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Two White House aides, Frederick LaRue and G. Gordon Liddy, attend a meeting of the Nixon presidential campaign, the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), where it is agreed that the organization will spend $250,000 to conduct an “intelligence gathering” operation against the Democratic Party for the upcoming elections. (Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007) The members decide, among other things, to plant electronic surveillance devices in the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters (see April-June 1972). LaRue is a veteran of the 1968 Nixon campaign (see November 5, 1968), as is Liddy, a former FBI agent. (Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007; Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007) LaRue decides to pay the proposed “Special Investigations Unit,” later informally called the “Plumbers” (see Late June-July 1971), large amounts of “hush money” to keep them quiet. He tasks former New York City policeman Tony Ulasewicz with arranging the payments. LaRue later informs another Nixon aide, Hugh Sloan, that LaRue is prepared to commit perjury if necessary to protect the operation. A 1973 New York Times article will call LaRue “an elusive, anonymous, secret operator at the highest levels of the shattered Nixon power structure.” (Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007) The FBI will later determine that this decision took place between March 20 and 30, 1972, not 1971 (see March 20-30, 1972). In this case, the FBI timeline is almost certainly in error, since the “Plumbers” break-in of the offices of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist came well before this date (see September 9, 1971).
The New York Times publishes its third installment of the “Pentagon Papers” (see June 13, 1971 and June 14, 1971). A furious President Nixon demands an immediate court injunction to keep the paper from printing more excerpts. He orders: “I want to know who is behind this and I want the most complete investigation that can be conducted.… I don’t want excuses. I want results. I want it done, whatever the cost.” Secretary of State Henry Kissinger informs Nixon that he believes Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the documents to the Times, is a “fanatic” and a “drug abuser.” Attorney General John Mitchell says that Ellsberg must be part of a communist “conspiracy” and suggests he be tried for treason. Nixon calls together a group of loyal White House aides to investigate Ellsberg’s leak of classified documents. The group will become known as the “plumbers” for their task to “plug the leaks” (see Late June-July 1971). Other undercover operators, including CIA agent E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, are recruited by White House special counsel Charles Colson. (Herda 1994)
President Nixon authorizes the creation of a “special investigations unit,” later nicknamed the “Plumbers,” to root out and seal media leaks. The first target is Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press (see June 13, 1971); the team will burglarize the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis Fielding, in hopes of securing information that the White House can use to smear Ellsberg’s character and undermine his credibility (see September 9, 1971). Nixon aide John Ehrlichman, who supervises the “Plumbers,” will later say that the Ellsberg burglary is “the seminal Watergate episode.” Author Barry Werth will later write, “[L]ike all original sins, it held the complete DNA of subsequent misdeeds.” During the upcoming court battle over the documents, Nixon tells his aide Charles Colson: “We’ve got a countergovernment here and we’ve got to fight it. I don’t give a damn how it’s done. Do whatever has to be done to stop those leaks.… I don’t want to be told why it can’t be done.” Whatever damaging information the “Plumbers” can find on Ellsberg will be itself leaked to the press, Nixon says. “Don’t worry about his trial [referring to Ellsberg’s arrest on conspiracy and espionage charges (see June 28, 1971) ]. Just get everything out. Try him in the press… leak it out.” (Werth 2006, pp. 84-87) As he is wont to do, Nixon refers to his own success in convicting suspected Communist spy Alger Hiss in 1950. “We won the Hiss case in the papers,” he says. “We did. I had to leak stuff all over the place. Because the Justice Department would not prosecute it.… It was won in the papers…. I leaked out the papers. I leaked everything.… I leaked out the testimony. I had Hiss convicted before he ever got to the grand jury.” (Kutler 1997, pp. 10; Reeves 2001, pp. 337-338) In July 1973, FBI deputy director W. Mark Felt, the notorious “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005) will tell reporter Bob Woodward that Nixon created the Plumbers because the FBI would not do his bidding in regards to Ellsberg. Had the FBI agreed to investigate Ellsberg to the extent Nixon wanted, he would not have created the “Plumbers.” “The problem was that we [the FBI] wouldn’t burglarize” (see June 30-July 1, 1971), Felt will say. Ehrlichman will later testify, “Those fellows were going out as substitutes for the FBI.” (Woodward 2005, pp. 107)
As another assignment for the newly formed “Plumbers” (see Late June-July 1971), President Nixon orders chief of staff H. R. Haldeman to have the Brookings Institute burglarized (see June 17, 1972). The Brookings Institute is a Washington think tank which Nixon believes has copies of the Pentagon Papers. As secretly recorded, Nixon tells Haldeman: “I want the break-in. Hell, they do that” [presumably referring to the Democrats]. “They have a lot of material. I want—the way I want that handled, Bob, is get it over. I want Brooking. Just break in. Break in and take it out. You understand.” Haldeman replies: “Yeah. But you have to get somebody to do it.” Nixon says: “Well, you—that’s what I’m just telling you. Now don’t discuss it here. You’re to break into the place, rifle the files, and bring them out.” Haldeman is untroubled by the order: “I don’t have any problem with breaking in.” Nixon is direct in his orders for the burglary: “Just go in and take them. Go in around 8 or 9 o’clock. That’s right. You go in and inspect and clean it out.… We’re up against an enemy, a conspiracy. They’re using any means. We are going to use any means. Is that clear?” The next day, Nixon repeats: “Get it done. I want it done. I want the Brookings Institute’s safe cleaned out.” (PBS 1/2/1997; Reeves 2001, pp. 339; Werth 2006, pp. 84-87)
"Talk to Hunt" - When asked who will do it, Nixon replies: “That’s what I’m talking about. Don’t discuss it here. You talk to Hunt.” Nixon is referring to E. Howard Hunt, a recently retired CIA officer currently performing secret operations for Nixon’s aide Charles Colson. Haldeman says approvingly that CIA director Richard Helms “says he’s ruthless, quiet, careful. He’s kind of a tiger.… He spent 20 years in the CIA overthrowing governments.” (Reeves 2001, pp. 339)
"Black-Bag" Team Assembled - Ehrlichman’s deputies Egil “Bud” Krogh and David Young, whom he has put in charge of the operation, soon report that they’ve assembled a “black-bag” team and have recommended a “covert operation” to burglarize an office at the Institute. (Krogh sums up Nixon’s thinking quite eloquently: “Anyone who opposes us, we’ll destroy. As a matter of fact, anyone who doesn’t support us, we’ll destroy.”) Ehrlichman approves the project, noting it must not be “traceable.” The same team of burglars who rifle the office will later be used to break into the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate Hotel (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). (Herda 1994; Fremon 1998; Werth 2006, pp. 84-87) The Brookings Institution burglary never takes place. (PBS 1/2/1997) Ehrlichman will later claim that the Institution was never burglarized because he “shot it down” (see Late December-Early January 1997). (Herda 1994)
Newspaper Editor Targeted for Burglary - Another project, which also apparently never takes place, involves stealing documents from the safe of the editor of the Las Vegas Sun, Hank Greenspun. “Plumbers” burglar James McCord will later explain that Greenspun is a target because of his relationship with eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes and former Hughes associate Robert Maheu, and that Maheu has damaging information on a Democratic presidential candidate, Edmund Muskie, that the Nixon aides want. However, author Carl Oglesby will later claim that the material refers to Nixon and not to Muskie. (Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007; Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007) In 2001, historian Richard Reeves writes that the files contain information about Nixon and Democratic National Committee chairman Lawrence O’Brien. Nixon’s close friend and political financier Charles “Bebe” Rebozo had just gotten $50,000 in campaign cash from Hughes, and O’Brien is earning $13,000 a month lobbying for one of Hughes’s corporations. (Reeves 2001, pp. 431)
Call Girl Operation Turned Down - Another “Plumber,” G. Gordon Liddy, suggests using a coterie of Washington, DC call girls to infiltrate the Democratic campaign organization and bring out information, a suggestion that is not seriously considered. (Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007)
Inappropriate Conversation? - During the discussion, White House counsel John Dean interrupts to say, “Excuse me for saying this, but I don’t think this kind of conversation should go on in the attorney general’s office.” They are meeting in the office of Attorney General John Mitchell. (Reeves 2001, pp. 431)
Nixon White House aides Charles Colson and John Ehrlichman appoint former CIA agent E. Howard Hunt to the White House staff. Hunt will become a key figure in the “Plumbers” unit that will burglarize and plant surveillance devices in the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee (see April-June 1972). (Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007) Hunt is a longtime US intelligence veteran, having started with the CIA’s predecessor, the Office of Special Services (OSS) during World War II. He worked extensively in Central America during the 1950s, helping build the US’s relationship with Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, working to topple the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz of Guatamala, and coordinating US efforts against Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Hunt also writes spy novels. (Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007)
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. (Martinez and Barker 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. (Martinez and Barker 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.” (Martinez and Barker 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)
According to Watergate burglar Eugenio Martinez (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), White House aide E. Howard Hunt, whom he calls by his old CIA code name “Eduardo” (see September 9, 1971), is ratcheting up the activities of the White House “Plumbers” operation. Martinez is not yet aware of the nature of the team’s operations, but believes he is part of a black-ops, CIA-authorized organization working to foil Communist espionage activities. Hunt gives team member Bernard Barker $89,000 in checks from Mexican banks to cash for operational funds, and orders Barker to recruit new team members. Barker brings in Frank Sturgis, Virgilio Gonzalez, and Reinaldo Pico, all veterans of the CIA’s activities against Cuba’s Fidel Castro. On May 22, the six—Hunt, Barker, Gonzalez, Martinez, Pico, and Sturgis—meet for the first time at the Manger Hays-Adams Hotel in Washington for Hunt’s first briefing. By this point, Martinez will later recall, G. Gordon Liddy, who had been involved in the burglary related to Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, is involved. Hunt calls Liddy “Daddy,” and, Martinez recalls, “the two men seemed almost inseparable.” They meet another team member, James McCord, who unbeknownst to Martinez is an official with Nixon’s presidential campaign (see June 19, 1972). McCord is introduced simply as “Jimmy,” an “old man from the CIA who used to do electronic jobs for the CIA and the FBI.” McCord is to be the electronics expert.
Plans to Break into McGovern HQ - Martinez says that the group is joined by “a boy there who had infiltrated the McGovern headquarters,” the headquarters of the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern. According to Hunt, they are going to find evidence proving that the Democrats are accepting money from Castro and other foreign governments. (Interestingly, Martinez will write that he still believes McGovern accepted Cuban money.) Hunt soon aborts the mission; Martinez believes “it was because the boy got scared.”
New Plans: Target the DNC - Instead, he and Liddy begin planning to burglarize the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in the Watergate hotel and office complex. They all move into the Watergate to prepare for the break-in. Martinez will recall: “We brought briefcases and things like that to look elegant. We registered as members of the Ameritus Corporation of Miami, and then we met in Eduardo’s room.” The briefing is “improvised,” Martinez will recall. Hunt says that the Castro funds are coming to the DNC, not McGovern’s headquarters, and they will find the evidence there. The plans are rather impromptu and indefinite, but Martinez trusts Hunt and does not question his expertise. (Martinez and Barker 10/1974)
A covert unit of President Nixon’s “Plumbers” installs surveillance equipment in the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington’s Watergate hotel and office complex. The Washington police report an attempt to unscrew a lock on the door of the Committee’s office between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m., but do not know as yet who tried to force the lock. Some of the five men caught burglarizing the same offices six weeks later (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) are currently registered at the Watergate Hotel, according to subsequent police investigations. (Lewis 6/18/1972; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007)
Change of Plans - According to one of the burglary team (see April-June 1972), Eugenio Martinez, the original plan centers on a fake “banquet” in the Watergate hotel for their fake company, the Ameritus Corporation, to be held in a private dining room that has access to the elevators. While team leader and White House aide E. Howard Hunt hosts the banquet, Martinez and the other burglars will use the elevator to go to the DNC offices and “complete the mission.” Virgilio Gonzalez, a locksmith, will open the door; Frank Sturgis, Reinaldo Pico, and Felipe de Diego will act as lookouts; Bernard Barker will get the documents; Martinez will take photographs; and James McCord will “do his job,” apparently involving electronics that Martinez does not understand.
First Time Failure - Apparently they do not follow their plan. Instead, Hunt and the seven members of what Martinez calls “McCord’s army” enter the Watergate complex at midnight, and they enter and sign in under the eye of a policeman. McCord explains that they are all going to work at the Federal Reserve offices on the eighth floor, an explanation Martinez feels is shaky. They are unable to get in through the doors of the sixth floor, and are forced to cancel the operation. Martinez recalls that while the others attempt to get in to the sixth floor, McCord is busy doing something else on the eighth floor; at 2 a.m., he sees McCord on the eighth floor talking to two guards. What McCord is doing, Martinez does not know. “I did not ask questions, but I thought maybe McCord was working there,” he will later recall. “It was the only thing that made sense. He was the one who led us to the place and it would not have made sense for us to have rooms at the Watergate and go on this operation if there was not someone there on the inside.” Hunt is furious at the failure to get into the DNC offices, and reschedules the operation for the next night. Gonzales flies to Miami and brings back his entire set of lockpicking tools. Martinez questions the laxity of the plan—the lack of floor plans, information about the elevators, knowledge of the guards’ schedules, and no contingency plans for failure. Hunt tells him, through Barker: “You are an operative. Your mission is to do what you are told and not to ask questions.”
Success - The second try is successful. Gonzalez and Sturgis get through the doors and usher everyone in, with one of them calling over their walkie-talkie, “The horse is in the house.” Martinez recalls taking “thirty or forty” photographs of campaign contributor documents, and McCord plants three phone taps, telling the others that while the first two might be discovered, the third will not. They return to their hotel rooms about 5 a.m. (Martinez and Barker 10/1974)
After the “Plumbers” successfully install surveillance devices in the Watergate offices of the Democratic National Committee (see May 27-28, 1972), one of their associates, Alfred Baldwin—also an employee of the Nixon campaign—begins monitoring spoken and telephone conversations taking place inside the Democrats’ offices. (O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 )
According to later testimony to Watergate investigators, the deputy director of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), Jeb Magruder, delivers the logs of the wiretaps being secretly conducted on the Democrats by the “Plumbers” (see May 27-28, 1972 and May 29, 1972) to CREEP chairman John Mitchell. The wiretaps are code-named “Gemstone” (see September 29, 1972). Magruder also delivers photos taken inside the Democrats’ headquarters to Mitchell. Mitchell will deny ever receiving any of this material. (O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 )
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. (Lewis 6/18/1972) The real identities of the five are:
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.” (Lewis 6/18/1972; Woodward and Bernstein 6/19/1972) Barker owns a Miami real estate firm, Barker & Associates. (O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 )
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.”
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.
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).
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. (Lewis 6/18/1972; Woodward and Bernstein 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. (Lewis 6/18/1972; Woodward and Bernstein 6/19/1972)
The US Supreme Court, in what becomes informally known as the “Keith case,” upholds, 8-0, an appellate court ruling that strikes down warrantless surveillance of domestic groups for national security purposes. The Department of Justice had wiretapped, without court warrants, several defendants charged with destruction of government property; those wiretaps provided key evidence against the defendants. Attorney General John Mitchell refused to disclose the source of the evidence pursuant to the “national security” exception to the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. The courts disagreed, and the government appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which upheld the lower courts’ rulings against the government in a unanimous verdict. The Court held that the wiretaps were an unconstitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment, establishing the judicial precedent that warrants must be obtained before the government can wiretap a US citizen. (US Supreme Court 6/19/1972; Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 258-259) Critics of the Nixon administration have long argued that its so-called “Mitchell Doctrine” of warrantlessly wiretapping “subversives” has been misused to spy on anyone whom Nixon officials believe may be political enemies. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 258-259) As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision, Congress passes the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. (Conyers 5/14/2003)
Opinion of Justice Powell - Writing for the Court, Justice Lewis Powell observes: “History abundantly documents the tendency of Government—however benevolent and benign its motives—to view with suspicion those who most fervently dispute its policies. Fourth Amendment protections become the more necessary when the targets of official surveillance may be those suspected of unorthodoxy in their political beliefs. The danger to political dissent is acute where the government attempts to act under so vague a concept as the power to protect ‘domestic security.’ Given the difficulty of defining the domestic security interest, the danger of abuse in acting to protect that interest becomes apparent.” (US Supreme Court 6/19/1972)
Justice Department Wiretapped Reporters, Government Officials - In February 1973, the media will report that, under the policy, the Justice Department had wiretapped both reporters and Nixon officials themselves who were suspected of leaking information to the press (see May 1969 and July 26-27, 1970), and that some of the information gleaned from those wiretaps was given to “Plumbers” E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy for their own political espionage operations. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 258-259)
Conyers Hails Decision 30 Years Later - In 2003, Representative John Conyers (D-MI) will say on the floor of the House: “Prior to 1970, every modern president had claimed ‘inherent Executive power’ to conduct electronic surveillance in ‘national security’ cases without the judicial warrant required in criminal cases by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. Then Attorney General John Mitchell, on behalf of President Richard Nixon sought to wiretap several alleged ‘domestic’ terrorists without warrants, on the ground that it was a national security matter. Judge [Damon] Keith rejected this claim of the Sovereign’s inherent power to avoid the safeguard of the Fourth Amendment. He ordered the government to produce the wiretap transcripts. When the Attorney General appealed to the US Supreme Court, the Court unanimously affirmed Judge Keith. The Keith decision not only marked a watershed in civil liberties protection for Americans. It also led directly to the current statutory restriction on the government’s electronic snooping in national security cases.” (Conyers 5/14/2003)
Acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray refuses to allow FBI investigators to interview Kathleen Chenow, a former secretary to David Young. Young, a former aide to White House special counsel John Ehrlichman, is one of the lawyers tasked with coordinating the activities of the “Plumbers” (see Late June-July 1971). Gray says that he cannot allow the agents to interview Chenow because of “national security” concerns. Gray will later tell investigators that Chenow has returned to the US in a military helicopter, in the company of Fred Fielding, the assistant to White House counsel John Dean (see June 22, 1972). Fielding was ordered by Dean to find Chenow and bring her in to speak to the FBI. Gray then permits the FBI to interview Chenow, in Dean’s presence. Chenow is not forthcoming. The FBI will later note, “It appears likely the reason we had to wait to interview Chenow was because Dean wanted to brief her beforehand.” Similarly, Gray will delay FBI interviews with Young until Dean has a chance to confer with the former White House aide. (O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 )
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)
President Nixon tells his legal adviser Charles Colson of the lessons he has learned from Watergate. The whole conspiracy was “too g_ddamn close,” and, “That kind of operation should have been on the outside.” “Three steps removed,” Colson agrees. Nixon continues: “We had a White House man, a White House man, directly involved in a political operation, Chuck. You get the point.”
'We Did a Hell of a Lot of Things and Never Got Caught' - Colson, himself a White House man, attempts to dodge any blame that Nixon might be alluding to. “I did a hell of a lot of things on the outside—and you never read about them,” he says. “I didn’t do Watergate and Segretti (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond). I had nothing to do with [those].” Nixon muses: “Particularly with Segretti and the committee [the Committee to Re-elect the President]. It was a mistake to have it financed out of Kalmbach [Nixon’s personal lawyer]. It was very close to me.” “It was unnecessary,” Colson asserts. “I did things out of Boston, we did some blackmail, and you say, my God, I’ll go to my grave before I ever disclose it, but we did a hell of a lot of things and never got caught.” Nixon grumbles: “Our Democratic friends did a hell of a lot of things, too, and never got caught. Because they’re used to it. But our people were too g_ddamn naive, in my opinion, amateurish.”
Haldeman Warns Nixon about Colson - The next day, chief of staff H. R. Haldeman, just returning from a vacation, makes his own attempt to dodge blame. “Even though Colson’s going to be missed (see March 10, 1973), there was more to his involvement in some of this stuff [Watergate] than I realized.” “Colson? Does he know?” Nixon asks. “I think he knows,” Haldeman replies. “Does he know you know?” Nixon asks. “I don’t think he knows I know,” Haldeman returns. Haldeman is sure Colson has extensive knowledge of the Watergate operation through “Plumbers” E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, and warns that if Liddy “decides to pull the cord, Colson could be in some real soup,” adding: “Liddy can do it under oath and then Colson is in a position of having perjured himself [before the Watergate grand jury]. See, Colson and [former campaign director John] Mitchell have both perjured themselves under oath already.” Colson was not only aware of the Watergate surveillance operation, Haldeman says, but pressured Hunt and Liddy for results. Haldeman also believes that Mitchell is aware of Colson’s knowledge of the affair. (Reeves 2001, pp. 556-557)
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)
Bo Burlingame, a former member of the radical antiwar group the Weather Underground, interviews former Nixon White House aide Tom Charles Huston, the author of the notorious, unconstitutional “Huston Plan” (see July 14, 1970). Huston is just coming off a speech to a conservative audience in which he said that his plan, and Nixon’s attempt to seize executive power at the expense of Congress and the Constitution, was excessive and mistaken (see Late 1973). Huston, a lawyer, a former Army intelligence officer, and an early leader of the Indiana chapter of the conservative extremist group Young Americans for Freedom, tells Burlingame that he found an interesting parallel between his group of right-wing extremists and Burlingame’s left-wing extremists: “I was interested to learn that you people were frustrated because nobody was listening to you. You know, we felt the same thing at the White House. It seemed as if a momentous crisis was at hand, and nobody was aware of it or cared.”
Coup d'Etat Begins with Creation of Fear in Populace - Huston is contemptuous and dismissive of many of his former White House colleagues, particularly Richard Nixon. “Frankly, I wouldn’t put anything past him and those damn technocrats,” he says of Nixon and his senior aides. “[Y]ou can’t begin to compete with the professional Nixonites when it comes to deception.… If Nixon told them to nationalize the railroads, they’d have nationalized the railroads. If he’d told them to exterminate the Jews, they’d have exterminated the Jews.” He took a position with the White House in January 1969 “believing that things were finally going to be set straight.”
Disillusioned - Huston became increasingly disillusioned with the lack of idealism in the Nixon White House, and left after deciding that Nixon and his top officials were less interested in implementing true conservative reforms and more interested in merely accumulating power. The Nixon team was an apolitical, power-hungry bunch “whose intellectual tradition is rooted in the philosophy of [marketing and advertising guru] J. Walter Thompson.… This administration has done more to debauch conservative values than anything else in recent history.”
Fear and Repression - Considering his plan to abrogate the fundamental rights of hundreds of thousands of Americans, Huston seems quite supportive of those rights even in the face of national danger. “The real threat to national security is repression,” he had told a New York Times interviewer not long before the Burlingame interview. “A handful of people can’t frontally overthrow the government. But if they can engender enough fear, they can generate an atmosphere that will bring out every repressive demagogue in the country.”
Explaining the Huston Plan - Huston explains the rationale behind his radically repressive plan, telling Burlingame that the country was on the brink of mass insurrection and the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover was not doing nearly enough to combat the civil rights and antiwar protesters, particularly groups like the Black Panthers and Burlingame’s Weather Underground. By early 1970, many in the White House were ready to ease Hoover out of power; when, shortly thereafter, the mass protests against the Cambodia bombings (see February 23-24, 1969 and April 24-30, 1970) and the Jackson State and Kent State shootings (see May 4-5, 1970) occurred, Huston and others at the White House thought there was a far more organized and systematic underground, left-wing revolution going on than they had evidence to document. “We just didn’t believe we were getting the whole story,” he says.
Removing Hoover - Getting rid of Hoover and replacing him with someone more amenable to the White House’s agenda was the first goal, Huston says. The June 1970 “Interagency Committee on Intelligence” (see June 5, 1970) was designed to maneuver around Hoover and have him implicitly authorize counter-insurrection methods that he had always opposed, including “surreptitious entry” and “covert mail coverage.” The committee was the genesis of the Huston Plan. But Hoover stops the plan in its tracks by going through Attorney General John Mitchell. Whatever he said to Mitchell is not known, but Mitchell chewed out Huston and saw to it that the plan was terminated. Huston says that the unit of illegal campaign operatives later known as the “Plumbers” (see July 20, 1971) stems in part from the White House’s inability to force Hoover from power. Had Hoover made the FBI available to conduct the illegal burglaries and surveillances that Nixon wanted done—had Nixon supported the Huston Plan—the Plumbers would have never come into existence. “I find that totally indefensible,” Huston observes.
Ethical Confusion - Burlingame is bemused by Huston’s apparent ethical schizophrenia—on the one hand, Huston has come out strongly for constitutional freedoms, and on the other hand is now saying that his plan, which he himself has long admitted was blatantly illegal, would have avoided the entire Watergate contretemps and would have worked to bring the country into line. In fact, Huston asserts, he believed at the time that the Watergate conspiracy was completely legal. “I took the view that in internal security matters the president had the right to infringe on what would, in other circumstances, be constitutional rights, but that decision encompassed a decision that you forfeit the right to prosecute.” This view is why he left the Justice Department entirely out of the loop on his plan, he says.
Deliberately Keeping outside the Framework of the Law - The entire Huston plan would have never been used for anything except intelligence-gathering, he says. It was necessary for the plan to be exercised outside the structure of US law, he says. “[Y]ou don’t want a constitutional or legal mandate,” he says. “You don’t want to institutionalize the excesses required to meet extraordinary threats. The law just can’t anticipate all the contingencies.” He now thinks that he went too far with pushing for extraordinary powers; that if Hoover could have been eased out of power, the FBI could have done what needed doing without breaking the law. Burlingame writes that he cannot help but think that Huston is employing “tortured legalisms” to “cover his flank,” and questions Huston’s portrait of himself as an increasingly marginalized conservative idealist who became so disillusioned with the amoral power-mad bureaucrats of the Nixon administration that he walked out rather than further jeopardize his own principles. (Burlingame 10/1974)
G. Gordon Liddy, one of the “Plumbers,” is convicted of an array of crimes related to the Ellsberg break-in (see September 9, 1971), and is sentenced from six to twenty years in prison. He faces concurrent charges of violating the civil rights of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis Fielding (see March 7, 1974). (O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 )
Special prosecutor Leon Jaworski issues a subpoena for 64 formerly secret Watergate tapes (see July 13-16, 1973). The case will be decided in the Supreme Court (see July 24, 1974). (Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007) Jaworski also demands information concerning:
The possible “sale” of ambassadorships to large campaign contributors (see March-April 1972);
The Nixon administration’s settlement of the ITT antitrust lawsuit (see 1969);
The White House’s negotiation with milk producers to artificially inflate prices in return for campaign contributions (see March 23, 1971);
President Nixon’s notes on his daily news summaries;
Former Nixon aide John Ehrlichman’s records on his dealings with the “Plumbers” (see July 20, 1971);
Other Nixon conversations concerning the Watergate cover-up; and
The location of the tape containing the 18 1/2 minute gap (see November 21, 1973) during the time when Nixon claimed the tapes were in his custody. (Reeves 2001, pp. 607)
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