972). Woodward is desperately searching for a way to pull together the disparate threads of the various Watergate stories. An unusually forthcoming Felt says he will not give Woodward any new names, but directs him to look in “the direction of what was called ‘Offensive Security.’” Things “got all out of hand,” Felt tells Woodward, in “heavy-handed operation[s]” that went farther than perhaps their originators had intended. Felt says bluntly that Nixon campaign chairman John Mitchell was involved, and, “Only the president and Mitchell know” how deep Mitchell’s involvement really is. Mitchell “learned some things in those ten days after Watergate,” information that shocked even him. If what Mitchell knows ever comes to light, it could destroy the Nixon administration. Mitchell himself knew he was ruined after Watergate investigation began, and left the administration to try to limit the damage. Felt adds that Nixon aide John Ehrlichman ordered Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt to leave town (see June 18, 1972), a revelation that surprises Woodward, since Ehrlichman’s name has not yet come up in the conspiracy stories.
Four Major Groups - There are four major groups within the Nixon presidential campaign, Felt says. The “November Group” handles campaign advertising. Another group handles political espionage and sabotage for both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. A third “primary group” did the same for the campaign primaries (this group not only worked to sabotage Democrats, but Republican primary opponents of Nixon’s as well). And a fourth, the “Howard Hunt group,” is also known as the “Plumbers,” working under Hunt (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Felt calls the Plumbers the “really heavy operations team.” Hunt’s group reports directly to Charles Colson, Nixon’s special counsel. One set of operations by Hunt’s group involved planting items in the press; Felt believes Colson and Hunt leaked stories of former Democratic vice presidential candidate Thomas Eagleton’s drunk driving record to reporters. “Total manipulation—that was their goal, with everyone eating at one time or another out of their hands. Even the press.” The Post is specifically being targeted, Felt warns; the White House plans to use the courts to make Woodward and Bernstein divulge their sources.
Watergate Investigation Deliberately Narrow - Felt says that the Justice Department’s indictments against the seven Watergate burglars (see September 15, 1972) was as narrow as Department officials could make it. Evidence of political espionage or illegal campaign finances that was not directly related to the burglary was not considered. Felt says that the investigation, as narrow as it was, was plagued by witness perjury and evasions.
Everything is Interconnected - Everything—surveillance operations, illegal campaign finances, campaign “dirty tricks”—is interconnected, Felt says. The Segretti story is just the tip of the iceberg: “You could write stories from now until Christmas or well beyond that.” The two men have been alternately standing and sitting in the unlighted parking garage for hours; dawn is approaching, and both are exhausted. Woodward knows he needs specifics, the names of these higher-ups. How is he to know if he is not being railroaded down investigative dead ends by White House media manipulation operations? How about the “Canuck letter” that destroyed the candidacy of Democratic presidential hopeful Edmund Muskie? “It was a White House operation,” Felt replies: “done inside the gates surrounding the White House and the Executive Office Building. Is that enough?” It is not, Woodward retorts. Are there more intelligence and sabotage operations still to come? Woodward angrily says that he is tired of their “chickensh_t games,” with Felt pretending he never provided primary information and Woodward contenting himself with scraps of disconnected information. Felt replies: “Okay. This is very serious. You can safely say that 50 people worked for the White House and CREEP [the Nixon re-election campaign] to play games and spy and sabotage and gather intelligence. Some of it is beyond belief, kicking at the opposition in every imaginable way. You already know some of it.” Woodward lists the many examples that he and Bernstein have been able to unearth: surveillance, following people, press leaks, fake letters, campaign sabotage, investigations of campaign workers’ private lives, theft, campaign provacateurs. Felt nods. “It’s all in the [FBI] files. Justice and the Bureau know about it, even though it wasn’t followed up.” Woodward, despite himself, is stunned. The White House had implemented a systematic plan to subvert the entire electoral process? Had used fifty people to do it? “You can safely say more than fifty,” Felt says, and walks up the ramp and out of the garage. It was 6 a.m. Woodward uses Felt’s information to help create one of the most devastating stories yet published about Watergate (see October 10, 1972). [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 130-135; Woodward, 2005, pp. 75-79]
'Organizing Principle' of Watergate - Nixon White House counsel Leonard Garment will write in his 2000 book In Search of Deep Throat (in which he misidentifies the source as obscure Nixon staffer John Sears) that while Woodward’s source did not deliver “much in the way of specific information, he gave Woodward and Bernstein what they needed: an organizing principle.” It is during this time, Garment will write, that the reporters begin to truly understand the entirety of the Watergate conspiracy. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 191-194]

Entity Tags: E. Howard Hunt, Donald Segretti, Charles Colson, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, ’Plumbers’, W. Mark Felt, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard M. Nixon, John Mitchell, John Ehrlichman, Committee to Re-elect the President, Leonard Garment, Edmund Muskie, John Sears, Thomas F. Eagleton

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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