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Context of 'Mid-January, 1973: Reporter Learns of Fundamental Investigative Failures of FBI'

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Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward learns that two of the Watergate burglars (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) have the name “E. Howard Hunt” in their address books, both with notations that indicate Hunt has a post at the White House. Woodward contacts his FBI source, W. Mark Felt—later known as “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005)—and asks Felt the first of many Watergate-related questions. Felt is reticent, merely telling Woodward that the burglary will “heat up” before hanging up on Woodward. Unsure what to do next, Woodward calls the White House and asks for Hunt. When no one answers Hunt’s office phone, the White House operator suggests that Hunt may be in the office of Charles Colson, the special counsel to President Nixon. Colson’s office gives Woodward the number of the Mullen Company, a public relations firm for which Hunt writes (Mullen is a possible CIA front company—see June 17, 1972). Woodward calls Hunt there, and when Hunt answers, asks him why his name is in the address book of two of the Watergate burglars. “Good God!” Hunt shouts, then says he has no comment, and slams down the phone. Within hours, Hunt will go into hiding. White House communications official Ken Clawson tells Woodward that Hunt worked with the White House in declassifying the Pentagon Papers (see March 1971), and, more recently, on a narcotics enforcement project. Clawson then puzzles Woodward by making the following unsolicited statement: “I’ve looked into the matter very thoroughly, and I am convinced that neither Mr. Colson nor anyone else at the White House had any knowledge of, or participation in, this deplorable incident at the Democratic National Committee.” Woodward soon learns that Hunt was a CIA agent between 1949 and 1970. Woodward again calls Felt, who guardedly tells him that Hunt is connected to the burglaries by far more than mere address books. Felt does not tell Woodward that he has already reviewed Hunt’s White House personnel file, and found that Hunt worked over 600 hours for Colson in less than a year. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 24-25; Woodward, 2005, pp. 56-58]

Entity Tags: W. Mark Felt, Bob Woodward, Charles Colson, Mullen Company, Democratic National Committee, Ken Clawson, E. Howard Hunt

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

White House secretary Kathleen Chenow (see June 28-July 3, 1972) confirms the existence of the “Plumbers,” the extralegal operation tasked with finding and closing media leaks (see Late June-July 1971). According to Chenow, the unit is made up of White House and Nixon campaign aides David Young, G. Gordon Liddy, E. Howard Hunt, and Egil Krogh. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file] Chenow says that Nixon’s senior aide John Ehrlichman supervised the activities of the unit. She explains: “Originally the administration had wanted a study of how close the New York Times version of the Pentagon Papers (see March 1971) was to the actual documents. Then they tried to determine how the Pentagon Papers got out. That started it all, the business of looking for leaks. For a while, they were studying State Department leaks. They checked embassy cables and tried to put two and two together about whose desks the cables went across.” The “Plumbers” also investigated reporter Jack Anderson. Chenow says that when she was interviewed by the FBI in April, Young, White House counsel John Dean, and Dean’s aide Fred Fielding were present. She adds that when she subsequently testified before the Watergate grand jury, she was puzzled that prosecutor Earl Silbert never asked her about Ehrlichman. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 215-217]

Entity Tags: Jack Anderson, Earl Silbert, E. Howard Hunt, David Young, Egil Krogh, G. Gordon Liddy, John Dean, John Ehrlichman, Fred F. Fielding, Kathleen Chenow

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

After the first day of testimony in the Watergate trial (see January 8-11, 1973), Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein piles into a taxicab with the four Miami-based Watergate burglars and their lawyer, and accompanies them to the airport and even onto the plane one of them is taking in order to have a conversation—an impromptu interview—with one of the men. (In the book All the President’s Men, Bernstein does not identify the subject of the conversation.) The airborne conversation flows with surprising ease. Bernstein learns that E. Howard Hunt has been pressuring the others for a week to plead guilty; their families will be cared for financially, and they will certainly receive some sort of executive clemency within a few months. Hunt is once again serving as a “case officer” giving orders to his lower-level operatives. Their lawyer, Henry Rothblatt (see Early January, 1973), is furious, and has instructed his clients to “stay away from that son of a b_tch Hunt.” (Hunt’s lawyer, William Bittman, denies that Hunt pressured anyone to do anything.) Bernstein, colleague Bob Woodward, and Post editors are leery of publishing the story, worrying that the trial judge, John Sirica, might consider the interview a possible obstruction of justice or interference with the trial. The next day, the New York Times’s Seymour Hersh prints a story that says burglar Frank Sturgis believes former Nixon campaign chief John Mitchell knew about, and even encouraged, the Watergate operation. Time magazine claims that the four Miami burglars will receive $1,000 a month for their jail sentences. And columnist Jack Anderson writes that campaign money for the defendants is being funneled through burglar E. Howard Hunt. Emboldened by the other stories, the Post prints Bernstein’s story. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 232-233]

Entity Tags: John Sirica, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, E. Howard Hunt, Henry Rothblatt, William O. Bittman, Seymour Hersh, John Mitchell, Jack Anderson

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

During the Watergate trial of G. Gordon Liddy and James McCord (see January 30, 1973), Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward begin poring over the exhibits and papers filed as evidence with the court. Woodward begins calling the phone numbers listed in the address books of the burglars (see June 18, 1972). He is told by one of the first people he calls: “The FBI? They never, never contacted me. I never talked to them.” Woodward is appalled that the FBI has made such a fundamental investigative failure of not calling all of the people listed in the books. (An FBI internal report will later attempt to explain the lapse—see July 5, 1974.)
Woodward Calls Witnesses - When the court releases the names of upcoming witnesses, Woodward begins calling them, too. He asks one witness, who knows burglar E. Howard Hunt (see January 8-9, 1973) very well, what he will testify to. “I’ll tell you what I could testify to, but [prosecutor Earl] Silbert won’t ask,” the witness replies. “If the judge does or any of the attorneys, I’ll say it.” The witness has already told everything he knows to Silbert and FBI investigators.
Ehrlichman Allegedly Ran Plumbers - He says that if asked, he would tell the court that, according to Hunt, White House aide John Ehrlichman was in charge of the Plumbers (see December 7, 1972). Hunt would have rather dealt with another White House aide, Charles Colson, “because Colson understood that such [secret intelligence gathering operations against political opponents] are necessary.” Ehrlichman was reluctant to implement some of Hunt’s schemes, the witness says, but Colson pushed them through. Former Nixon campaign chief John Mitchell received typed logs and reports of the wiretaps on the Democrats, the witness says.
Conspiracy Linked to Dean - Most surprisingly for Woodward, the witness says that when Hunt was in hiding from investigators (see June 18, 1972) and demanding a lawyer, he insisted that White House counsel John Dean find him one. This is the first time anyone has publicly connected Dean to the Watergate conspiracy.
Not Asked - As the witness predicts, he will not be asked any of this when he testifies. Woodward and Bernstein write a long analysis of the trial, headlined “Still Secret: Who Hired Spies and Why,” observing that the Liddy/McCord trial is notable for “questions that were not asked, answers that were not given, witnesses who were not called to testify, and some lapses of memory by those who were.” At the bond hearing for Liddy and McCord after the trial, Judge John Sirica will say that he hopes the proposed Senate investigation (see February 7, 1973) can find out what the trials did not. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 237-241]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, ’Plumbers’, Charles Colson, Earl Silbert, John Dean, John Mitchell, James McCord, G. Gordon Liddy, John Sirica, E. Howard Hunt, John Ehrlichman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

W. Mark Felt.W. Mark Felt. [Source: Southern Methodist University]Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward once again meets with his FBI background source, W. Mark Felt—known around the Post offices as “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005). Felt says that everyone in the FBI knows, or is convinced, that former Nixon campaign chief John Mitchell and White House aide Charles Colson were the driving forces behind the “Plumbers,” the “special investigative unit” that carried out illegal surveillance and burglaries for the Nixon re-election campaign (see Late June-July 1971). “Colson’s role was active,” Felt says. “Mitchell’s position was more ‘amoral’ and less active—giving the nod but not conceiving the scheme.” While no one at the bureau doubts this, Felt says, there is only “the weakest circumstantial evidence” to prove it. “‘Insulation’ is the key word to understand why the evidence can’t be developed.” He adds, perhaps challengingly, “If the FBI couldn’t prove it, I don’t think the Washington Post can.” Mitchell and Colson sponsored convicted Watergate burglars G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, Felt says. “And if you’ll check, you’ll find that Liddy and Hunt had reputations that are the lowest. The absolute lowest. Hiring these two was immoral. They got exactly what they wanted. Liddy wanted to tap the New York Times and everybody knew it. And not everybody was laughing about it. Mitchell, among others, liked the idea.” (The scheme to wiretap the Times was never carried out.) With the convictions of the burglars (see January 8-11, 1973 and January 30, 1973), the White House’s plan now is to contain the damage and prevent any congressional hearings from finding out anything further. The key to the damage-control plan, Felt says, is the broad claim of presidential “executive privilege” to keep investigators from subpoenaing White House records. Someone from inside the conspiracy is going to have to crack, Felt says, or there will never be more than rumor and circumstantial evidence that will prove nothing. Felt is disgusted with the FBI investigation’s deliberate narrowness (see Mid-January, 1973), saying that it could have gone far deeper and farther afield than it did. “The efforts to separate the Watergate and the espionage-sabotage operations are a lot of bullsh_t,” he says. After heated discussions over Felt’s latest revelations, Woodward and his colleague Carl Bernstein decide there is not enough concrete evidence for a new story. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 243-246]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Charles Colson, G. Gordon Liddy, E. Howard Hunt, Nixon administration, New York Times, John Mitchell, W. Mark Felt

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

G. Gordon Liddy.G. Gordon Liddy. [Source: Robert Maass / Corbis]Following on the five guilty pleas of their fellow defendants (see January 8-11, 1973), the final two Watergate defendants, G. Gordon Liddy and James McCord, are found guilty of conspiracy, burglary, and wiretapping Democratic headquarters. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] During the trial, the court hears damning testimony from confessed Watergate accomplice Alfred Baldwin (see Mid-January 1973) and former Nixon campaign treasurer Hugh Sloan (see January 23, 1973). As the trial progressed, the stolid solidarity of the defendants began to crack, with Liddy’s lawyer attempting to shift the blame for criminal actions onto E. Howard Hunt, who pled guilty three weeks before. McCord’s lawyer won little sympathy from the jury by attacking Judge John Sirica’s impartiality and competence during the trial. Prosecutor Earl Silbert, calling Liddy “the leader of the conspiracy, the moneyman, the boss,” told the jury in his final statement, “[W]hen people cannot get together for political purposes without fear that their premises will be burglarized, their conversations bugged, their phones tapped… you breed distrust, you breed suspicion, you lost confidence, faith and credibility.” He asked for “a verdict that will help restore the faith in the democratic system that has been so damaged by the conduct of these two defendants and their coconspirators.” The jury takes a mere 90 minutes to return its verdict. Sirica orders the two immediately jailed while he considers bail. [Washington Post, 1/31/1973; Reeves, 2001, pp. 567]

Entity Tags: John Sirica, Alfred Baldwin, James McCord, Earl Silbert, E. Howard Hunt, Hugh Sloan, G. Gordon Liddy

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Sam Ervin.Sam Ervin. [Source: Wally McNamee / Corbis]The US Senate votes 77-0 to create the Select Committee on Presidential Activities, which comes to be known as the Senate Watergate Committee. The chairman is Sam Ervin (D-NC), whose carefully cultivated image as a folksy “country lawyer” camouflages a keen legal mind. Ervin’s deputy is Howard Baker (R-TN). [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Senate Republicans attempt to dilute the effectiveness of the investigative committee with resolutions demanding probes into the 1964 and 1968 elections as well—Hugh Scott (R-PA) says there is “wholesale evidence of wiretapping against the Republicans” in the 1968 campaign, yet refuses to present any evidence—but those resolutions fail in floor votes. After the vote, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward learns that the resolutions were drafted by White House lawyers. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 250-251] Ervin, already chosen to head the committee, told fellow senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who held his own ineffective senatorial investigation, that he knew little more about the Watergate conspiracy than what he read in the papers, but “I know the people around [President] Nixon, and that’s enough. They’re thugs.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 247] Ervin has already contacted Woodward and asked him to help him compile information. Ervin implies that he wants Woodward to convince his unnamed sources to come forward and testify. Woodward demurs, but he and colleague Carl Bernstein write a story reporting Ervin’s intention to call President Nixon’s top aides, including H. R. Haldeman, to testify. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 93-94] Woodward does suggest that Ervin should take a hard look at the secret campaign “slush fund” (see Early 1970 and September 29, 1972), and that everything he and Bernstein have found points to a massive undercover operation led by Haldeman. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 247-249]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, H.R. Haldeman, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Howard Baker, Hugh Scott, Sam Ervin, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

The Justice Department’s Office of Planning and Evaluation (OPE) submits a report on the role and actions of the FBI in the Watergate investigations. The report finds that, even with the attempts of former Attorneys General John Mitchell and Richard Kleindienst, White House aides John Dean and Jeb Magruder, and others to “mislead and thwart the Bureau’s legitimate line of inquiry,” and the “contrived covers” used to direct attention away from the White House, the FBI investigation was “the ultimate key to the solution of not only the Watergate break-in (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) but the cover itself.” The report continues: “There can be no question that the actions of former Attorneys General Mitchell and Kleindienst served to thwart and/or impede the Bureau’s investigative effort. The actions of John W. Dean at the White House and Jeb S. Magruder at the Committee to Re-elect the President were purposefully designed to mislead and thwart the Bureau’s legitimate line of inquiry. At every stage of the investigation there were contrived covers placed in order to mislead the investigators.” The OPE notes the following problems in the investigation, and provides explanations of some:
bullet Providing information concerning ongoing investigations to the White House, and allowing Dean to actually sit in on interviews of White House personnel (see June 22, 1972).
bullet Failing to interview key members of CREEP, the Nixon re-election campaign organization, as well as allowing CREEP attorneys to sit in on interviews of CREEP employees and allowing those attorneys access to FBI investigative materials. The report says that the investigation initially focused on James McCord and E. Howard Hunt, and interviewed CREEP officials tied directly to them. The net was widened later on. However, the report acknowledges that many CREEP employees undoubtedly lied to FBI investigators, “most notably John Mitchell, Jeb Magruder, Bart Porter, Sally Harmony, and Maurice Stans.” Porter and Magruder in particular “lied most convincingly.” Another CREEP employee, Robert Reisner (Magruder’s assistant), was not interviewed because Reisner successfully hid from FBI investigators. The FBI believes it was Reisner who cleaned out the “Operation Gemstone” files from Magruder’s office (see January 29, 1972 and September 29, 1972). Numerous other financial and other files were also destroyed after being requested by the FBI, most notably Alfred Baldwin’s surveillance tapes and logs from the Democratic offices in the Watergate (see May 29, 1972). Many of these files were destroyed by G. Gordon Liddy. “It is apparent that most [CREEP] people in the summer of 1972 were quite willing to lie and/or tell us considerably less than the full truth,” the report notes.
bullet An untenable delay in searching and securing Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt’s desk in the White House, putting the contents of that desk at risk of being removed, and the “[a]lleged activities by former Acting Director [L. Patrick] Gray to limit, contain, or obstruct FBI investigation of Watergate” (see June 22, 1972). Gray is known to have destroyed materials from Hunt’s desk given to him by Dean, and is known to have extensively interfered with the FBI’s investigation (see June 28-29, 1972 and Late December 1972). The report notes that while it cannot find specific evidence that Gray broke any laws in his attempts to impede the FBI’s investigation into the Watergate conspiracy, it is clear that Gray cooperated with the White House, specifically through Dean, to ensure that the White House was always aware of what avenues of investigation were being pursued. The OPE says that Gray’s destruction of files from Hunt’s safe did not necessarily impede the FBI’s investigation, because it has no way of knowing what was in those files. The report says that it is unfortunate that “many people make no distinction between the FBI’s actions and Mr. Gray’s actions.”
bullet Failure to interview key individuals with knowledge of the suspicious monies found in the burglars’ bank accounts.
bullet Failing to secure and execute search warrants for the burglars’ homes, automobiles, and offices. The OPE says that many of those issuing this criticism “should know better,” and claims that the FBI agents involved did their level best to obtain search warrants within the bounds of the law. The report notes that after the burglary, the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case, Earl Silbert, did not believe there was probable cause to search burglar James McCord’s home or office until after July 10, 1972, when Baldwin told the FBI that he had taken surveillance equipment to McCord’s home (see June 17, 1972). Even then, Silbert decided that because of the amount of time—23 days—that had expired, a search warrant would have been pointless.
bullet Failing to identify and interview a number of people listed in the burglars’ address books. The OPE report notes that the decision to interview far less than half of the names in the books was made by FBI agents in the Miami field office, and due to the “fast moving extensive investigation which was then being conducted,” the decision to only track down a selected few from the books was right and proper. The report notes that subsequent interviews by reporters of some of the people in the address books elicited no new information. The report also notes that Gray refused to countenance interviews of the remaining subjects in the address book while the trial of the seven burglars (see January 8-11, 1973) was underway.
bullet Failing to find and remove a surveillance device from the Democratic National Committee headquarters (see September 13, 1972). The OPE calls this failure “inexplicable.”
bullet Failure to thoroughly investigate CREEP agent Donald Segretti (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond) and other CREEP operatives. The OPE finds that because Segretti was initially uncooperative with FBI investigators, and because an “extensive investigation” turned up nothing to connect Segretti with the Watergate conspiracy, the agents chose not to continue looking into Segretti’s actions. Only after press reports named Segretti as part of a massive, White House-directed attempt to subvert the elections process (see October 7, 1972) did the FBI discuss reopening its investigation into Segretti. After reviewing its information, the FBI decided again not to bother with Segretti. The OPE finds that the decision was valid, because Segretti had not apparently broken any federal laws, and the FBI does not conduct violations of election laws unless specifically requested to do so by the Justice Department. The report also says that politics were a concern: by opening a large, extensive investigation into the Nixon campaign’s “dirty tricks,” that investigation might have impacted the upcoming presidential elections.
bullet Media leaks from within the FBI concerning key details about the investigation (see May 31, 2005). The report finds no evidence to pin the blame for the leaks on any particular individual. The report notes that New York Times reporter John Crewdson seemed to have unwarranted access to FBI documents and files, but says it has turned that matter over to another agency inside the bureau.
bullet Failing to interview, or adequately interview, key White House officials such as H. R. Haldeman, Charles Colson, Dwight Chapin, and others. The report justifies the decision not to interview Haldeman because the FBI had no information that Haldeman had any knowledge of, or involvement in, the burglary itself.
bullet “Alleged attempt on part of Department of Justice officials to limit, contain, or obstruct FBI investigation.” The report is particularly critical of Kleindienst’s concealment of his contact with Liddy about the burglary (see June 17, 1972).
bullet “Alleged attempt by CIA officials to interfere, contain, or impede FBI Watergate investigation.” The report notes that during the Senate Watergate Committee hearings, Republican co-chairman Howard Baker (R-TN) tried repeatedly to assert that the CIA was behind the burglary. The report calls Baker’s theory “intriguing” but says no evidence of CIA involvement on any operational level was ever found. The report notes that there is still no explanation for the discussions regarding the CIA paying the burglars (see June 26-29, 1972), or the CIA’s involvement with Hunt before the burglary—loaning him cameras, providing him with materials for a disguise, and helping Hunt get film from the first burglary developed. According to the report, Gray stopped the FBI from pursuing these leads. The FBI report says that the CIA involvement apparently had nothing to do with the Watergate burglary, but was more in support of Hunt’s activities with the Ellsberg break-in (see September 9, 1971).
bullet “Alleged activities on part of White House officials to limit, contain, or obstruct FBI Watergate investigation (Dean, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Colson, et cetera).” The report notes, “There is absolutely no question but that the president’s most senior associates at the White House conspired with great success for nine months to obstruct our investigation.” The report says it was “common knowledge” throughout the investigation that the White House was paying only “lip service” to investigators’ requests for honest, complete answers; the report cites Dean as a specific offender. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file]

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