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Profile: Henry Peterson
Henry Peterson was a participant or observer in the following events:
White House counsel John Dean informs Attorney General Richard Kleindienst that “this matter [the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972)] could lead directly to the White House.” Kleindienst is already aware of the possible link to the White House (see June 17, 1972). Kleindienst informs Deputy Attorney General Henry Peterson of Dean’s statement. Neither official divulges the possibility of a White House connection in the burglary to the FBI. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
Accused Watergate burglar Bernard Barker after being arraigned in June 1972. [Source: Wally McNamee / Corbis]The first indictments against the five men accused of burglarizing Democratic National Headquarters (see June 17, 1972)—James McCord, Frank Sturgis, Bernard Barker, Eugenio Martinez, and Virgilio Gonzalez—are handed down. White House aides G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt are also indicted. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] The indictments are for conspiracy, interception of communications, and burglary. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
Washington Post Investigation - In its story of the indictments, the Washington Post will note that the indictments do “not touch on the central questions about the purpose or sponsorship of the alleged espionage” against the Democrats. Post reporter Carl Bernstein asks a Justice Department official why the indictments are so narrowly focused, as the FBI has certainly unearthed the same information as the Post investigation. After the source admits that the Justice Department knows about the campaign “slush fund” and the White House connections to the electronic surveillance, an indignant Bernstein asks why the Post should not run a story accusing the department of ignoring evidence. The official responds that the department does not intend to file any future indictments, and that the investigation is currently “in a state of repose.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 69-70]
FBI Continues to Probe - FBI spokesman J. W. Hushen says that the indictments have ended the investigation and the agency has “absolutely no evidence to indicate that any others should be charged.” Contrary to Hushen’s statement and the Justice Department official’s comment to Bernstein, the FBI will continue its investigation. A day later, Deputy Attorney General Henry Peterson says that any charges that the FBI has conducted a “whitewash” of the Watergate conspiracy are untrue. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ; Reeves, 2001, pp. 526-527]
Bay of Pigs Forged Bond - Martinez will later recall Hunt as one of his heroes from the time of the Cuban Revolution. Hunt, a CIA agent using the code name “Eduardo,” endeared himself to Martinez and other anti-Castro Cubans by denouncing the failed Bay of Pigs invasion as the fault of then-President Kennedy and others unwilling to fight against Fidel Castro. Martinez, himself then a CIA agent and an associate of Barker, Sturgis, McCord, and Gonzalez, will later write, “I can’t help seeing the whole Watergate affair as a repetition of the Bay of Pigs.” [Harper's, 10/1974]
Entity Tags: James McCord, J. W. Hushen, Henry Peterson, US Department of Justice, Virgilio Gonzalez, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Frank Sturgis, Bernard Barker, G. Gordon Liddy, E. Howard Hunt, Eugenio Martinez, Carl Bernstein
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Attorney General Richard Kleindienst stays up until 5 a.m. going over the evidence surrounding the Watergate burglary with other Justice Department officials. He and Assistant Attorney General Henry Petersen meet with President Nixon, and tell the president that they both believe White House officials as well as officials of his re-election campaign are involved in the cover-up conspiracy. Kleindienst, who along with Petersen will testify to this before the Senate Watergate Committee (see Mid-August, 1973), will recall that Nixon is “dumbfounded”; Petersen’s recollection is that Nixon seems concerned but calm. Kleindienst openly weeps as he discusses the likelihood that his friend and former superior at the Justice Department, former campaign head John Mitchell, may be involved. Kleindienst will testify that Nixon consoles him: “I don’t think since my mother died when I was a young boy that I ever had an event that has consumed me emotionally with such sorrow, and he was very considerate of my feelings.” Petersen urges Nixon to fire both of his senior aides, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, because he is certain that their continuation as White House officials will become a “source of vast embarrassment.” Petersen says bluntly that if the Justice Department finds any evidence of Nixon’s own involvement, he will not only resign, but will “waltz it [the information] over to the House of Representatives”—where impeachment proceedings begin. When Petersen asks about Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see August 5, 1971), before he can even ask about the burglary of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office (see September 9, 1971), Nixon cuts him off, saying: “I know about that. That is a national security matter. You stay out of that.” [Time, 8/20/1973] Peterson passes along Nixon’s instructions to chief prosecutor Earl Silbert, who accuses Peterson of acting as Nixon’s agent. The two get into a shouting match, and take the dispute to Kleindienst, who informs them that because he is recusing himself from the matter (see April 19, 1973), he cannot settle the issue. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 593]
Entity Tags: Nixon administration, H.R. Haldeman, Earl Silbert, Daniel Ellsberg, Henry Peterson, John Mitchell, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, John Ehrlichman, Richard Kleindienst, US Department of Justice, Richard M. Nixon
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
After learning that the White House will soon make a dramatic Watergate admission, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward meets clandestinely with his “Deep Throat” source, FBI deputy director W. Mark Felt (see May 31, 2005). Felt drops a bombshell. “You’d better hang on for this,” he says. “Dean and Haldeman are out—for sure” (see April 30, 1973). John Dean is President Nixon’s White House counsel and one of the key figures in the Watergate conspiracy. H. R. Haldeman is Nixon’s chief of staff and closest confidante. “Out. They’ll resign. There’s no way the president can avoid it.” Woodward and his colleague Carl Bernstein inform Post editor Ben Bradlee of Felt’s revelation (avoiding any identification of Felt). Bradlee is reluctant to print such an explosive story based on one “deep background” source, no matter how reliable. The story does not go to print. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 75-81] Felt’s story is accurate as far as it goes. The day before, Attorney General Richard Kleindienst had informed President Nixon that Dean and former campaign deputy Jeb Magruder testified, and that they named Haldeman, White House aide John Ehrlichman, and former campaign chief John Mitchell as co-conspirators. Dean went even further, demanding complete immunity and threatening to implicate Nixon if he was not given legal protection. Kleindienst says he will have to recuse himself from further involvement in the investigation because of his close relationship with Mitchell (see April 19, 1973), but deputy attorney general Henry Peterson will keep Nixon informed of any and all events that transpire. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 586-587] It is not clear if Felt knew that Mitchell and Ehrlichman had also been implicated; in any event, he does not inform Woodward. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 75-81]
Entity Tags: W. Mark Felt, Richard M. Nixon, Richard Kleindienst, Nixon administration, John Mitchell, H.R. Haldeman, Carl Bernstein, Henry Peterson, Bob Woodward, John Dean, John Ehrlichman, Ben Bradlee, Jeb S. Magruder
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Attorney General Richard Kleindienst meets with President Nixon to tell him that White House counsel John Dean has testified about the White House’s ordering of the Ellsberg break-in (see September 9, 1971). The biggest problem is not the ties to the Watergate burglary, Kleindienst says, but the trial of Daniel Ellsberg now going on in Santa Monica, California (see May 11, 1973). The prosecution must inform the trial judge about the new information, and the judge must decide whether to inform Ellsberg’s lawyers. Nixon tries to claim that the break-in is a matter of national security and must not be divulged, but Kleindienst says it is too late for that, the information will “be out in the street tomorrow or two days from now, a week, and the law clearly dictates that we have to do—it could be another g_ddamn cover-up, you know.… We can’t have another cover-up, Mr. President.” Nixon says, “I don’t want any cover-ups of anything.”
Motive - Dean’s primary motive for divulging this information is his desire for immunity from prosecution, Kleindienst believes. He adds that Deputy Attorney General Henry Peterson has asked about granting Dean immunity: “and he even comes up to the point where a trump card of Dean would be that I’m going to implicate the president—and I told Henry at that point you have to tell Dean to go f_ck himself. You’re not going to blackmail the government of the United States and implicate the president in the Ellsberg matter.” Nixon, depressed and reckless, says that maybe he should just be impeached and removed from office, letting Vice President Spiro Agnew have the presidency. “There’s not going to be anything like that,” Kleindienst assures Nixon.
Details of Testimony - Nixon also grills Peterson about Dean’s testimony, and learns that Dean has divulged his knowledge of the destruction of key evidence by FBI chief L. Patrick Gray (see Late December 1972 and April 27-30, 1973)—Gray denies destroying the evidence, claiming Dean is lying. Nixon says Gray has to resign. Peterson says he will not give in to Dean on any attempt to blackmail his way into an immunity agreement; Nixon agrees, comparing it to the stories of paying Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt “hush money” (see June 20-21, 1972)—“I would never approve the payoff of Hunt,” Nixon assures Peterson. Nixon ends the conversation by asking Peterson for the details of any upcoming case against chief of staff H. R. Haldeman. Peterson agrees to give him that information. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 595-598]
Henry Petersen. [Source: Spartacus Educational]Former Attorney General Richard Kleindienst and Assistant Attorney General Henry Petersen testify before the Senate Watergate Committee. Both say they had been disturbed by the amount of White House interference they had gotten over their attempts to investigate the Watergate burglary, particularly from White House aide John Ehrlichman. Kleindienst tells of a phone call from Ehrlichman to Petersen demanding that the Justice Department stop “harassing” Maurice Stans, the former Nixon re-election campaign finance chairman. Kleindienst recalls that he told Ehrlichman he was flirting with an obstruction of justice charge, and threatened to resign “if the president tells me that you have the authority and the power to give specific instructions to people in the Department of Justice.” Ehrlichman reassured Kleindienst that “it will never happen again.” Kleindienst also recalls Ehrlichman coming to him in early 1973 asking for “technical” advice about securing lenient sentences or even presidential pardons for the Watergate burglars (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Ehrlichman “did not have much of a knowledge of the criminal justice system,” Kleindienst says, and asked such questions as “What happens when somebody is convicted of a crime?… When are you eligible for a pardon? When do the circumstances arise for executive pardon?” (Ehrlichman has already testified that he never sought any executive clemency for one of the burglars, E. Howard Hunt.) Kleindienst testifies that when he told Petersen of the conversation, Petersen declared that the defendants would almost certainly do “jail time,” and said he would strongly oppose any efforts to grant anyone clemency. Petersen testifies that Kleindienst replied, “Tell those crazy guys over there [at the White House] what you just told me before they do something they will be sorry for.” For his part, Petersen says it struck him most how suspiciously everyone at the White House and the re-election campaign were acting. “There were no records,” he recalls. “Things were destroyed. They didn’t act like innocent people. Innocent people come in and say: ‘Fine, what do you want to know?’ It was not like that.” Petersen says that he and the Justice Department could and would have solved the entire case, and that they had the case 90 percent solved when Archibald Cox was appointed to take over the investigation (see May 18, 1973). “Damn it!” he cries, “I resent the appointment of a special prosecutor!” [Time, 8/20/1973]
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