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Profile: James McCord
James McCord was a participant or observer in the following events:
As another assignment for the newly formed “Plumbers” (see Late June-July 1971), President Nixon orders chief of staff H. R. Haldeman to have the Brookings Institute burglarized (see June 17, 1972). The Brookings Institute is a Washington think tank which Nixon believes has copies of the Pentagon Papers. As secretly recorded, Nixon tells Haldeman: “I want the break-in. Hell, they do that” [presumably referring to the Democrats]. “They have a lot of material. I want—the way I want that handled, Bob, is get it over. I want Brooking. Just break in. Break in and take it out. You understand.” Haldeman replies: “Yeah. But you have to get somebody to do it.” Nixon says: “Well, you—that’s what I’m just telling you. Now don’t discuss it here. You’re to break into the place, rifle the files, and bring them out.” Haldeman is untroubled by the order: “I don’t have any problem with breaking in.” Nixon is direct in his orders for the burglary: “Just go in and take them. Go in around 8 or 9 o’clock. That’s right. You go in and inspect and clean it out.… We’re up against an enemy, a conspiracy. They’re using any means. We are going to use any means. Is that clear?” The next day, Nixon repeats: “Get it done. I want it done. I want the Brookings Institute’s safe cleaned out.” [PBS, 1/2/1997; Reeves, 2001, pp. 339; Werth, 2006, pp. 84-87]
"Talk to Hunt" - When asked who will do it, Nixon replies: “That’s what I’m talking about. Don’t discuss it here. You talk to Hunt.” Nixon is referring to E. Howard Hunt, a recently retired CIA officer currently performing secret operations for Nixon’s aide Charles Colson. Haldeman says approvingly that CIA director Richard Helms “says he’s ruthless, quiet, careful. He’s kind of a tiger.… He spent 20 years in the CIA overthrowing governments.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 339]
"Black-Bag" Team Assembled - Ehrlichman’s deputies Egil “Bud” Krogh and David Young, whom he has put in charge of the operation, soon report that they’ve assembled a “black-bag” team and have recommended a “covert operation” to burglarize an office at the Institute. (Krogh sums up Nixon’s thinking quite eloquently: “Anyone who opposes us, we’ll destroy. As a matter of fact, anyone who doesn’t support us, we’ll destroy.”) Ehrlichman approves the project, noting it must not be “traceable.” The same team of burglars who rifle the office will later be used to break into the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate Hotel (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). [Herda, 1994; Fremon, 1998; Werth, 2006, pp. 84-87] The Brookings Institution burglary never takes place. [PBS, 1/2/1997] Ehrlichman will later claim that the Institution was never burglarized because he “shot it down” (see Late December-Early January 1997). [Herda, 1994]
Newspaper Editor Targeted for Burglary - Another project, which also apparently never takes place, involves stealing documents from the safe of the editor of the Las Vegas Sun, Hank Greenspun. “Plumbers” burglar James McCord will later explain that Greenspun is a target because of his relationship with eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes and former Hughes associate Robert Maheu, and that Maheu has damaging information on a Democratic presidential candidate, Edmund Muskie, that the Nixon aides want. However, author Carl Oglesby will later claim that the material refers to Nixon and not to Muskie. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] In 2001, historian Richard Reeves writes that the files contain information about Nixon and Democratic National Committee chairman Lawrence O’Brien. Nixon’s close friend and political financier Charles “Bebe” Rebozo had just gotten $50,000 in campaign cash from Hughes, and O’Brien is earning $13,000 a month lobbying for one of Hughes’s corporations. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 431]
Call Girl Operation Turned Down - Another “Plumber,” G. Gordon Liddy, suggests using a coterie of Washington, DC call girls to infiltrate the Democratic campaign organization and bring out information, a suggestion that is not seriously considered. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
Inappropriate Conversation? - During the discussion, White House counsel John Dean interrupts to say, “Excuse me for saying this, but I don’t think this kind of conversation should go on in the attorney general’s office.” They are meeting in the office of Attorney General John Mitchell. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 431]
Entity Tags: John Dean, James McCord, John Ehrlichman, Richard Reeves, Las Vegas Sun, John Mitchell, Howard Hughes, Lawrence O’Brien, Hank Greenspun, Edmund Muskie, G. Gordon Liddy, Brookings Institution, Barry Werth, ’Plumbers’, Carl Oglesby, Charles ‘Bebe’ Rebozo, Charles Colson, Egil Krogh, Robert E. Maheu, David Young, H.R. Haldeman, Richard M. Nixon
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
James W. McCord, Jr. [Source: Spartacus Educational]Former FBI and CIA agent James W. McCord joins the staff of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) as a part-time security consultant. He will become the committee’s full-time security coordinator for CREEP in January 1972, and will perform similar duties for the Republican National Committee. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
According to Watergate burglar Eugenio Martinez (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), White House aide E. Howard Hunt, whom he calls by his old CIA code name “Eduardo” (see September 9, 1971), is ratcheting up the activities of the White House “Plumbers” operation. Martinez is not yet aware of the nature of the team’s operations, but believes he is part of a black-ops, CIA-authorized organization working to foil Communist espionage activities. Hunt gives team member Bernard Barker $89,000 in checks from Mexican banks to cash for operational funds, and orders Barker to recruit new team members. Barker brings in Frank Sturgis, Virgilio Gonzalez, and Reinaldo Pico, all veterans of the CIA’s activities against Cuba’s Fidel Castro. On May 22, the six—Hunt, Barker, Gonzalez, Martinez, Pico, and Sturgis—meet for the first time at the Manger Hays-Adams Hotel in Washington for Hunt’s first briefing. By this point, Martinez will later recall, G. Gordon Liddy, who had been involved in the burglary related to Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, is involved. Hunt calls Liddy “Daddy,” and, Martinez recalls, “the two men seemed almost inseparable.” They meet another team member, James McCord, who unbeknownst to Martinez is an official with Nixon’s presidential campaign (see June 19, 1972). McCord is introduced simply as “Jimmy,” an “old man from the CIA who used to do electronic jobs for the CIA and the FBI.” McCord is to be the electronics expert.
Plans to Break into McGovern HQ - Martinez says that the group is joined by “a boy there who had infiltrated the McGovern headquarters,” the headquarters of the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern. According to Hunt, they are going to find evidence proving that the Democrats are accepting money from Castro and other foreign governments. (Interestingly, Martinez will write that he still believes McGovern accepted Cuban money.) Hunt soon aborts the mission; Martinez believes “it was because the boy got scared.”
New Plans: Target the DNC - Instead, he and Liddy begin planning to burglarize the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in the Watergate hotel and office complex. They all move into the Watergate to prepare for the break-in. Martinez will recall: “We brought briefcases and things like that to look elegant. We registered as members of the Ameritus Corporation of Miami, and then we met in Eduardo’s room.” The briefing is “improvised,” Martinez will recall. Hunt says that the Castro funds are coming to the DNC, not McGovern’s headquarters, and they will find the evidence there. The plans are rather impromptu and indefinite, but Martinez trusts Hunt and does not question his expertise. [Harper's, 10/1974]
Entity Tags: Frank Sturgis, Democratic National Committee, Central Intelligence Agency, Bernard Barker, ’Plumbers’, E. Howard Hunt, Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz, George S. McGovern, James McCord, G. Gordon Liddy, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Frank Sturgis, one of the Watergate burglars. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]A covert unit of President Nixon’s “Plumbers” installs surveillance equipment in the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington’s Watergate hotel and office complex. The Washington police report an attempt to unscrew a lock on the door of the Committee’s office between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m., but do not know as yet who tried to force the lock. Some of the five men caught burglarizing the same offices six weeks later (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) are currently registered at the Watergate Hotel, according to subsequent police investigations. [Washington Post, 6/18/1972; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Change of Plans - According to one of the burglary team (see April-June 1972), Eugenio Martinez, the original plan centers on a fake “banquet” in the Watergate hotel for their fake company, the Ameritus Corporation, to be held in a private dining room that has access to the elevators. While team leader and White House aide E. Howard Hunt hosts the banquet, Martinez and the other burglars will use the elevator to go to the DNC offices and “complete the mission.” Virgilio Gonzalez, a locksmith, will open the door; Frank Sturgis, Reinaldo Pico, and Felipe de Diego will act as lookouts; Bernard Barker will get the documents; Martinez will take photographs; and James McCord will “do his job,” apparently involving electronics that Martinez does not understand.
First Time Failure - Apparently they do not follow their plan. Instead, Hunt and the seven members of what Martinez calls “McCord’s army” enter the Watergate complex at midnight, and they enter and sign in under the eye of a policeman. McCord explains that they are all going to work at the Federal Reserve offices on the eighth floor, an explanation Martinez feels is shaky. They are unable to get in through the doors of the sixth floor, and are forced to cancel the operation. Martinez recalls that while the others attempt to get in to the sixth floor, McCord is busy doing something else on the eighth floor; at 2 a.m., he sees McCord on the eighth floor talking to two guards. What McCord is doing, Martinez does not know. “I did not ask questions, but I thought maybe McCord was working there,” he will later recall. “It was the only thing that made sense. He was the one who led us to the place and it would not have made sense for us to have rooms at the Watergate and go on this operation if there was not someone there on the inside.” Hunt is furious at the failure to get into the DNC offices, and reschedules the operation for the next night. Gonzales flies to Miami and brings back his entire set of lockpicking tools. Martinez questions the laxity of the plan—the lack of floor plans, information about the elevators, knowledge of the guards’ schedules, and no contingency plans for failure. Hunt tells him, through Barker: “You are an operative. Your mission is to do what you are told and not to ask questions.”
Success - The second try is successful. Gonzalez and Sturgis get through the doors and usher everyone in, with one of them calling over their walkie-talkie, “The horse is in the house.” Martinez recalls taking “thirty or forty” photographs of campaign contributor documents, and McCord plants three phone taps, telling the others that while the first two might be discovered, the third will not. They return to their hotel rooms about 5 a.m. [Harper's, 10/1974]
Entity Tags: Reinaldo Pico, US Federal Reserve, Richard M. Nixon, Felipe de Diego, Democratic National Committee, Bernard Barker, ’Plumbers’, Frank Sturgis, James McCord, E. Howard Hunt, Eugenio Martinez
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Nixon and Watergate, Elections Before 2000
A security guard at the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), Stephen Anderson, is told by CREEP security director and Watergate burglar James McCord (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) to give McCord the keys to all of the offices, desks, and file cabinets on the second floor of CREEP’s building, which contain the committee’s financial records. McCord explains that some financial documents need to be destroyed and he needs access to everything to confirm their destruction. Anderson is later told by another CREEP employee, Penny Gleason, that she observed McCord’s aide Robert Houston destroying papers in McCord’s office. Anderson will testify to the FBI in the presence of a CREEP lawyer on June 30, 1972, and will say nothing of import; however, that afternoon Anderson will call the bureau and request to be interviewed again. He will then tell the investigators about the file destruction. Houston will deny the allegations. The FBI and the Washington District Attorney’s office will eventually stop allowing CREEP lawyers to sit in during interviews. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
Though the five Watergate burglars (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) are not yet allowed to make telephone calls, phones begin ringing at 5 a.m. at the CIA, the White House, the offices of the Nixon re-election campaign (CREEP), and Nixon’s home in Key Biscayne, where White House aide H. R. Haldeman is. By 3:30 p.m., when the five appear for arraignment (see June 17, 1972), lawyers are waiting to represent them. At CREEP, accused burglar G. Gordon Liddy, released on bail, is busily shredding files; fellow burglar E. Howard Hunt is doing the same at his office. White House aide Charles Colson orders all White House phone directories listing Hunt as a White House employee destroyed. CREEP deputy director Jeb Magruder speaks to his boss, CREEP director John Mitchell, by phone, then begins burning his copies of the “Gemstone” files (see January 29, 1972). Later in the day, Liddy bursts into Attorney General Richard Kleindienst’s office saying that Mitchell wants the five burglars—Bernard Barker, Virgilio Gonzales, Eugenio Martinez, James McCord, and Frank Sturgis—released from prison immediately (see June 17, 1972). Kleindienst does not believe Liddy, and has no authority to release them anyway. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 501]
Entity Tags: Frank Sturgis, Charles Colson, Central Intelligence Agency, Bernard Barker, Committee to Re-elect the President, Eugenio Martinez, H.R. Haldeman, Richard Kleindienst, G. Gordon Liddy, E. Howard Hunt, Virgilio Gonzales, James McCord, Nixon administration, Jeb S. Magruder
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Richard Kleindienst. [Source: public domain]Hours after the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), Attorney General Richard Kleindienst is contacted by burglar G. Gordon Liddy. Liddy, who is accompanied by Nixon campaign press spokesman Powell Moore, tells Kleindienst that campaign chairman John Mitchell wants Liddy to discuss the break-in with Kleindienst. Liddy tells the attorney general that some campaign and/or White House employees might be involved in the break-in, and asks if he can help facilitate their release. Kleindienst refuses, replying that he has a relationship with Mitchell, and therefore does not believe that Mitchell would have sent someone like Liddy to tell him anything. Kleindienst does not tell the FBI about the contact, and therefore the FBI has no early warning of any possible contacts between the burglary and the Nixon administration. In 1974, an internal review of the FBI’s Watergate investigation will be highly critical of Kleindienst’s decision to conceal Liddy’s information, noting: “It is difficult not to find fault with the failure of Kleindienst to immediately advise the Bureau of Liddy’s contact with him.… Had he done so, there is no doubt that our investigative direction at CRP [the Nixon campaign, often given the acronym CREEP] would have been vastly different. First, we would have not have had to conduct an exhaustive investigation to identify Liddy as we had to do. Secondly, it is easy to speculate that the successful cover up would have never gotten off the ground since we would have had reason to zero in on Mitchell and Liddy rather than to waste our time checking into [fellow burglar James] McCord’s security set-up and security co-workers at CRP.” [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
Prosecutor Earl Silbert. [Source: Washington Post]The five men caught burglarizing the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate hotel (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) are arraigned in a Washington, DC, city court on charges of felony burglary and possession of implements of crime. All five originally gave the police false names. [Washington Post, 6/18/1972] The real identities of the five are:
Bernard Barker of Miami, a Cuban-American whom Cuban exiles say has worked on and off for the CIA since the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. Barker was one of the principal leaders of the Cuban Revolutionary Council, the exile organization established with CIA help to organize the Bay of Pigs invasion. Barker’s wife reportedly told attorney Douglas Caddy, one of the team’s lawyers, that, as Caddy says, “her husband told her to call me if he hadn’t called her by 3 a.m.: that it might mean he was in trouble.” [Washington Post, 6/18/1972; Washington Post, 6/19/1972] Barker owns a Miami real estate firm, Barker & Associates. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
Virgilio Gonzalez, a Miami locksmith of Cuban extraction. Gonzalez’s boss, Harry Collot, says Gonzalez came to the US about the time Fidel Castro became well-known, and is an ardent opponent of the Castro regime. Collot describes Gonzalez as “pro-American and anti-Castro… he doesn’t rant or rave like some of them do.”
Eugenio Martinez, a real estate agent from Miami, who authorities say is active in anti-Castro activities in Florida, and violated US immigration laws in 1958 by flying a private plane to Cuba.
James W. McCord, the security director for the Committee for the Re-election of the President (CREEP). McCord initially identifies himself as “Edward Martin,” a former CIA agent and “security consultant” who resides in New York City and possibly the DC area. Neither the police or the press are aware, at the moment, of McCord’s true identity (see June 19, 1972).
Frank Sturgis, a former Cuban army intelligence officer, mercenary, and now the agent for a Havana salvage firm in Miami. Sturgis uses the alias “Frank Florini” during the arraignment. “Fiorini” was identified in 1959 by the Federal Aviation Agency as the pilot of a plane that dropped anti-Castro leaflets over Havana. Previous news reports describe “Fiorini” as a “soldier of fortune” and the former head of the International Anti-Communist Brigade, an organization formed after the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of 1962. The Brigade trained and ferried 23 Cuban exiles into Cuba, where they began guerrilla operations against Castro. “Florini” reportedly fought with, not against, Castro during the Cuban revolution and was originally slated to be named overseer of Cuba’s gambling operations before Castro shut down Cuba’s casinos. Apparently, Sturgis is involved in trying to orchestrate Miami Cubans to demonstrate against the Democratic National Convention, to be held in Miami in July. Sturgis is also involved in the John Birch Society and the Reverend Billy James Hargis’s Christian Crusade.
During their arraignment, one of the burglars describes the team as “anti-Communists,” and the others nod in agreement. Prosecutor Earl Silbert calls the operation “professional” and “clandestine.” The court learns that four of the five, all using fictitious names, rented two rooms at the Watergate, and dined together in the Watergate restaurant on February 14. A search of the two rooms turns up $4,200, again in sequential $100 bills, more burglary tools, and more electronic surveillance equipment, all stashed in six suitcases. Currently, FBI and Secret Service agents are investigating the burglary. Caddy, who says he met Barker a year ago at the Army Navy Club and had a “sympathetic conversation [with Barker]—that’s all I’ll say,” attempts to stay in the background during the arraignment, instead having another attorney, Joseph Rafferty Jr, plead before the court. Caddy is a corporate lawyer with no criminal law experience. [Washington Post, 6/18/1972; Washington Post, 6/19/1972] Interestingly, Caddy shows up at the arraignment apparently without any of the burglars contacting him (see June 17, 1972). [Woodward, 2005, pp. 35] Silbert argues unsuccessfully that the five should be held without bail, citing their use of fictitious names, their lack of community ties, and the likelihood that they would flee the country after they post bail. “They were caught red-handed,” Silbert tells the court. [Washington Post, 6/18/1972; Washington Post, 6/19/1972]
Entity Tags: Harry Collot, US Secret Service, James McCord, Joseph Rafferty, Jr, Frank Sturgis, Earl Silbert, Eugenio Martinez, ’Plumbers’, Bernard Barker, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Democratic National Committee, Douglas Caddy, Committee to Re-elect the President, Virgilio Gonzalez
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
While the police are arresting the five Watergate burglars (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), the team leader, E. Howard Hunt, goes to the hotel room in which Nixon campaign aide Alfred Baldwin has been monitoring the electronic surveillance devices surreptitiously installed in Democratic National Committee headquarters (see May 27-28, 1972). Baldwin was to monitor the burglars and warn them of trouble, but the burglar with the walkie-talkie, Bernard Barker, had his unit turned off and Baldwin was unable to warn them of police arriving on the scene. From Baldwin’s hotel room, Hunt phones a lawyer, Douglas Caddy; Hunt and Caddy both work at a public relations firm, Mullen Company, which some believe is a CIA front organization. Baldwin can hear Hunt talking about money, bail, and posting bonds. Hunt instructs Baldwin to load a van belonging to burglar James McCord with the listening post equipment and sensitive operational documents (the “Gemstone” file—see September 29, 1972), and drive to McCord’s house in Rockville, Maryland. Baldwin will soon tell his story to a lawyer, Robert Mirto; the information will soon find its way to DNC chairman Lawrence O’Brien. This is how O’Brien so quickly learns that White House aides such as Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy were involved in the Watergate burglary (see June 20, 1972). [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
FBI Finds Information Connecting Burglars to White House Aide - Within hours of the burglary, FBI agents searching the Watergate hotel rooms of the burglars find a check with the name “E. Howard Hunt” imprinted on it. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ] In October 1974, burglar Bernard Barker will write: “When we went on the mission, I had put all our identifications and wallets in a bag in the hotel room, and I told Howard that if something happened he would have everything, including my address book with the White House phone number. But when he left the room, he was in such a big hurry that he left everything there. This was a very bad mistake, of course, because [the FBI] immediately established the connection with Hunt and me. They had the connections on a silver platter. But I guess Hunt had enough things to worry about then.” [Harper's, 10/1974] The agents, quickly learning that Hunt is a White House employee, interview Hunt at his Potomac home; Hunt admits the check is his, but denies any knowledge of the burglary. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
Entity Tags: E. Howard Hunt, Central Intelligence Agency, Bernard Barker, Alfred Baldwin, Committee to Re-elect the President, Douglas Caddy, Lawrence O’Brien, G. Gordon Liddy, James McCord, Democratic National Committee, Mullen Company, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert Mirto
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Frank Wills, the security guard who discovers the taped doors and alerts the DC police. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Five burglars (see June 17, 1972) are arrested at 2:30 a.m. while breaking in to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Headquarters offices in Washington’s Watergate hotel and office complex; the DNC occupies the entire sixth floor. [Washington Post, 6/18/1972; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Discovery - They are surprised at gunpoint by three plainclothes officers of the DC Metropolitan Police. Two ceiling panels have been removed from the secretary’s office, which is adjacent to that of DNC chairman Lawrence O’Brien. It is possible to place a surveillance device above those panels that could monitor O’Brien’s office. The five suspects, all wearing surgical gloves, have among them two sophisticated voice-activated surveillance devices that can monitor conversations and telephone calls alike; lock-picks, door jimmies, and an assortment of burglary tools; and $2,300 in cash, most of it in $100 bills in sequence. They also have a walkie-talkie, a shortwave receiver tuned to the police band, 40 rolls of unexposed film, two 35mm cameras, and three pen-sized tear gas guns. Near to where the men are captured is a file cabinet with two open drawers; a DNC source speculates that the men might have been preparing to photograph the contents of the file drawers.
Guard Noticed Taped Door - The arrests take place after a Watergate security guard, Frank Wills, notices a door connecting a stairwell with the hotel’s basement garage has been taped so it will not lock; the guard removes the tape, but when he checks ten minutes later and finds the lock taped once again, the guard calls the police. The police find that all of the stairwell doors leading from the basement to the sixth floor have been similarly taped to prevent them from locking. The door leading from the stairwell to the DNC offices had been jimmied. During a search of the offices, one of the burglars leaps from behind a desk and surrenders. [Washington Post, 6/18/1972] The FBI agents responding to the burglary are initially told that the burglars may have been attempting to plant a bomb in the offices. The “bomb” turns out to be surveillance equipment. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
Last Mission for Martinez - One of the burglars, Cuban emigre and CIA agent Eugenio Martinez, will recall the burglary. They have already successfully burglarized a psychiatrist’s office in search of incriminating material on Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see September 9, 1971), and successfully bugged the DNC offices less than a month previously (see May 27-28, 1972), but Martinez is increasingly ill at ease over the poor planning and amateurish behavior of his colleagues (see Mid-June 1972). This will be his last operation, he has decided. Team leader E. Howard Hunt, whom Martinez calls by his old code name “Eduardo,” is obviously intrigued by the material secured from the previous burglary, and wants to go through the offices a second time to find more. Martinez is dismayed to find that Hunt has two operations planned for the evening, one for the DNC and one for the campaign offices of Democratic candidate George McGovern. Former CIA agent and current Nixon campaign security official James McCord (see June 19, 1972), the electronics expert of the team, is equally uncomfortable with the rushed, almost impromptu plan. Hunt takes all of the burglars’ identification and puts it in a briefcase. He gives another burglar, Frank Sturgis, his phony “Edward J. Hamilton” ID from his CIA days, and gives each burglar $200 in cash to bribe their way out of trouble. Interestingly, Hunt tells the burglars to keep the keys to their hotel rooms. Martinez later writes: “I don’t know why. Even today, I don’t know. Remember, I was told in advance not to ask about those things.”
Taping the Doors - McCord goes into the Watergage office complex, signs in, and begins taping the doors to the stairwells from the eighth floor all the way to the garage. After waiting for everyone to leave the offices, the team prepares to enter. Gonzalez and Sturgis note that the tape to the basement garage has been removed. Martinez believes the operation will be aborted, but McCord disagrees; he convinces Hunt and the other team leader, White House aide G. Gordon Liddy, to continue. It is McCord’s responsibility to remove the tape once the burglars are inside, but he fails to do so. The team is well into the DNC offices when the police burst in. “There was no way out,” Martinez will recall. “We were caught.” Barker is able to surreptitiously advise Hunt, who is still in the hotel, that they have been discovered. Martinez will later wonder if the entire second burglary might have been “a set-up or something like that because it was so easy the first time. We all had that feeling.” The police quickly find the burglars’ hotel keys and then the briefcase containing their identification. As they are being arrested, McCord, who rarely speaks and then not above a whisper, takes charge of the situation. He orders everyone to keep their mouths shut. “Don’t give your names,” he warns. “Nothing. I know people. Don’t worry, someone will come and everything will be all right. This thing will be solved.” [Harper's, 10/1974; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/7/2007]
'Third-Rate Burglary' - White House press secretary Ron Ziegler will respond to allegations that the White House and the Nixon presidential campaign might have been involved in the Watergate burglary by calling it a “third-rate burglary attempt,” and warning that “certain elements may try to stretch this beyond what it is.” [Washington Post, 5/1/1973] The Washington Post chooses, for the moment, to cover it as a local burglary and nothing more; managing editor Howard Simons says that it could be nothing more than a crime committed by “crazy Cubans.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 19]
CIA Operation? - In the weeks and months to come, speculation will arise as to the role of the CIA in the burglary. The Nixon White House will attempt to pin the blame for the Watergate conspiracy on the CIA, an attempt forestalled by McCord (see March 19-23, 1973). In a 1974 book on his involvement in the conspiracy, McCord will write: “The Watergate operation was not a CIA operation. The Cubans may have been misled by others into believing that it was a CIA operation. I know for a fact that it was not.” Another author, Carl Oglesby, will claim otherwise, saying that the burglary is a CIA plot against Nixon. Former CIA officer Miles Copeland will claim that McCord led the burglars into a trap. Journalist Andrew St. George will claim that CIA Director Richard Helms knew of the break-in before it occurred, a viewpoint supported by Martha Mitchell, the wife of Nixon campaign director John Mitchell, who will tell St. George that McCord is a “double agent” whose deliberate blunders led to the arrest of the burglars. No solid evidence of CIA involvement in the Watergate conspiracy has so far been revealed. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
Entity Tags: Nixon administration, Howard Simons, Lawrence O’Brien, James McCord, Martha Mitchell, Richard M. Nixon, Richard Helms, Washington Post, Ron Ziegler, George S. McGovern, Miles Copeland, G. Gordon Liddy, John Mitchell, Frank Sturgis, Carl Oglesby, Bob Woodward, Andrew St. George, Central Intelligence Agency, Carl Bernstein, Democratic National Committee, Daniel Ellsberg, E. Howard Hunt, Eugenio Martinez, Frank Wills
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate, Elections Before 2000
John Mitchell, the former attorney general who now heads the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), responds to the news that one of the Watergate burglars, James McCord, is an employee of the committee (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972): “The person involved is the proprietor of a private security agency who was employed by our committee months ago to assist with the installation of our security system. He has, as we understand it, a number of business clients and relationships, and we have no knowledge of these relationships. We want to emphasize that this man and the other people involved were not operating either on our behalf or with our consent. There is no place in the campaign or in the electoral process for this kind of activity, and we will not permit or condone it.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 20] CREEP will later admit that McCord is the full-time security director for CREEP (see June 19, 1972).
Headline from Washington Post identifying McCord as a ‘GOP Security Aide.’ [Source: Washington Post]James McCord, one of the five Watergate burglars (see June 17, 1972), is identified as the security director for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP). McCord is also identified as a security consultant for the Republican National Committee (RNC), where he has maintained an office since January 1. After his arrest, McCord used a phony name to the police and the court, which kept his identity unclear for two days. The director of CREEP, former attorney general John Mitchell, originally denies that McCord is a member of the campaign, and merely identifies him as a Republican security aide who helped CREEP install a security system. (McCord has his own security business in Maryland, McCord Associates (see June 18, 1972).) [Washington Post, 6/19/1972; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward learns that McCord is a member of a small Air Force Reserve unit in Washington attached to the Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP); the OEP, says a fellow reservist, is tasked with compiling lists of “radicals” and developing contingency plans for censorship of the news media and the US mail in time of war. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 23] RNC chairman Bob Dole says that McCord provided similar services for that organization, and says of the burglary, “we deplore action of this kind in or out of politics.” Democratic Party chairman Lawrence O’Brien, whose offices were burgled and subject to electronic surveillance, says the “bugging incident… raised the ugliest questions about the integrity of the political process that I have encountered in a quarter century,” and adds, “No mere statement of innocence by Mr. Nixon’s campaign manager will dispel these questions.” (O’Brien has inside knowledge of the White House connections (see June 17, 1972).) O’Brien calls on Mitchell’s successor, Attorney General Richard Kleindienst, to order an immediate, “searching professional investigation” of the entire matter by the FBI. The FBI is already mounting an investigation. [Washington Post, 6/19/1972; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Entity Tags: Lawrence O’Brien, Committee to Re-elect the President, Bob Woodward, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Mitchell, Robert J. (“Bob”) Dole, Richard Kleindienst, James McCord, Washington, DC Office of Emergency Preparedness, Republican National Committee
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
The FBI learns that a hotel room in the Howard Johnsons Motor Lodge across the street from the Watergate hotel and office complex was rented by “McCord Associates,” the name of the security firm owned by Watergate burglar James McCord (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972 and June 17, 1972). FBI agents quickly trace telephone calls from the room and locate the man who stayed in the room, Alfred Baldwin, who proves to have monitored the surveillance equipment installed in the Democratic National Committee headquarters (see May 29, 1972). [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
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]
Entity Tags: Murray Chotiner, Charles Colson, Carl Bernstein, Frederick LaRue, John Mitchell, Nixon administration, Republican National Committee, Robert J. (“Bob”) Dole, Richard M. Nixon, Robert C. Odle, Jr, James McCord
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
President Nixon tells a gathering of reporters regarding the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), “The White House has no involvement in this particular incident.” Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward find the phrasing—“this particular incident”—interesting. They have already unearthed numerous connections between the White House and the Watergate burglars, some more tenuous than others, but all pointing to a larger, if indistinct, pattern:
Burglar Frank Sturgis is one of the men who attacked Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see March 1971) outside a memorial service for the late FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in May 1972.
The address book of one of the burglars contains sketches of the hotel rooms to be used by the campaign of Democratic candidate George McGovern during the Democratic National Convention in Miami.
A Miami architect says that burglar Bernard Barker tried to obtain blueprints of the Miami convention hall and its air-conditioning system.
Burglar E. Howard Hunt’s boss at the public relations firm he works for (see June 17, 1972), Robert Bennett, has organized over 100 dummy campaign committees that have been used to funnel millions of dollars into the Nixon re-election campaign.
Burglar James McCord (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) was carrying an application for college press credentials for the Democratic convention when he was arrested.
Three of the Watergate burglars, all Miami residents, had been in Washington at the same time the offices of some prominent Democratic lawyers in the Watergate had been burgled. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 29]
Watergate surveillance man Alfred Baldwin (see May 29, 1972) confesses to his role in the electronic eavesdropping on Democrats in the Watergate office complex. Baldwin tells FBI agents that he worked directly for burglar James McCord, and also had contact with two other burglars, E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy. Baldwin’s statement is the first direct link for FBI investigators between the burglary and Hunt and Liddy. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
The FBI finds another electronic surveillance device—a “bug”—on the telephone of Spencer Oliver, an official with the Democratic National Committee. Oliver’s office was one of those targeted in the earlier Watergate burglaries (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). It is not known how the bug got there, whether it had been planted during the earlier break-in or in a subsequent operation, and whether it transmitted any phone conversations. The FBI later notes that several earlier “sweeps” of Oliver’s office found no traces of the bug. Watergate burglar James McCord will examine the device in April 1973, and testify that it is one of the devices he planted. [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
Representative William S. Moorhead (D-PA) publicly criticizes a secret government contingency plan to censor public information in the event of a national emergency or war. Moorhead claims he has obtained a copy of the plan as part of an investigation by the House Foreign Operations and Government Information Subcommittee. His primary concern is that the censorship plans could be implemented in the event of a “limited war,” such as the conflict in Vietnam. According to Moorhead, representatives of the Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP), which is responsible for managing the secret censorship program, testified to the committee that the plans were for use only in the event of nuclear attack within the United States. Moorhead, however, after reviewing the plans first-hand, says the program could be activated during “limited war or conflicts of the ‘brush fire’ type, in which United States forces are involved elsewhere in the world on land, sea, or in the air.” The plans would involve “opening mail, monitoring broadcasts, and questioning travelers entering the country.” Moorhead says James W. McCord Jr., who was arrested as part of the Watergate scandal (see June 17, 1972), was one of several individuals responsible for drafting the plans. Moorhead alleges McCord developed a “National Watchlist” as part of the program. [United Press International, 10/23/1972; United Press International, 10/23/1972]
Dorothy Hunt. [Source: Spartacus Educational]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.” [Harper's, 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]
Entity Tags: Egil Krogh, United Airlines, William Ruckelshaus, E. Howard Hunt, Dorothy Hunt, Charles Colson, Tony Ulasewicz, Bernard Barker, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard M. Nixon, John Mitchell, Lalo J. Gastriani, Frederick LaRue, George Collins, H.R. Haldeman, Michelle Clark, Frank Sturgis, James McCord, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Dwight Chapin, John Ehrlichman
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Accused Watergate burglar James McCord (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) writes a letter to former Nixon aide Jack Caulfield in an attempt to warn the Nixon administration not to try to pin the blame for Watergate on the CIA, as some White House aides have suggested. McCord writes in part: “Sorry to have to write you this letter but felt you had to know. If Helms goes [Richard Helms, the director of the CIA, who was asked to resign by Nixon—see November 20, 1972)], and if the WG [Watergate] operation is laid at the CIA’s feet, where it does not belong, every tree in the forest will fall. It will be a scorched desert. The whole matter is at the precipice right now. Just pass the message that if they want it to blow, they are on exactly the right course. I’m sorry that you will get hurt in the fallout.” [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
While awaiting trial, Watergate burglar James McCord (see June 19, 1972) tells his fellow burglars that he is going to get his own lawyer. “I am going to get F. Lee Bailey. He is a big attorney,” McCord tells Bernard Barker. McCord recommends that Barker and the other Cubans—Virgilio Gonzales, Eugenio Martinez, and Frank Sturgis—get their own lawyers, too. Barker meets with lawyer Henry Rothblatt, who assures Barker that he will represent all the Cubans for free. “He had [successfully] defended the Green Berets in their big case” (see September 29, 1969), Barker will write in 1974, and this case is, according to Rothblatt, very similar. Protected by the attorney-client relationship, Barker tells Rothblatt about both the Watergate and Ellsberg burglaries (see August 5, 1971). Barker will write, “So he knew we couldn’t use the truth as our defense in the Watergate case, because we could not reveal our recruitment for the Ellsberg case.” [Harper's, 10/1974]
After the press reports that the Watergate burglars will receive cash payments in return for their guilty pleas and their silence (see January 8-9, 1973 and January 8-11, 1973), Judge John Sirica angrily grills the four Miami-based defendants in court about the claims. To a man, they deny any pressure to plead guilty, any knowledge of cash payments to themselves or their families, and any knowledge of discussions of possible executive clemency. Defendant Virgilio Gonzalez even denies being a former CIA agent, when evidence has already established that he was on a $100/month retainer by the agency until the day after the Watergate burglary. (Defendant G. Gordon Liddy laughs aloud when Gonzalez makes this claim.) Gonzalez claims that the entire Watergate operation was somehow involved with the Communist regime of Cuba: Gonzalez says he is committed to “protect[ing] this country against any Communist conspiracy.” Sirica rolls his eyes in disbelief. Gonzalez claims not to know any specifics of the supposed connection between the Democrats and Castro’s Cuba, and says that he trusted the judgement of his superiors, Liddy and E. Howard Hunt. Fellow defendant Bernard Barker claims that none of them were paid for their actions: “These are not men that sell themselves for money,” Barker states. Barker confirms that he worked for Hunt, and says it was an honor for him to perform such a service. Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward later write, “The prosecutors’ assurances that everything would come out at the trial were fading into nothingness, as the defendants ducked into the haze of their guilty pleas.” The five who pled guilty are led off to jail before their bail and sentencing hearings. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 233-235; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] In his Watergate grand jury testimony, White House counsel John Dean will say that President Nixon approved executive clemency for Hunt in December 1972 (see January 10, 1973). [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 312] In 1974, Barker will write that while in jail, James McCord is their group leader, but they do not fully trust him, partly because he is “very friendly with Alfred Baldwin, and to us Baldwin was the first informer” (see May 29, 1972). Another disconnection between McCord and the Cubans is his lack of participation in the Ellsberg burglary (see September 9, 1971). [Harper's, 10/1974]
Entity Tags: James McCord, Bob Woodward, Bernard Barker, Alfred Baldwin, Carl Bernstein, G. Gordon Liddy, Richard M. Nixon, Virgilio Gonzalez, E. Howard Hunt, John Sirica, John Dean
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
E. Howard Hunt, the leader of the seven Watergate burglars (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) currently on trial, tells fellow burglars Frank Sturgis, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, and Bernard Barker (sometimes called the “Cubans”) that if they plead guilty and keep their mouths shut, the White House will financially take care of their families. Hunt will plead guilty the next day; the others will plead guilty days later (see January 8-11, 1973). [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] Hunt has been pressuring the White House for executive clemency—in essence, a presidential pardon—for himself in return for his and the burglars’ guilty pleas and subsequent silence. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 557-558] Watergate burglar Bernard Barker will write of the decision to plead guilty in October 1974. He will recall Hunt as being thoroughly demoralized by the death of his wife Dorothy (see December 8, 1972), and telling Barker, “Well, you do what you want, but I am going to plead guilty.” When Barker asks why, Hunt replies: “We have no defense. The evidence against us is overwhelming.” Barker asks, “What about Liddy and McCord?” asking about the two accused burglars, G. Gordon Liddy and James McCord, who are being tried separately. Hunt replies: “Liddy and McCord are in a different sector. We are in one sector and they are in another. They have their own plan.” Barker then asks the Cubans’ lawyer, Henry Rothblatt, what his strategy is. Rothblatt confirms that they have no defense against the charges (see Early January, 1973), but he intends to “aggravate that Judge Sirica [John Sirica, presiding over the trial] to the point where I am going to drive him out of his cotton-pickin’ mind, and he is going to make so many mistakes with his arrogance that this will be a perfect case for appeal.” Unimpressed, Barker says he will follow Hunt’s lead and plead guilty. Rothblatt insists that Barker not trust Hunt and the others, saying: “They are a bunch of b_stards. They’ll double-cross you. They’ll sell you down the river.” Nevertheless, Barker and the other three burglars agree to follow Hunt’s lead and plead guilty. Rothblatt resigns from the case. Apparently, Barker is unaware at this time of Hunt’s negotiations with the White House for executive clemency for himself. [Harper's, 10/1974]
Entity Tags: Henry Rothblatt, E. Howard Hunt, Dorothy Hunt, Bernard Barker, Eugenio Martinez, G. Gordon Liddy, John Sirica, Virgilio Gonzalez, James McCord, Frank Sturgis, Nixon administration
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
During the trial of the “Watergate Seven” (see January 8-11, 1973), unbeknownst to the press, the prosecution, or Judge John Sirica, Watergate defendant James McCord has been quietly writing anonymous letters to his former supervisors and friends at the CIA. McCord’s letters warn them that the White House intends to blame the agency for the Watergate conspiracy. His last unsigned letter goes to former White House aide Jack Caulfield, now working for the IRS (see December 21, 1972). “If [CIA director Richard] Helms goes and the Watergate operation is laid at CIA’s feet, where it does not belong, every tree in the forest will fall,” he writes, apparently alluding to his intention to tell what he knows. “Just pass the message that if they want it to blow, they are on exactly the right course.” Caulfield did indeed pass the message to the White House. During the trial, Caulfield met with McCord, representing “the highest level of the White House,” promising money and executive clemency for McCord if he will plead guilty and stay quiet. McCord does not take the deal (see March 19-23, 1973). [Reeves, 2001, pp. 561-562]
During the trial of Watergate burglars G. Gordon Liddy and James McCord (see January 8-11, 1973), the court goes into closed session to hear testimony from confessed Watergate accomplice Alfred Baldwin (see June 17, 1972). Baldwin tells the court that he recorded approximately 200 hours of phone and spoken conversations from the electronic surveillance on the Democrats in the Watergate office complex, and gave the logs to McCord. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ; Reeves, 2001, pp. 562]
During the Watergate trial of G. Gordon Liddy and James McCord (see January 30, 1973), Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward begin poring over the exhibits and papers filed as evidence with the court. Woodward begins calling the phone numbers listed in the address books of the burglars (see June 18, 1972). He is told by one of the first people he calls: “The FBI? They never, never contacted me. I never talked to them.” Woodward is appalled that the FBI has made such a fundamental investigative failure of not calling all of the people listed in the books. (An FBI internal report will later attempt to explain the lapse—see July 5, 1974.)
Woodward Calls Witnesses - When the court releases the names of upcoming witnesses, Woodward begins calling them, too. He asks one witness, who knows burglar E. Howard Hunt (see January 8-9, 1973) very well, what he will testify to. “I’ll tell you what I could testify to, but [prosecutor Earl] Silbert won’t ask,” the witness replies. “If the judge does or any of the attorneys, I’ll say it.” The witness has already told everything he knows to Silbert and FBI investigators.
Ehrlichman Allegedly Ran Plumbers - He says that if asked, he would tell the court that, according to Hunt, White House aide John Ehrlichman was in charge of the Plumbers (see December 7, 1972). Hunt would have rather dealt with another White House aide, Charles Colson, “because Colson understood that such [secret intelligence gathering operations against political opponents] are necessary.” Ehrlichman was reluctant to implement some of Hunt’s schemes, the witness says, but Colson pushed them through. Former Nixon campaign chief John Mitchell received typed logs and reports of the wiretaps on the Democrats, the witness says.
Conspiracy Linked to Dean - Most surprisingly for Woodward, the witness says that when Hunt was in hiding from investigators (see June 18, 1972) and demanding a lawyer, he insisted that White House counsel John Dean find him one. This is the first time anyone has publicly connected Dean to the Watergate conspiracy.
Not Asked - As the witness predicts, he will not be asked any of this when he testifies. Woodward and Bernstein write a long analysis of the trial, headlined “Still Secret: Who Hired Spies and Why,” observing that the Liddy/McCord trial is notable for “questions that were not asked, answers that were not given, witnesses who were not called to testify, and some lapses of memory by those who were.” At the bond hearing for Liddy and McCord after the trial, Judge John Sirica will say that he hopes the proposed Senate investigation (see February 7, 1973) can find out what the trials did not. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 237-241]
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, ’Plumbers’, Charles Colson, Earl Silbert, John Dean, John Mitchell, James McCord, G. Gordon Liddy, John Sirica, E. Howard Hunt, John Ehrlichman
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
G. Gordon Liddy. [Source: Robert Maass / Corbis]Following on the five guilty pleas of their fellow defendants (see January 8-11, 1973), the final two Watergate defendants, G. Gordon Liddy and James McCord, are found guilty of conspiracy, burglary, and wiretapping Democratic headquarters. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] During the trial, the court hears damning testimony from confessed Watergate accomplice Alfred Baldwin (see Mid-January 1973) and former Nixon campaign treasurer Hugh Sloan (see January 23, 1973). As the trial progressed, the stolid solidarity of the defendants began to crack, with Liddy’s lawyer attempting to shift the blame for criminal actions onto E. Howard Hunt, who pled guilty three weeks before. McCord’s lawyer won little sympathy from the jury by attacking Judge John Sirica’s impartiality and competence during the trial. Prosecutor Earl Silbert, calling Liddy “the leader of the conspiracy, the moneyman, the boss,” told the jury in his final statement, “[W]hen people cannot get together for political purposes without fear that their premises will be burglarized, their conversations bugged, their phones tapped… you breed distrust, you breed suspicion, you lost confidence, faith and credibility.” He asked for “a verdict that will help restore the faith in the democratic system that has been so damaged by the conduct of these two defendants and their coconspirators.” The jury takes a mere 90 minutes to return its verdict. Sirica orders the two immediately jailed while he considers bail. [Washington Post, 1/31/1973; Reeves, 2001, pp. 567]
While awaiting sentencing, convicted Watergate burglar James McCord (see January 30, 1973) tells fellow burglar Bernard Barker that he is “not going to jail for these people,” apparently referring to White House officials. “If they think they are going to make a patsy out of me, they better think again.” Barker and his fellow “Cubans” are proud of their stubborn silence throughout the investigation, especially, as Barker will write, “not telling about the Ellsberg burglary” (see September 9, 1971). But, Barker will note, their silence did not pay off as they had hoped. “We were exposed by the very people who ordered us to do it—without their ever being in jail. [Egil] Krogh [the White House supervisor of the ‘Plumbers’] popped, they all popped.” Their lawyer tells them that the Ellsberg burglary is no longer secret, but in the news now, and they had better speak up about their role in that burglary while they still have a shot at gaining immunity for their testimony. But their colleague and putative leader E. Howard Hunt tells Barker and the others: “National security. We don’t talk. None of us talks.” [Harper's, 10/1974]
Convicted Watergate burglar James McCord (see January 30, 1973) writes a letter to the presiding judge, John Sirica, in response to Sirica’s requests for more information. McCord writes that he is “whipsawed in a variety of legalities”—he may be forced to testify to the Senate (see February 7, 1973), and he may be involved in future civil and other criminal proceedings. He also fears unspecified “retaliatory measures… against me, my family, and my friends should I disclose” his knowledge of the Watergate conspiracy. But McCord wants some leniency from Sirica in sentencing. McCord alleges that the five defendants who pled guilty did so under duress. The defendants committed perjury, McCord continues, and says that others are involved in the burglary. The burglary is definitely not a CIA operation, though “[t]he Cubans may have been misled” into thinking so. McCord writes, “I know for a fact that it was not,” implying inside knowledge of at least some CIA workings. McCord requests to speak with Sirica privately in the judge’s chambers, because he “cannot feel confident in talking with an FBI agent, in testifying before a Grand Jury whose US attorneys work for the Department of Justice, or in talking with other government representatives.” In his discussion with Sirica, he makes the most explosive charge of all: he and his fellow defendants lied at the behest of former Attorney General John Mitchell, now the head of the Nixon re-election campaign, and current White House counsel John Dean. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 275-276; Time, 1/7/1974; James W. McCord, Jr, 7/3/2007; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] It seems that McCord writes his letter to Sirica in retaliation for President Nixon’s firing of CIA director Richard Helms, and the White House’s attempts to pin the blame for the Watergate conspiracy on the CIA (see December 21, 1972).
Virgilio Gonzalez, Frank Sturgis, former attorney Henry Rothblatt, Bernard Barker, and Eugenio Martinez, photographed during the trial. [Source: Wally McNamee / Corbis]The Watergate burglars are sentenced to jail. G. Gordon Liddy receives between six years eight months to twenty years in federal prison. The actual burglars—Bernard Barker, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, and Frank Sturgis—receive forty years. E. Howard Hunt receives 35 years. Judge John Sirica announces that the prison terms are “provisionary,” depending on whether they cooperate with government prosecutors. Convicted burglar James McCord is to be sentenced, but Sirica delays his sentencing, and reveals that McCord has written a letter to the court (see March 19-23, 1973) about the perjury and concealment that permeated the trial. After news of the letter hits the press, President Nixon writes in his diary that the letter is “a bombshell.” Watergate prosecutor Earl Silbert says he will reconvene the grand jury investigating the break-in. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 578-580]
Senate Watergate counsel Samuel Dash tells reporters that, following the extraordinary letter from convicted Watergate burglar James McCord that alleged perjury and enforced silence in the trial of the burglars (see March 19-23, 1973), he has twice interviewed McCord. McCord has “named names” and begun “supplying a full and honest account” of the Watergate operation. He refuses to give details, but promises that McCord will soon testify in public Senate hearings. Shortly after the press conference, the Los Angeles Times reports that McCord named White House counsel John Dean and Nixon campaign deputy director Jeb Magruder as two of the Nixon officials involved in planning the Watergate surveillance operation. Dean has not been named as being involved in the Watergate planning until now. The White House denies Dean’s involvement; significantly, its statement does not mention Magruder—the Nixon administration has cut him loose. Three Capitol Hill sources confirm the story; one Republican politician anonymously tells the Post that McCord’s allegations are “convincing, disturbing, and supported by some documentation.” Dean’s lawyer learns of a planned follow-up story by the Washington Post and threatens to sue the Post if it prints the allegations; Post editor Howard Simons orders that the story be published, including the threat from Dean’s lawyer. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 276-277]
James McCord demonstrates a bugging device during his testimony. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Convicted Watergate burglar James McCord testifies behind closed doors to the Senate Watergate Committee (see March 25, 1973). The committee’s ranking minority member, Howard Baker (R-TN), tells reporters after the lengthy session that McCord has provided “significant information… covering a lot of territory.” One senator anonymously tells Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of McCord’s testimony: McCord has told the senators that fellow Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy said the burglary and surveillance operation was approved by then-Nixon campaign chairman John Mitchell in February 1972, while Mitchell was still attorney general (see March 20, 1971). In addition, McCord told the senators that White House aide Charles Colson knew about the Watergate operation in advance. Little of this is news to the Post reporters, and they are not heartened by Baker’s admission that McCord’s testimony is almost all secondhand information. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 280-281]
Artist’s rendition of McCord’s testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee. [Source: Franklin McMahon / Corbis]The New York Times reports that convicted Watergate burglar James McCord told the Senate Watergate Committee (see March 28, 1973) that the cash payoffs for the burglars came directly from the Nixon re-election campaign (CREEP). McCord’s testimony is the first confirmation that CREEP bought the silence of the burglars during their trial (see January 8-11, 1973). Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, attempting to confirm earlier information that the CREEP “slush fund” had continued to operate well after the Watergate burglaries (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), speaks to a CREEP official; the official explodes about the reaction among his colleagues to McCord’s testimony. “John Mitchell [the former head of CREEP] still sits there smoking on his pipe, not saying much… I used to take that for wisdom—you know, keeping your mouth shut. Now I realize that it’s ignorance.… God, I never thought I’d be telling you guys that I didn’t hate what you did. It’s the way the White House has handled this mess that’s undermined the presidency.… I’ve got friends who look at me now and say, ‘How can you have any self-respect and still work for CREEP?’ I’m sick.” Former CREEP treasurer Hugh Sloan confirms that at least $70,000 of the “slush fund” money (see Early 1970 and September 29, 1972)was used to pay off the burglars, all with the approval of CREEP financial director Maurice Stans. Woodward and colleague Carl Bernstein will later write: “That tied the knot. The secret fund had brought the reporters full circle—first the bugging, and now the cover-up.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 282-284]
Jeb Magruder testifies before Watergate investigators. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Former CREEP deputy director Jeb Magruder testifies in private to investigators for the Watergate investigation. Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward learns of Magruder’s testimony on April 18, from a CREEP official. The official tells Woodward that “Magruder is your next McCord (see March 28, 1973). He went to the prosecutors last Saturday [April 14] and really tucked it to [John] Dean and [John] Mitchell.” Woodward asks why Magruder, who has a reputation for extreme loyalty, would testify against anyone in either the White House or the campaign. “Bad sh_t, man,” the official responds. “The walls were coming in on him—walls, ceiling, floor, everything.” Magruder blamed Dean and Mitchell for “[t]he whole mess,” says the official, “the bugging plans and the payoff scheme… those meetings, or at least one meeting, in Mitchell’s office when everything was discussed with [G. Gordon] Liddy before the bugging.” Woodward confirms the official’s account with a White House official, who says that Magruder told everything he knew: “The works—all the plans for the bugging, the charts, the payoffs.… This is no hearsay like McCord. It will put Dean and Mitchell in jail.” Magruder’s lawyer confirms that his client will testify before the grand jury when called. And a Justice Department official adds that “other people will testify that Mitchell and Dean were in on the arrangements for the payoffs.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 292-293] The same day, Magruder admits to Bart Porter, the campaign’s director of scheduling, that he has been using Porter to help cover his own involvement in the Watergate conspiracy (see July 31, 1972). Porter, who has lied three times under oath for Magruder (see January 8-11, 1973), is horrified. He decides to stop lying for Magruder or anyone else, and tell the Senate Watergate Committee everything he knows about Watergate, regardless of the consequences. [Harper's, 10/1974]
The Senate Watergate Committee begins its first day of public hearings. The hearings are televised starting May 18. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Washington Post legal analyst Jules Witcover writes that the first day of hearings is as dramatic as “watching grass grow.” The witnesses, beginning with Robert C. Odle, director of administration for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), insist that neither he or any of his colleagues knew of any illegal activities, and did not learn of the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) until seeing news reports of the five burglars’ arrests. He says that when he saw CREEP security consultant James McCord was one of the five, his first thought was that he would have to find a replacement for McCord. Odle does say he saw another Watergate conspirator, G. Gordon Liddy, shred a large stack of documents the same day as the burglary, but thought little of it. Other witnesses, particularly two of the police officers who made the initial arrests, add little to the fund of knowledge already possessed by Watergate observers. Witcover writes that the senators on the committee, led by Senator Sam Ervin (D-NC), engage in little or no “showboating” for the cameras. Witcover predicts that when McCord and other witnesses begin testifying, the hearings should “heat up.” [Washington Post, 5/18/1973]
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:
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).
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.
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.”
Failure to interview key individuals with knowledge of the suspicious monies found in the burglars’ bank accounts.
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.
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.
Failing to find and remove a surveillance device from the Democratic National Committee headquarters (see September 13, 1972). The OPE calls this failure “inexplicable.”
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.
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.
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.
“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).
“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).
“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 ]
Entity Tags: Donald Segretti, Richard Kleindienst, Office of Planning and Evaluation (FBI), Nixon administration, Robert Reisner, Sally Harmony, Democratic National Committee, US Department of Justice, Alfred Baldwin, Central Intelligence Agency, Charles Colson, Maurice Stans, L. Patrick Gray, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, John Dean, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Committee to Re-elect the President, Earl Silbert, Dwight Chapin, E. Howard Hunt, G. Gordon Liddy, John Mitchell, Howard Baker, Herbert L. Porter, James McCord, H.R. Haldeman, John Crewdson, Jeb S. Magruder
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
In his Watergate interview with former President Richard Nixon (see Early 1976 and April 13-15, 1977), David Frost continues from his earlier questioning about Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate conspiracy (see April 13, 1977) to the events of March 21, 1973 (see March 21, 1973). Now that Nixon’s status as a co-conspirator from the outset has been established, Frost wants to know why Nixon claims not to have known about the illegal aspects of the cover-up, or about the blackmail demands of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt, until this date. Nixon is cautious, claiming only that he learned of Hunt’s blackmail demands on March 21, and refusing to acknowledge that he knew anything about the $400,000 in payouts during the eight months preceding (see June 20-21, 1972).
Springing the Trap - Frost circles back, hoping for a flat confirmation: “So March 21 was the first day you learned about an illegal cover-up?” Nixon carefully says that March 21 was the day he learned of the “full import” of the cover-up, only having heard “smatterings” beforehand and being reassured by then-White House counsel John Dean that no White House personnel were involved. Frost springs his trap: “In that case, why did you say in such strong terms to [White House aide Charles] Colson on February 14, more than a month before, ‘The cover-up is the main ingredient, that’s where we gotta cut our losses. My losses are to be cut. The president’s losses got to be cut on the cover-up deal’” (see February 14, 1973). Nixon’s face betrays his shock. “Why did I say that?” he asks rhetorically, trying to gather himself. He fishes around for excuses, quickly settling on media reports at the time that tossed around charges of conspiracies, “hush money” payouts, and promises of executive clemency. That’s all he was referring to in the February 14 conversation, he says: the cover-up itself had to be avoided at all costs. Frost researcher James Reston, Jr. later writes, “It was an exquisite lie, a superb time warp.”
Error Goes Unnoticed - Only later do Reston and other research team members realize that no such stories had appeared in the media by February 14; in fact, allegations of a cover-up never made it into print until after burglar James McCord wrote his letter to Judge John Sirica on March 19 warning the judge of involvement of “higher-ups” in a conspiracy of silence (see March 19-23, 1973). No one had written publicly of any executive clemency deals until the subject was broached during the Senate Watergate investigative hearings (see February 7, 1973). But few of the millions who will see the interview will have the grasp of the chronology of events necessary to realize the extent of Nixon’s dishonesty.
Second Colson Bombshell - Frost reminds Nixon of his conversation with Colson of February 13 (see February 13, 1973), the day before, when they had discussed which Nixon official will have to take the fall for Watergate. Former campaign director John Mitchell couldn’t do it, the conversation went, but Nixon wants to know about Mitchell’s former deputy, Jeb Magruder. “He’s perjured himself, hasn’t he?” Nixon asked Colson. Frost asks Nixon, “So you knew about Magruder’s perjury as early as February the thirteenth?” Nixon bobs and weaves, talking about events from the year before, how Mitchell and Colson hated each other, how Colson and Ehrlichman hated each other. Frost brings Nixon back on point by reading another quote from the February 13 conversation, where Nixon says that “the problem” will come up if “one of the seven [indicted Watergate burglars] begins to talk…” Frost asks, “Now, in that remark, it seems to be that someone running the cover-up couldn’t have expressed it more clearly than that, could he?” Frost wants to know precisely what the phrase “one of the seven begins to talk” means. Nixon argues, but Frost refuses to be distracted. How can it mean anything else except “some sort of conspiracy to stop Hunt from talking about something damaging?” Frost asks. Nixon retorts, “You could state your conclusion, and I’ve stated my views.”
Nixon's Own Words Prove Knowledge, Complicity - Frost proceeds to pepper Nixon with his own quotes proving his knowledge and complicity, nine of them, a barrage that leaves Nixon nearly breathless. Nixon finally accuses Frost of taking his words out of context. Frost’s final quote is from an April 21 meeting where Nixon told aides John Dean and H. R. Haldeman, “Christ, just turn over any cash we got.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 126-134] After the taping, Nixon asks his aides about the Colson transcripts: “What was that tape? I’m sure I never heard that tape before. Find out about that tape.” [Time, 5/9/1977]
Entity Tags: James Reston, Jr, David Frost, Charles Colson, E. Howard Hunt, James McCord, John Sirica, Richard M. Nixon, John Dean, H.R. Haldeman, Jeb S. Magruder, John Mitchell
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
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