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Ten days into his administration, Richard Nixon meets with his chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, and two other aides, Frederick LaRue and John Sears. The topic of discussion is Nixon’s re-election in 1972. Nixon wants to have a campaign committee for his re-election set up outside the Republican National Committee, and with separate, independent financing. He also authorizes continuous, year-round polling. (Reeves 2001, pp. 34)
Two White House aides, Frederick LaRue and G. Gordon Liddy, attend a meeting of the Nixon presidential campaign, the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), where it is agreed that the organization will spend $250,000 to conduct an “intelligence gathering” operation against the Democratic Party for the upcoming elections. (Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007) The members decide, among other things, to plant electronic surveillance devices in the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters (see April-June 1972). LaRue is a veteran of the 1968 Nixon campaign (see November 5, 1968), as is Liddy, a former FBI agent. (Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007; Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007) LaRue decides to pay the proposed “Special Investigations Unit,” later informally called the “Plumbers” (see Late June-July 1971), large amounts of “hush money” to keep them quiet. He tasks former New York City policeman Tony Ulasewicz with arranging the payments. LaRue later informs another Nixon aide, Hugh Sloan, that LaRue is prepared to commit perjury if necessary to protect the operation. A 1973 New York Times article will call LaRue “an elusive, anonymous, secret operator at the highest levels of the shattered Nixon power structure.” (Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007) The FBI will later determine that this decision took place between March 20 and 30, 1972, not 1971 (see March 20-30, 1972). In this case, the FBI timeline is almost certainly in error, since the “Plumbers” break-in of the offices of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist came well before this date (see September 9, 1971).
President Nixon tells his chief of staff H. R. Haldeman that the Watergate burglars (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) “are going to need money.” The next day, burglar G. Gordon Liddy tells White House aides Frederick LaRue (see March 20, 1971) and Robert Mardian that he and his fellow burglars will need money for bail, legal expenses, and family support. Mardian says that the request is blackmail and should not be paid. (Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007) It will eventually be revealed that Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt is at the center of a scheme to blackmail the White House for around $1 million in “hush money” (see March 21, 1973).
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)
White House counsel John Dean meets with Vernon Walters, the deputy director of the CIA, to ask if the agency can provide “financial assistance” to the five Watergate burglars. Two days later, after checking with his boss, CIA director Richard Helms, Walters refuses Dean’s request. Dean informs his White House and Nixon campaign associates, John Mitchell, Frederick LaRue, and Robert Mardian. On June 29, Dean meets with President Nixon’s personal lawyer, Herbert Kalmbach, and tells him that Mitchell, along with Nixon’s two top aides, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, want Kalmbach to raise money for the Watergate burglars. Later that day, the finance chairman of the Nixon re-election campaign, Maurice Stans, gives Kalmbach $75,000 for the burglars. Over the next months, money will continue to be raised and disbursed to the burglars in what may be part of a blackmail scheme orchestrated by one of them, E. Howard Hunt (see March 21, 1973). (Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007)
White House counsel John Dean meets with President Nixon’s personal lawyer, Herbert Kalmbach, in Lafayette Park near the White House. Away from possible eavedropping, Dean tells Kalmbach that his job is to secretly raise money for the Watergate defendants (see June 20-21, 1972). The money is to be delivered by former New York policeman and Nixon campaign operative Tony Ulasewicz (see March 20, 1971). Kalmbach checks into a room at the Statler Hilton, where campaign finance chairman Maurice Stans gives him a briefcase containing $70,000 in $100 bills. (Reeves 2001, pp. 572) Kalmbach will distrubute $187,000 in “hush money” to the burglars over the next three months; after that, the distribution will be handled by former Mitchell aide Frederick LaRue, who will hand out another $230,000. Nixon will claim he knew nothing of this until informed by White House counsel John Dean in March 1973 (see March 21, 1973), but author James Reston, Jr will later write that Kalmbach’s involvement is “strong circumstantial” evidence “that Nixon must have known about the process from the beginning. Had the president’s lawyer been caught at this task, it would have associated the president with the break-in in the summer of 1972, and no one but Nixon would logically have authorized such a risky procedure.” (Reston 2007, pp. 34)
Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt emerges from hiding (see June 18, 1972). In the following days, Washington reporter Carl Bernstein learns that Hunt’s lawyer William O. Bittman had received $25,000 in cash to represent Hunt. Bernstein learns this from a legal colleague of Bittman’s, who is disturbed that such a well-respected attorney as Bittman—a former assistant attorney general in the Justice Department—might have taken illicit monies. Bittman’s colleague also tells Bernstein that the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) has earmarked at least $100,000 for something committee officials call “Convention Security.” Bittman refuses to confirm or deny the transaction. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 34) According to later testimony by senior campaign aide Frederick LaRue, LaRue gave $210,000 in CREEP slush fund money to Bittman for Bittman to distribute to the seven defendants. LaRue will claim he gave Bittman the money on the orders of White House counsel John Dean. (O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 )
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)
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 former treasurer for the Campaign to Re-elect the President (CREEP), Hugh Sloan, tells Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein that the situation with CREEP’s finances is far worse than the Post has reported (see September 14-17, 1972). “That’s why I left, because I suspected the worst,” he says. He refuses to give specifics, citing the continuing FBI investigation and his lawyer’s advice to remain silent. He does confirm that CREEP officials had instructed employees to be evasive when interviewed by the FBI (see August, 1972), and that the committee’s handling of the FBI investigation was managed by CREEP officials Robert Mardian and Frederick LaRue. He also confirms that former CREEP director John Mitchell knew of the illegal campaign “slush fund” (see September 29, 1972). “Mitchell had to know of the funds,” Sloan says. “You don’t just give out that kind of money without the head of the campaign knowing what it’s going for, especially when his people are getting the cash.” Mitchell, LaRue, and Mardian are the three directly responsible for managing the fund, Sloan believes, and are responsible for ordering the destruction of financial records after the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). The previously reported “convention security” fund (see July 7, 1972) and the campaign “slush fund” are one and the same, Sloan confirms. Sloan acknowledges making payouts from the fund, but will not reveal who authorized him to do so. Perhaps most interestingly, Sloan says that the general perception of the Nixon administration and CREEP as two separate, self-contained entities is wrong, that everything CREEP does is managed by senior White House officials. Coming away from the meeting, Bernstein and his colleague Bob Woodward are now sure that the Watergate conspiracy does not end in CREEP, but extends into the White House itself. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 79-86)
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.” (Martinez and Barker 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)
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