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Profile: Donald Segretti

Donald Segretti was a participant or observer in the following events:

Donald Segretti.Donald Segretti. [Source: Spartacus Educational]Three attorneys—one the assistant attorney general of Tennessee, Alex Shipley—are asked to work as so-called “agent provocateur” for the Campaign to Re-elect the President (CREEP), an organization working to re-elect President Nixon (see October 10, 1972). The three tell their story to Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein in late September 1972, and Bernstein’s colleague Bob Woodward learns more from his FBI source, “Deep Throat,” days later (see October 7, 1972 and October 9, 1972). They all say they were asked to work to undermine the primary campaigns of Democratic presidential candidates by the same man, Donald Segretti, a former Treasury Department lawyer who lives in California. Segretti will later be identified as a CREEP official. Segretti, the attorneys will say, promises them “big jobs” in Washington after Nixon’s re-election (see November 7, 1972). All three says they rejected Segretti’s offers (see June 27-October 23, 1971). Segretti himself will deny the allegations, calling them “ridiculous.”
Part of a Larger Pattern? - Bernstein and Woodward connect the Segretti story to other Nixon campaign “dirty tricks” they are already aware of, including efforts by Watergate burglar James McCord (see June 19, 1972) to “investigate” reporter Jack Anderson, attempts by Watergate surveillance man Alfred Baldwin (see June 17, 1972) to infiltrate Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt’s successful attempts to electronically “bug” Democratic campaign headquarters (see May 27-28, 1972) and his investigation of Democratic presidential candidate Edward Kennedy (see June 19, 1972), and McCord’s rental of an office next to the offices of Democratic presidential candidate Edmund Muskie. To the reporters, the Segretti story opens up speculation that the Nixon campaign had undertaken political espionage efforts long before the Watergate burglary. In their book All the President’s Men, Bernstein and Woodward write, “Watergate could have been scheduled before the president’s re-election chances looked so good and perhaps someone had neglected to pull the plug.” Bernstein has heard of CIA operations such as this mounted against foreign governments, called “black operations,” but sometimes more colloquially called “mindf_cking.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 114-115]
Segretti a 'Small Fish in a Big Pond' - An FBI official investigating CREEP’s illegal activities will call Segretti “a small fish in a big pond,” and will say that at least 50 undercover Nixon operatives have worked around the country to disrupt and spy on Democratic campaigns. The political intelligence and sabotage operation is called the “offensive security” program both by White House and CREEP officials. FBI investigators will find that many of the acts of political espionage and sabotage conducted by Segretti and his colleagues are traced to this “offensive security” program, which was conceived and directed in the White House and by senior CREEP officials, and funded by the secret “slush fund” directed by CREEP finance manager Maurice Stans (see September 29, 1972). FBI officials will refuse to directly discuss Segretti’s actions, saying that he is part of the Watergate investigation (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), but one FBI official angrily calls Segretti’s actions “indescribable.”
White House Connections Confirmed - In mid-October 1972, the Washington Post will identify Dwight Chapin, President Nixon’s appointments secretary, as the person who hired Segretti and received reports of his campaign activities. Segretti’s other contact is Hunt. Segretti also received at least $35,000 in pay for his activities by Nixon’s personal lawyer, Herbert Kalmbach. [Washington Post, 1/31/1973]

Entity Tags: Donald Segretti, Alex Shipley, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, Herbert Kalmbach, Richard M. Nixon, E. Howard Hunt, US Department of the Treasury, Dwight Chapin, Campaign to Re-elect the President

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate, Elections Before 2000

Donald Segretti.Donald Segretti. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]One of the Nixon campaign’s “agents provocateur,” California lawyer Donald Segretti, attempts to recruit three former colleagues to work with him in disrupting and interfering with Democratic campaign events. Segretti met the three, Alex Shipley, Roger Lee Nixt, and Kenneth Griffiths, while all three served as captains in the Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps during the Vietnam War. Shipley, now an assistant attorney general in Tennessee, later recalls (see October 7, 1972) that according to Segretti, “Money would be no problem, but the people we would be working for wanted results for the cash that would be spent.” Segretti tells the three that they will need false identification papers and fake names, asks Shipley to recruit five more people for the job, and says their primary task will be to disrupt the campaign schedules of Democratic candidates and obtain information from their campaign organizations. Shipley will recall that Segretti tells him not to reveal the names of the five operatives he recruits, not even to Segretti; in return, Segretti can never tell Shipley where the money to fund the operations is coming from. According to Shipley: “I said, ‘How in hell are we going to be taken care of if no one knows what we’re doing?’ and Segretti said: ‘Nixon knows that something is being done. It’s a typical deal.’ Segretti said, ‘Don’t-tell-me-anything-and-I-won’t-know.’”
Working for Nixon, Pretending to Work for Democrats - Segretti gives Shipley an example of what he might do as a campaign operative: “He [Segretti] said: ‘For instance, we’ll go to a [Democratic presidential candidate Edward] Kennedy rally and find an ardent Kennedy worker. Then you say that you’re a Kennedy man too but you’re working behind the scenes; you get them to help you. You send them to work for [Democratic presidential candidate Edmund] Muskie, stuffing envelopes or whatever, and you get them to pass you the information. They’ll think that they are helping Kennedy against Muskie. But actually you’re using the information for something else.’ It was very strange.… I said, ‘Well, who will we be working for?’ He said, ‘Nixon’ and I was really taken aback, because all the actions he had talked about would have taken place in the Democratic primaries. He said the main purpose was that the Democrats have an ability to get back together after a knockdown, drag-out campaign. What we want to do is wreak enough havoc so they can’t.”
Turned Down - Shipley, Nixt and Griffiths all turn Segretti down; a fourth ex-JAG lawyer, Peter Dixon, will later confirm that he, too, turned down Segretti, but before Segretti could reveal any details to him. Shipley is so concerned that he asks a friend who worked for Senator Albert Gore (D-TN) what to do, and the friend advises him to “string [Segretti] along to see what he’s up to.” At a subsequent meeting, Segretti tells Shipley that he is recruiting lawyers because he doesn’t want to break any laws, and says that the emphasis of the operations is to “have fun” as opposed to committing blatant criminal acts. [Washington Post, 10/10/1972] Some of the “fun” activities include waving signs at rallies such as “If you like Hitler, you’ll love Wallace. Vote Muskie!” Perhaps the most well-known trick is the airplane hired to fly over the Democratic National Convention in Miami (see July 13, 1972) trailing the banner, “Peace Pot Promiscuity—Vote McGovern.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 531] Segretti’s last attempt to recruit Shipley is October 23, 1971.
Segretti Always 'Well-Financed' and at Centers of Campaign Activity - Shipley will recall that “the one important thing that struck me was that he seemed to be well-financed. He was always flying across the country. When he came to Washington in June he said he had an appointment at the Treasury Department and that the Treasury Department was picking up the tab on this—his plane and hotel bill.” Segretti later tells Shipley that “it wasn’t the Treasury Department that had paid the bill, it was the Nixon people. [Segretti] said, ‘Don’t ask me any names.’” According to travel documents, Segretti flies to, among other places, Miami; Houston; Manchester, New Hampshire; Knoxville; Los Angeles; New York City; Washington; Salt Lake City; Chicago; Portland, Oregon; Albuquerque; Tucson; San Francisco; and several other California cities. FBI investigations will find that the most concentrated areas of Nixon campaign undercover activity are in Illinois, New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, California, Texas, Florida, and Washington, DC. [Washington Post, 10/10/1972]

Entity Tags: Kenneth Griffiths, Campaign to Re-elect the President, Donald Segretti, Alex Shipley, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Sr., Edmund Muskie, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Peter Dixon, Roger Lee Nixt

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate, Elections Before 2000

While researching the story that would reveal the extensive “dirty tricks” operations conducted by the Nixon presidential campaign (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond), Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein learns of the extensive connections between “agent provocateur” Donald Segretti and members of the Nixon administration.
College Connection - Segretti, Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler, White House appointments secretary Dwight Chapin, and Ziegler’s aide Tim Elbourne had all attended college together at the University of Southern California. All were members of a campus political group called “Trojans for Representative Government.” The group carried out a number of dirty campus political operations, which they called “ratf_cking.” Some of their “tricks” included ballot box stuffing, planting of spies in opposition camps, and spreading of bogus campaign literature designed to drive students away from the targeted candidate.
Campaigns - Ziegler and Chapin had joined Richard Nixon’s gubernatorial campaign in 1962, which was managed by H. R. Haldeman, now Nixon’s closest White House aide. After Nixon lost that election, Ziegler, Chapin, and Elbourne had worked for Haldeman in an advertising agency. Ziegler and Chapin had recruited Segretti and Elbourne to take part in the 1972 Nixon campaign.
Confirmation - A Justice Department official confirms that Segretti is under investigation for political sabotage and espionage operations, and says that he is familiar with the term “ratf_cking.” Bernstein discusses Segretti with a Justice Department attorney, who is outraged at the entire idea. “Ratf_cking?” he snarls. “You can go right to the top with that one. I was shocked when I heard it. I couldn’t believe it. These are public servants? God. It’s nauseating. You’re talking about fellows who come from the best schools in the country. Men who run the government!” The attorney calls the Segretti operation “despicable,” and Segretti himself “indescribable.” “You’re dealing with people who act like this is Dodge City, not the capital of the United States.” The attorney hints that the Nixon campaign “slush fund” (see September 29, 1972) helped pay for the operations, and that the “Canuck letter” (see February 24-25, 1972) was one of the Nixon campaign’s operations.
Mitchell Involved - Bernstein prods the attorney about the phrase “go right to the top,” and mentions former campaign manager John Mitchell. The attorney says of Mitchell: “He can’t say he didn’t know about it, because it was strategy—basic strategy that goes all the way to the top. Higher than him, even.” Woodward is stunned. Higher than Mitchell? The only three people in the Nixon administration higher than Mitchell are Nixon’s top aides, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, and Richard Nixon himself. Bernstein and colleague Bob Woodward later write, “For the first time, [Bernstein] considered the possibility that the president of the United States was the head ratf_cker.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 126-129]

Entity Tags: University of Southern California, Trojans for Representative Government, US Department of Justice, Tim Elbourne, Richard M. Nixon, Dwight Chapin, Donald Segretti, Ron Ziegler, Carl Bernstein, John Ehrlichman, John Mitchell, Bob Woodward, H.R. Haldeman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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

The same afternoon that the Washington Post runs its article on the Nixon campaign’s “massive conspiracy” to disrupt the elections (see October 10, 1972), Nixon chief of staff H. R. Haldeman updates President Nixon of the situation with campaign “agent provocateur” Donald Segretti (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond). “Segretti, just so you know, is incommunicado,” Haldeman says. “But he calls [White House counsel] John Dean from a public phone and calls on a line that’s not traceable every day around noon. He’ll do anything. I’m told he was supposedly the ideal guy for this kind of thing. He’s a guy that loves this sort of college prank politics.” Nixon thinks Segretti should sue the Post: “I know he’ll lose it, but good God, in the public mind it creates an impression that they lied…. Right, Bob? You see the point? Sue the sons of b_tches.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 531-532]

Entity Tags: Donald Segretti, Committee to Re-elect the President, Richard M. Nixon, Washington Post, John Dean, H.R. Haldeman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward is phoned by a Post reporter in Los Angeles, Robert Meyers. Meyers has spoken with a fraternity brother of Nixon campaign operative Donald Segretti (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond). The fraternity brother, Larry Young, told Meyers that the FBI learned of Segretti and his campaign operations through the phone records of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Hunt had called Segretti numerous times to give Segretti instructions about something Young does not know, but “it wasn’t the [campaign] bugging.” Woodward had not known of any Segretti-Hunt connection. Young told Meyers that Segretti admitted working for “a wealthy California Republican lawyer with national connections and I get paid by a special lawyer’s trust fund.” Woodward believes the lawyer in question is Herbert Kalmbach, President Nixon’s personal lawyer; Meyers had asked Young about Kalmbach, but Young did not recognize the name. He does identify the lawyer as having an office in Newport Beach, where Kalmbach has his office. Young believes that Segretti met with both Hunt and White House aide Dwight Chapin (see October 7, 1972). Segretti often talked of going to Miami—the home of most of the Watergate burglars—to meet with Hunt and Chapin. Segretti told Young that when he was in Miami, someone Segretti didn’t identify asked him to organize a group of young Cubans to mount an assault on the Doral Beach Hotel, the location of the Republican National Convention, and make it look as if the Cubans were McGovern campaign workers. Segretti refused to carry out this particular idea, calling it blatantly illegal and violent. Woodward is aware that just such an assault had indeed taken place at the hotel, and that many suspected that there were Republican provocateurs in the crowd of protesters.
Segretti Worried about Being the Fall Guy - When the FBI first contacted Segretti, two weeks before the July convention, Young says that Segretti was shocked that he had not been given advance warning. Segretti worried that he was being set up as a fall guy. In his testimony to the FBI and before the Watergate grand jury, Segretti told them about his connections with Hunt and Chapin, and named the lawyer who paid him. So, Woodward muses, the Justice Department had known of the connections between Segretti, Hunt, and Chapin since June and had not followed up on them. Young agrees to go on the record as a source, and Woodward confirms the story through a Justice Department lawyer. The FBI didn’t consider what Segretti did to be strictly illegal, the lawyer tells Woodward, but “I’m worried about the case. The Bureau is acting funny… there is interest in the case at the top.… [W]e’re not pursuing it.” The lawyer refuses to be more specific. Chapin carefully denies the story. He admits he and Segretti are old college buddies, and does not directly deny that he was Segretti’s White House contact.
Haldeman Connection - A former Nixon administration official tells Woodward, “If Dwight has anything to do with this, it means Haldeman,” referring to Nixon’s chief of staff H. R. Haldeman. “He does what two people tell him to do: Haldeman and Nixon.” The Post story runs on October 15, without naming Kalmbach. The story breaks two new areas of ground: it is the first of its kind to rely on on-the-record sources (Young), and it is the first to directly allege that the Watergate conspiracy reaches into the White House itself and not merely the Nixon re-election campaign. A Time magazine follow-up adds that Chapin had hired Segretti, and names Gordon Strachan, a political aide to Haldeman, had taken part in hiring Segretti as well. Most importantly, Time names Kalmbach as the lawyer who paid Segretti. Irate at being scooped, Woodward quickly confirms Kalmbach’s status as paymaster with a Justice Department attorney, and in a conversation with former campaign treasurer Hugh Sloan, confirms that Segretti was paid out of the campaign’s “slush fund” managed by campaign finance chief Maurice Stans (see September 29, 1972). Kalmbach had distributed far more money than was given to Segretti, Sloan says. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 150-159]
Verified - On October 18, the New York Times runs a story that uses telephone records to verify Segretti’s calls from Hunt. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 167]

Entity Tags: H.R. Haldeman, E. Howard Hunt, Dwight Chapin, Donald Segretti, Bob Woodward, Gordon Strachan, US Department of Justice, New York Times, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Larry Young, Maurice Stans, Hugh Sloan, Richard M. Nixon, Herbert Kalmbach, Robert Meyers

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

After the New York Times verifies the phone calls to Nixon campaign provocateur Donald Segretti from Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see October 12-15, 1972), it publishes an analysis of the White House’s attacks on the media (see October 16-November, 1972). The analysis, written by Robert Semple, Jr, says in part: “The essence of the administration’s recent counterattack to the charges that some of President Nixon’s created or at least condoned a network of political espionage and disruption has been to denounce the newspapers that print them without explicitly discussing them. Behind the strategy lie two assumptions that tell much about the administration’s perceptions of the voters and newspapers that serve them. Judging by recent interviews with Mr. Nixon’s aides, these assumptions seem to be widely shared in his inner circle. First, at the moment, the White House feels, the alleged conspiracy is perceived by most of the public as a distant and even amateurish intrigue far removed from the Oval Office, and thus a denial or even discussion of the charges by the White House would give those charges undeserved visibility and currency. The second is that the public—softened up by three years of speeches from Vice President Agnew—has less than total confidence that what it reads and hears—particularly in the so-called Eastern Establishment media—is true and undistorted by political prejudice. Hence the recent administration attacks on the Washington Post, which has been giving the corruption allegations front-page treatment…. Repeated requests to senior White House aides to get the full story, as they see it, have gone unanswered.… ‘Do you know why we’re not uptight about the press and the espionage business?’ one White House aide… asked rhetorically the other day. ‘Because we believe that the public believes that the Eastern press really is what Agnew said it was—elitist, anti-Nixon and ultimately pro-McGovern.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 169]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Donald Segretti, E. Howard Hunt, Spiro T. Agnew, Nixon administration, Richard M. Nixon, Robert Semple, Jr

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Robert Meyers interview Donald Segretti, a Nixon campaign operative (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond), at Segretti’s home in Los Angeles. Segretti offers numerous interesting tidbits, but it is obvious that he knows little of real import. Worse, he adamantly refuses to go on the record with his material. Segretti says that he had no idea of the depth and complexity of the operation he was part of: “I didn’t know what it was all about. They never told me anything except my own role. I had to read the papers to find out.” He confirms that “they” is the White House. Segretti admits he was hired as a campaign operative by White House appointments secretary Dwight Chapin, discussed the job with Gordon Strachan (the assistant to White House chief of staff H. R. Haldeman), and was paid by President Nixon’s personal lawyer, Herbert Kalmbach. He believes Chapin and the others take their marching orders from Haldeman, but has no proof. He says he once met Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy in Miami; Liddy wanted him to carry out some sort of phony anti-Nixon campaign operation that would make the Democratic campaign look bad, but Segretti refused, saying, “I didn’t want anything to do with being violent or breaking the law” (see October 12-15, 1972). Though he admits he discussed his Watergate grand jury testimony with a White House aide (whom he refuses to identify), he insists his testimony was truthful and unrehearsed. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 201-204]

Entity Tags: H.R. Haldeman, Committee to Re-elect the President, Carl Bernstein, Donald Segretti, Gordon Strachan, Dwight Chapin, Nixon administration, G. Gordon Liddy, Herbert Kalmbach, Robert Meyers

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]

Entity Tags: H.R. Haldeman, Committee to Re-elect the President, Charles Colson, ’Plumbers’, Donald Segretti, G. Gordon Liddy, John Mitchell, E. Howard Hunt, Herbert Kalmbach, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward is steered to a George Washington University student named Craig Hillegass. The student tells Woodward that his fraternity brother, Theodore Brill, was paid $150 a week by the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) to infiltrate the group of Quakers who maintain a 24-hour a day “peace vigil” in front of the White House. Brill reported information on the protesters’ demonstration plans and personal lives, and then helped plan and execute raids for drug possession. The Washington police eventually did raid the vigil, but found nothing. Brill, the chairman of GWU’s Young Republicans chapter, was terminated by CREEP two days after the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). “The idea,” Hillegass tells Woodward, “was to create an embarrassment to the Democrats, because any embarrassment to radical groups would be considered an embarrassment to liberal politics and Senator [George] McGovern,” the Democratic presidential candidate in 1972 (see November 7, 1972). Hillegass recalls that the method of paying Brill was almost cartoonish in its covert nature: “Ted said he once was told to meet a woman in a red dress with a white carnation, carrying a newspaper. He exchanged his written report for an envelope containing his pay.” Woodward is most interested in Hillegass’s recollection that Brill’s campaign “dirty tricks” were connected to higher-level officials in CREEP—and the number of other “agents provacateurs” being employed by the campaign. Donald Segretti (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond) was only one of 50 or so provacateurs employed by the campaign, and the Post has always wanted to know who the other 49 were. Brill was definitely small fry, but, Woodward believes, part of a larger pattern. When Woodward speaks with Brill himself, the student confirms his former job with CREEP, and says that he was hired by George Gorton, CREEP’s national youth director. He was paid five times—four times in cash and once with Gorton’s personal check, never in a way that could be traced back to the campaign. Brill says he was supposed to go to Miami and join other campaign operatives in similar operations to the Quaker infiltration, but the Watergate burglary brought that to an abrupt close. Gorton confirms that Brill worked for him in the campaign, but denies he or Brill ever did anything illegal. Interestingly, Gorton initially boasts that he had people gathering information on “radicals” in 38 states, then backs off and says Brill was his only operative. Gorton says he reported to Kenneth Rietz, the director of CREEP’s Youth Vote Division. Rietz had been recommended by H. R. Haldeman to take over as the head of the Republican National Committee. The Posts prints a story based on Woodward’s information, and notes that Brill’s salary was not reported in CREEP’s financial disclosures. The General Accounting Office (GAO) will audit CREEP’s finances and discover that the campaign had maintained a clandestine “Kiddie Corps” of young spies working around the country. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 262-265]

Entity Tags: George S. McGovern, Committee to Re-elect the President, Bob Woodward, Craig Hillegass, Donald Segretti, H.R. Haldeman, Kenneth Rietz, George Gorton, Republican National Committee, Theodore Brill, General Accounting Office

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray, mired in contentious Senate hearings about his nomination to permanently take the position (see February 28-29, 1973), says that contrary to media reports, White House counsel John Dean took nothing from the safe of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt. The White House issues a statement making the same claim. But Gray’s claims are critically undermined by another revelation. In FBI documents released to the Senate by Gray as part of his testimony, and subsequently made available to the public, one document catches the eye of reporters: a memo titled “Interview with Herbert W. Kalmbach.” Kalmbach, President Nixon’s personal lawyer, said in the interview that in August or September 1971, he had obeyed instructions from Nixon aide Dwight Chapin to hire Nixon campaign operator Donald Segretti (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond) and pay Segretti for his services. The interview guts the White House’s claim that it never hired any such agents provacateurs as Segretti, destroys Gray’s (and the FBI’s) credibility with many senators, and vindicates the media’s reporting on the broader Watergate conspiracy. The atmosphere at the Washington Post is jubilant. Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward put together a scathing news analysis based on the discovery, using quote after quote from administration sources and pairing each quote with information disproving the administration claims. Unfortunately, the reporters later write, the article is unintentionally “packaged like an ax murder,” with a row of pictures of Nixon officials that resemble a lineup of mug shots. White House officials later tell the reporters that this single story garners a tremendous amount of hatred and resentment among Nixon officials. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 273-274; Woodward, 2005, pp. 13-14]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Donald Segretti, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Dwight Chapin, E. Howard Hunt, John Dean, Richard M. Nixon, Herbert Kalmbach, Washington Post, L. Patrick Gray, Nixon administration

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

The Senate hearings for L. Patrick Gray’s nomination as FBI director (see February 28-29, 1973) become ever more contentious after revelations that the White House lied about its employment of campaign operatives like Donald Segretti (see March 6-7, 1973). Gray testifies that White House counsel John Dean “probably” lied when he told FBI investigators he did not know Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt worked in the White House (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), even though the FBI’s investigation showed that Dean originally hired another of the burglary plotters, G. Gordon Liddy. [Time, 4/2/1973; Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 274; Woodward, 2005, pp. 13-14]

Entity Tags: John Dean, Donald Segretti, E. Howard Hunt, Federal Bureau of Investigation, G. Gordon Liddy, Nixon administration, L. Patrick Gray

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

L. Patrick Gray, the acting director of the FBI, withdraws his name from consideration to become the full-fledged director after a bruising month of Senate hearings (see February 28-29, 1973). [Time, 4/16/1973] Gray resigns from the FBI shortly thereafter (see April 27-30, 1973). [New York Times, 7/7/2005] (Gray and the White House made some fruitless attempts to skew the hearings in Gray’s favor. According to the FBI’s 1974 internal Watergate report, “It is noted that in connection with his confirmation hearings, Mr. Gray on occasion instructed that proposed questions and answers about various matters be prepared which could be furnished to friendly Republican Senators.” One such set of “friendly” questions was indeed asked by Senator Edward Gurney (R-FL) about the ongoing FBI investigation of Donald Segretti—see June 27, 1971, and Beyond.) [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file] The Senate Judiciary Committee was sharply divided over Gray’s nomination, with many senators viewing Gray as little more than a White House operative due to his admitted improper cooperation with White House aides in the FBI’s Watergate investigation, and his admitted destruction of potentially incriminating evidence. Many in the Nixon White House had privately withdrawn their support for Gray. Committee chairman James Eastland (D-MS) told Attorney General Richard Kleindienst that it was unlikely the committee will approve Gray’s ascension to the post. The committee’s ranking minority member, Roman Hruska (R-NE), a Nixon loyalist, proposed that the commitee delay any decision until after the Senate Watergate Committee completes its investigation, giving Gray time to quietly resign, but Gray’s most powerful opponent on the committee, Robert Byrd (D-WV) headed off that proposal. After the session, Gray asked President Nixon to withdraw his name from consideration. Nixon says that Gray is a victim of “totally unfair innuendo and suspicion,” and defends his administration’s access to the FBI files as “completely proper and necessary.” Byrd proposes that the FBI become an independent agency not answerable to the attorney general, as does another lawmaker, Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA). The proposal will not gain much traction. [Time, 4/16/1973]

Entity Tags: Nixon administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Edward Gurney, Donald Segretti, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, L. Patrick Gray, Roman Hruska, Senate Judiciary Committee, James O. Eastland, Richard M. Nixon, Robert C. Byrd, Richard Kleindienst

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

George Hearing, a colleague of White House campaign “agent provacateur” Donald Segretti (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond), pleads guilty to disseminating illegal campaign literature. He will be sentenced to a year in prison. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file]

Entity Tags: George Hearing, Committee to Re-elect the President, Donald Segretti

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Three government sources say that former White House aide John Ehrlichman and former White House counsel John Dean secretly recorded telephone and face-to-face conversations with other Watergate conspirators, beginning in January 1973. Ehrlichman taped a conversation with former FBI director L. Patrick Gray concerning incriminating files removed from the safe of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see June 28, 1972), and another conversation with Dean about the same documents. In January, Dean taped several conversations with political operative Donald Segretti (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond). [Washington Post, 6/13/1973]

Entity Tags: E. Howard Hunt, Donald Segretti, L. Patrick Gray, John Dean, John Ehrlichman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Donald Segretti, a former “agent provocateur” operative for the Nixon re-election campaign (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond), pleads guilty to charges of illegal distribution of false campaign literature. He will serve six months in federal prison. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Donald Segretti, Committee to Re-elect the President

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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

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