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President Nixon’s “Plumbers” unit, tasked to plug media leaks from administration officials and outsiders to the media, burglarizes the Los Angeles office of psychiatrist Lewis Fielding to find damaging information on Daniel Ellsberg, the former defense analyst and patient of Fielding who leaked the “Pentagon Papers” to the media. (Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007) Ellsberg is a former Marine captain in Vietnam and protege of Henry Kissinger who had a change of heart over the war; he then leaked a secret set of Pentagon documents to the New York Times detailing how the Kennedy and Johnson administrations had secretly escalated the war in Vietnam (see June 13, 1971).
Watergate Connection - One of the burglars is Eugenio Martinez, who later is arrested as one of the five Watergate burglars (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Martinez and two others—Felipe de Diego and the mission leader, E. Howard Hunt, who will supervise the Watergate burglary—are all old “CIA hands” heavily involved in anti-Castro activities. Martinez is still active in the CIA, as is Hunt, whom he often refers to by his old CIA code name of “Eduardo.” Another Watergate burglar, CIA agent Bernard Barker, is also involved in the Ellsberg burglary.
Martinez: Burglary a Near-Disaster - Hunt tells Martinez and Diego that they are to burglarize the offices of a “traitor” who is spying for the Soviet Union, and that the mission was ordered by the White House, where Hunt is now an aide. Barker tells the Cubans, “We have to find some papers of a great traitor to the United States, who is a son of a b_tch .” The men will become a unit outside the normal law enforcement and intelligence channels, operating within but not part of the CIA, FBI, and “all the agencies,” Martinez will later recall. They buy photographic equipment at Sears, and Hunt and Diego use disguises—wigs, fake glasses, false identification, and voice-altering devices. “Barker recognized the name on Hunt’s false identification—Edward J. Hamilton—as the same cover name Eduardo had used during the Bay of Pigs,” Martinez will recall. The planning, Martinez will recall, is far looser and less meticulous than “anything I was used to in the [CIA].” A disguised Hunt and Diego, masquerading as delivery men, deliver the photographic equipment to the office; later that night, they and Martinez break in and rifle the office. Martinez will write that Hunt and de Diego looked “kind of queerish” in their disguises, with their “Peter Lorre-type glasses, and the funny Dita Beard wigs” (see February 22, 1972). Before the break-in, Barker, who does not enter, whispers to Martinez, “Hey, remember this name—Ellsberg.” Martinez does not recognize the name. (Martinez and Barker 10/1974; Reeves 2001, pp. 369)
Comedy of Errors - The burglars wait for hours until the cleaning lady leaves for the night, and find the door to the building locked. At that point, a fifth man, “George,” whom Martinez learns is G. Gordon Liddy, another of the Watergate burglars also involved in the Ellsberg planning, appears and tells them to break in through a window. (Martinez and Barker 10/1974) Three burglars—Bernard Barker, Felipe de Diego, and Eugenio Martinez—perform the actual break-in, while Hunt and Liddy act as lookouts. (Reeves 2001, pp. 369) The burglary is quickly turning into a comedy of errors, Martinez will recall. “This was nothing new. It’s what the Company did in the Bay of Pigs when they gave us old ships, old planes, old weapons. They explained that if you were caught in one of those operations with commercial weapons that you could buy anywhere, you could be said to be on your own. They teach you that they are going to disavow you. The Company teaches you to accept those things as the efficient way to work. And we were grateful. Otherwise we wouldn’t have had any help at all. In this operation it seemed obvious—they didn’t want it to be traced back to the White House. Eduardo told us that if we were caught, we should say we were addicts looking for drugs.” Martinez finds nothing concerning Ellsberg in the office except for Fielding’s telephone book, which Martinez photographs. Before leaving, Martinez spills some pills from Fielding’s briefcase—“vitamin C, I think”—over the floor to make it seem as if the burglars had broken in looking for drugs. As they leave the office, Martinez spots a police car trailing them, but they are not stopped. “I thought to myself that the police car was protecting us. That is the feeling you have when you are doing operations for the government. You think that every step has been taken to protect you.”
Failure; Training for Bigger Mission? - Martinez feels that the burglary is a failure, but Hunt insists that they celebrate anyway. Martinez tells Diego that the break-in must either be a training exercise for a more important mission to come, or it was a cover operation for something else. “I thought to myself that maybe these people already had the papers of Ellsberg. Maybe Dr. Fielding had given them out and for ethical reasons he needed to be covered. It seemed that these people already had what we were looking for because no one invites you to have champagne and is happy when you fail,” he will write. Martinez’s CIA supervisor is strangely uninterested in the incident. “I was certain then that the Company knew about his activities,” Martinez will write. “But once again my CO did not pursue the subject.” (Martinez and Barker 10/1974) Hunt telephones Plumbers supervisor Egil Krogh at 4 a.m. to report that the burglary was a success but they found no files on Ellsberg. (Reeves 2001, pp. 369)
Syndicated columnist Jack Anderson receives a memo written by International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) lobbyist Dita Beard; the memo goes a long way towards proving that in return for hefty campaign contributions to the GOP, the Justice Department dropped its antitrust suit against the corporation (see 1969 and July 31, 1971). The memo, written on June 25, 1971 by Beard to ITT vice president Bill Merriam, is entitled “Subject: San Diego Convention.” Beard indicated her distress at the possibility of someone leaking the fact that ITT had quietly contributed $400,000 to the GOP for its 1972 convention in San Diego. Two of the few who know of the contribution, Beard wrote, were President Nixon and Attorney General John Mitchell. She asked whether the $400,000 should be donated in cash or in services, then wrote: “I am convinced because of several conversations with Louie re Mitchell that our noble commitment has gone a long way toward our negotiations on the mergers eventually coming out as Hal wanted them. Certainly the president has told Mitchell to see that things are working out fairly. It is still only McLaren’s mickey-mouse that we are suffering.” Anderson doesn’t know who “Louie” is, but he is sure “Hal” is Harold Geneen, ITT’s president. ITT had announced a $100,000 contribution, but the real amount is four times that. One of Anderson’s aides, Brit Hume, interviews Beard, and during a night of heavy drinking and Beard’s emotional outbursts, finds out that in May 1971, Beard had gone to a party hosted by Kentucky governor Louie Nunn, the “Louie” of the memo. Mitchell was at the party, and Beard was there to prime Mitchell as to what exactly ITT wants in return for its contribution and its assurance that it can secure San Diego as the GOP’s convention site. According to Beard, the deal was hatched between herself and Mitchell at Nunn’s party. Anderson quickly publishes a column based on the memo that causes a tremendous stir in Washington and the press. (Anderson 1999, pp. 194-200) (In his book The Secret Man, Bob Woodward will give the date for Anderson’s column revealing the Beard memo as February 19. This is apparently a typographical error.) (Woodward 2005, pp. 37) The White House will successfully pressure Beard to disavow the memo (see Mid-Late March, 1972).
W. Mark Felt, the number three official at the FBI, is given the memo allegedly written by ITT lobbyist Dita Beard (see February 22, 1972) by Assistant Attorney General L. Patrick Gray to have it forensically analyzed. However, Gray soon demands the memo’s return. Felt has the memo analyzed, but no solid conclusions as to its validity can be initially determined. Shortly after returning the memo to Gray, Felt receives a phone call from White House counsel John Dean; Dean tells Felt that ITT experts had determined that the Beard memo was a forgery. On March 17, as Beard is denying writing the memo, FBI analysts report to Felt that the memo is likely authentic. Before the FBI can release its findings to the public, Dean presses Felt to change the letter; both Felt and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover refuse, and Hoover releases the finding on March 23. Hoover even refuses a direct request from President Nixon to back off on the finding of authenticity. Felt feels that the request is nothing less than pressure from the White House to cover up the ITT-GOP connection, pressure which Felt will later characterize as “in some ways a prelude to Watergate.” (Gentry 2001, pp. 716-717; Woodward 2005, pp. 37-39)
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). (Wallechinsky and Wallace 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). (Wallechinsky and Wallace 1981; Woodward 2005, pp. 8-39)
Barbara Jordan (D-TX), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, makes an eloquent speech reminding her colleagues of the constitutional basis for impeaching a president (see May 9, 1974). Jordan says that America has come too far for her “to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.” Jordan reminds her colleagues that impeachment is not conviction. It proceeds “from the misconduct of public men… the abuse or violation of some public trust.” To vote for impeachment, she says, is not a vote for removing the president from office. The power of impeachment is “an essential check in the hands of this body, the legislature, against and upon the encroachment of the executive.” The framers of the Constitution “did not make the accusers and the judges the same person.… The framers confined in the Congress the power, if need be, to remove the president in order to strike a delicate balance between a president swollen with power and grown tyrannical and preservation of the independence of the executive.” It cannot become a political tool to strike against a president that a group of partisans dislikes, but must “proceed within the confines of the constitutional term, ‘high crime and misdemeanors.’” The evidence against President Nixon is enough to show that he did know that money from his re-election campaign funded the Watergate burglaries (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), and he did know of campaign official E. Howard Hunt’s participation in the burglary of a psychiatrist’s office to find damaging information against a political enemy (see September 9, 1971), as well as Hunt’s participation in the Dita Beard/ITT affair (see February 22, 1972), and “Hunt’s fabrication of cables designed to discredit the Kennedy administration.” The Nixon White House has not cooperated properly with Congress and the special Watergate prosecutor in turning over evidence under subpoena; Jordan says it was not clear that Nixon would even obey a Supreme Court ruling that the evidence must be given up (see July 24, 1974). Nixon has repeatedly lied to Congress, the investigators, and the US citizenry about what he knew and when he knew it, and has repeatedly attempted to “thwart the lawful investigation by government prosecutors.” In short, Nixon has betrayed the public trust. He is impeachable, Jordan says, because he has attempted to “subvert the Constitution.” She says: “If the impeachment provision in the Constitution of the United States will not reach the offenses charged here, then perhaps that eighteenth century Constitution should be abandoned to a twentieth century paper shredder. Has the president committed offenses and planned and directed and acquiesced in a course of conduct which the Constitution will not tolerate? This is the question. We know that. We know the question. We should now forthwith proceed to answer the question. It is reason, and not passion, which must guide our deliberations, guide our debate, and guide our decision.” (Jordan 7/25/1974)
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