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Context of 'Late May 1973: Justice Department Unsure if Nixon Can Be Subpoenaed or Charged'

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While researching the story that would reveal the extensive “dirty tricks” operations conducted by the Nixon presidential campaign (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond), Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein learns of the extensive connections between “agent provocateur” Donald Segretti and members of the Nixon administration.
College Connection - Segretti, Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler, White House appointments secretary Dwight Chapin, and Ziegler’s aide Tim Elbourne had all attended college together at the University of Southern California. All were members of a campus political group called “Trojans for Representative Government.” The group carried out a number of dirty campus political operations, which they called “ratf_cking.” Some of their “tricks” included ballot box stuffing, planting of spies in opposition camps, and spreading of bogus campaign literature designed to drive students away from the targeted candidate.
Campaigns - Ziegler and Chapin had joined Richard Nixon’s gubernatorial campaign in 1962, which was managed by H. R. Haldeman, now Nixon’s closest White House aide. After Nixon lost that election, Ziegler, Chapin, and Elbourne had worked for Haldeman in an advertising agency. Ziegler and Chapin had recruited Segretti and Elbourne to take part in the 1972 Nixon campaign.
Confirmation - A Justice Department official confirms that Segretti is under investigation for political sabotage and espionage operations, and says that he is familiar with the term “ratf_cking.” Bernstein discusses Segretti with a Justice Department attorney, who is outraged at the entire idea. “Ratf_cking?” he snarls. “You can go right to the top with that one. I was shocked when I heard it. I couldn’t believe it. These are public servants? God. It’s nauseating. You’re talking about fellows who come from the best schools in the country. Men who run the government!” The attorney calls the Segretti operation “despicable,” and Segretti himself “indescribable.” “You’re dealing with people who act like this is Dodge City, not the capital of the United States.” The attorney hints that the Nixon campaign “slush fund” (see September 29, 1972) helped pay for the operations, and that the “Canuck letter” (see February 24-25, 1972) was one of the Nixon campaign’s operations.
Mitchell Involved - Bernstein prods the attorney about the phrase “go right to the top,” and mentions former campaign manager John Mitchell. The attorney says of Mitchell: “He can’t say he didn’t know about it, because it was strategy—basic strategy that goes all the way to the top. Higher than him, even.” Woodward is stunned. Higher than Mitchell? The only three people in the Nixon administration higher than Mitchell are Nixon’s top aides, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, and Richard Nixon himself. Bernstein and colleague Bob Woodward later write, “For the first time, [Bernstein] considered the possibility that the president of the United States was the head ratf_cker.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 126-129]

Entity Tags: University of Southern California, Trojans for Representative Government, US Department of Justice, Tim Elbourne, Richard M. Nixon, Dwight Chapin, Donald Segretti, Ron Ziegler, Carl Bernstein, John Ehrlichman, John Mitchell, Bob Woodward, H.R. Haldeman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

FBI agents are now convinced that the Watergate break-in (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) is one example of actions conducted by a massive campaign of political espionage and sabotage conducted on behalf of the Nixon re-election effort, the Washington Post reports. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] The efforts, ongoing since at least 1971, were directed at all of the major Democratic presidential contenders, and represent a fundamental strategy of the Nixon re-election effort. The entire conspiracy is, according to FBI and Justice Department information, directed by officials in the Nixon administration and in the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP). Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been set aside to pay for what reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward call “an extensive undercover campaign aimed at discrediting individual Democratic presidential candidates and disrupting their campaigns.” Some of the operations include:
bullet Following members of Democratic candidates’ families and assembling files on their personal lives (former Democratic presidential candidate Edmund Muskie tells reporter Carl Bernstein that his children were followed and that inquiries about them had been made at their school, but cannot be sure that it was Nixon campaign agents doing the surveillance; Bernstein will report this and other Muskie campaign allegations on October 12).
bullet Forging letters and distributing them under the candidates’ letterheads.
bullet Leaking false and fabricated items to the press (Bernstein’s October 12 story includes an item about false allegations of sexual misconduct against Democrats Hubert Humphrey and Henry Jackson).
bullet Sabotaging Democrats’ campaign schedules with planned disruptions (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond).
bullet Stealing confidential campaign files.
bullet Investigating the lives of dozens of Democratic campaign workers.
bullet Planting “provocateurs” in organizations expected to demonstrate at the Democratic and Republican national conventions.
bullet Investigating potential donors to the Nixon campaign before approaching them for money.
A CREEP spokesman calls the allegations “not only fiction but a collection of absurdities,” and notes that “the entire matter is in the hands of the authorities.” Perhaps the best-known example of CREEP political sabotage is the so-called “Canuck letter” (see (February 24-25, 1972). The letter was apparently written by White House official Ken Clawson, who denies writing the letter (see October 10, 1972). [Washington Post, 10/10/1972] Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, who co-writes the story, uses information from his “Deep Throat” FBI source (see October 9, 1972) to pen what he later recalls as a much more “aggressive, interpretive” story than he and colleague Carl Bernstein have ever written before. White House press secretary Ron Ziegler refuses to answer questions about the story 29 separate times in a press conference held just after the story is published. Woodward later writes that he is astonished the FBI never responded to the story, even though information sourced from the bureau is heavily cited throughout the story. Woodward later learns that the FBI had repeatedly declined to investigate Segretti. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 149-150; Woodward, 2005, pp. 75-81]

Entity Tags: Carl Bernstein, Committee to Re-elect the President, Edmund Muskie, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, Hubert H. Humphrey, Federal Bureau of Investigation, W. Mark Felt, Bob Woodward, Ken Clawson, Ron Ziegler, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein learns that Justice Department lawyers are wrangling over how to deal with the allegations of President Nixon’s criminal involvement in the Watergate cover-up. Some of them believe that Nixon cannot be indicted for criminal actions unless he is first impeached and removed from office. One Justice Department attorney confirms that had Nixon not been the president, he already would have been indicted for obstruction of justice and other crimes. But the lawyers are not even sure that Nixon can legally be subpoenaed to testify before the Watergate grand jury. “Of course, the president can’t be called,” says one, “and of course it would be justified.” White House press secretary Ron Ziegler insists that it would be “constitutionally inappropriate” for Nixon to testify before the grand jury, and a subpoena “would do violence to the separation of powers.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 323-324]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Richard M. Nixon, Ron Ziegler, Carl Bernstein

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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