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Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward have little luck talking to anyone who works for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP). Both reporters spend several evenings visiting and telephoning CREEP employees at their homes. The first person Bernstein speaks to turns him away, shuddering. He has to leave “before they see you,” she says. “Please leave me alone. I know you’re only trying to do your job, but you don’t realize the pressure we’re under.” Another bursts into tears as she turns him away. “I want to help,” she says, but “God, it’s all so awful.” A third begs: “Please don’t call me on the telephone—God, especially not at work, but not here either. Nobody knows what they’ll do. They are desperate.”
Sally Harmony - One thing they do find out is the level of knowledge possessed by Sally Harmony, G. Gordon Liddy’s secretary at CREEP. Harmony had not been truthful or forthcoming in her recent testimony before the FBI and the grand jury investigating the Watergate break-in (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). This ties in with another Post reporter’s tip to Bernstein that Harmony lied to protect both her boss and CREEP deputy director Jeb Magruder. A Justice Department attorney confirms the fact that prosecutors believe Harmony was not truthful in her testimony, but they lack the evidence to charge her with perjury.
Destruction of Records - Some CREEP employees guardedly tell Bernstein and Woodward about large-scale destruction of records in the days after the Watergate burglary, but they know no specifics. Those who would know were interviewed by FBI investigators, but were interviewed at CREEP headquarters, in the presence of either a CREEP lawyer or Robert Mardian, the political coordinator of the committee and a former assistant attorney general. According to the employees Bernstein and Woodward interview, Mardian never directly told anyone to lie, but told them not to volunteer anything and evade whenever possible.
Pieces of Information - They garner other shreds of information:
John Mitchell, who resigned from the directorship of CREEP (see July 1, 1972), is still heavily involved in the organization, appearing three times a week “telling Fred LaRue and Bob Mardian what to do.”
Magruder himself is terrified, acting “like the roof is going to fall down on him tomorrow.”
CREEP director Clark MacGregor wanted to write a report detailing his knowledge of campaign finance irregularities, “but the White House said no.”
Prosecutors had asked employees if they knew of other surveillance operations besides the one at Democratic headquarters.
FBI officials had asked about documents being shredded.
“I heard from somebody in finance that if they [the FBI] ever got a look at the books it would be all over, so they burned ‘em.”
Liddy “would never talk” and Harmony talked about her “bad memory.”
“From what I hear they were spying on everybody, following them around, the whole bit.”
The obvious terror of the people they interview unsettles the two reporters. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 58-61)
The Washington Post reports that a $25,000 cashier’s check, apparently earmarked for the campaign to re-elect President Nixon, found its way into the Miami bank account of one of the Watergate burglars, Bernard Barker (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). (Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007)
Origin of Check - The check, drawn on a Boca Raton, Florida bank, was made out to Kenneth H. Dahlberg, the finance manager for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP). Dahlberg says that in early April, he gave the check to “the treasurer of the Committee [Hugh Sloan, who has since quit the committee and is cooperating with the FBI investigation] or to Maurice Stans himself.” Stans, formerly Nixon’s secretary of commerce, is CREEP’s finance chief. The money is made up of “[c]ontributions I collected in my role as Midwest finance chairman,” Dahlberg explains. “In the process of fund-raising I had accumulated some cash… so I recall making a cash deposit while I was in Florida and getting a cashier’s check made out to myself. I didn’t want to carry all that cash into Washington.”
Watergate Connections - Barker withdrew much of the money from the same Boca Raton bank account, in $100 bills. 53 of those bills were found on the five Watergate burglars after their arrest. Clark MacGregor, who replaced former Attorney General John Mitchell as the head of CREEP (see July 1, 1972), says he knows nothing about the check or the money found on Barker and the other burglars: “[T]hese events took place before I came aboard. Mitchell and Stans would presumably know.” The Post also learns that another $89,000 in four separate checks were deposited in Barker’s Miami bank account in May (see June 23, 1972). The checks were originally made out to Mexican lawyer Manuel Ogarrio Daguerre, on an account at Mexico’s Banco Internacional. While looking over the story before publication, Post editor Barry Sussman says: “We’ve never had a story like this. Just never.” (Bernstein and Woodward 8/1/1972; Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 43-44)
GAO Will Investigate Nixon Campaign Finances - Stans’s secretary says her boss cannot comment on the story because he is “agoniz[ing] over the confusing circumstances” and does not want to say anything that might compromise his integrity. Philip S. Hughes, the director of the Federal Elections Division of the General Accounting Office (GAO, the investigative arm of Congress), says that the story reveals “for the first time [that] the bugging incident was related to the campaign finance law.… There’s nothing in Maury [Stans]‘s reports showing anything like that Dahlberg check.” Hughes says his office intends to fully audit the Nixon campaign finances. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 45-47)
Clark MacGregor, the new head of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), meets with a select group of White House reporters. In the press conference, MacGregor tries to pin the entire blame for the Watergate conspiracy—burglary and financial shenanigans alike—on burglar and CREEP lawyer G. Gordon Liddy. (Inside sources had predicted MacGregor would do just that (see August 1-2, 1972).) Liddy, MacGregor says, had spent campaign money on his own initiative “for the purpose of determining what to do if the crazies made an attack on the president” at the upcoming Republican National Convention. After the conference, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward tries to elicit more information from an obviously exasperated MacGregor. MacGregor shouts: “I have no idea why the departed Gordon Liddy wanted cash.… It’s impossible for me to tell. I never met Liddy. I don’t know what’s going on.” (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 47)
Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein manages to land a meeting with a low-level employee of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP); like the other employees he and his colleague Bob Woodward have interviewed, she is frightened (see August, 1972), but more willing to speak out.
Meeting - The employee insists that they meet for lunch in a public restaurant frequented by CREEP personnel, so that she will not seem as if she is meeting clandestinely with a reporter. Bernstein asks if she is not being overdramatic, and she responds: “I wish I was. They know everything at the committee. They know that the indictments (see September 15, 1972) will be down in a week and that there will be only seven. Once, another person went back to the [district attorney] because the FBI didn’t ask her the right questions. That night her boss knew about it. I always had one institution I believed in—the FBI. No more.”
Does Not Think Story Will Come Out - She also went back to the DA, she says, but has no faith that the story will ever come to light. “It’ll never come out, the whole truth. You’ll never get the truth. You can’t get it by reporters just talking to the good people. They know you’ve been out talking to people at night. Somebody from the press office came up to our office today and said, ‘I sure wish I knew who in this committee had a link to Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.’ The FBI never even asked me if I was at the committee over the weekend of the break-in. I was there almost the whole time. [Robert] Odle [CREEP’s personnel director] didn’t tell them everything he knew. He kept removing records. I don’t know if he destroyed them or not. He would tell everybody to get out of the room and then close the door. Then he’d leave with the records.… The whole thing is being very well covered up and nobody will ever know what happened.”
Names Named - As Bernstein walks her back to her office—again, to avoid the appearance of trying to hide her contact with the press—she adds: “Okay, I’ll tell you, but it won’t do any good. And don’t ever call me, or come to see me or ask any questions about how I know. LaRue, Porter, and Magruder. They all knew about the bugging, or at least lied to the grand jury about what they know. And Mitchell. But Mitchell is mostly speculation. Take my word on the other three. I know.” Frederick LaRue, Bart Porter, Jeb Magruder, and John Mitchell are all former White House officials who moved over to work for CREEP.
Discovered - Later that afternoon, Bernstein receives a phone call from the woman, who is near hysteria. “I’m in a phone booth,” she says. “When I got back from lunch, I got called into somebody’s office and confronted with the fact that I had been seen talking to a Post reporter. They wanted to know everything. It was high up; that’s all you have to know. I told you they were following me. Please don’t call me again or some to see me.” That evening, Bernstein and Woodward go to her apartment; she refuses to open the door. Shortly thereafter, CREEP director Clark MacGregor calls Post executive editor Ben Bradlee to complain that Bernstein and Woodward have been harassing his employees. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 60-62)
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.” (Stern and Johnson 5/1/1973; Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 161-166; Woodward 2005, pp. 83-84)
Clark MacGregor, the head of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), admits to the existence of a CREEP cash fund (see September 29, 1972). MacGregor disputes its secret nature, and says that it was not knowingly used for anything illegal—it was merely to learn of, and counter, possible efforts to sabotage Richard Nixon’s primary campaign. He says five people were authorized to disburse or receive payments from the fund: John Mitchell, Maurice Stans, Herbert L. “Bart” Porter, Jeb Magruder, and G. Gordon Liddy. The day before, press secretary Ron Ziegler had denied the fund’s existence. CREEP officials have testified that the fund had paid out over $900,000. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 194-195)
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