Profile: Charles Colson
Charles Colson was a participant or observer in the following events:
ITT logo. [Source: Private Line.com]International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) acquires three smaller corporations, prompting the US Justice Department to file suits against ITT charging that the mergers violate antitrust laws. Between 1969 and April 1971, ITT officials meet with several Nixon administration officials, including Vice President Spiro Agnew; White House aides John Ehrlichman, Charles Colson, and Egil Krogh; Cabinet secretaries John Connally and Maurice Stans; Justice Department officials John Mitchell and Richard Kleindienst; and others, in attempts to persuade the administration to drop the lawsuits. [The People's Almanac, 1981]
Entity Tags: John Ehrlichman, Charles Colson, Egil Krogh, John Connally, US Department of Justice, Richard Kleindienst, John Mitchell, Maurice Stans, International Telephone and Telegraph, Nixon administration, Spiro T. Agnew
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Nixon aide Charles Colson and Colson’s aide George Bell begin working on an “enemies list,” people and organizations the White House believes are inimical to President Nixon and his agenda (see June 27, 1973). The initial list includes a group of reporters who may have written favorably about Nixon and his actions in the past, but who cannot be trusted to continue, and a second group of reporters who are considered “definitely hostile.” A second list, from White House aide Tom Charles Huston, is staggeringly long, and includes, in historian Richard Reeves’s words, “most every man or woman who had ever said a discouraging word about Nixon.” A third list is made up of “enemy” organizations, including several left-of-center think tanks and foundations, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the AFL-CIO. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 297-298]
Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and Nixon aides H.R. Haldeman and Charles Colson celebrate a breakthrough in the US-Soviet SALT II disarmament talks by taking a dinner cruise on the presidential yacht “Sequoia.” The conversation turns to the subject of press leaks, and Nixon vows: “One day we will get them—we’ll get them on the ground where we want them. And we’ll stick our heels in, step on them hard and twist—right, Chuck, right? Henry knows what I mean—just like you do in negotiating, Henry—get them on the floor and step on them, crush them, show no mercy.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 346]
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]
Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, New York Times, John Mitchell, David Young, Daniel Ellsberg, Henry A. Kissinger, Charles Colson, E. Howard Hunt, G. Gordon Liddy, ’Plumbers’, Egil Krogh, Central Intelligence Agency
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
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]
Entity Tags: John Dean, James McCord, John Ehrlichman, Richard Reeves, Las Vegas Sun, John Mitchell, Howard Hughes, Lawrence O’Brien, Hank Greenspun, Edmund Muskie, G. Gordon Liddy, Brookings Institution, Barry Werth, ’Plumbers’, Carl Oglesby, Charles ‘Bebe’ Rebozo, Charles Colson, Egil Krogh, Robert E. Maheu, David Young, H.R. Haldeman, Richard M. Nixon
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
E. Howard Hunt. [Source: American Patriot Friends Network]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]
Nixon aide John Ehrlichman reports that he has successfully created the special investigations unit ordered by the president (see Late June-July 1971). His first choice to head the unit, speechwriter Pat Buchanan, refused the position. Ehrlichman rejected fellow aide Charles Colson’s own choice, retired CIA agent E. Howard Hunt, who has recently joined the White House staff (see July 7, 1971). Ehrlichman turned to his own protege, Egil “Bud” Krogh, and David Young, a former assistant to National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, to head the unit. Young gives the unit its nickname of “Plumbers” after he hangs a sign on his office door reading, “D. YOUNG—PLUMBER.” Their first hire is former FBI agent and county prosecutor G. Gordon Liddy, a reputed “wild man” currently being pushed out of the Treasury Department for his strident opposition to the administration’s gun control policies. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 348-349]
President Nixon’s aides have diligently tried to find evidence linking former President John F. Kennedy to the 1963 assassinations of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu (see June 17, 1971), but have been unsuccessful. “Plumber” E. Howard Hunt (see July 7, 1971) has collected 240 diplomatic cables between Washington, DC, and Saigon from the time period surrounding the assassinations, none of which hint at any US involvement in them. White House aide Charles Colson, therefore, decides to fabricate his own evidence. Using a razor blade, glue, and a photocopier, Colson creates a fake “cable” dated October 29, 1963, sent to the US embassy in Saigon from the Kennedy White House. It reads in part, “At highest level meeting today, decision reluctantly made that neither you nor Harkin [apparently a reference to General Paul Harkins, the commander of US forces in Vietnam at the time] should intervene on behalf of Diem or Nhu in event they seek asylum.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 371]
Shortly after syndicated columnist Jack Anderson reveals the existence of a memo that shows criminal collusion between the Republican Party, ITT, and the Justice Department (see February 22, 1972), CIA and White House agent E. Howard Hunt visits the author of the memo, ITT lobbyist Dita Beard, to persuade her to say publicly that the memo is a forgery, or to disavow it. Beard is currently in hospital, perhaps to treat mental and physical exhaustion and perhaps to keep her away from the press. To conceal his identity during the visit, Hunt wears an ill-fitting red wig similar to one he will have in his possession during the planning for the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). [The People's Almanac, 1981; Woodward, 2005, pp. 8-39] A Justice Department official will discuss Hunt’s visit to Beard with Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in February 1973, and tell Woodward that White House aide Charles Colson sent Hunt on the mission to convince Beard to disavow the memo. The official, reading from FBI files, will tell Woodward that Colson’s testimony to the FBI was done in his office to spare him the embarrassment of having to testify before the grand jury. The FBI did not ask Colson why he sent Hunt to pressure Beard. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 255] On March 21, Beard will deny ever writing the memo, saying, “I did not prepare it and could not have.” Beard’s belated denial, and ITT’s quick shredding of incriminating documents referencing the connections between the antitrust deal and the convention, will partially defuse the potential scandal. The FBI will publicly claim that the memo is most likely authentic despite pressure from the Nixon White House (see March 10-23, 1972). [The People's Almanac, 1981; Woodward, 2005, pp. 8-39]
Arthur Bremer being restrained after shooting George Wallace. [Source: Kansas City Star]Around 4 p.m, gunman Arthur Bremer shoots Alabama Governor George Wallace in a Maryland shopping center. Wallace, mounting a third-party bid for the presidency, survives the shooting, but is crippled for life. He is also essentially out of the race. The political ramifications are powerful: Wallace, a segregationist Democrat, is doing well in many Southern states. With Wallace out of the picture, his voters will almost uniformly go to Richard Nixon, and whatever threadbare chance of victory Democratic candidate George McGovern has of defeating Nixon is over.
Lone Gunman - There is no evidence to connect Nixon or the GOP with Bremer—all evidence will show that Bremer is a classic “lone gunman” who stalked several presidential candidates before gunning down Wallace—but Nixon and his campaign officials know that even a hint of a connection between the Nixon campaign and Bremer would be politically devastating.
Break-in - On the night of the shooting, Nixon aide Charles Colson orders campaign operative E. Howard Hunt (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) to break into Bremer’s Milwaukee apartment to discover if Bremer had any political connections (hopefully Democratic or liberal connections, though none are ascertained). [Woodward, 2005, pp. 47-50] Interestingly, by 6:30 p.m., White House communications official Ken Clawson calls the Washington Post to announce that “left-wing” literature had been found in Bremer’s apartment, and that Bremer may have been associated with the presidential campaign of George McGovern. No such evidence is found. Colson tells reporters that Bremer is a dues-paying member of the Young Democrats of Milwaukee, a lie that makes it into several newspapers. Post editor Howard Simons will consider the idea that Wallace was assassinated on the orders of the White House—“the ultimate dirty trick”—but no evidence of that connection ever surfaces. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 326; Reeves, 2001, pp. 480]
FBI Leaves Apartment - Hunt will claim in his autobiography, Undercover, that he refused the order to burglarize Bremer’s apartment. The FBI finds both left-wing and right-wing literature in Bremer’s apartment, as well as a diary whose opening line is, “Now I start my diary of my personal plot to kill by pistol either Richard Nixon or George Wallace.” Local reporters will later claim that the FBI leaves Bremer’s apartment for about 90 minutes, during which time reporters and other unidentified figures are able to spirit away papers and other materials. It is not clear whether Hunt is one of those “unidentified figures.” [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
Deep Throat - Top FBI official W. Mark Felt provides useful information for Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s profile of Bremer, operating as a “deep background” source. It is the first time Felt, who will become Woodward’s “Deep Throat” Watergate source (see May 31, 2005), gives important information to Woodward. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 47-50]
Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Howard Simons, W. Mark Felt, George S. McGovern, Ken Clawson, E. Howard Hunt, Arthur Bremer, Bob Woodward, Charles Colson, George C. Wallace
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate, Elections Before 2000
Though the five Watergate burglars (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) are not yet allowed to make telephone calls, phones begin ringing at 5 a.m. at the CIA, the White House, the offices of the Nixon re-election campaign (CREEP), and Nixon’s home in Key Biscayne, where White House aide H. R. Haldeman is. By 3:30 p.m., when the five appear for arraignment (see June 17, 1972), lawyers are waiting to represent them. At CREEP, accused burglar G. Gordon Liddy, released on bail, is busily shredding files; fellow burglar E. Howard Hunt is doing the same at his office. White House aide Charles Colson orders all White House phone directories listing Hunt as a White House employee destroyed. CREEP deputy director Jeb Magruder speaks to his boss, CREEP director John Mitchell, by phone, then begins burning his copies of the “Gemstone” files (see January 29, 1972). Later in the day, Liddy bursts into Attorney General Richard Kleindienst’s office saying that Mitchell wants the five burglars—Bernard Barker, Virgilio Gonzales, Eugenio Martinez, James McCord, and Frank Sturgis—released from prison immediately (see June 17, 1972). Kleindienst does not believe Liddy, and has no authority to release them anyway. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 501]
Entity Tags: Frank Sturgis, Charles Colson, Central Intelligence Agency, Bernard Barker, Committee to Re-elect the President, Eugenio Martinez, H.R. Haldeman, Richard Kleindienst, G. Gordon Liddy, E. Howard Hunt, Virgilio Gonzales, James McCord, Nixon administration, Jeb S. Magruder
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
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]
White House counsel John Dean orders the opening of a safe belonging to Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Dean orders that the contents be turned over (six days later, after Dean and other White House officials have had a chance to peruse them) to the FBI. The documents will soon be given to FBI acting director L. Patrick Gray, who keeps them for six months before burning them (see Late December 1972). Gray will later admit to the incident in his testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee (see February 28-29, 1973). [Time, 4/2/1973] Dean finds in the safe, among other things, a loaded .25 caliber pistol; the attache case of burglar James McCord, loaded with electronic surveillance equipment and a tear gas canister; CIA psychological profiles of Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see March 1971); pages from the Pentagon Papers; memos to and from Nixon aide Charles Colson; two falsified diplomatic cables implicating former President John F. Kennedy in the 1963 assassination of South Vietnam’s President Ngo Diem Dinh; and a dossier on the personal life of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA). Nixon aide John Ehrlichman advises Dean to throw the contents of the safe into the Potomac River. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 501-502] Shortly thereafter, Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein, in discussions with a young assistant in White House aide Charles Colson’s office, learns that Hunt has been investigating Kennedy’s checkered past, particularly the Chappaquiddick tragedy of 1969, in which an apparently inebriated Kennedy drove his car into a lake, drowning his companion of the evening, Mary Jo Kopechne. Hunt was apparently looking for political ammunition against Kennedy in preparation for a possible presidential run. According to a former Nixon administration official, Colson and fellow Nixon aide H. R. Haldeman were “absolutely paranoid” about a Kennedy campaign run. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 30-31]
Entity Tags: H.R. Haldeman, E. Howard Hunt, Charles Colson, Carl Bernstein, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, L. Patrick Gray, John Ehrlichman, John F. Kennedy, Ngo Dinh Diem, Edward Kennedy, Mary Jo Kopechne, John Dean
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
After an Oval Office discussion about having Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy take the entire blame for the Watergate bugging (see June 21, 1972), President Nixon and his aide Charles Colson have another idea—blame the operation on the CIA. “I think we could develop a theory as to the CIA if we wanted to,” Colson says. “We know that [burglar E. Howard] Hunt has all those ties with these people [referring to the other Watergate burglars]. He was their boss, and they were all CIA. You take the cash, you go down to Latin America.… We’re in great shape with the Cubans, and they’re proud of it. There’s a lot of muscle in that gang.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 506]
Former Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman Lawrence O’Brien files a $1 million civil suit against the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) and the five men accused of burglarizing and electronically monitoring DNC offices (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). O’Brien’s suit charges that the surveillance and the burglary violate the constitutional rights of all Democrats. O’Brien says that there is “a developing clear line to the White House,” and notes what he calls the “potential involvement” of the special counsel to President Nixon, Charles Colson. Colson hired E. Howard Hunt, who allegedly planned the burglary, for CREEP. [Washington Post, 8/1/1972] O’Brien says: “We learned of this bugging attempt only because it was bungled. How many other attempts have there been and who was involved? I believe we are about to witness the ultimate test of this administration that so piously committed itself to a new era of law and order just four years ago.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 26] The lawsuit will allow the DNC to get depositions from Nixon’s aides, beginning with CREEP director John Mitchell—something no one in the White House nor in CREEP intend to allow. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 504]
In an early-morning meeting between Nixon campaign director John Mitchell and White House aides H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, the three agree that their first priority in the aftermath of the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) is to protect President Nixon. To that end, the Watergate investigations must be stopped before they lead to other unsavory political operations—campaign “horrors,” Mitchell calls them.
PR 'Counter-Attack' Discussed - Later this morning, Nixon and Haldeman discuss the need to keep the FBI’s Watergate investigation on a tight leash. They discuss “counter-attack” and “public relations” offensives to distract the media by attacking the Democrats. The White House needs a “PR offensive to top” Watergate, they say, and they “need to be on the attack—for diversion.” One suggestion is to dismiss the burglary as nothing but a prank. Most White House staffers, including Haldeman, seem to believe that fellow aide Charles Colson concocted the idea of the burglary; Haldeman says that Colson does not seem to know “specifically that this was underway. He seems to take all the blame himself.” Nixon replies, “Good.” Nixon worries that his secret taping system (see February 1971 and July 13-16, 1973) “complicates things all over.” Nixon closes the conversation by saying: “My God, the [Democratic National C]ommittee isn’t worth bugging, in my opinion. That’s my public line.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 503-505; Reston, 2007, pp. 33]
Nixon, Colson Plan Delays - Later the same day, Nixon meets with senior aide Charles Colson. Several items from the conversation are damning in their specificity. Nixon tells Colson in regard of the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), “If we didn’t know better, we would have thought it was deliberately botched.” This statement shows that Nixon has some detailed knowledge of the burglary, contrary to his later claims. Colson later says: “Bob [Haldeman] is pulling it all together. Thus far, I think we’ve done the right things.” Colson could well be referring to the White House’s attempts to distance itself from the break-in. Nixon says, referring to the burglars, “Basically, they are pretty hard-line guys,” and Colson interrupts, “You mean Hunt?” referring to the burglars’ leader, E. Howard Hunt. Nixon replies: “Of course, we are just going to leave this where it is, with the Cubans.… At time, uh, I just stonewall it.” Nixon then says, regarding the future of the Watergate investigation: “Oh sure, you know who the hell is going to keep it alive. We’re gonna have a court case and indeed… the difficulty we’ll have ahead, we have got to have lawyers smart enough to have our people delay, avoiding depositions, of course.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 46-47]
Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein asks a former Nixon administration official about some of the White House officials who may have connections to the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Bernstein notes that the Nixon presidential campaign committee (CREEP) has identified its personnel director, Robert Odle, as the man who hired Watergate burglar and CREEP security director James McCord (see June 19, 1972). “That’s bullsh_t,” the official retorts. “[Committee director John] Mitchell wouldn’t let go of a thing like that. Mitchell would decide, with advice from somebody who knew something about security.” Mitchell would almost certainly have brought in at least one more aide, Frederick LaRue (see March 20, 1971), Mitchell’s right-hand man. “I would expect that if any wiretaps were active up to the time of the break-in, LaRue would have known about them,” the former official tells Bernstein. A Republican National Committee member tells Bernstein that McCord has, contrary to a statement by RNC chairman Bob Dole, never done any security work for the RNC. “All they care about at CREEP is Richard M. Nixon,” the RNC official says with some bitterness. “They couldn’t care less about the Republican Party. Given the chance, they would wreck it.” The RNC official says he and Dole had discussed the likelihood of White House involvement in the Watergate burglary, and they both believed that it was likely managed by “one of those twenty-five cent generals hanging around the committee or the White House who was responsible. [Murray] Chotiner or [Charles] Colson. Those were the names thrown out.” (Chotiner, well-known for his low-road brand of politics—see 1950—will never be proven to have had any involvement in the Watergate conspiracy.) [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 28-29]
Entity Tags: Murray Chotiner, Charles Colson, Carl Bernstein, Frederick LaRue, John Mitchell, Nixon administration, Republican National Committee, Robert J. (“Bob”) Dole, Richard M. Nixon, Robert C. Odle, Jr, James McCord
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
The FBI’s acting director, L. Patrick Gray, authorizes White House counsel John Dean to sit in on the FBI’s interview of White House special counsel Charles Colson—in fact, the interview is conducted in Dean’s office. The order apparently originates with President Nixon, or Nixon’s senior aide John Ehrlichman, and not Gray. Dean is thus able to monitor and supervise everything that Colson says, and report his findings to the White House. Dean will be allowed to sit in on many subsequent FBI interviews of White House personnel; furthermore, all such requests for interviews will go through Dean, and Gray will even give Dean the FBI investigative reports. In its internal review of the FBI’s investigation two years later, the Office of Planning and Evaluation will call this Gray’s most “serious blunder from an investigative standpoint… obviously the furnishing to Dean by Mr. Gray of our reports allowed Dean the total opportunity to plan a course of action to thwart the FBI’s investigation and grand jury inquiry.” It is clear, the report will find, that Dean had ample opportunity to prepare White House officials as to what to say and what to conceal, and gave Dean “time to set the stage in order that the results of that investigation would be more favorable to Dean’s ultimate ends.” [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ; Woodward, 2005, pp. 2]
During the FBI interview of Charles Colson in White House counsel John Dean’s office (see June 22, 1972), Colson tells the FBI investigator that Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt’s office is on the third floor of the White House. The investigator asks if they can all go to Hunt’s office and see if Hunt, who has disappeared from view (see June 18, 1972), may have left something of interest there. Dean says he did not know until now that Hunt had an office in the White House. Dean refuses to let the FBI agent go to Hunt’s office, and promises to turn over anything in the office to the FBI. Four days later, Dean and his assistant, Fred Fielding, turn over two separate boxes of innocuous personal effects from Hunt’s office. The FBI later notes that it could not insist on visiting Hunt’s office because the agent lacked a search warrant. [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]
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
Ron Ziegler. [Source: San Diego Union Tribune]The White House, the Nixon re-election campaign, and Republican supporters begin publicly attacking the Washington Post over its Watergate coverage.
'Character Assassination' - White House press secretary Ron Ziegler says, when asked about the Watergate conspiracy: “I will not dignify with comment stories based on hearsay, character assassination, innuendo or guilt by association.… The president is concerned about the technique being applied by the opposition in the stories themselves.… The opposition has been making charges which have not been substantiated.” Ziegler later calls the Post reports “a blatant effort at character assassination that I do not think has been witnessed in the political process in some time.”
'Political Garbage' - The chairman of the Republican National Committee, Senator Robert Dole (R-KS) attacks what he calls “political garbage” printed about Watergate: “The Washington Post is conducting itself by journalistic standards that would cause mass resignations on principle from the Quicksilver Times, a local underground newspaper,” and accuses the Post of essentially working for the Democrats. (Six months after his attacks, Dole will say that the credibility of the Nixon administration is “zilch, zero.” Years later, Dole will apologize to Post reporter Bob Woodward for his comments.)
CREEP Accusations - Clark MacGregor, the chairman of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), holds a press conference to say, “The Post has maliciously sought to give the appearance of a direct connection between the White House and the Watergate—a charge the Post knows—and a half dozen investigations have found—to be false.” (MacGregor fields angry questions from the gathered reporters, some of whom bluntly challenge his credibility and his truthfulness, with stoicism, refusing to answer any of them, and instead sticking with his prepared statement.) MacGregor demands to know why the Post hasn’t investigated apparent campaign “dirty tricks” carried out against the Nixon campaign. Like Dole, MacGregor accuses the Post of collaborating with the Democrats, and even charges that Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern encouraged former defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg to leak the “Pentagon Papers” to the press (see March 1971).
Post Thinks Campaign Orchestrated by White House - Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, examining the statements by Ziegler, Dole, and MacGregor, is certain that the entire attack was orchestrated by the White House and perhaps by President Nixon himself. Bradlee issues a statement saying that everything the Post has reported on Watergate is factual and “unchallenged by contrary evidence.” He tells reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward that “this is the hardest hardball that has ever been played in this town,” and warns them to keep out of any compromising situations that could be used by the White House to challenge their credibility. After Nixon’s landslide presidential victory (see November 7, 1972), the attacks continue. Senior White House aide Charles Colson says, “The charge of subverting the whole political process, that is a fantasy, a work of fiction rivaling only Gone With the Wind in circulation and Portnoy’s Complaint for indecency.” [Washington Post, 5/1/1973; Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 161-166; Woodward, 2005, pp. 83-84]
Entity Tags: Robert J. (“Bob”) Dole, Washington Post, Richard M. Nixon, Ron Ziegler, Republican National Committee, George S. McGovern, Bob Woodward, Ben Bradlee, Nixon administration, Carl Bernstein, Clark MacGregor, Daniel Ellsberg, Committee to Re-elect the President, Charles Colson
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Days after the Washington Post printed an incorrect story about Watergate grand jury testimony (see October 22-28, 1972), President Nixon tells aide Charles Colson that he plans to use the furor over the story to challenge the television licenses owned by the Post. “They should give some thought to taking on the guy that went into Cambodia and Laos, ran the Cambodian bombing campaign. What do the hell they think they’re doing in there?” Later, Nixon meets with Colson to again discuss his plan to challenge the Post’s television licenses. Nixon decides to abandon the plan, saying: “We’re going to screw them another way.… They don’t really realize how rough I can play.… But when I start, I will kill them. There’s no question about it.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 173-196; Reeves, 2001, pp. 539]
White House aide Charles Colson and Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt discuss Hunt’s demand for “hush money” (see June 20-21, 1972 and March 21, 1973) in a telephone call. Hunt says he called “because the commitments that were made to all of us [Hunt and the other six burglars, all of whom are facing trial] have not been kept.” He continues: “There’s a great deal of concern on the part of the seven defendants. There’s a great deal of financial expense here that is not covered. What we’ve been getting has been coming in very minor drips and drabs. We’re now reaching a point at which—” “Don’t tell me any more,” Colson interjects. Hunt says, “[T]his thing should not break apart for foolish reasons,” which Colson interprets as a veiled threat that Hunt will begin talking to prosecutors about his involvement in the Watergate conspiracy. Colson seems to get the message: “Christ no.… You’ve told me all I need to know… the less I know really about what happened, the more help I can be to you.” Hunt says: “We’ve set a deadline now for the close of business on November 25 for the resolution, the liquidation of everything that’s outstanding.… I’m talking about promises from July and August. We could understand some hesitancy prior to the election (see November 7, 1972), but there doesn’t seem to be any of that now. Of course, we’re well aware of the upcoming problems of the Senate” (see February 7, 1973). Colson replies, “That’s where it gets hairy as hell.” Hunt continues: “We’re protecting the guys who were really responsible. That’s a continuing requirement. But this is a two-way street.… We think now is the time when some moves should be made, and surely your cheapest commodity is money.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 186-190] Shortly thereafter, Hunt receives more money from secret White House sources (see January 8-9, 1973).
Dorothy Hunt. [Source: Spartacus Educational]Dorothy Hunt, the wife of accused Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), dies in a plane crash that claims the lives of 44 others when it crashes just after takeoff from Chicago’s Midway Airport. Some believe that the plane crash may have been planned, though there is no hard evidence to support this contention.
Blackmailing the White House? - Hunt and his fellow “Plumbers” (see Late June-July 1971) have been regularly receiving “hush money” payments from the Nixon presidential campaign to stay quiet about their activities (see March 20, 1971). With the prospect of going to prison, Hunt threatened to reveal juicy details of who exactly paid him to organize the Watergate burglary. His wife helped negotiate a payoff deal with Nixon aide Charles Colson. Hunt’s fellow Plumber, James McCord, will later claim that Dorothy Hunt said that her husband has information that would “blow the White House out of the water.” She was, Colson later admits, “upset at the interruption of payments from Nixon’s associates to Watergate defendants.” Former Attorney General John Mitchell, the head of Nixon’s re-election organization, arranged to have Nixon aide Frederick LaRue pay the Hunts $250,000 to keep their mouths shut. The day of the crash, Dorothy Hunt had arranged to meet with CBS journalist Michelle Clark, perhaps to discuss the Watergate investigation. Clark, Dorothy Hunt, and Illinois congressman George Collins are aboard the plane, United Airlines Flight 533, when it crashes into a Chicago neighborhood; all three die. Hunt is reported to be carrying $10,000 in cash as a partial payoff for the burglars (see February 28, 1973), but some sources will later claim that she was carrying far more. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] Shortly after the crash, White House aides H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman tell Nixon that Mrs. Hunt had distributed $250,000 in cash to her husband and the other Watergate burglars. The cash was delivered to Mrs. Hunt by White House courier Tony Ulasewicz, whose standard procedure was to take cash from the White House to Washington’s National Airport and leave the money in a rented locker. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 551] In October 1974, Watergate burglar Bernard Barker will confirm that Dorothy Hunt was the burglars’ connection to the White House. Barker will recall that, months after the burglary, he met her in Miami, where she told him, “From now on, I will be your contact.” [Harper's, 10/1974]
FBI 'Swarms' Crash Site - One reporter, Lalo J. Gastriani, later reports that just after the crash, the downed plane is swarmed by “a battalion of plainclothes operatives in unmarked cars parked on side streets.” The neighbors who report this to Gastriani say that some of the “operatives” look like “FBI types,” and one neighbor recognizes a “rescue worker” as a CIA agent. Gastriani’s account sounds like the worst conspiracy theory and is anything but conclusive, but future FBI director William Ruckelshaus will later admit that his agency had over 50 agents at the crash site. Interestingly, one of Colson’s aides directly involved in overseeing Hunt’s “Plumbers,” Egil Krogh, will be named as undersecretary of transportation one day after the crash; the position gives Krogh direct control over the two agencies responsible for investigating the crash. Another Nixon aide, Dwight Chapin, soon becomes a top executive at United Airlines. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
Entity Tags: Egil Krogh, United Airlines, William Ruckelshaus, E. Howard Hunt, Dorothy Hunt, Charles Colson, Tony Ulasewicz, Bernard Barker, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard M. Nixon, John Mitchell, Lalo J. Gastriani, Frederick LaRue, George Collins, H.R. Haldeman, Michelle Clark, Frank Sturgis, James McCord, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Dwight Chapin, John Ehrlichman
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
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]
President Nixon and senior aide Charles Colson discuss the Watergate trial just underway (see January 8-11, 1973). Nixon has apparently just learned that someone in his re-election campaign planted electronic surveillance on Gary Hart, Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern’s campaign manager. Nixon tells Colson: “I understand [chief of staff H. R.] Haldeman is after some kid that bugged Gary Hart.… But how could that be? Watergate came before McGovern got off the ground, and I don’t know why the hell we bugged McGovern.” Colson replies: “Remember. That was after the California primary” (where McGovern clinched the nomination). Nixon grouses: “That’s the thing about all of this. We didn’t get a g_ddamn thing from any of it that I can see.” Colson disagrees: “Well, frankly, we did, but then, what they mainly used, we know.” Later in the conversation, Nixon brings up the problem of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt, who has what Nixon calls a “sensitive position” in the Watergate investigation—Hunt knows enough to blow the lid off the entire conspiracy, and has threatened to reveal it if he is not paid (see Mid-November, 1972). Colson says: “The others [the other six defendants] will just tell the truth and prove their case. But there is one advantage to it. There’ll be a hell of a lot of stuff that’ll come out.… Some counts will be dropped against Hunt. There will be appeals pending in the other cases.” Nixon adds, “As long as this trial is going on, the Congress will keep its g_ddamn, cotton-pickin’ hands off that trial.” Colson is sure the Senate Watergate Committee (see February 7, 1973) will begin immunizing witnesses to testify.
Using the CIA Connection - As the conversation moves on, Colson agrees with Nixon that he thought the Democrats might drop their interest in the burglary after the election, especially since “I think they figured that these were all guys who were CIA.… And they were all taking orders from people… acting on behalf of John Mitchell [the former head of Nixon’s re-election campaign].” Nixon says that it should be a simple thing to grant Hunt executive clemency, considering Hunt’s wife is dead and he has a child with permanent brain damage suffered in an automobile accident. “We’ll build that son of a b_tch up like nobody’s business. We’ll have Buckley write a column and say that he should have clemency, if you’ve given 18 years of service.” Colson adds that Buckley “served under Hunt in the CIA.” (Conservative columnist William F. Buckley became a CIA agent in 1951, and worked under Hunt in Mexico City.)
Abandoning Five of the Burglars - The five Cuban burglars, Colson says, are irrelevant. They “didn’t have any direct information.… I don’t give a damn if they spend five years in jail…. They can’t hurt us.… Hunt and [G. Gordon] Liddy: direct meetings and discussions are very incriminating to us.” Colson is not worried so much about Liddy, saying: “Apparently he’s one of those masochists. He enjoys punishing himself. That’s okay, as long as he remains stable. I mean, he’s tough…. [Hunt and Liddy are] both good, healthy, right-wing exuberants.” Nixon says wearily, “This… is the last damn fifty miles.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 191-195]
Entity Tags: Gary Hart, E. Howard Hunt, Charles Colson, Central Intelligence Agency, G. Gordon Liddy, George S. McGovern, H.R. Haldeman, Richard M. Nixon, John Mitchell, William F. Buckley
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate, Elections Before 2000
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. [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]
In a conversation about Watergate with senior aide Charles Colson, President Nixon says: “When I’m speaking about Watergate, though, that’s the whole point, where this tremendous investigation rests. Unless one of the seven [burglars] begins to talk. That’s the problem.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 43-44] Colson and Nixon want to decide how to limit the exposure of top White House aides to the Congressional inquiry (see February 7, 1973), perhaps by allowing access to lower-level officials. Nixon says: “You can let them have lower people. Let them have them. But in terms of the people that are direct advisers to the president, you can say they can do it by written interrogatories, by having [Senate Watergate Committee head Senator Sam] Ervin and the two counsels conduct interrogatories. But don’t go up there on television (see May 17-18, 1973).” Colson believes “it’s a good compromise,” and Nixon goes on to say that he has considered not letting anyone testify, but “I’m afraid that gives an appearance of total cover-up, which would bother me a bit.… You let them have some others.… That’s why you can’t go. The people who have direct access to the president can’t go.” Later in the conversation, Colson makes a bold suggestion: “The other point is, who did order Watergate? If it’s gonna come out in the hearings, for God’s sakes, let it out now.… Least get rid of it. Take our losses.” Nixon asks: “Well, who the hell do you think did this? Mitchell [referring to John Mitchell, the former head of the Nixon re-election campaign]? He can’t do it. He’ll perjure himself. He won’t admit it. Now, that’s the problem. Magruder [Jeb Magruder, Mitchell’s former deputy]?” “I know Magruder does,” Colson says. Nixon responds, “Well, then he’s already perjured himself, hasn’t he?” Colson replies, “Probably.” Nixon knows what to do if and when he or either of his top two aides, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, are called to testify. “In the case of Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and me, the only three you can probably do this with, they should either be written interrogatories or appointive-type things where they list out some highly specific areas. And that’s it and not beyond that. If they try to get beyond that, you just stonewall it or you just don’t remember something when you don’t have to.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 196-199]
President Nixon and his senior political aide, Charles Colson, discuss the Watergate conspiracy and how the White House should handle it. Nixon says, “A cover-up is the main ingredient.” Colson agrees, “That’s the problem.” Nixon continues: “That’s where we gotta cut our losses. My losses are to be cut. The president’s losses got to be cut on the cover-up deal.” Nixon will not admit to knowing anything about a cover-up until March 23, when he will claim to have been told for the first time about a cover-up by White House counsel John Dean (see March 21, 1973). Author James Reston Jr. calls this conversation, and that of the day before (see February 13, 1973), examples of Nixon and his aides’ “very good gangster talk,” and writes that “there could not be more classic evidence of the president wriggling, maneuvering, scheming to escape the reach of the law.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 43-44] Nixon is not so worried about his former campaign chairman, John Mitchell. He “has a great stone face” and a “convenient memory,” he and Colson agree. Colson is fairly sure if burglar E. Howard Hunt begins talking to the Watergate prosecutors, he will “limit the losses,” but neither are fully convinced of Hunt’s commitment to silence. [Reston, 2007, pp. 199-200]
White House aide Charles Colson resigns from his position as the president’s special counsel, and returns to private practice. [Billy Graham Center, 12/8/2004]
In his conversation with chief of staff H. R. Haldeman about White House counsel John Dean’s phony “Dean Report,” which will say that no one in the White House was involved in the Watergate conspiracy (see March 22, 1973), President Nixon says: “[The report] should lay a few things to rest. I didn’t do this, I didn’t do that, da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da. Haldeman didn’t do this. Ehrlichman didn’t do that. Colson didn’t do that. See?” [Reston, 2007, pp. 42-43]
After the Dean “cancer” conversation (see March 21, 1973), President Nixon speaks with his senior aide, Charles Colson, about paying off burglar E. Howard Hunt to ensure his silence. Colson says that Hunt is worried about Nixon believing he is “getting off the reservation” with his demands for money. Hunt has told Colson that he and the other Watergate burglars will “defend the administration if we know what the facts are.” On the basis of this conversation, Hunt will be paid another $120,000 in hush money. [Reston, 2007, pp. 201-203]
James McCord demonstrates a bugging device during his testimony. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Convicted Watergate burglar James McCord testifies behind closed doors to the Senate Watergate Committee (see March 25, 1973). The committee’s ranking minority member, Howard Baker (R-TN), tells reporters after the lengthy session that McCord has provided “significant information… covering a lot of territory.” One senator anonymously tells Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of McCord’s testimony: McCord has told the senators that fellow Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy said the burglary and surveillance operation was approved by then-Nixon campaign chairman John Mitchell in February 1972, while Mitchell was still attorney general (see March 20, 1971). In addition, McCord told the senators that White House aide Charles Colson knew about the Watergate operation in advance. Little of this is news to the Post reporters, and they are not heartened by Baker’s admission that McCord’s testimony is almost all secondhand information. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 280-281]
Former Nixon campaign director John Mitchell testifies before the Watergate grand jury. An associate of Mitchell’s says that Mitchell is resigned to going to jail. He has no intention of saying anything that might jeopardize President Nixon. It is less certain what he will say about Nixon aides H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman; he hates both of them and blames them for “ruining” Nixon and persuading Nixon to let him take a fall. After his testimony, Mitchell confirms that he participated in meetings where the idea of electronically monitoring the Democrats was discussed, but says he turned down any ideas of gathering intelligence against political opponents that were illegal. Another associate of Mitchell says that the former director admitted paying the seven Watergate defendants during the trial, but that money was supposed to be for legal fees and not to buy their silence, as his former deputy Jeb Magruder has testified (see April 14-18, 1973). Mitchell testified that someone at the White House went over his head to get approval for the electronic surveillance against the Democrats. The associate says Mitchell believes that person was Charles Colson, but has no proof and did not mention Colson’s name to the grand jury. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 300-301]
Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein learns of White House aide Charles Colson’s plan to burglarize the Brookings Institution (see June 30-July 1, 1971 and June 1974), and, alarmingly, of Colson’s plans to actually firebomb the building. An associate of former White House counsel John Dean tells Bernstein that Colson did not want to just burglarize the Institute: “Chuck Colson wanted to rub two sticks together.”
Urgent Trip to See Nixon - Colson could not have been serious, Bernstein says, but the associate replies: “Serious enough for [White House aide] John Caulfield to run out of Colson’s office in a panic. He came straight to John Dean, saying he didn’t ever want to talk to that man Colson again because he was crazy. And that John better do something before it was too late. John caught the first courier flight out to San Clemente [President Nixon’s home in California] to see [then-White House aide John] Ehrlichman. That’s how serious it was.” Ehrlichman indeed shut the operation down before it could start, but the associate implies Ehrlichman’s decision may have been based more on the fact that Dean knew about it than over any shock or outrage over the firebombing plan.
Reasoning behind Attack - Colson wanted to firebomb Brookings because former Kissinger aide Morton Halperin, a Brookings fellow, may have had classified State Department documents at the Institute that the White House wanted back. A fire at the Institute would cover up a burglary of Halperin’s office.
Confirmation from Associate - Bernstein confirms the story from an associate of Caulfield’s, who clarifies: “Not a fire, a firebombing. That was what Colson thought would do the trick. Caulfield said, ‘This has gone too far’ and [that] he didn’t ever want anything to do with Colson again in his life.” Both Dean and Caulfield told FBI investigators about the plan, Caulfield’s associate says.
Woodward Calls Colson - When Bernstein’s colleague Bob Woodward calls Colson for a comment on the story, Colson jokes: “There’s no question about that. There is one mistake. It was not the Brookings, but the Washington Post. I told them to hire a wrecking crane and go over and knock down the building and Newsweek also.… I wanted the Washington Post destroyed.” When Woodward tells him the newspaper is printing the story, Colson retorts: “Explicitly, it is bullsh_t. I absolutely made no such statement or suggestion. It is ludicrous.… [T]his one has gone too far.” Colson calls back and says he may have made such a suggestion, but he was not serious. The Post prints the story. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 324-325]
Confirmation by Dean - In 2006, Dean will write that when he “learned of [Colson’s] insane plan, I flew to California… to plead my case to John Ehrlichman, a titular superior to both Colson and myself. By pointing out, with some outrage, that if anyone died it would involve a capital crime that might be traced back to the White House, I was able to shut down Colson’s scheme.” [Dean, 2006, pp. xxiii]
Charles Colson. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward learns of the White House’s plan to have “Plumber” E. Howard Hunt (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) break into the apartment of gunman Arthur Bremer immediately after Bremer shot presidential candidate George Wallace (see May 15, 1972). Hunt broke into Bremer’s apartment on the orders of White House aide Charles Colson, says a Senate Watergate Committee lawyer, a claim verified by Hunt’s lawyer, William Bittman. Woodward interviews Colson in the offices of his law firm, Colson & Shapiro; Colson, law partner David Shapiro, and attorney Judah Best not only deny that Colson ever ordered Hunt to do such a thing, but attempt to bribe Woodward with information about the “Canuck letter” (see February 24-25, 1972)—if Woodward will not print the story of Colson ordering Hunt to break into Bremer’s apartment, they will give him copies of two memos asserting that White House aide H. R. Haldeman tried to blame Colson for the authorship of the letter. Woodward refuses; the story runs. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 329-330]
Entity Tags: George C. Wallace, Bob Woodward, Arthur Bremer, Charles Colson, E. Howard Hunt, Judah Best, David Shapiro, William O. Bittman, Nixon administration, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, H.R. Haldeman
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Comedian Bill Cosby, one of many on Nixon’s enemies list. [Source: Quixoticals]Former White House counsel John Dean, continuing his testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee (see June 25-29, 1973), provides a sheaf of documents to the committee. Among those is the “Opponents List and Political Enemies Project,” informally called President Nixon’s “enemies list.” The list is actually a set of documents “several inches thick” of names and information about Nixon’s political enemies. It was compiled by a number of administration officials, including Dean, White House aides Charles Colson, Gordon Strachan, and Lyn Nofziger, beginning in 1971. One of the documents from August 16, 1971, has Dean suggesting ways in which “we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.” Methods proposed included administration manipulation of “grant availability, federal contracts, litigation, prosecution, etc.” The Dean memo was given to then-chief of staff H. R. Haldeman and top White House aide John Ehrlichman for approval. Though Dean testifies that he does not know if the plan was set into motion, subsequent documents submitted to the committee indicate that it was indeed implemented. A condensed list of 20 “White House enemies” was produced by Colson’s office; a larger list included ten Democratic senators, all 12 black House members, over 50 news and television reporters, prominent businessmen, labor leaders, and entertainers, and contributors to the 1972 presidential campaign of Democratic senator Edmund Muskie. The condensed list includes, in priority order:
“1. Arnold M. Picker, United Artists Corp., NY. Top Muskie fund raiser. Success here could be both debilitating and very embarrassing to the Muskie machine. If effort looks promising, both Ruth and David Picker should be programmed and then a follow through with United Artists.”
“2. Alexander E. Barkan, national director of AFL-CIO’s committee on Political Education, Washington D.C.: Without a doubt the most powerful political force programmed against us in 1968 ($10 million, 4.6 million votes, 115 million pamphlets, 176,000 workers—all programmed by Barkan’s COPE—so says Teddy White in The Making of the President 1968). We can expect the same effort this time.”
“3. Ed Guthman, managing editor, Los Angeles Times: Guthman, former Kennedy aide, was a highly sophisticated hatchetman against us in ‘68. It is obvious he is the prime mover behind the current Key Biscayne effort. It is time to give him the message.”
“4. Maxwell Dane, Doyle, Dane and Bernbach, NY: The top Democratic advertising firm—they destroyed Goldwater in ‘64. They should be hit hard starting with Dane.”
“5. Charles Dyson, Dyson-Kissner Corp., NY: Dyson and [Democratic National Committee chairman] Larry O’Brien were close business associates after ‘68. Dyson has huge business holdings and is presently deeply involved in the Businessmen’s Educational Fund which bankrolls a national radio network of five-minute programs—anti-Nixon in character.”
“6. Howard Stein, Dreyfus Corp., NY: Heaviest contributor to [Democratic presidential candidate Eugene] McCarthy in ‘68. If McCarthy goes, will do the same in ‘72. If not, Lindsay or McGovern will receive the funds.”
“7. [US Representative] Allard Lowenstein, Long Island, NY: Guiding force behind the 18-year-old ‘Dump Nixon’ vote campaign.”
“8. Morton Halperin, leading executive at Common Cause: A scandal would be most helpful here.”
“9. Leonard Woodcock, UAW, Detroit, Mich.: No comments necessary.”
“10. S. Sterling Munro Jr., Sen. [Henry Jackson’s aide, Silver Spring, Md: We should give him a try. Positive results would stick a pin in Jackson’s white hat.”
“11. Bernard T. Feld, president, Council for a Livable World: Heavy far left funding. They will program an ‘all court press’ against us in ‘72.”
“12. Sidney Davidoff, New York City, [New York City Mayor John V.] Lindsay’s top personal aide: a first class SOB, wheeler-dealer and suspected bagman. Positive results would really shake the Lindsay camp and Lindsay’s plans to capture youth vote. Davidoff in charge.”
“13. John Conyers, congressman, Detroit: Coming on fast. Emerging as a leading black anti-Nixon spokesman. Has known weakness for white females.”
“14. Samuel M. Lambert, president, National Education Association: Has taken us on vis-a-vis federal aid to parochial schools—a ‘72 issue.” [Facts on File, 6/2003] Committee chairman Sam Ervin (D-NC) is clearly outraged by the list, and particularly by Lambert’s inclusion. He says, “Here is a man listed among the opponents whose only offense is that he believed in the First Amendment and shared Thomas Jefferson’s conviction, as expressed in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, that to compel a man to make contributions of money for the dissemination of religious opinions he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical. Isn’t that true?” Dean replies, “I cannot disagree with the chairman at all.” [Time, 7/9/1973]
“15. Stewart Rawlings Mott, Mott Associates, NY: Nothing but big money for radic-lib candidates.”
“16. Ronald Dellums, congressman, Calif: Had extensive [Edward M. Kennedy] EMK-Tunney support in his election bid. Success might help in California next year.”
“17. Daniel Schorr, Columbia Broadcasting System, Washington: A real media enemy.”
“18. S. Harrison Dogole, Philadelphia, Pa: President of Globe Security Systems—fourth largest private detective agency in US. Heavy Humphrey [former presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey] contributor. Could program his agency against us.”
“19. [Actor] Paul Newman, Calif: Radic-lib causes. Heavy McCarthy involvement ‘68. Used effectively in nation wide TV commercials. ‘72 involvement certain.”
“20. Mary McGrory, Washington columnist: Daily hate Nixon articles.”
Another “master list” of political enemies prepared by Colson’s office includes Democratic senators Birch Bayh, J. W. Fulbright, Fred R. Harris, Harold Hughes, Edward M. Kennedy, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Edmund Muskie, Gaylord Nelson, and William Proxmire; House representatives Bella Abzug, William R. Anderson, John Brademas, Father Robert F. Drinan, Robert Kastenmeier, Wright Patman; African-American representatives Shirley Chisholm, William Clay, George Collins, John Conyers, Ronald Dellums, Charles Diggs, Augustus Hawkins, Ralph Metcalfe, Robert N.C. Nix, Parren Mitchell, Charles Rangel, Louis Stokes; and several other politicians, including Lindsay, McCarthy, and George Wallace, the governor of Alabama (see May 15, 1972). The list also includes an array of liberal, civil rights and antiwar organizations, including the Black Panthers, the Brookings Institution, Common Cause, the Farmers Union, the National Economic Council, the National Education Association, the National Welfare Rights Organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Convention; a variety of labor organizations; many reporters, columnists, and other news figures; a short list of celebrities including Bill Cosby, Jane Fonda, Dick Gregory, Steve McQueen, Joe Namath, Gregory Peck, Tony Randall, and Barbra Streisand; and a huge list of businessmen and academics. The documents provide suggestions for avenues of attack against individual listees, including using “income tax discrepancies,” allegations of Communist connections, and other information. [Facts on File, 6/2003] In 1999, Schorr will joke that being on Nixon’s enemies list “changed my life a great deal. It increased my lecture fee, got me invited to lots of very nice dinners. It was so wonderful that one of my colleagues that I will not mention, but a very important man at CBS, said, ‘Why you, Schorr? Why couldn’t it have been me on the enemies list?’” [CNN, 3/27/1999] Schorr does not mention that he was the subject of an FBI investigation because of his listing. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
Entity Tags: Paul Newman, National Welfare Rights Organization, Ralph Metcalfe, Parren Mitchell, Robert F Drinan, National Economic Council, Richard M. Nixon, Morton H. Halperin, Louis Stokes, Mary McGrory, John V. Lindsay, Lawrence O’Brien, Maxwell Dane, Leonard Woodcock, Robert Kastenmeier, Lyn Nofziger, Los Angeles Times, Robert N.C. Nix, Sam Ervin, S. Harrison Dogole, United Auto Workers, Walter Mondale, Tony Randall, William Clay, William R. Anderson, Wright Patman, William Proxmire, Ron Dellums, Stewart Rawlings Mott, Southern Christian Leadership Convention, S. Sterling Munro Jr, John Ehrlichman, Steve McQueen, Samuel M Lambert, Shirley Chisholm, Sidney Davidoff, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, John Dean, National Education Association, John Brademas, CBS News, Charles Colson, Charles Diggs, Charles Dyson, Charles Rangel, Brookings Institution, Council for a Livable World, Common Cause, Black Panthers, Birch Bayh, Bill Cosby, Allard Lowenstein, Alexander E. Barkan, AFL-CIO, Daniel Schorr, Arnold M. Picker, John Conyers, Augustus Hawkins, Bernard T. Feld, Bella Abzug, Dick Gregory, Barbra Streisand, Edmund Muskie, H.R. Haldeman, Harold Hughes, Gregory Peck, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, Jane Fonda, J. William Fulbright, Howard Stein, Gordon Strachan, George S. McGovern, Joe Namath, Edward Kennedy, Eugene McCarthy, Fred R Harris, Gaylord Nelson, George C. Wallace, Hubert H. Humphrey, George Collins, Ed Guthman
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
The Washington Post reports that “Operation Candor,” the White House’s public relations campaign to clear President Nixon’s name regarding Watergate, has been shut down. It also reports that several of Nixon’s most senior advisers no longer believe his protestations of innocence and ignorance. White House chief of staff Alexander Haig calls the story “scurrilous.” Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward soon learn that Haig himself is dubious of Nixon’s course, and has urged Nixon to cut ties with three of his former aides, H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and Charles Colson—to let them go down and ensure he doesn’t go with them. Nixon’s legal defense is constructed in concert with theirs, and the White House has been supplying their lawyers with the same documents it has been releasing to the special prosecutor’s office. Nixon himself has no intention of either accepting responsibility for his role in the Watergate conspiracy or making any public apology. “Contrition is bullsh_t,” press secretary Ron Ziegler has said, and that is an apparent reflection of Nixon’s own views. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 334-335]
Editorial cartoon from the Washington Post by ‘Herblock,’ July 14, 1974. [Source: Washington Post / Library of Congress]The Watergate grand jury indicts seven Nixon officials and aides for a variety of crimes committed as a part of the Watergate conspiracy, including perjury and conspiring to pay “hush money” to the convicted Watergate burglars. The indicted White House officials are former top Nixon aides John Ehrlichman, H. R. Haldeman, and Charles Colson; former assistant attorney general Robert Mardian; and Haldeman’s former assistant Gordon Strachan. The former Nixon campaign officials are former campaign chairman John Mitchell and former campaign lawyer Kenneth Parkinson. The charges against Colson will be dropped after he pleads guilty to obstruction of justice in the Ellsberg case (see March 7, 1974). [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 335; O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ; Reeves, 2001, pp. 607; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] President Nixon is labeled an “unindicted co-conspirator” by the grand jury, on a 19-0 vote. [Time, 6/17/1974]
Former White House aides John Ehrlichman, Charles Colson, and G. Gordon Liddy, and three Cuban-Americans, including two of the convicted Watergate burglars (see January 8-11, 1973), Bernard Barker and Eugenio Martinez, are charged with planning and executing the burglary of the offices of Dr. Lewis Fielding, Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist (see September 9, 1971). Colson will quickly reach a plea-bargain agreement, promise to cooperate with the prosecution, plead guilty to one count of obstruction of justice, and serve approximately seven months in prison. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 335; Billy Graham Center, 12/8/2004] He will also be disbarred. In the guilty plea agreement, Colson admits to having devised “a scheme to obtain derogatory information about Daniel Ellsberg,” who himself was facing criminal charges relating to the Pentagon Papers leak. Colson wanted to smear Ellsberg’s reputation in the media, in essence having Ellsberg “tried in the newspapers” even though this would have an “adverse effect on his right to a fair trial.” Colson also admits to having written a “scurrilous and libelous memorandum” about one of Ellsberg’s attorneys. He does not admit to actually taking part in the planning of the Fielding burglary. [Time, 6/17/1974] In 2006, White House counsel John Dean will write that Colson’s promise of cooperation is virtually worthless: “[I]n the end he proved to be utterly useless as a government witness, since the government could not vouch for his honesty.” [Dean, 2006, pp. xxiii]
Former Nixon White House aide Charles Colson, later described by reporter David Plotz as “Richard Nixon’s hard man, the ‘evil genius’ of an evil administration,” is sentenced to jail after pleading guilty (see March 7, 1974) to taking part in the plan to break into Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office (see September 9, 1971) and interfering with Ellsberg’s trial (see June 28, 1971). Colson also, according to Watergate historian Stanley Kutler, tried to hire Teamster thugs to beat up antiwar demonstrators, and plotted to either raid or firebomb the Brookings Institution (see June 8-9, 1973). Colson will serve seven months in jail (see September 3, 1974). [Slate, 3/10/2000] Colson tells the court: “I shall be cooperating with the prosecutor, but that is not to say that the prosecutor has bargained for my testimony, that there is any quid pro quo: there was not. I reached my own conclusion that I have a duty to tell everything I know about these important issues, and a major reason for my plea was to free me to do so.” Colson’s testimony against Richard Nixon is damning, as he tells the court Nixon had “on numerous occasions urged me to disseminate damaging information about Daniel Ellsberg.” Vice President Ford defends Nixon, saying, “There’s a big difference between telling Chuck Colson to smear Ellsberg and ordering—or allegedly ordering—a break-in.” Colson will later become a born-again Christian evangelist, and found an influential prison ministry. [Slate, 3/10/2000; Werth, 2006, pp. 273-274]
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:
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).
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.
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.”
Failure to interview key individuals with knowledge of the suspicious monies found in the burglars’ bank accounts.
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.
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.
Failing to find and remove a surveillance device from the Democratic National Committee headquarters (see September 13, 1972). The OPE calls this failure “inexplicable.”
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.
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.
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.
“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).
“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).
“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 ]
Entity Tags: Donald Segretti, Richard Kleindienst, Office of Planning and Evaluation (FBI), Nixon administration, Robert Reisner, Sally Harmony, Democratic National Committee, US Department of Justice, Alfred Baldwin, Central Intelligence Agency, Charles Colson, Maurice Stans, L. Patrick Gray, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, John Dean, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Committee to Re-elect the President, Earl Silbert, Dwight Chapin, E. Howard Hunt, G. Gordon Liddy, John Mitchell, Howard Baker, Herbert L. Porter, James McCord, H.R. Haldeman, John Crewdson, Jeb S. Magruder
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
President Ford discusses media reports of a feared coup attempt or unauthorized nuclear strike in the final days of the Nixon presidency (see August 22, 1974) with his ad hoc chief of staff, Alexander Haig, and Defense Secretary James Schlesinger (see August 25, 1974). Ford believes the leak that formed the basis of the story came from the “highest level of the Pentagon,” but he is unaware that Schlesinger is most likely the leaker. He is also unaware of the hornet’s nest of bureaucratic rivalries involved in the situation. Ford knows nothing of the strained relations between the White House and the Joint Chiefs of Staff going back to the Moorer-Radford spy affair (see December 1971), nor of Haig’s blurred loyalties and his network of connections between the Pentagon, the National Security Council, and the White House. Ford is distressed by the stories, and furious when Haig assures him that the story is false—no such measures had been taken.
Implications of a Secret Deal - Ford worries most that the story will escalate into a whirlwind of media speculation about the nation being “at the brink” during Nixon’s final days, and more to the point, the media and the citizenry may begin speculating about the possibility that he took over the White House as part of some sort of secret deal. Ford also knows that such an extraordinary leak three weeks into his presidency is a direct insult to his own position. Ford orders Schlesinger to straighten out the entire mess right away.
Haig Also Involved? - Although Schlesinger denies his involvement in the stories, his credibility in this matter is wanting. And, if the stories are indeed true, then Haig must have been involved as well. Indeed, former Nixon aide Charles Colson will later write that Haig himself initiated the reported military watch, asking the Pentagon to disregard any order from Nixon. Like Schlesinger, Haig denies any part in the Pentagon watch, and calls the idea of a military coup of any stripe “an insult to the armed forces.” Haig will later accuse the so-called “countergovernment”—Congress, the courts, and the press—of successfully engaging in their own coup of sorts, in combining to drive both Nixon and former Vice President Spiro Agnew (see October 10, 1973) from office. But Haig has also dropped dark hints of his own to reporters about “dangers to the country deeper than Watergate,” and has spoken about the threat of “extra-constitutional” steps during Nixon’s last days.
Presidential Denial - Publicly, Ford, through press secretary Jerald terHorst, tells the press that “no measures of this nature were actually undertaken.” Questions about whether any requests for a military watch, or other such preparations, were ever made to forestall a military coup are referred to the Pentagon. [Werth, 2006, pp. 191-193]
One of the outbuildings at Fort Holabird. [Source: Hugh D. Cox]Former White House counsel John Dean begins a one-to-four-year term in prison for his role in the Watergate coverup. Dean’s sentence would have been far longer had he not cooperated so completely with the Watergate investigators. He is the 15th Watergate figure to go to jail, but the first to be asked whether Richard Nixon should join him in prison. (Dean refuses to comment.) Privately, Dean is shaken that Nixon is still insisting on his innocence. Later, Dean will write that he believes a number of reasons—hubris, victimization, self-pity, belief that history will exonerate him, and fear of jail—is all part of Nixon’s recalcitrance, but Dean does not believe that Nixon made a deal with President Ford for any sort of clemency. Dean will serve his term at Fort Holabird, a former army base just outside Baltimore used for government witnesses. Dean will mingle with three fellow Watergate convicts—Charles Colson, Jeb Stuart Magruder, and Herbert Kalmbach—and a number of organized crime figures in the government’s witness protection program. [Werth, 2006, pp. 269-270] Colson, who has provided damning testimony against Nixon as part of his plea agreement (see June 1974), leads the others in reaching out to Dean in prison. Dean, who is held in relative isolation, briefly meets Magruder in the hallway. Magruder is preparing to testify against the “Big Three” of John Mitchell, John Ehrlichman, and H. R. Haldeman in their upcoming trial. Magruder says to Dean: “Welcome to the club, John. This place looks just like the White House with all of us here.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 269-270]
The research staff for British interviewer David Frost, preparing for his upcoming interviews with former President Richard Nixon (see Early 1976), receive two key documents from Leon Jaworski’s special prosecutor files (see November 1, 1973) that are, in essence, the government’s plan for questioning Nixon if he were to ever take the stand as a criminal defendant in federal court. One document is entitled “RMN [Richard Milhous Nixon] and the Money,” and concentrates on the March 21, 1973, conversation with then-White House counsel John Dean concerning Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt’s demand for “hush money” (see Mid-November, 1972) and the attempts in the following weeks to explain away the payments to Hunt. The document is divided into five parts: Nixon’s statements about the money; Nixon’s knowledge of the payouts before March 21; the nature of the payment itself; the cover-up of Nixon’s role in the payout; and Nixon’s role in developing a defense against possible obstruction of justice charges. The second document cites excerpts from the June 20, 1972, conversations between Nixon and his then-senior aide Charles Colson (see June 20, 1972 and June 20, 1972). [Reston, 2007, pp. 45-47]
The research staff for British interviewer David Frost, preparing for his upcoming interviews with former President Richard Nixon (see Early 1976), finds transcripts of two conversations between Nixon and his then-aide Charles Colson from February 1973 (see February 13, 1973 and February 14, 1973) in a batch of documents surrounding the prosecution of the Watergate burglars (see January 1, 1975). Former Watergate prosecutors Richard Ben-Veniste and George Frampton, informally advising the Frost research team, are both keenly interested in the transcripts. “You’ve got something no one else has,” Frampton says. “These transcripts must have been placed in the official exhibit by a clerical error.” The two explain the significance of the conversations between Nixon and Colson: they place Nixon directly in the plot to cover up the Watergate conspiracy six weeks before Nixon says he first learned of it. Frampton shows researcher James Reston Jr. just how he would have used the conversations against Nixon in court, while Ben-Veniste instructs Reston on how Frost should interrogate Nixon as a hostile witness. Frost should ask something like, “Is it still your position, Mr. Nixon, that between 21 March and 30 April, 1973, you acted to stop the cover-up and prosecute the guilty?” When Nixon answers yes, Frost should follow, “But in fact, as late as 16 April, 1973, you were working out ‘scenarios’ with Ehrlichman and Haldeman to make John Dean the Watergate scapegoat, weren’t you?” Other questions to ask include, “By what right were you offering campaign money for the defense of your associates who were charged in a criminal conspiracy?” and “Isn’t it really true that you never made any effort before 21 March to learn the details of a criminal activity that you knew was going on all around you?” [Reston, 2007, pp. 50-51]
In his Watergate interview with former President Richard Nixon (see Early 1976 and April 13-15, 1977), David Frost continues from his earlier questioning about Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate conspiracy (see April 13, 1977) to the events of March 21, 1973 (see March 21, 1973). Now that Nixon’s status as a co-conspirator from the outset has been established, Frost wants to know why Nixon claims not to have known about the illegal aspects of the cover-up, or about the blackmail demands of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt, until this date. Nixon is cautious, claiming only that he learned of Hunt’s blackmail demands on March 21, and refusing to acknowledge that he knew anything about the $400,000 in payouts during the eight months preceding (see June 20-21, 1972).
Springing the Trap - Frost circles back, hoping for a flat confirmation: “So March 21 was the first day you learned about an illegal cover-up?” Nixon carefully says that March 21 was the day he learned of the “full import” of the cover-up, only having heard “smatterings” beforehand and being reassured by then-White House counsel John Dean that no White House personnel were involved. Frost springs his trap: “In that case, why did you say in such strong terms to [White House aide Charles] Colson on February 14, more than a month before, ‘The cover-up is the main ingredient, that’s where we gotta cut our losses. My losses are to be cut. The president’s losses got to be cut on the cover-up deal’” (see February 14, 1973). Nixon’s face betrays his shock. “Why did I say that?” he asks rhetorically, trying to gather himself. He fishes around for excuses, quickly settling on media reports at the time that tossed around charges of conspiracies, “hush money” payouts, and promises of executive clemency. That’s all he was referring to in the February 14 conversation, he says: the cover-up itself had to be avoided at all costs. Frost researcher James Reston, Jr. later writes, “It was an exquisite lie, a superb time warp.”
Error Goes Unnoticed - Only later do Reston and other research team members realize that no such stories had appeared in the media by February 14; in fact, allegations of a cover-up never made it into print until after burglar James McCord wrote his letter to Judge John Sirica on March 19 warning the judge of involvement of “higher-ups” in a conspiracy of silence (see March 19-23, 1973). No one had written publicly of any executive clemency deals until the subject was broached during the Senate Watergate investigative hearings (see February 7, 1973). But few of the millions who will see the interview will have the grasp of the chronology of events necessary to realize the extent of Nixon’s dishonesty.
Second Colson Bombshell - Frost reminds Nixon of his conversation with Colson of February 13 (see February 13, 1973), the day before, when they had discussed which Nixon official will have to take the fall for Watergate. Former campaign director John Mitchell couldn’t do it, the conversation went, but Nixon wants to know about Mitchell’s former deputy, Jeb Magruder. “He’s perjured himself, hasn’t he?” Nixon asked Colson. Frost asks Nixon, “So you knew about Magruder’s perjury as early as February the thirteenth?” Nixon bobs and weaves, talking about events from the year before, how Mitchell and Colson hated each other, how Colson and Ehrlichman hated each other. Frost brings Nixon back on point by reading another quote from the February 13 conversation, where Nixon says that “the problem” will come up if “one of the seven [indicted Watergate burglars] begins to talk…” Frost asks, “Now, in that remark, it seems to be that someone running the cover-up couldn’t have expressed it more clearly than that, could he?” Frost wants to know precisely what the phrase “one of the seven begins to talk” means. Nixon argues, but Frost refuses to be distracted. How can it mean anything else except “some sort of conspiracy to stop Hunt from talking about something damaging?” Frost asks. Nixon retorts, “You could state your conclusion, and I’ve stated my views.”
Nixon's Own Words Prove Knowledge, Complicity - Frost proceeds to pepper Nixon with his own quotes proving his knowledge and complicity, nine of them, a barrage that leaves Nixon nearly breathless. Nixon finally accuses Frost of taking his words out of context. Frost’s final quote is from an April 21 meeting where Nixon told aides John Dean and H. R. Haldeman, “Christ, just turn over any cash we got.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 126-134] After the taping, Nixon asks his aides about the Colson transcripts: “What was that tape? I’m sure I never heard that tape before. Find out about that tape.” [Time, 5/9/1977]
Entity Tags: James Reston, Jr, David Frost, Charles Colson, E. Howard Hunt, James McCord, John Sirica, Richard M. Nixon, John Dean, H.R. Haldeman, Jeb S. Magruder, John Mitchell
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
In his first interview session with former President Richard Nixon about Watergate (see April 13-15, 1977), David Frost moves from the erased Watergate tape (see November 21, 1973) to Nixon’s damning conversation with Charles Colson about “stonewalling” the Watergate investigation. This time around, Frost is far more prepared and ready to deal with Nixon’s tactics of obfuscation and misdirection than in earlier interviews (see April 6, 1977).
Surprise Information - Nixon is unaware that Frost knows about his conversation that same day with Colson (see June 20, 1972). Along with what is known about his conversation with Haldeman, the Colson conversation puts Nixon squarely in the midst of the conspiracy at its outset. More important than Frost’s command of the facts is Frost’s springing of a “surprise card” (Frost researcher James Reston Jr.‘s words) on Nixon at the beginning of the Watergate sessions. Nixon obviously must contend with the questions of what else Frost knows, and how he would ask about it. As Frost details excerpts from the Colson conversation, about “stonewalling” and “hav[ing] our people delay, avoiding depositions,” Reston watches Nixon on the monitor. Reston will later recall: “His jawline seemed to elongate. The corners of his mouth turned down. His eyes seemed more liquid. One could almost see the complicated dials in his head turning feverishly. It was a marvelously expressive face. The range of movement both within the contours of the visage and with the hands was enormous.” Frost concludes with the question, “Now, somewhere you were pretty well informed by this conversation, weren’t you?” After some fumbling and half-hearted admissions of some knowledge, Nixon begins justifying his actions in the conspiracy: “My motive was not to cover up a criminal action, but to be sure that as any slip over—or should I say slop over, a better word—any slop over in a way that would damage innocent people or blow it into political proportions.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 124-126]
Pinning Nixon down on CIA Interference - Frost asks about the conversations of June 23 (see June 23, 1972), when Nixon told his aides to have the CIA interfere with the FBI’s investigation of the burglary. Nixon tries dodging the point, emphasizing how busy he was with other matters that day and quibbling about the definition of the phrase “cover-up,” but finally says that he had no criminal motive in ordering the CIA to stop the FBI from investigating the matter of the Mexican checks found in Watergate burglar Bernard Barker’s bank accounts. He was merely engaged in political containment, he says, and besides, two weeks later, the FBI traced the checks to a Mexican bank anyway (see Before April 7, 1972 and August 1-2, 1972). Nixon emphasizes his instructions to then-FBI director L. Patrick Gray to move forward on the investigation (see July 6, 1972). (Later, Nixon staff member Jack Brennan will admit that they had almost convinced Nixon to admit to the illegality of the June 23 orders, but Nixon had demurred.)
'You Joined a Conspiracy that You Never Left' - It now falls to Frost to confront Nixon with the strictures of the law and the evidence that he had broken those laws. Frost says, “But surely, in all you’ve just said, you have proved exactly that that was the case, that there was a cover-up of criminal activity because you’ve already said, and the record shows you knew, that Hunt and Liddy [E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, the leaders of Nixon’s “Plumbers”] were involved… you knew that, in fact, criminals would be protected.” Nixon protests, “Now just a moment,” but Frost says, “Period.” Frost lectures Nixon on obstruction of justice, saying: “The law states that when intent and foreseeable consequences are sufficient, motive is completely irrelevant.… If I try to rob a bank and fail, that’s no defense. I still tried to rob a bank. I would say you tried to obstruct justice and succeeded in that period” between June 23 and July 6. Nixon retorts that he does not believe Frost knows much about the details of the obstruction of justice statutes, but fails to move Frost, who has been carefully instructed in the obstruction statutes all week. Frost eventually says: “Now, after the Gray conversation, the cover-up went on. You would say that you were not aware of it. I was arguing that you were part of it as a result of the June 23 conversation.” Nixon repeats, “You’re gonna say that I was a part of it as a result of the June 23 conversation?” Reston later writes, “It was a crucial moment, a moment that took considerable courage for David Frost.” Frost replies: “Yes.… I would have said that you joined a conspiracy that you never left.” “Then we totally disagree on that,” Nixon retorts. Reston later writes: “No journalist in America, I concluded, would have had the courage of Frost in that vital moment. But therein lay the failing of American journalism. For Frost here was an advocate. He was far beyond the narrow American definition of ‘objective journalism.’” [Time, 5/9/1977; Reston, 2007, pp. 124-126]
Entity Tags: David Frost, Bernard Barker, Charles Colson, Richard M. Nixon, L. Patrick Gray, James Reston, Jr, E. Howard Hunt, Central Intelligence Agency, G. Gordon Liddy, Jack Brennan
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
H. R. Haldeman’s “The Ends of Power.” [Source: Amazon (.com)]Former Nixon aide H. R. Haldeman, in his autobiography The Ends of Power, advances his own insider theory of the genesis of the Watergate burglaries (see July 26-27, 1970). Haldeman, currently serving a one-year prison sentence for perjuring himself during his testimony about the Watergate cover-up, became so angered while watching David Frost interview former President Nixon, and particularly Nixon’s attempts to pin the blame for Watergate on Haldeman and fellow aide John Ehrlichman (see April 15, 1977), that he decided to write the book to tell his version of events. Some of his assertions:
Nixon, Colson Behind 'Plumbers;' Watergate Burglary 'Deliberately Sabotaged' - He writes that he believes then-President Nixon ordered the operation that resulted in the burglaries and surveillance of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters because he and Charles Colson, the aide who supervised the so-called “Plumbers” (see Late June-July 1971), were both “infuriated with [DNC chairman Lawrence] O’Brien’s success in using the ITT case against them” (see February 22, 1972). Colson, whom Haldeman paints as Nixon’s “hit man” who was the guiding spirit behind the “Plumbers,” then recruited another White House aide, E. Howard Hunt, who brought in yet another aide, G. Gordon Liddy. Haldeman goes into a more interesting level of speculation: “I believe the Democratic high command knew the break-in was going to take place, and let it happen. They may even have planted the plainclothesman who arrested the burglars. I believe that the CIA monitored the Watergate burglars throughout. And that the overwhelming evidence leads to the conclusion that the break-in was deliberately sabotaged.” O’Brien calls Haldeman’s version of events “a crock.” As for Haldeman’s insinuations that the CIA might have been involved with the burglaries, former CIA director Richard Helms says, “The agency had nothing to do with the Watergate break-in.” Time magazine’s review of the book says that Haldeman is more believable when he moves from unverifiable speculation into provable fact. One such example is his delineation of the conspiracy to cover up the burglaries and the related actions and incidents. Haldeman writes that the cover-up was not a “conspiracy” in the legal sense, but was “organic,” growing “one step at a time” to limit political damage to the president.
Story of Kennedy Ordering Vietnamese Assassination Actually True - He suggests that the evidence Hunt falsified that tried to blame former president John F. Kennedy of having then-South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem assassination (see Mid-September 1971) may have pointed to the actual truth of that incident, hinting that Kennedy may have ordered the assassination after all.
US Headed Off Two Potentially Catastrophic Nuclear Incidents with USSR, China - He also writes of a previously unsuspected incident where Nixon and other US officials convinced the Soviets not to attack Chinese nuclear sites. And Haldeman tells of a September 1970 incident where the US managed to head off a second Cuban Missile Crisis. Both stories of US intervention with the Soviets are strongly denied by both of Nixon’s Secretaries of State, Henry Kissinger, and William Rogers.
Duality of Nixon's Nature - Haldeman says that while Nixon carried “greatness in him,” and showed strong “intelligence, analytical ability, judgment, shrewdness, courage, decisiveness and strength,” he was plagued by equally powerful flaws. Haldeman writes that Nixon had a “dirty, mean, base side” and “a terrible temper,” and describes him as “coldly calculating, devious, craftily manipulative… the weirdest man ever to live in the White House.” For himself, Haldeman claims to have always tried to give “active encouragement” to the “good” side of Nixon and treat the “bad” side with “benign neglect.” He often ignored Nixon’s “petty, vindictive” orders, such as giving mass lie detector tests to employees of the State Department as a means of finding security leaks. He writes that while he regrets not challenging Nixon more “frontally” to counter the president’s darker impulses, he notes that other Nixon aides who had done so quickly lost influence in the Oval Office. Colson, on the other hand, rose to a high level of influence by appealing to Nixon’s darker nature. Between the two, Haldeman writes, the criminal conspiracy of Watergate was created. (Colson disputes Haldeman’s depiction of his character as well as the events of the conspiracy.) Haldeman himself never intended to do anything illegal, denies any knowledge of the “Gemstone” conspiracy proposal (see January 29, 1972), and denies ordering his aide Gordon Strachan to destroy evidence (see June 18-19, 1972).
Reconstructing the 18 1/2 Minute Gap - Haldeman also reconstructs the conversation between himself and Nixon that was erased from the White House tapes (see June 23, 1972 and July 13-16, 1973). Time notes that Haldeman reconstructs the conversation seemingly to legally camouflage his own actions and knowledge, “possibly to preclude further legal charges against him…” According to Haldeman’s reconstruction, Nixon said, “I know one thing. I can’t stand an FBI interrogation of Colson… Colson can talk about the president, if he cracks. You know I was on Colson’s tail for months to nail Larry O’Brien on the [Howard] Hughes deal (see April 30 - May 1, 1973; O’Brien had worked for Hughes, and Nixon was sure O’Brien had been involved in illegalities). Colson told me he was going to get the information I wanted one way or the other. And that was O’Brien’s office they were bugging, wasn’t it? And who’s behind it? Colson’s boy Hunt. Christ. Colson called [deputy campaign chief Jeb Magruder] and got the whole operation started. Right from the g_ddamn White House… I just hope the FBI doesn’t check the office log and put it together with that Hunt and Liddy meeting in Colson’s office.” Time writes, “If the quotes are accurate, Nixon is not only divulging his own culpability in initiating the bugging but is also expressing a clear intent to keep the FBI from learning about it. Thus the seeds of an obstruction of justice have been planted even before the celebrated June 23 ‘smoking gun’ conversation, which ultimately triggered Nixon’s resignation from office.” Haldeman says he isn’t sure who erased the tape, but he believes it was Nixon himself. Nixon intended to erase all the damning evidence from the recordings, but since he was, Haldeman writes, “the least dexterous man I have ever known,” he quickly realized that “it would take him ten years” to erase everything.
'Smoking Gun' Allegations - Haldeman also makes what Time calls “spectacular… but unverified” allegations concerning the June 23, 1972 “smoking gun” conversations (see June 23, 1972). The focus of that day’s discussion was how the White House could persuade the CIA to head off the FBI’s investigation of the Watergate burglary. The tape proved that Nixon had indeed attempted to block the criminal investigation into Watergate, and feared that the money found on the burglars would be traced back to his own re-election campaign committee. Haldeman writes that he was confused when Nixon told him to tell the CIA, “Look, the problem is that this will open up the whole Bay of Pigs thing again.” When Haldeman asked Helms to intercede with the FBI, and passed along Nixon’s warning that “the Bay of Pigs may be blown,” Helms’s reaction, Haldeman writes, was electric. “Turmoil in the room, Helms gripping the arms of his chair, leaning forward and shouting, ‘The Bay of Pigs had nothing to do with this. I have no concern about the Bay of Pigs.’” Haldeman writes, “I was absolutely shocked by Helms‘[s] violent reaction. Again I wondered, what was such dynamite in the Bay of Pigs story?” Haldeman comes to believe that the term “Bay of Pigs” was a reference to the CIA’s secret attempts to assassinate Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. The CIA had withheld this info from the Warren Commission, the body that investigated the assassination of President Kennedy, and Haldeman implies that Nixon was using the “Bay of Pigs thing” as some sort of blackmail threat over the CIA. Haldeman also hints, very vaguely, that Nixon, when he was vice president under Dwight D. Eisenhower, was a chief instigator of the actual Bay of Pigs invasion. (Time notes that while Vice President Nixon probably knew about the plans, “he certainly had not been their author.”)
Other Tidbits - Haldeman writes that Nixon’s taping system was created to ensure that anyone who misrepresented what Nixon and others said in the Oval Office could be proven wrong, and that Nixon had Kissinger particularly in mind. Nixon kept the tapes because at first he didn’t believe he could be forced to give them up, and later thought he could use them to discredit former White House counsel John Dean. He says Nixon was wrong in asserting that he ordered Haldeman to get rid of the tapes. Haldeman believes the notorious “deep background” source for Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward was actually Fred Fielding, Dean’s White House deputy. Interestingly, Haldeman apparently discovered the real identity of “Deep Throat” in 1972 to be senior FBI official W. Mark Felt (see October 19, 1972). It is unclear why Haldeman now writes that Fielding, not Felt, was the Post source.
Not a Reliable Source - Time notes that Haldeman’s book is far from being a reliable source of information, characterizing it as “badly flawed, frustratingly vague and curiously defensive,” and notes that “[m]any key sections were promptly denied; others are clearly erroneous.” Time concludes, “Despite the claim that his aim was finally to ‘tell the truth’ about the scandal, his book is too self-protective for that.” And it is clear that Haldeman, though he writes how the cover-up was “morally and legally the wrong thing to do—so it should have failed,” has little problem being part of such a criminal conspiracy. The biggest problem with Watergate was not that it was illegal, he writes, but that it was handled badly. He writes, “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind today that if I were back at the starting point, faced with the decision of whether to join up, even knowing what the ultimate outcome would be, I would unhesitatingly do it.” [Time, 2/27/1978; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
Entity Tags: Fred F. Fielding, William P. Rogers, E. Howard Hunt, Democratic National Committee, David Frost, Charles Colson, W. Mark Felt, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, US Department of State, Lawrence O’Brien, Richard Helms, John Dean, Jeb S. Magruder, Howard Hughes, Henry A. Kissinger, Gordon Strachan, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon, H.R. Haldeman, John F. Kennedy
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Former White House counsel John Dean helps destroy the credibility of the sensationalistic new book Silent Coup, which alleges that Dean masterminded the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), that his wife was involved in a Democratic Party-operated prostitution ring (see May 6, 1991), that Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, one of the reporters instrumental in exposing the Watergate conspiracy, was a CIA plant, and former White House chief of staff Alexander Haig orchestrated the “silent coup” that removed Richard Nixon from office (see May 8, 1991). Dean learns that convicted Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy (see January 30, 1973) worked behind the scenes with the book’s authors, Leonard Colodny and Robert Gettlin, on developing, sourcing, and writing the book. Although Dean has played a key role in destroying the book’s credibility, the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, intends on publishing the book anyway, now marketing it to what Dean will later call “Nixon apologists and right-wingers, giving them a new history of Nixon’s downfall in which Bob Woodward, Al Haig, and John Dean were the villains, and randy Democrats had all but invited surveillance. Who better to peddle this tale than uber-conservative Gordon Liddy?” Preparing for an onslaught of negative publicity and legal actions, St. Martin’s Press doubles its defamation insurance and reissues Liddy’s Watergate biography, Will, with a new postscript that endorses Silent Coup. Dean notes that for years, Liddy has attempted to restore Nixon’s tarnished reputation at the expense of others, particularly Dean and Liddy’s fellow burglar, E. Howard Hunt. The book comes at a perfect time for Liddy, Dean will later note: “Since the first publication of Will in 1980 he had made a living by putting his dysfunctional personality on display. By the early nineties speaking engagements were becoming less frequent for him, and his business ventures, including several novels, were unsuccessful. Silent Coup put him back in the spotlight, where he loved to be—publicly misbehaving.” Dean is disturbed when another convicted Watergate figure, former White House counsel Charles Colson, joins Liddy in backing the book. Dean believed that he and Colson had forged a friendship during their incarceration in federal prison (see September 3, 1974), and questions Colson’s integrity and his public reinvention as a Christian minister because of Colson’s endorsement. [Dean, 2006, pp. xx-xxii]
Disbarred lawyer and convicted Watergate figure Charles Colson (see June 1974), now the head of the Christian Prison Fellowship ministry, writes that “the Constitution does not give the Supreme Court final say on constitutional questions.” Colson, a traditional social conservative, makes this startling claim in an op-ed about the recent Boerne v. Flores decision of the Court, in which the Court struck down the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as an unconstitutional encroachment on the fundamental concept of the separation of church and state. Colson writes that the decision has “precipitat[ed] what may be the greatest constitutional crisis of our age.” Colson, a supporter of the RFRA, says the striking down of the act makes “religious liberties… once again vulnerable.” The overarching question Colson raises is whether the Supreme Court is the final judicial arbiter of the Constitution. Colson gives a blunt answer: “Contrary to what most Americans think, the Constitution does not give the Supreme Court final say on constitutional questions. And the Founders resisted the idea.” Colson cites the landmark 1803 case of Marbury v. Madison, in which the Court, he says, took up the power of judicial review, then gives three examples of presidents defying Court orders. However, fellow convicted Watergate figure John Dean, a former White House counsel, refutes Colson’s arguments. In 2006, Dean will write that “Colson, like [televangelist Pat] Robertson and others on the religious right, is seeking, in effect, to nullify Supreme Court decisions of which he does not approve.” Dean will note that although Colson has long since lost his license to practice law, he is considered a scholar of some importance by his conservative contemporaries, and therefore has some influence.
'Marbury' and Judicial Review - Dean notes that Colson’s interpretation of the bedrock Marbury case is wrong. Judicial review by federal courts of Congressional legislation was a long-established principle by the time the Court issued its ruling. Even before the Constitutional Conventions, state courts had routinely overturned state legislative acts. The assumption of most during the debates over the contents of the Constitution was that federal courts, and most specifically the Supreme Court, would have similar power over federal legislation.
Thomas Jefferson and the Alien Imposition Act - Colson writes that “Thomas Jefferson refused to execute the Alien Imposition Act.” Colson is wrong: there was never such an act. Dean writes, “If Colson is referring to the infamous Alien and Sedition Act of 1798, it had nothing to do with a court order, and the example is therefore very misleading.” Jefferson’s predecessor, John Adams, enforced the law, which Jefferson considered unconstitutional. Jefferson pardoned those convicted of sedition under the statute when he gained the presidency. He never “refused to execute” it because it expired the day before he was inaugurated, March 4, 1801.
Andrew Jackson and the Bank of the United States - Colson writes that Andrew Jackson “spurned a Court order in a banking case.” Again, as Dean notes, the citation is misleading. Dean believes Colson is referring to Jackson’s 1832 veto of a bill to recharter the Bank of the United States. The Court had not issued an opinion on the rechartering of a federal bank, so Jackson did not defy a Court order.
Abraham Lincoln and the 'Dred Scott' Decision - Colson concludes his historical argument by saying that Abraham Lincoln “rejected the Dred Scott decision. Lincoln even asked Congress to overrule the Court—which it did, passing a law that reversed Dred Scott (1862).” Dean calls Colson’s argument “a stunning summation, not to mention distortion, of history.” The infamous 1857 Dred Scott v. Sanford decision found that slaves were neither citizens nor persons under the Constitution, that Congress could not prohibit slavery in the territories, and that the Declaration of Independence’s statement that “all men are created equal” applied only to white men. Lincoln argued passionately against the decision during his 1858 debates with his Senate opponent, Stephen Douglas, and swore that he would seek to reverse the decision. But, as Dean will note, “Seeking reversal is not defiance of the law.” Lincoln did defy the Court in 1861 by suspending the writ of habeas corpus, and explained his unprecedented action to Congress by arguing that he did so to save the Union from dissolution. Dred Scott was overturned, not by Congressional legislation, but by the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Bill of Rights.
The Danger Inherent in Colson's Arguments - Dean will note: “Colson’s baseless arguments are unfortunately typical of those that authoritarian conservatives insist on making, using facts that are irrelevant or misleading, if not demonstrably wrong. The self-righteousness of authoritarians [such as] Colson and Pat Robertson… has become so pronounced that at times it seems as if they believe themselves actually to be speaking ex cathedra [a sardonic reference to the infallibility of the Pope]. Their contention that the president of the United States is not bound by rulings of the Supreme Court, or, for that matter, by the laws of Congress, when these rulings or laws relate to the functions of the presidency, has gained increasing currency with authoritarian conservatives, both leaders and followers.” Such acceptance “is truly frightening in its implications.” [Christianity Today, 10/6/1997; Dean, 2006, pp. 111-115; Catholic Encyclopedia, 2008]
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