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American citizens and lawmakers are outraged by the information revealed in the publication of portions of the so-called Pentagon Papers (see June 13, 1971, June 14, 1971, and June 15, 1971). Senator George McGovern (D-SD), a sponsor of legislation to withdraw all US troops from Vietnam by the end of 1971, says the documents tell a story of “almost incredible deception” of Congress and the American people by the White House. McGovern says he cannot see how any senator can ever again permit the president to make any foreign policy decisions without first going through Congress. Senate Majority Leader Hugh Scott (R-PA) expresses concern over the leaking of the documents, but calls their contents “shocking.” Representative Paul McCloskey (R-CA) says the papers show “the issue of truthfulness in government is a problem as serious as ending the war itself.” McCloskey complains that, according to the documents, the briefings he and other Congressional members had received regarding the war had been “deceptive… misleading [and] incomplete,” often while Army officials who knew more of the truth stood silently by his side. “This deception is not a matter of protecting secret information from the enemy,” McCloskey says, “the intention is to conceal information from the people of the United States as if we were the enemy.” (Herda 1994)
The US Senate votes 77-0 to create the Select Committee on Presidential Activities, which comes to be known as the Senate Watergate Committee. The chairman is Sam Ervin (D-NC), whose carefully cultivated image as a folksy “country lawyer” camouflages a keen legal mind. Ervin’s deputy is Howard Baker (R-TN). (Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007) Senate Republicans attempt to dilute the effectiveness of the investigative committee with resolutions demanding probes into the 1964 and 1968 elections as well—Hugh Scott (R-PA) says there is “wholesale evidence of wiretapping against the Republicans” in the 1968 campaign, yet refuses to present any evidence—but those resolutions fail in floor votes. After the vote, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward learns that the resolutions were drafted by White House lawyers. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 250-251) Ervin, already chosen to head the committee, told fellow senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who held his own ineffective senatorial investigation, that he knew little more about the Watergate conspiracy than what he read in the papers, but “I know the people around [President] Nixon, and that’s enough. They’re thugs.” (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 247) Ervin has already contacted Woodward and asked him to help him compile information. Ervin implies that he wants Woodward to convince his unnamed sources to come forward and testify. Woodward demurs, but he and colleague Carl Bernstein write a story reporting Ervin’s intention to call President Nixon’s top aides, including H. R. Haldeman, to testify. (Woodward 2005, pp. 93-94) Woodward does suggest that Ervin should take a hard look at the secret campaign “slush fund” (see Early 1970 and September 29, 1972), and that everything he and Bernstein have found points to a massive undercover operation led by Haldeman. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 247-249)
President Nixon formally asks for and receives the resignations of two of his most senior advisers, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman (see April 16-17, 1973 and April 24, 1973), along with Attorney General Richard Kleindienst. In addition, he fires White House counsel John Dean, who has begun cooperating with Watergate investigators (see April 6-20, 1973).
Replacements - Kleindienst is replaced by Defense Secretary Elliot Richardson, whom Nixon tasks with the responsibility for “uncovering the whole truth” about the Watergate scandal. Richardson will be given “absolute authority” in handling the Watergate investigation, including the authority to appoint a special prosecutor to supervise the government’s case (see April 30, 1973). Dean is replaced temporarily by Nixon’s personal lawyer Leonard Garment.
Additional Resignation - Also, Gordon Strachan, the general counsel to the United States Information Agency (USIA), resigns. Strachan is a former aide to Haldeman, and, according to a USIA statement, resigned “after learning that persons with whom he had worked closely at the White House had submitted their resignations.”
Lawmakers' Comments - Senate Majority Leader Hugh Scott (R-PA) says of the resignations: “[A] lack of grace in power has led to a fall from grace. This rotten vine of Watergate has produced poisonous fruit, and all nourished by it should be cast out of the Garden of Eden.” House Minority Leader Gerald Ford (R-MI) says the resignations are “a necessary first step by the White House in clearing the air on the Watergate affair.… I have the greatest confidence in the president and I am absolutely positive he had nothing to with this mess.” Representative John Moss (D-CA) says the House must prepare itself to deal with the possibility of impeachment, but “before we even suggest impeachment, we must have the most uncontroverted evidence.” In their letters of resignation, Haldeman and Ehrlichman promise to cooperate with the Justice Department investigation of Watergate. (Stern and Johnson 5/1/1973)
Reaction at the Washington Post - Knight Newspapers reporter James McCartney later writes an article for the Columbia Journalism Review on the Post’s Watergate coverage, which describes the reaction in the Post offices to the news: “For a split second [executive editor] Ben Bradlee’s mouth dropped open with an expression of sheer delight.… ‘How do you like them apples?’ he said to the grinning Simons [managing editor Howard Simons]. ‘Not a bad start.’” As reporters and employees begin gathering around, Simons murmurs: “Don’t gloat. We can’t afford to gloat.” (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 310)
President Nixon names Congressman Gerald R. Ford (R-MI) as his nominee for vice president. Two days before, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned his office after being convicted of tax evasion charges unrelated to Watergate (see October 10, 1973). (Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum 5/3/1999) Nixon’s original choice for Agnew’s replacement is former Texas governor John Connally, in hopes that Connally can secure the 1976 GOP presidential nomination, win the election, and continue Nixon’s legacy. But Connally, Nixon’s Treasury Election, is himself under investigation for his handling of a secret Nixon campaign fund. Nixon’s close political ally and strategist Melvin Laird, Nixon’s first secretary of defense, and veteran political adviser Bryce Harlow advised Nixon to select Ford as his new vice president. Other Republicans are recommending better-known party stalwarts—former New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, California governor Ronald Reagan, Senate Watergate Committee co-chair Howard Baker, Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott, Senator Barry Goldwater, Republican Party chairman George H.W. Bush, Connally, Laird, and others—Ford is a complete party loyalist, popular among Congressional Republicans, and an influential member of the House Judiciary Committee. By naming Ford as vice president, Laird and Barlow hope to head off any impeachment vote by that committee. On October 10, Laird phoned Ford and, according to Laird’s later recollection, said: “Jerry, you’re going to get a call from Al Haig [Nixon’s chief of staff]. I don’t want any bullsh_t from you. Don’t hesitate. Don’t talk to Betty [Ford, his wife]. Say yes.” (Werth 2006, pp. 30-31)
Three senior Republican congressmen—Barry Goldwater (R-AZ), Hugh Scott (R-PA), and John Rhodes (R-AZ)—meet with President Nixon, and tell him that his chances of avoiding impeachment are “gloomy.” Pressure is mounting both in the press and among the citizenry for Nixon to resign. (Dean 2006, pp. xxxi; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007)