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Profile: John Ehrlichman
John Ehrlichman was a participant or observer in the following events:
As President-elect Nixon’s staffers set up shop in the White House, one of Nixon’s aides, John Ehrlichman, is visited by an old college classmate, outgoing Deputy Attorney General Warren Christopher. Ehrlichman later recalls the visit: “He arrived in my office with a big package of documents and suggested we keep them at hand all the time. They were proclamations to be filled in. You could fill in the name of the city and the date and the president would sign it and declare martial law.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 14]
ITT logo. [Source: Private Line.com]International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) acquires three smaller corporations, prompting the US Justice Department to file suits against ITT charging that the mergers violate antitrust laws. Between 1969 and April 1971, ITT officials meet with several Nixon administration officials, including Vice President Spiro Agnew; White House aides John Ehrlichman, Charles Colson, and Egil Krogh; Cabinet secretaries John Connally and Maurice Stans; Justice Department officials John Mitchell and Richard Kleindienst; and others, in attempts to persuade the administration to drop the lawsuits. [The People's Almanac, 1981]
Entity Tags: John Ehrlichman, Charles Colson, Egil Krogh, John Connally, US Department of Justice, Richard Kleindienst, John Mitchell, Maurice Stans, International Telephone and Telegraph, Nixon administration, Spiro T. Agnew
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman begins setting up a secret campaign fund for the 1970 and 1972 elections. The source of the funding is to be, in its initial phases, money from billionaire oilman J. Paul Getty. Haldeman writes to fellow Nixon aide John Ehrlichman: “Bebe Rebozo [Nixon’s close friend] has been asked by the president to contact J. Paul Getty in London regarding major contributions.… The funds should go to some entity other than the [Republican] National Committee so that we retain full control of their use.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 40]
Former New York Police Department detective Jack Caulfield begins his new job as a White House aide. Caulfield was added to the White House by Nixon aide John Ehrlichman after President Nixon’s decision to use private, secretly held funds for political intelligence operations (see January 30, 1969). Caulfield is to conduct various political intelligence operations without being noticed by the CIA, the FBI, or the Republican National Committee. Originally, the idea was to pay Caulfield out of unspent campaign funds from the 1968 elections (see November 5, 1968), but Caufield insisted on being given a White House position. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 67]
President Nixon learns of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA)‘s involvement in the death by drowning of campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne at Massachusett’s Chappaquiddick Island. “He was obviously drunk and let her drown,” Nixon says of Kennedy, who is considered the Democrats’ leading presidential candidate for 1972. “He ran. There’s a fatal flaw in his character.” Nixon aide John Ehrlichman sends his “on-staff detective,” Jack Caulfield (see April 2, 1969) to the site to pose as a reporter and glean information. Caulfield takes along another former New York police detective, Tony Ulasewicz, who is being paid $22,000 a year out of a secret Nixon political fund handled by Nixon’s personal lawyer, Herbert Kalmbach. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 100-101]
Official portrait of Justice William O. Douglas. [Source: Oyez.org]After the second of President Richard Nixon’s conservative Supreme Court nominees is rejected by Congress (see May 14, 1969), House Minority Leader Gerald Ford (R-MI) leads an unsuccessful fight to impeach Justice William O. Douglas. Nixon, through White House aide John Ehrlichman, mobilizes Ford to go after Douglas, presumably in retaliation for the rejection of Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell. When legal scholars say that Douglas’s unconventional views and behavior come nowhere near constituting grounds for impeachment, Ford says that “an impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be in a given moment in history.” Ford uses unusually strong language (for him) in denouncing Douglas; he questions Douglas’s association with a charitable foundation, his association with the “leftish” Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, and blasts Douglas’s most recent book, Points of Rebellion, saying that it gives “legitimacy to the militant hippie-yippie movement” and is little more than an incitement to rebellion. (Ford is particularly outraged by the recent publication of an excerpt of Douglas’s book in Evergreen magazine, an excerpt preceded by photographs of nudes that Ford calls “hardcore pornography.” Ford expresses his moral outrage by ensuring that his colleagues have the chance to view every photograph.) Although Ford does enough in-chamber logrolling to get the matter working in the House Rules Committee, two weeks later Nixon abruptly backs off, leaving Ford, in the words of author Barry Werth, “to look foolishly partisan.” [Time, 4/27/1970; Werth, 2006, pp. 233-234]
Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Richard M. Nixon, William O. Douglas, John Ehrlichman, House Rules Committee, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Barry Werth, Evergreen Magazine, G. Harrold Carswell, Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, Clement Haynsworth
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Herbert L. “Bart” Porter, a California business executive, joins the staff of the White House Director of Communications, Herb Klein. Porter later writes, “I can’t help believing that, had Herb been given the authority he needed, the president’s relations with the press and the media would have been much better than they were.” Porter is taken aback at the isolation of President Nixon, and that isolation’s enforcement by Nixon’s top aides, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman. The callousness with which Haldeman and Ehrlichman treat their subordinates frustrates the staffers, Porter will write, especially those from private businesses who are used to “a more filial relationship with superiors.” Porter will add: “It was only later that I was to realize [Haldeman and Ehrlichman’s] capacity for misusing subordinates, particularly the younger, more inexperienced men. I am still mentally and spiritually appalled. It was so cold.” [Harper's, 10/1974]
Nixon at AMPI rally and convention, September 3, 1971 [Source: George Mason University]President Nixon meets with members of a farmer’s cooperative, Associated Milk Producers, Inc (AMPI). Nixon and his staff members have secretly colluded with AMPI members to artificially drive up the price of milk in return for $2 million in campaign contributions for Nixon’s 1972 re-election. (Ironically, in 1968, AMPI had supported Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey, but they now want access to Nixon, and retained former Nixon aide Murray Chotiner as soon as Chotiner left the White House.) In 1969 and 1970, AMPI officials delivered $235,000 to Nixon’s personal lawyer, Herbert Kalmbach, for use in the Townhouse Project (see Early 1970) and other secret campaign operations. AMPI officials agree to government subsidies that will drive the price of milk up to $4.92 per hundredweight after politely listening to Nixon’s ideas of marketing milk as a sedative: “If you get people thinking that a glass of milk is going to make them sleep, I mean, it’ll do just as well as a sleeping pill. It’s all in the head.” Nixon heads off specific discussions of how AMPI money will be delivered, warning: “Don’t say that while I’m sitting here. Matter of fact, the room’s not tapped. Forgot to do that” (see February 1971). After the meeting, Nixon’s aides calculate that the deal will cost the government about $100 million. White House aide John Ehrlichman says as he leaves Nixon’s office: “Better get a glass of milk. Drink it while it’s cheap.” That evening, Chotiner and the president of AMPI, Harold Nelson, transfer the $2 million to Kalmbach in a Washington hotel room. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 309]
President Nixon tells his aides H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman that they will need to dun even more money out of International Telephone and Telegraph, one of his re-election campaign’s largest and most secretive donors (see 1969). ITT is embroiled in an antitrust lawsuit, and Nixon is working to get the suit settled in favor of ITT in return for secret campaign donations (see July 31, 1971). Nixon says that Deputy Attorney General Richard Kleindienst “has the ITT thing settled,” adding, “He cut a deal with ITT.” Nixon also orders that the Justice Department antitrust lawyer who is pursuing the prosecution of ITT, Richard McLaren, be given his marching orders: “I want something clearly understood, and, if it’s not understood, McLaren’s ass is to be out of there within one hour. The ITT thing—stay the hell out of it. Is that clear? That’s an order.… I do not want McLaren to run around prosecuting people. raising hell about conglomerates, stirring things up… I don’t like the son of a b_tch.” McLaren will later drop the prosecution in return for a federal judgeship (see May-July 1971). [Reeves, 2001, pp. 324]
President Nixon authorizes the creation of a “special investigations unit,” later nicknamed the “Plumbers,” to root out and seal media leaks. The first target is Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press (see June 13, 1971); the team will burglarize the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis Fielding, in hopes of securing information that the White House can use to smear Ellsberg’s character and undermine his credibility (see September 9, 1971). Nixon aide John Ehrlichman, who supervises the “Plumbers,” will later say that the Ellsberg burglary is “the seminal Watergate episode.” Author Barry Werth will later write, “[L]ike all original sins, it held the complete DNA of subsequent misdeeds.” During the upcoming court battle over the documents, Nixon tells his aide Charles Colson: “We’ve got a countergovernment here and we’ve got to fight it. I don’t give a damn how it’s done. Do whatever has to be done to stop those leaks.… I don’t want to be told why it can’t be done.” Whatever damaging information the “Plumbers” can find on Ellsberg will be itself leaked to the press, Nixon says. “Don’t worry about his trial [referring to Ellsberg’s arrest on conspiracy and espionage charges (see June 28, 1971) ]. Just get everything out. Try him in the press… leak it out.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 84-87] As he is wont to do, Nixon refers to his own success in convicting suspected Communist spy Alger Hiss in 1950. “We won the Hiss case in the papers,” he says. “We did. I had to leak stuff all over the place. Because the Justice Department would not prosecute it.… It was won in the papers…. I leaked out the papers. I leaked everything.… I leaked out the testimony. I had Hiss convicted before he ever got to the grand jury.” [Kutler, 1997, pp. 10; Reeves, 2001, pp. 337-338] In July 1973, FBI deputy director W. Mark Felt, the notorious “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005) will tell reporter Bob Woodward that Nixon created the Plumbers because the FBI would not do his bidding in regards to Ellsberg. Had the FBI agreed to investigate Ellsberg to the extent Nixon wanted, he would not have created the “Plumbers.” “The problem was that we [the FBI] wouldn’t burglarize” (see June 30-July 1, 1971), Felt will say. Ehrlichman will later testify, “Those fellows were going out as substitutes for the FBI.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 107]
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
By the summer of 1971, President Nixon and his senior staffers, particularly John Ehrlichman, have come to view Vice President Spiro Agnew as more of a liability than an asset (see Mid-1971). Agnew, who has served the president well as a conservative “stalking horse” who could lambast antiwar protesters and foreign leaders in a way that might be unsuitable for a president (see 1969-1971), has in recent months begun complaining about being kept away from real decision-making, particularly on foreign affairs. (Agnew has not made himself popular by attacking Nixon’s recent overtures to the Communist Chinese and complaining to anyone who would listen about his “poor” treatment at the hands of Nixon and his aides.) All of this has made Nixon unwilling to spend a lot of political capital in defending Agnew from bribery charges (see April 10, 1973). Nixon aides ask Agnew to voluntarily resign, a request he resists. In return, Agnew levels accusations that White House staffers began a media leak campaign designed to drive him from office. Agnew waffles on the question, offering to resign if Nixon would promise to grant him immunity from prosecution, then thundering to one receptive audience, “I will not resign if indicted!” By September, Nixon’s new chief of staff, Alexander Haig, brought in to keep the Nixon administration intact under the specter of the Watergate investigations, begins pushing Agnew to resign, threatening that the Justice Department would prosecute him for income tax evasion on the bribes he had taken unless Agnew resigned. Agnew will later say that he felt Haig was implicitly threatening his life if he didn’t “go quietly”; for his part, Haig finds Agnew so menacing that he tells his wife if he disappeared, she “might want to look inside any recently poured concrete bridge pilings in Maryland.” [US Senate, 2007]
E. Howard Hunt. [Source: American Patriot Friends Network]Nixon White House aides Charles Colson and John Ehrlichman appoint former CIA agent E. Howard Hunt to the White House staff. Hunt will become a key figure in the “Plumbers” unit that will burglarize and plant surveillance devices in the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee (see April-June 1972). [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] Hunt is a longtime US intelligence veteran, having started with the CIA’s predecessor, the Office of Special Services (OSS) during World War II. He worked extensively in Central America during the 1950s, helping build the US’s relationship with Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, working to topple the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz of Guatamala, and coordinating US efforts against Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Hunt also writes spy novels. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
Nixon aide John Ehrlichman reports that he has successfully created the special investigations unit ordered by the president (see Late June-July 1971). His first choice to head the unit, speechwriter Pat Buchanan, refused the position. Ehrlichman rejected fellow aide Charles Colson’s own choice, retired CIA agent E. Howard Hunt, who has recently joined the White House staff (see July 7, 1971). Ehrlichman turned to his own protege, Egil “Bud” Krogh, and David Young, a former assistant to National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, to head the unit. Young gives the unit its nickname of “Plumbers” after he hangs a sign on his office door reading, “D. YOUNG—PLUMBER.” Their first hire is former FBI agent and county prosecutor G. Gordon Liddy, a reputed “wild man” currently being pushed out of the Treasury Department for his strident opposition to the administration’s gun control policies. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 348-349]
Nixon aide John Ehrlichman passes on the president’s recommendations to the heads of the “Plumbers,” Egil Krogh and David Young (see July 20, 1971), regarding “Pentagon Papers” leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see Late June-July 1971): “Tell Keogh he should do whatever he considers necessary to get to the bottom of this matter—to learn what Ellsberg’s motives and potential further harmful action might be.” Within days, Keogh and Young will give Ehrlichman a memo detailing the results of investigations into Ellsberg and a dozen of Ellsberg’s friends, family members, and colleagues. The memo also says that the CIA’s psychological profile of Ellsberg is “superficial.” Keogh and Young recommend a covert operation be undertaken to examine the medical files held by Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis Fielding (see September 9, 1971). Ehrlichman approves the idea, with the caveat, “If done under your assurance that it is not traceable.” They also suggest that MI5 (British intelligence) wiretaps on Soviet KGB personnel in England in 1952 and 1953, the years when Ellsberg attended Cambridge University, be examined for any mention of Ellsberg. Ehrlichman approves this also. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 352-353]
Nixon aide John Ehrlichman gives a progress report on the activities of the “Plumbers” to the president. “Plumbers” head Egil Krogh has “been spending most of his time on the Ellsberg declassification,” Ehrlichman reports, referring to the probe into “Pentagon Papers” leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see Late June-July 1971). “We had one little operation. It’s been aborted out in Los Angeles, which, I think, is better that you don’t know about. But we’ve got some dirty tricks underway. It may pay off.” The “little” Los Angeles project—designated “Hunt/Liddy Special Project No.1” in Ehrlichman’s notes—is the burglary of the offices of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis Fielding (see September 9, 1971). The “aborted” mission refers to Ehrlichman’s refusal to countenance a second break-in, this time of Fielding’s home. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 368-369]
National Archives logo. [Source: public domain]Nixon aide John Ehrlichman suggests breaking into the National Archives. The mission: photograph secret documents Ehrlichman believes were deposited by former Kissinger aides Morton Halperin and Leslie Gelb, as well as Cold War policy adviser Paul Nitze. Ehrlichman says the operation can be carried out with the help of Robert Kunzig, the administrator of the General Services Administration (GSA). Kunzig “can send the archivist out of town for a while and we can get in there and we will photograph and he’ll reseal them.” It is unclear whether the mission is actually carried out. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 369-370]
President Nixon learns of a Defense Department spy operation within the White House. Charles Radford, a Navy stenographer assigned to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, confesses that for over a year he has rifled through burn bags, interoffice envelopes, and even inside Kissinger’s personal briefcase, and passed thousands of secret documents to his Pentagon bosses. The espionage is explained by Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Chief of Naval Operations, who describes the “deliberate, systematic, and, unfortunately, successful efforts of the president, Henry Kissinger, and a few subordinate members of their inner circle to conceal, sometimes by simple silence, more often by articulate deceit, their real policies about the most critical matters of national security.” Nixon is initially furious about the spy operation, pounding the table and threatening to to prosecute Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Thomas Moorer and others. Nixon is especially suspicious of Kissinger’s military aide, Colonel Alexander Haig, who “must have known about the operation,” Nixon asserts. But two days later, Nixon backs off, deciding not to bring public charges against Moorer, and to leave Haig as a bridge to the Pentagon and a force to keep Kissinger in check. “We’re going to handle the chiefs… through Haig,” Nixon says. As for Moorer, Nixon quietly lets Moorer know that he is aware of the operation, which is an unprecedented case of espionage against the civilian government during wartime and an eminently prosecutable offense. He does not fire Moorer; instead, he tells his aide John Ehrlichman, “Moorer’s our man now.” Kissinger’s own fury at Moorer’s retention achieves nothing. In total, the episode deepens the rift and mistrust between Nixon and the men running his national security apparatus. [Werth, 2006, pp. 175-176]
Shortly after the Watergate burglars were caught (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), Nixon campaign aide Gordon Strachan destroys evidence that could link the White House to the burglaries. According to testimony by White House counsel John Dean to the Senate Watergate Committee (see June 25-29, 1973), Strachan, on the orders of White House aide H. R. Haldeman, destroys files from Haldeman’s office, including what Dean calls “wiretap information from the DNC,” or Democratic National Committee. Dean later testifies that White House aide John Ehrlichman orders him to get E. Howard Hunt, the planner of the burglary, “out of the country,” but later tries to rescind the order. Dean’s testimony shows that Haldeman had prior knowledge of the illegal wiretapping and perhaps the burglaries as well. Dean’s testimony implicates both Haldeman and Ehrlichman as direct participants in the cover-up virtually from the outset. [Time, 7/9/1973]
White House counsel John Dean orders the opening of a safe belonging to Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Dean orders that the contents be turned over (six days later, after Dean and other White House officials have had a chance to peruse them) to the FBI. The documents will soon be given to FBI acting director L. Patrick Gray, who keeps them for six months before burning them (see Late December 1972). Gray will later admit to the incident in his testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee (see February 28-29, 1973). [Time, 4/2/1973] Dean finds in the safe, among other things, a loaded .25 caliber pistol; the attache case of burglar James McCord, loaded with electronic surveillance equipment and a tear gas canister; CIA psychological profiles of Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see March 1971); pages from the Pentagon Papers; memos to and from Nixon aide Charles Colson; two falsified diplomatic cables implicating former President John F. Kennedy in the 1963 assassination of South Vietnam’s President Ngo Diem Dinh; and a dossier on the personal life of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA). Nixon aide John Ehrlichman advises Dean to throw the contents of the safe into the Potomac River. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 501-502] Shortly thereafter, Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein, in discussions with a young assistant in White House aide Charles Colson’s office, learns that Hunt has been investigating Kennedy’s checkered past, particularly the Chappaquiddick tragedy of 1969, in which an apparently inebriated Kennedy drove his car into a lake, drowning his companion of the evening, Mary Jo Kopechne. Hunt was apparently looking for political ammunition against Kennedy in preparation for a possible presidential run. According to a former Nixon administration official, Colson and fellow Nixon aide H. R. Haldeman were “absolutely paranoid” about a Kennedy campaign run. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 30-31]
Entity Tags: H.R. Haldeman, E. Howard Hunt, Charles Colson, Carl Bernstein, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, L. Patrick Gray, John Ehrlichman, John F. Kennedy, Ngo Dinh Diem, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Mary Jo Kopechne, John Dean
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
In an early-morning meeting between Nixon campaign director John Mitchell and White House aides H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, the three agree that their first priority in the aftermath of the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) is to protect President Nixon. To that end, the Watergate investigations must be stopped before they lead to other unsavory political operations—campaign “horrors,” Mitchell calls them.
PR 'Counter-Attack' Discussed - Later this morning, Nixon and Haldeman discuss the need to keep the FBI’s Watergate investigation on a tight leash. They discuss “counter-attack” and “public relations” offensives to distract the media by attacking the Democrats. The White House needs a “PR offensive to top” Watergate, they say, and they “need to be on the attack—for diversion.” One suggestion is to dismiss the burglary as nothing but a prank. Most White House staffers, including Haldeman, seem to believe that fellow aide Charles Colson concocted the idea of the burglary; Haldeman says that Colson does not seem to know “specifically that this was underway. He seems to take all the blame himself.” Nixon replies, “Good.” Nixon worries that his secret taping system (see February 1971 and July 13-16, 1973) “complicates things all over.” Nixon closes the conversation by saying: “My God, the [Democratic National C]ommittee isn’t worth bugging, in my opinion. That’s my public line.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 503-505; Reston, 2007, pp. 33]
Nixon, Colson Plan Delays - Later the same day, Nixon meets with senior aide Charles Colson. Several items from the conversation are damning in their specificity. Nixon tells Colson in regard of the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), “If we didn’t know better, we would have thought it was deliberately botched.” This statement shows that Nixon has some detailed knowledge of the burglary, contrary to his later claims. Colson later says: “Bob [Haldeman] is pulling it all together. Thus far, I think we’ve done the right things.” Colson could well be referring to the White House’s attempts to distance itself from the break-in. Nixon says, referring to the burglars, “Basically, they are pretty hard-line guys,” and Colson interrupts, “You mean Hunt?” referring to the burglars’ leader, E. Howard Hunt. Nixon replies: “Of course, we are just going to leave this where it is, with the Cubans.… At time, uh, I just stonewall it.” Nixon then says, regarding the future of the Watergate investigation: “Oh sure, you know who the hell is going to keep it alive. We’re gonna have a court case and indeed… the difficulty we’ll have ahead, we have got to have lawyers smart enough to have our people delay, avoiding depositions, of course.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 46-47]
The FBI’s acting director, L. Patrick Gray, authorizes White House counsel John Dean to sit in on the FBI’s interview of White House special counsel Charles Colson—in fact, the interview is conducted in Dean’s office. The order apparently originates with President Nixon, or Nixon’s senior aide John Ehrlichman, and not Gray. Dean is thus able to monitor and supervise everything that Colson says, and report his findings to the White House. Dean will be allowed to sit in on many subsequent FBI interviews of White House personnel; furthermore, all such requests for interviews will go through Dean, and Gray will even give Dean the FBI investigative reports. In its internal review of the FBI’s investigation two years later, the Office of Planning and Evaluation will call this Gray’s most “serious blunder from an investigative standpoint… obviously the furnishing to Dean by Mr. Gray of our reports allowed Dean the total opportunity to plan a course of action to thwart the FBI’s investigation and grand jury inquiry.” It is clear, the report will find, that Dean had ample opportunity to prepare White House officials as to what to say and what to conceal, and gave Dean “time to set the stage in order that the results of that investigation would be more favorable to Dean’s ultimate ends.” [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ; Woodward, 2005, pp. 2]
Nixon and Haldeman, three days after the June 23 meeting. [Source: Washington Post]With the FBI tracing the Watergate burglars’ $100 bills to GOP fundraiser Kenneth Dahlberg (see August 1-2, 1972), President Nixon orders the CIA to attempt to stop the FBI from investigating the Watergate conspiracy, using the justification of “national security.” One of the areas Nixon specifically does not want investigated is the $89,000 in Mexican checks found in the account of one of the Watergate burglars, Bernard Barker (see April-June 1972). [Reeves, 2001, pp. 508-510; Woodward, 2005, pp. 59-60] Author James Reston Jr. will write in 2007: “The strategy for the CIA to block the FBI’s investigation of the Mexican checks… was devised by Haldeman and Nixon. This was a clear obstruction of justice.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 33-34] The plan, concocted by Nixon campaign chief John Mitchell, is to have deputy CIA director Vernon Walters tell the new FBI Director, L. Patrick Gray, to, in the words of Nixon chief of staff H. R. Haldeman, “stay the hell out of this… this is, ah, business we don’t want you to go any further on it.” Nixon approves the plan. White House aide John Ehrlichman will later testify that he is the one tasked with carrying out Nixon’s command; Nixon tells Ehrlichman and Haldeman to have the CIA “curb the FBI probe.” [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
Nixon: FBI, CIA Should Back out of Investigation - In his discussion with Nixon, Haldeman says that “the FBI is not under control, because Gray doesn’t exactly know how to control them, and they have, their investigation is now leading into some productive areas, because they’ve been able to trace the money… and it goes in some directions we don’t want it to go.” Haldeman also says that the FBI has a witness in Miami who saw film developed from one of the Watergate burglaries (see Mid-June 1972). He tells Nixon that the FBI is not aware yet that the money for the burglars can be traced to Dahlberg, who wrote a $25,000 check that went directly to one of the Watergate burglars. That check is “directly traceable” to the Mexican bank used by the Nixon re-election campaign (CREEP). Haldeman says that he and Ehrlichman should call in both Gray and CIA Director Richard Helms and tell both of them to have their agencies back out of any investigation. Nixon agrees, saying that considering Hunt’s involvement: “that will uncover a lot of things. You open that scab there’s a hell of a lot of things and that we just feel that it would be very detrimental to have this thing go any further. This involves these Cubans, Hunt, and a lot of hanky-panky that we have nothing to do with ourselves.” Haldeman says he believes that Mitchell knew about the burglary as well, but did not know the operational details. “[W]ho was the assh_le who did?” Nixon asks. “Is it [G. Gordon] Liddy? Is that the fellow? He must be nuts.” Haldeman says Mitchell pressured Liddy “to get more information, and as [Liddy] got more pressure, he pushed the people harder to move harder on.…” Both Nixon and Haldeman think that the FBI may believe the CIA, not the White House, is responsible for the burglary; Nixon says: “… when I saw that news summary item, I of course knew it was a bunch of crap, but I thought ah, well it’s good to have them off on this wild hair thing because when they start bugging us, which they have, we’ll know our little boys will not know how to handle it. I hope they will though. You never know. Maybe, you think about it. Good!” A short time later in the conversation, Nixon instructs Haldeman to tell his staffers not to directly lie under oath about their knowledge of the burglary, but to characterize it as “sort of a comedy of errors, bizarre,” and warn the FBI that to continue investigating the burglary would “open the whole Bay of Pigs thing up again. And, ah, because these people are plugging for, for keeps and that they should call the FBI in and say that we wish for the country, don’t go any further into this case.… That’s the way to put it, do it straight.” [AMDOCS Documents for the Study of American History, 6/1993] Later in the day, both Walters and CIA Director Richard Helms visit Haldeman to discuss the situation. Helms says that he has already heard from Gray, who had said, “I think we’ve run right into the middle of a CIA covert operation.” Helms and Walters both agree to pressure Gray to abandon the investigation, but their efforts are ineffective; the assistant US attorney in Washington, Earl Silbert, is driving the investigation, not the FBI. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 508-510]
Gray: Improper Use of FBI - Soon after Nixon’s order, acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray tells Nixon that his administration is improperly using the CIA to interfere in the FBI’s investigation of Watergate. Gray warns Nixon “that people on your staff are trying to mortally wound you.” Gray is himself sharing Watergate investigation files with the White House, but will claim that he is doing so with the approval of the FBI’s general counsel. [New York Times, 7/7/2005] It is unclear whether Gray knows that Nixon personally issued the order to the CIA. Soon after the order is issued, a number of the FBI agents on the case—15 to 20 in all—threaten to resign en masse if the order is carried out. One of the agents, Bob Lill, will later recall: “There was certainly a unanimity among us that we can’t back off. This is ridiculous. This smacks of a cover-up in itself, and we’ve got to pursue this. Let them know in no uncertain terms we’re all together on this. [T]his request from CIA is hollow.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 189-191] No such mass resignation will take place. Because of evidence being classified and redacted (see July 5, 1974), it will remain unclear as to exactly if and how much the CIA may have interfered in the FBI’s investigation.
'Smoking Gun' - The secret recording of this meeting (see July 13-16, 1973), when revealed in the subsequent Watergate investigation, will become known as the “smoking gun” tape—clear evidence that Nixon knew of and participated in the Watergate cover-up. [Washington Post, 2008]
Entity Tags: Bob Lill, Vernon A. Walters, Earl Silbert, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard M. Nixon, G. Gordon Liddy, L. Patrick Gray, John Ehrlichman, Richard Helms, John Mitchell, Kenneth H. Dahlberg, H.R. Haldeman
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Vernon Walters. [Source: Medal of Freedom (.com)]White House counsel John Dean meets with Vernon Walters, the deputy director of the CIA, to ask if the agency can provide “financial assistance” to the five Watergate burglars. Two days later, after checking with his boss, CIA director Richard Helms, Walters refuses Dean’s request. Dean informs his White House and Nixon campaign associates, John Mitchell, Frederick LaRue, and Robert Mardian. On June 29, Dean meets with President Nixon’s personal lawyer, Herbert Kalmbach, and tells him that Mitchell, along with Nixon’s two top aides, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, want Kalmbach to raise money for the Watergate burglars. Later that day, the finance chairman of the Nixon re-election campaign, Maurice Stans, gives Kalmbach $75,000 for the burglars. Over the next months, money will continue to be raised and disbursed to the burglars in what may be part of a blackmail scheme orchestrated by one of them, E. Howard Hunt (see March 21, 1973). [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
Entity Tags: John Mitchell, H.R. Haldeman, Frederick LaRue, Central Intelligence Agency, Herbert Kalmbach, John Dean, John Ehrlichman, Vernon A. Walters, Maurice Stans, Richard Helms, Robert Mardian, Richard M. Nixon
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
A staff member of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), G. Gordon Liddy, is fired after he refuses to answer FBI questions about his possible involvement in the Watergate burglaries (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). [Washington Post, 8/1/1972] Liddy is willing to tell the FBI that he personally misappropriated the campaign money channeled through the bank account of fellow burglar Bernard Barker (see June 21, 1972), specifically the $25,000 from CREEP finance official Kenneth Dahlberg (see August 1-2, 1972) and the $89,000 from Gulf Resources, Inc. channeled through Mexican lawyer Manuel Ogarrio (see April-June 1972 and Before April 7, 1972). Liddy is also willing to say that when CREEP discovered the money had been raised improperly, his superiors ordered him to return the money as the law requires, but instead he decided on his own to use it for covert political operations. “A true believer,” President Nixon says about Liddy. “We’ll take care of him… we’ll wait a discreet interval and pardon him.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 512]
Hunt Dodging FBI - Fellow Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt is battling in court to avoid testifying to FBI investigators. Hunt’s whereabouts are currently unknown. [Washington Post, 8/1/1972] Hunt, a former FBI agent, worked for the White House as a member of Nixon aide John Ehrlichman’s staff until December 1971, when he joined CREEP as the committee’s general counsel. He had soon after been appointed CREEP’s financial counsel, handling legal advice on campaign finances and contributions. CREEP spokesman Devan Shumway says Hunt had no connection to the committee’s security or intelligence gathering operations. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 34-35]
’ChapStick’ surveillance devices similar to those destroyed by Gray. [Source: National Archives]FBI Director L. Patrick Gray meets with White House aides John Ehrlichman and John Dean in Ehrlichman’s White House office. Dean gives Gray two files that he says came from Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt’s office safe (see June 22-26, 1972). Gray should keep the files, Dean says; they are “political dynamite” that “should never see the light of day.” Gray will later burn the files rather than turn them over to the FBI (see April 27-30, 1973). [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ] According to Dean’s later testimony to the Senate Watergate Committee (see June 25-29, 1973), among the contents is a briefcase containing “loose wires, Chap Sticks with wires coming out of them, and instruction sheets for walkie-talkies.” [Time, 7/9/1973] According to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s FBI source W. Mark Felt, Ehrlichman tells Dean, “You go across the [Potomac] river every day, John. Why don’t you drop the g_ddamn f_cking things in the river?” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 305-306] Dean tells Ehrlichman “in a joking manner that I would bring the materials over to him and he could take care of them because he also crossed the river on his way home. He said no thank you.” It was after that discussion that the decision was made to give the evidence to Gray. [Time, 7/9/1973] Gray keeps the files for about a week, then puts them in an FBI “burn bag.” A Dean associate later tells Post reporter Carl Bernstein, “You ever heard the expression ‘deep six’? That’s what Ehrlichman said he wanted done with those files.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 305-306]
Acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray refuses to allow FBI investigators to interview Kathleen Chenow, a former secretary to David Young. Young, a former aide to White House special counsel John Ehrlichman, is one of the lawyers tasked with coordinating the activities of the “Plumbers” (see Late June-July 1971). Gray says that he cannot allow the agents to interview Chenow because of “national security” concerns. Gray will later tell investigators that Chenow has returned to the US in a military helicopter, in the company of Fred Fielding, the assistant to White House counsel John Dean (see June 22, 1972). Fielding was ordered by Dean to find Chenow and bring her in to speak to the FBI. Gray then permits the FBI to interview Chenow, in Dean’s presence. Chenow is not forthcoming. The FBI will later note, “It appears likely the reason we had to wait to interview Chenow was because Dean wanted to brief her beforehand.” Similarly, Gray will delay FBI interviews with Young until Dean has a chance to confer with the former White House aide. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
White House aide John Ehrlichman tells President Nixon that the deputy director of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), Jeb Magruder, is probably the next CREEP official to, in his words, “take the slide” over the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). “[H]e’ll just have to take whatever lumps come, have to take responsibility for the thing,” Ehrlichman says. “They’re not going to be able to contrive a story that indicates that he didn’t know what was going on.” White House counsel John Dean is working on the new angle now. Nixon asks, “Did [Dean] know?” and Ehrlichman replies: “Oh Lord, yes. He’s in it with both feet.” Nixon continues: “He won’t contrive a story, then.… If you cover up, you’re going to get caught. And if you lie, you’re going to be guilty of perjury.” Nixon adds, “[W]e’ll take care of Magruder immediately afterwards” (alluding to pardoning Magruder after he is convicted). Nixon has one major worry about Magruder’s testimony to the FBI: “The main thing is whether he is the one where it stops. Or whether he goes to [former CREEP director John] Mitchell or [Nixon’s chief of staff H. R.] Haldeman.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 515-516]
While researching the story that would reveal the extensive “dirty tricks” operations conducted by the Nixon presidential campaign (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond), Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein learns of the extensive connections between “agent provocateur” Donald Segretti and members of the Nixon administration.
College Connection - Segretti, Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler, White House appointments secretary Dwight Chapin, and Ziegler’s aide Tim Elbourne had all attended college together at the University of Southern California. All were members of a campus political group called “Trojans for Representative Government.” The group carried out a number of dirty campus political operations, which they called “ratf_cking.” Some of their “tricks” included ballot box stuffing, planting of spies in opposition camps, and spreading of bogus campaign literature designed to drive students away from the targeted candidate.
Campaigns - Ziegler and Chapin had joined Richard Nixon’s gubernatorial campaign in 1962, which was managed by H. R. Haldeman, now Nixon’s closest White House aide. After Nixon lost that election, Ziegler, Chapin, and Elbourne had worked for Haldeman in an advertising agency. Ziegler and Chapin had recruited Segretti and Elbourne to take part in the 1972 Nixon campaign.
Confirmation - A Justice Department official confirms that Segretti is under investigation for political sabotage and espionage operations, and says that he is familiar with the term “ratf_cking.” Bernstein discusses Segretti with a Justice Department attorney, who is outraged at the entire idea. “Ratf_cking?” he snarls. “You can go right to the top with that one. I was shocked when I heard it. I couldn’t believe it. These are public servants? God. It’s nauseating. You’re talking about fellows who come from the best schools in the country. Men who run the government!” The attorney calls the Segretti operation “despicable,” and Segretti himself “indescribable.” “You’re dealing with people who act like this is Dodge City, not the capital of the United States.” The attorney hints that the Nixon campaign “slush fund” (see September 29, 1972) helped pay for the operations, and that the “Canuck letter” (see February 24-25, 1972) was one of the Nixon campaign’s operations.
Mitchell Involved - Bernstein prods the attorney about the phrase “go right to the top,” and mentions former campaign manager John Mitchell. The attorney says of Mitchell: “He can’t say he didn’t know about it, because it was strategy—basic strategy that goes all the way to the top. Higher than him, even.” Woodward is stunned. Higher than Mitchell? The only three people in the Nixon administration higher than Mitchell are Nixon’s top aides, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, and Richard Nixon himself. Bernstein and colleague Bob Woodward later write, “For the first time, [Bernstein] considered the possibility that the president of the United States was the head ratf_cker.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 126-129]
Entity Tags: University of Southern California, Trojans for Representative Government, US Department of Justice, Tim Elbourne, Richard M. Nixon, Dwight Chapin, Donald Segretti, Ron Ziegler, Carl Bernstein, John Ehrlichman, John Mitchell, Bob Woodward, H.R. Haldeman
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Around 2 a.m., Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward meets his FBI source, W. Mark Felt (popularly called “Deep Throat”—see May 31, 2005) in the underground parking garage Felt has designated as their rendezvous (see August 1972). Woodward’s partner Carl Bernstein has unearthed fascinating but puzzling information about a Nixon campaign “dirty tricks” squad headed by California lawyer Donald Segretti (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond and October 7, 1972). Woodward is desperately searching for a way to pull together the disparate threads of the various Watergate stories. An unusually forthcoming Felt says he will not give Woodward any new names, but directs him to look in “the direction of what was called ‘Offensive Security.’” Things “got all out of hand,” Felt tells Woodward, in “heavy-handed operation[s]” that went farther than perhaps their originators had intended. Felt says bluntly that Nixon campaign chairman John Mitchell was involved, and, “Only the president and Mitchell know” how deep Mitchell’s involvement really is. Mitchell “learned some things in those ten days after Watergate,” information that shocked even him. If what Mitchell knows ever comes to light, it could destroy the Nixon administration. Mitchell himself knew he was ruined after Watergate investigation began, and left the administration to try to limit the damage. Felt adds that Nixon aide John Ehrlichman ordered Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt to leave town (see June 18, 1972), a revelation that surprises Woodward, since Ehrlichman’s name has not yet come up in the conspiracy stories.
Four Major Groups - There are four major groups within the Nixon presidential campaign, Felt says. The “November Group” handles campaign advertising. Another group handles political espionage and sabotage for both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. A third “primary group” did the same for the campaign primaries (this group not only worked to sabotage Democrats, but Republican primary opponents of Nixon’s as well). And a fourth, the “Howard Hunt group,” is also known as the “Plumbers,” working under Hunt (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Felt calls the Plumbers the “really heavy operations team.” Hunt’s group reports directly to Charles Colson, Nixon’s special counsel. One set of operations by Hunt’s group involved planting items in the press; Felt believes Colson and Hunt leaked stories of former Democratic vice presidential candidate Thomas Eagleton’s drunk driving record to reporters. “Total manipulation—that was their goal, with everyone eating at one time or another out of their hands. Even the press.” The Post is specifically being targeted, Felt warns; the White House plans to use the courts to make Woodward and Bernstein divulge their sources.
Watergate Investigation Deliberately Narrow - Felt says that the Justice Department’s indictments against the seven Watergate burglars (see September 15, 1972) was as narrow as Department officials could make it. Evidence of political espionage or illegal campaign finances that was not directly related to the burglary was not considered. Felt says that the investigation, as narrow as it was, was plagued by witness perjury and evasions.
Everything is Interconnected - Everything—surveillance operations, illegal campaign finances, campaign “dirty tricks”—is interconnected, Felt says. The Segretti story is just the tip of the iceberg: “You could write stories from now until Christmas or well beyond that.” The two men have been alternately standing and sitting in the unlighted parking garage for hours; dawn is approaching, and both are exhausted. Woodward knows he needs specifics, the names of these higher-ups. How is he to know if he is not being railroaded down investigative dead ends by White House media manipulation operations? How about the “Canuck letter” that destroyed the candidacy of Democratic presidential hopeful Edmund Muskie? “It was a White House operation,” Felt replies: “done inside the gates surrounding the White House and the Executive Office Building. Is that enough?” It is not, Woodward retorts. Are there more intelligence and sabotage operations still to come? Woodward angrily says that he is tired of their “chickensh_t games,” with Felt pretending he never provided primary information and Woodward contenting himself with scraps of disconnected information. Felt replies: “Okay. This is very serious. You can safely say that 50 people worked for the White House and CREEP [the Nixon re-election campaign] to play games and spy and sabotage and gather intelligence. Some of it is beyond belief, kicking at the opposition in every imaginable way. You already know some of it.” Woodward lists the many examples that he and Bernstein have been able to unearth: surveillance, following people, press leaks, fake letters, campaign sabotage, investigations of campaign workers’ private lives, theft, campaign provacateurs. Felt nods. “It’s all in the [FBI] files. Justice and the Bureau know about it, even though it wasn’t followed up.” Woodward, despite himself, is stunned. The White House had implemented a systematic plan to subvert the entire electoral process? Had used fifty people to do it? “You can safely say more than fifty,” Felt says, and walks up the ramp and out of the garage. It was 6 a.m. Woodward uses Felt’s information to help create one of the most devastating stories yet published about Watergate (see October 10, 1972). [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 130-135; Woodward, 2005, pp. 75-79]
'Organizing Principle' of Watergate - Nixon White House counsel Leonard Garment will write in his 2000 book In Search of Deep Throat (in which he misidentifies the source as obscure Nixon staffer John Sears) that while Woodward’s source did not deliver “much in the way of specific information, he gave Woodward and Bernstein what they needed: an organizing principle.” It is during this time, Garment will write, that the reporters begin to truly understand the entirety of the Watergate conspiracy. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 191-194]
Entity Tags: E. Howard Hunt, Donald Segretti, Charles Colson, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, ’Plumbers’, W. Mark Felt, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard M. Nixon, John Mitchell, John Ehrlichman, Committee to Re-elect the President, Leonard Garment, Edmund Muskie, John Sears, Thomas F. Eagleton
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
William Haas, the pilot of Southern Airways Flight 49. [Source: Smithsonian Institution]Three men hijack a commercial airliner and threaten to crash it into a nuclear plant, and authorities also fear they might crash it into President Richard Nixon’s winter home in Florida. [Graff, 2011, pp. 43-47] The hijacking occurs on Southern Airways Flight 49, a DC-9 bound from Memphis, Tennessee, to Miami, Florida, with scheduled stops in Birmingham, Alabama, Montgomery, Alabama, and Orlando, Florida. [Slate, 6/19/2013] The plane has 27 passengers and four crew members on board. The hijackers—three men with criminal records—are Lewis Moore, Henry Jackson, and Melvin Cale. The aim of the hijacking, Moore will later say, is to bring attention to the brutality and racism of the Detroit Police Department. The ordeal, which lasts 29 hours, is, at the current time, “the most chilling domestic hijacking in US history,” according to national security historian Timothy Naftali. [Naftali, 2005, pp. 61; Detroit Free Press, 6/6/2016]
Hijackers Demand a $10 Million Ransom - The hijackers manage to smuggle guns and grenades onto Flight 49 in a raincoat. [Slate, 6/19/2013] The plane takes off from Memphis at 5:05 p.m. on November 10. The hijackers seize control of it at 7:22 p.m., during the second leg of the flight. One of them enters the cockpit carrying a revolver and with an arm around the neck of a flight attendant. He tells the pilot, William Haas, “Head north, Captain, this is a hijacking.” [Detroit Free Press, 11/12/1972; Graff, 2011, pp. 43] The hijackers demand $10 million to release the plane. [Naftali, 2005, pp. 61] Haas transmits a hijack code to air traffic controllers who, in response, begin the well-known and widely used procedures for dealing with a hijacking. They notify the FBI in Washington, DC, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s special hijacking command post.
Airline Is Told of the Hijackers' Ransom Demand - The plane lands in Jackson, Mississippi, at 8:10 p.m. to be refueled and then takes off at 8:36 p.m., heading for Detroit, Michigan, where the hijackers intend to settle their complaints with city officials. At around 10:30 p.m., while the plane is circling over Detroit, the FBI notifies the city’s mayor and Southern Airways of the hijackers’ ransom demand. At 12:05 a.m. on November 11, the plane leaves the Detroit area due to bad weather and heads for Cleveland, Ohio, where it lands and is refueled. It takes off from Cleveland at 1:38 a.m. and heads for Toronto, Canada.
Hijackers Threaten to Crash the Plane into a Nuclear Facility - While it is on the ground in Toronto, the hijackers learn that Southern Airways has only gathered $500,000 in ransom money. They refuse to take this and release the passengers. Consequently, after being refueled, the plane takes off at 6:15 a.m. and flies back to the US. It heads for Knoxville, Tennessee. As it is ascending, the hijackers tell controllers that unless their demands are met, they will crash Flight 49 into the Oak Ridge nuclear facility, near Knoxville. [Detroit Free Press, 11/12/1972; Graff, 2011, pp. 43-45] Jackson says: “We’re tired of all this bull. No more foolin’ around. We’re taking this f_cker to Oak Ridge and dive it into a nuclear reactor.” [Burleson, 2007, pp. 66] By this time, the White House, the Pentagon, and the Atomic Energy Commission are all involved in dealing with the crisis. [Graff, 2011, pp. 45] Meanwhile, key personnel at Oak Ridge discuss the possible outcomes of Flight 49 crashing into their facility. At the bare minimum, they all agree, the impact could rupture the protective shell and result in a massive release of radioactivity; the worst possibility is a core meltdown. [Burleson, 2007, pp. 66-67]
White House Official Talks to the Hijackers - The plane diverts to Lexington, Kentucky, to be refueled and, by 11:00 a.m., is again over Oak Ridge. The hijackers are then connected to the White House. John Ehrlichman, the president’s top domestic aide, comes on the radio and Jackson tells him, “I’m up over Oak Ridge, where I’ll either throw a grenade or I’ll put this plane down nose first.” He says he and the other hijackers want a letter signed by the president stating that their ransom money is a grant from the government and they won’t be prosecuted. Ehrlichman says it will take some time to fulfil their request.
Hijackers Receive the Ransom Money - The hijackers then direct the plane to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where it lands at 1:30 p.m. It is refueled and the hijackers are given the ransom money, along with food and other supplies. Southern Airways has only been able to put together $2 million, but the airline is assuming—correctly, as it turns out—that the hijackers will lack the time to count the money and realize it is much less than the amount they demanded. The plane leaves Chattanooga at 2:35 p.m. and heads to Cuba, where many hijackers fled during the 1960s and early 1970s.
Authorities Fear the Plane May Be Crashed into the President's Winter Home - As Flight 49 is flying south over Florida, authorities become concerned that the hijackers might crash it into the president’s retreat in Key Biscayne, where Nixon is currently staying. Military officials contact Florida’s Homestead Air Reserve Base and fighter jets there are placed on alert as a precaution. Fortunately, no incident occurs and Flight 49 lands in Havana at 4:49 p.m. However, to the surprise of the hijackers, the Cubans are unhappy about the plane’s arrival and soldiers surround the aircraft after it touches down. José Abrantes, President Fidel Castro’s head of security, explains to the hijackers the nation’s discomfort about the situation. Therefore, after being refueled, Flight 49 leaves Havana and heads back to the US.
FBI Agents Shoot the Plane's Tires - It lands at McCoy Air Force Base in Orlando at 9:17 p.m. By now, Robert Gebhardt, assistant director of the FBI’s investigative division, has given the order to disable the plane when it is next on the ground. Consequently, after it lands, FBI agents start shooting at its tires. The hijackers, realizing what is happening, order Haas to start the plane’s engines. In the panic that follows, Jackson threatens Harold Johnson, the co-pilot, and shoots him in the arm in front of the terrified passengers. The hijackers give the order to take off and, despite now having two flat tires, the plane is able to get off the ground. Jackson then orders Haas to fly to Cuba again. The damaged plane makes an emergency landing in Havana at 12:32 a.m. on November 12. [Detroit Free Press, 11/12/1972; Graff, 2011, pp. 45-52] Cuban soldiers then arrest the hijackers and seize the ransom money, so it can be returned to Southern Airways. [Slate, 6/19/2013]
New Security Measures Will Be Introduced in response to the Hijacking - The catastrophic incident will lead to increased security in the aviation industry. Within two months, mandatory screening of all passengers and carry-on luggage will be introduced. The Justice Department will sign an agreement with the Department of Defense, making military assistance available to the FBI in the event of a terrorist emergency. Other measures will be considered but not introduced, such as armoring cockpit doors, allowing pilots to carry weapons, and centralizing airport security nationwide under a single agency. [Naftali, 2005, pp. 66-67; Graff, 2011, pp. 53] “No one understands the impact that this flight and this 30-hour ordeal had on the nation, and transforming everyone, from the White House to the FBI, to the way that we board an airplane every day,” Brendan Koerner, author of a book about aircraft hijackings, will comment in 2016. [Detroit Free Press, 6/6/2016] As a result of the hijacking of Flight 49, “the American public for the first time began to take the question of terrorism seriously and began to accept trade-offs of civil liberties in exchange for greater security,” journalist and author Garrett Graff will write. [Graff, 2011, pp. 53-54]
Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, José Abrantes, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homestead Air Reserve Base, Harold Johnson, William Haas, Henry Jackson (hijacker), United States Atomic Energy Commission, Lewis Moore, White House, Melvin Cale, John Ehrlichman, US Department of Defense, Southern Airways, Robert Gebhardt
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
White House secretary Kathleen Chenow (see June 28-July 3, 1972) confirms the existence of the “Plumbers,” the extralegal operation tasked with finding and closing media leaks (see Late June-July 1971). According to Chenow, the unit is made up of White House and Nixon campaign aides David Young, G. Gordon Liddy, E. Howard Hunt, and Egil Krogh. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ] Chenow says that Nixon’s senior aide John Ehrlichman supervised the activities of the unit. She explains: “Originally the administration had wanted a study of how close the New York Times version of the Pentagon Papers (see March 1971) was to the actual documents. Then they tried to determine how the Pentagon Papers got out. That started it all, the business of looking for leaks. For a while, they were studying State Department leaks. They checked embassy cables and tried to put two and two together about whose desks the cables went across.” The “Plumbers” also investigated reporter Jack Anderson. Chenow says that when she was interviewed by the FBI in April, Young, White House counsel John Dean, and Dean’s aide Fred Fielding were present. She adds that when she subsequently testified before the Watergate grand jury, she was puzzled that prosecutor Earl Silbert never asked her about Ehrlichman. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 215-217]
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
Acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray burns key documents in the Watergate case. He has had the documents, originally kept in the safe of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt, in his possession for about five months. The two Nixon aides who gave him the documents, John Ehrlichman and John Dean, warned Gray that they were “political dynamite” and should never see the light of day. Gray dithers over what to do with the documents for that entire time period before finally burning them with his Christmas trash. The documents include falsified diplomatic cables that implicated former President John F. Kennedy in the assassination of President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam, and a dossier on Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy’s troubled personal life. Gray will later tell investigators that he destroyed the papers because they had no relation to Watergate, and in 2005 will admit that he destroyed them on direct orders from White House officials. He will say that he had no idea “that these guys are trying to sandbag me,” and will add, “I know it’s hard for people to think somebody could be so stupid, but I believed them.” [New York Times, 7/7/2005] Gray will reveal his destruction of evidence during the Watergate investigation (see April 27-30, 1973).
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
Four of President Nixon’s most trusted aides, H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, John Dean, and Richard Moore, meet at the La Costa Resort Hotel near Nixon’s home in San Clemente, California, to plan how to deal with the upcoming Senate Watergate Committee hearings (see February 7, 1973). The meetings are detailed in later testimony to the committee by Dean (see June 25-29, 1973). The group debates over which senators will be friends and which will be foes. Ehrlichman quips that Daniel Inouye (D-HI) should be called “Ain’t No Way” because “there ain’t no way he’s going to give us anything but problems.” Lowell Weicker (R-CT) is a Republican, but, says Dean, “an independent who could give the White House problems.” No one is sure which way co-chairman Howard Baker (R-TN) might go (see February 22, 1973). The only sure bet is Edward Gurney (R-FL), who one participant describes as “a sure friend and protector of the president’s interests” (see April 5, 1973). The aides decide to pretend to cooperate with the committee, but in reality, according to Dean’s testimony, “to restrain the investigation and make it as difficult as possible to get information and witnesses.” They discuss how to blame Democrats for similar, Watergate-like activities during their campaigns. Dean is taken aback when Haldeman suggests that the Nixon re-election campaign should “hire private investigators to dig out information on the Democrats.” Dean objects that such an action “would be more political surveillance.” But, he later testifies, “the matter was left unresolved.” [Time, 7/9/1973]
In a conversation about Watergate with senior aide Charles Colson, President Nixon says: “When I’m speaking about Watergate, though, that’s the whole point, where this tremendous investigation rests. Unless one of the seven [burglars] begins to talk. That’s the problem.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 43-44] Colson and Nixon want to decide how to limit the exposure of top White House aides to the Congressional inquiry (see February 7, 1973), perhaps by allowing access to lower-level officials. Nixon says: “You can let them have lower people. Let them have them. But in terms of the people that are direct advisers to the president, you can say they can do it by written interrogatories, by having [Senate Watergate Committee head Senator Sam] Ervin and the two counsels conduct interrogatories. But don’t go up there on television (see May 17-18, 1973).” Colson believes “it’s a good compromise,” and Nixon goes on to say that he has considered not letting anyone testify, but “I’m afraid that gives an appearance of total cover-up, which would bother me a bit.… You let them have some others.… That’s why you can’t go. The people who have direct access to the president can’t go.” Later in the conversation, Colson makes a bold suggestion: “The other point is, who did order Watergate? If it’s gonna come out in the hearings, for God’s sakes, let it out now.… Least get rid of it. Take our losses.” Nixon asks: “Well, who the hell do you think did this? Mitchell [referring to John Mitchell, the former head of the Nixon re-election campaign]? He can’t do it. He’ll perjure himself. He won’t admit it. Now, that’s the problem. Magruder [Jeb Magruder, Mitchell’s former deputy]?” “I know Magruder does,” Colson says. Nixon responds, “Well, then he’s already perjured himself, hasn’t he?” Colson replies, “Probably.” Nixon knows what to do if and when he or either of his top two aides, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, are called to testify. “In the case of Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and me, the only three you can probably do this with, they should either be written interrogatories or appointive-type things where they list out some highly specific areas. And that’s it and not beyond that. If they try to get beyond that, you just stonewall it or you just don’t remember something when you don’t have to.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 196-199]
President Nixon formally nominates acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray to permanently head the agency. His nomination is sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee for action. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ] Many political observers find the nomination inexplicable. It is virtually certain that Gray’s confirmation hearings (see February 28-29, 1973) will turn into a Congressional inquiry into the FBI’s reluctance to investigate the broader aspects of the Watergate conspiracy. Administration officials confirm that the decision to nominate Gray was the result of a contentious debate, with President Nixon personally overruling the strenuous objections of his top aide, John Ehrlichman. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 267-268]
White House counsel John Dean meets with President Nixon, who tells him that Watergate is taking up too much time from his top aides, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman. Henceforth, Dean can now stop reporting to them and report directly to Nixon. Dean finds Nixon’s rationale puzzling. According to Dean’s later testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee (see June 25-29, 1973), “He also told me that they were principals in the matter and I, therefore, could be more objective than they.” Dean isn’t sure what Nixon means by calling Haldeman and Ehrlichman “principals.” Dean later testifies that Nixon is adamant about never allowing either of the aides to “go to the Hill” and testify before the Senate. Instead, he says, he will protect them with a claim of executive privilege. At most, he says, the two aides will be allowed to respond to written questions. Dean tells Nixon that this “could be handled.” [Time, 7/9/1973]
In his conversation with chief of staff H. R. Haldeman about White House counsel John Dean’s phony “Dean Report,” which will say that no one in the White House was involved in the Watergate conspiracy (see March 22, 1973), President Nixon says: “[The report] should lay a few things to rest. I didn’t do this, I didn’t do that, da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da. Haldeman didn’t do this. Ehrlichman didn’t do that. Colson didn’t do that. See?” [Reston, 2007, pp. 42-43]
White House counsel John Dean warns President Nixon of a “cancer on the presidency.” When this phrase enters the public dialogue, it is popularly misremembered as Dean warning Nixon about the ill effects of the Watergate conspiracy on the Nixon presidency. Instead, Dean is warning Nixon about the deleterious effects of the blackmail efforts being carried out against the White House by the convicted Watergate burglars (see June 20-21, 1972). In a conversation secretly taped by Nixon, Dean says, “We have a cancer within, close to the Presidency, that is growing. Basically it is because we are being blackmailed.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 577-578; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
Cancer Should 'Be Removed Immediately' - In later testimony to the Senate Watergate Investigative Committee (see June 25-29, 1973), Dean states his words somewhat differently: “I began by telling the president that there was a cancer growing on the presidency and that if the cancer was not removed, that the president himself would be killed by it. I also told him that it was important that this cancer be removed immediately because it was growing more deadly every day.” Dean then tells Nixon virtually the entire story of the Watergate conspiracy, noting his discussions with other conspirators about the prospective wiretapping of the Democrats—particularly Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy and campaign officials John Mitchell and Jeb Magruder—and tells Nixon that he had reported the plans to Nixon’s top aide, H. R. Haldeman. He had participated in paying off the burglars to remain silent, and had coached Magruder to perjure himself before the Watergat grand jury (see April 14-18, 1973). Dean will testify: “I concluded by saying that it is going to take continued perjury and continued support of these individuals to perpetuate the cover-up and that I did not believe that it was possible to so continue it. Rather, all those involved must stand up and account for themselves and the president himself must get out in front.” But, Dean will testify, Nixon refuses to countenance Dean’s advice, and instead sets up a meeting with Dean, Haldeman, Mitchell, and his other top aide, John Ehrlichman. Nixon hopes that Mitchell will agree to take the blame for the Watergate wiretapping, and thusly quell the public uproar (Mitchell will refuse). Nixon, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Dean meet a second time that afternoon, a meeting which Dean will later describe as another “tremendous disappointment.” He will testify, “It was quite clear that the cover-up as far as the White House was concerned was going to continue.” He will testify that he believes both Haldeman and Ehrlichman, and himself, are indictable for obstruction of justice, and that “it was time that everybody start thinking about telling the truth.” However, both aides “were very unhappy with my comments.” [Time, 7/9/1973] Dean tells Nixon that to save his presidency, he and his closest aides Haldeman and Ehrlichman are going to have to testify and most likely go to jail. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 304]
Blackmail Payoffs - Between the blackmail and the almost-certainty that White House officials are going to start perjuring themselves, Dean concludes that the problem is critical. Convicted burglar E. Howard Hunt wants another $72,000 for what he is calling personal expenses and $50,000 more for attorneys’ fees. Hunt directly threatened aides John Ehrlichman and Egil Krogh (see July 20, 1971) with his testimony, saying that, Dean reports, “I have done enough seamy things for he and Krogh that they’ll never survive it.” Hunt is threatening to reveal the story behind the Ellsberg break-in (see September 9, 1971) and, in Dean’s words, “other things. I don’t know the full extent of it.” Nixon asks, “How much money do you need?” Dean replies, “I would say these people are going to cost a million dollars over the next two years.” Nixon muses, “You could get a million dollars. You could get it in cash. I know where it could be gotten. I mean it’s not easy but it could be done.” The money can be raised, Nixon says, but the idea of any presidential pardons for anyone is out. Nixon learns from his secretary, Rose Mary Woods, that their secret campaign fund still has over $100,000. That evening, Hunt is given $75,000 in cash. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 577-578; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] Hunt will eventually receive $120,000, almost the exact amount he demands. [Reston, 2007, pp. 35]
President Nixon tells his aides, in a secretly recorded conversation (see July 13-16, 1973), to ensure that the nation never learns of the political and financial machinations that surround the Watergate burglary from his aides under investigation: “And, uh, for that reason, I am perfectly willing to—I don’t give a sh_t what happens, I want you all to stonewall it, let them plead the Fifth Amendment, cover-up or anything else.” Judge John Sirica, presiding over the Watergate trials, is appalled at later hearing this conversation. Sirica will later write, “A lifetime of dealing with the criminal law, of watching a parade of people who had robbed, stolen, killed, raped, and deceived others, had not hardened me enough to hear with equanimity the low political scheming that was played back to me from the White House offices.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 131-132] Nixon tells aides H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman that E. Howard Hunt, who has been blackmailing the White House (see March 21, 1973), is no longer a problem. But he wants something on paper that he can point to and say he knew nothing about the Watergate conspiracy, and that he had ordered an internal investigation of the matter. He sends counsel John Dean to Camp David for the weekend to write the document. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 578-579]
William Rogers. [Source: Southern Methodist University]President Nixon spends almost his entire workday on the Watergate case. He orders senior aide John Ehrlichman to conduct his own “independent investigation” of the conspiracy, since White House counsel John Dean has not yet produced the results of his own “investigation” (see March 22, 1973). During the course of the day, Secretary of State William Rogers, who is not in the Watergate loop, tells chief of staff H. R. Haldeman he does not believe the White House denials: “Why did we get into the cover-up if we don’t know what the real story is to begin with?… The attempts to cover up make the basic alibi of noninvolvement of the White House inconceivable.” Nixon reassures Rogers that the denials are true, and pins the blame on former campaign chief John Mitchell and deputy chief Jeb Magruder. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 580-581]
Acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray, writhing under harsh questioning in his Senate confirmation hearings (see February 28-29, 1973), has displayed a candor and a willingness to reveal information that the White House has found disturbing. But that comes to an end; after Gray’s early offer to let senators examine the FBI’s files on the Watergate investigations, Attorney General Richard Kleindienst overrules that offer. Kleindienst insists that Gray has no authority to make such an offer, and instead proposes that only the chairman of the Judiciary Commiteee, James Eastland (D-MS), and its ranking member Roman Hruska (R-NE), be allowed to view the files. Gray is privately ordered by Kleindienst to stop talking about the FBI investigation. Gray reluctantly obeys, and begins responding to questions about the investigation by saying, “I respectfully decline to answer that question.” Towards the end of the hearings, Gray will inform the committee about Kleindienst’s “gag order.” Kleindienst may have issued the order because of Gray’s testimony that he was pressured by White House aides John Dean and John Ehrlichman to find and close media leaks they believed were coming from within the FBI, requests that Gray resented “because I don’t think there were those leaks within the FBI.” [Time, 4/2/1973; O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
Gray's Partisanship Questioned - Committee members also question Gray’s open advocacy of the Nixon administration, a position they find unbecoming in a supposedly nonpartisan FBI director. They want to know why in September 1972 he abandoned the agency’s nonpartisan tradition and ordered 21 field offices to file expert advice on how best Nixon and his aides could handle campaign issues related to criminal justice. And they are disturbed that during the 1972 campaign, Gray himself stumped for Nixon in three separate speeches, in what Time magazine calls “blatantly political activity his predecessor [J. Edgar Hoover] would never have undertaken.” Committee member Robert Byrd (D-WV) said before the hearings: “In the nine months that Mr. Gray has held the post of acting director, there has been increasing criticism of that bureau as becoming more and more a political arm of the administration. Under J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI had always been a nonpolitical bureau, and Mr. Hoover meticulously avoided partisanship in campaigns.” Confirmation of Gray, Byrd continued, “would be damaging to the proficiency and morale of the agency.” Many senators also question Gray’s lack of law enforcement experience. [Time, 3/5/1973]
'Twist[ing] in the Wind' - During the hearings, Nixon aide John Ehrlichman privately proposes that the White House not support Gray, and instead leave him to “twist slowly, slowly in the wind” until he resigns (see April 5, 1973). Shortly before his death in 2005, Gray will say, “I made the gravest mistake of my 88 years” in going to work for Nixon. “I put the rudder in the wrong direction.” [New York Times, 7/7/2005]
Entity Tags: Nixon administration, James O. Eastland, J. Edgar Hoover, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Dean, L. Patrick Gray, Senate Judiciary Committee, John Ehrlichman, Roman Hruska, Robert C. Byrd, Richard Kleindienst
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
White House counsel John Dean begins cooperating with the Watergate prosecutors. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Dean has already been asked to resign and has refused, fearing that President Nixon and his top aides will try to pin the blame for Watergate on him. Shortly after agreeing to cooperate with the investigation, Dean issues a statement making it clear that he is unwilling to be a “scapegoat in the Watergate case.” [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] According to an associate of Dean’s, when Dean told Nixon that he and aides H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman would have to go to jail to protect the presidency (see March 21, 1973), Nixon seemed resigned to the possibility. But shortly thereafter, Haldeman and Ehrlichman convinced Nixon that Dean could be the “fall guy” for the entire White House. “Instead of agreeing to cooperate, they are still telling [Nixon] that John should walk the plank for all of them. [Nixon] is ready to give John the final shove.” A Nixon campaign official will verify the Dean associate’s account, and say that Dean wanted to be honest, but was following orders from Haldeman and Ehrlichman. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 305] Dean will soon begin sharing evidence that implicates Haldeman and Ehrlichman in the Watergate conspiracy (see June 25-29, 1973). [Washington Post, 5/1/1973]
White House counsel John Dean tells top Nixon aide H. R. Haldeman that he intends to testify about his knowledge of the Watergate conspiracy (see March 21, 1973). Haldeman advises against it, saying, “Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it’s going to be very hard to get it back in.” Dean compiles a list of 15 names of White House and Nixon campaign officials he believes could be indicted for crimes in the Watergate conspiracy (ten of those names are lawyers). He shows the list to fellow Nixon aide John Ehrlichman. [Time, 7/9/1973]
White House aide John Ehrlichman presents the results of his “independent investigation” of Watergate (see March 27, 1973) to President Nixon and chief of staff H. R. Haldeman. Ehrlichman is candid in his assessment, telling Nixon that he “can’t just sit here.… You’ve got to make some decisions.” Of the “hush money” paid out to the burglars, Ehrlichman says: “There were eight or ten people around here who knew about this, knew it was going on. Bob knew, I knew, all kinds of people knew—” Nixon interrupts to say, “Well, I knew it.” Ehrlichman’s report, seven handwritten pages, is essentially accurate, though it slants the facts away from the criminality of the Watergate conspiracy and fixes the bulk of the blame on convicted conspirators E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, along with former campaign chief John Mitchell, Mitchell’s then-deputy Jeb Magruder, and White House counsel John Dean. The only involvement of Haldeman and Ehrlichman in Ehrlichman’s version of events is as knowledgeable onlookers; Nixon is not mentioned at all. The memo warns that many lower-level participants, including Dean, Hunt, and Magruder, are either talking to investigators or preparing to talk. Nixon tells Ehrlichman to inform Mitchell that he has to take the blame in his upcoming testimony. Ehrlichman has Mitchell fly to Washington to hear Nixon’s proposal, but Mitchell refuses to take the entire fall. “He’s an innocent man in his heart and in his mind and he does not intend to move off that position,” Ehrlichman reports. In essence, Dean, Magruder, and Mitchell each intend to fix the blame on one another and dodge the blame for themselves, Ehrlichman concludes. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 585-586]
Tempers flare at the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner. President Nixon and his entourage (including H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and Henry Kissinger—see April 14, 1973) sit stolidly through the evening’s entertainment, which contains plenty of biting Watergate humor, but the real fireworks take place between members of the press and Nixon officials. Edward Bennett Williams, the eminent lawyer whose firm represents both the Washington Post and the Democratic National Committee, gets into a heated sparring match with Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan. Buchanan is gloating over the November 1972 re-election landslide (see November 7, 1972), calling Williams a “sore loser.” Williams retorts: “But you did it dirty, Pat. You had to do it dirty. You won, but you had to steal it.” Buchanan says: “The Watergate’s all you had. Some Cubans going in to look at Larry O’Brien’s mail.… You blew it out of proportion.” Williams responds: “Dirty, Pat, dirty election. Aren’t you ashamed? You’re a conservative, and all this law-breaking. And the Washington Post really sticking it to you. Oh, that must have hurt the most.” Buchanan counters: “A little spying. That’s politics.” Buchanan continues by attacking Williams’s client list, which includes ex-Senate aide Bobby Baker and former Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa. “There’s a big difference,” Williams says. “I didn’t run any of my clients for president.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 285-287]
Attorney General Richard Kleindienst stays up until 5 a.m. going over the evidence surrounding the Watergate burglary with other Justice Department officials. He and Assistant Attorney General Henry Petersen meet with President Nixon, and tell the president that they both believe White House officials as well as officials of his re-election campaign are involved in the cover-up conspiracy. Kleindienst, who along with Petersen will testify to this before the Senate Watergate Committee (see Mid-August, 1973), will recall that Nixon is “dumbfounded”; Petersen’s recollection is that Nixon seems concerned but calm. Kleindienst openly weeps as he discusses the likelihood that his friend and former superior at the Justice Department, former campaign head John Mitchell, may be involved. Kleindienst will testify that Nixon consoles him: “I don’t think since my mother died when I was a young boy that I ever had an event that has consumed me emotionally with such sorrow, and he was very considerate of my feelings.” Petersen urges Nixon to fire both of his senior aides, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, because he is certain that their continuation as White House officials will become a “source of vast embarrassment.” Petersen says bluntly that if the Justice Department finds any evidence of Nixon’s own involvement, he will not only resign, but will “waltz it [the information] over to the House of Representatives”—where impeachment proceedings begin. When Petersen asks about Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see August 5, 1971), before he can even ask about the burglary of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office (see September 9, 1971), Nixon cuts him off, saying: “I know about that. That is a national security matter. You stay out of that.” [Time, 8/20/1973] Peterson passes along Nixon’s instructions to chief prosecutor Earl Silbert, who accuses Peterson of acting as Nixon’s agent. The two get into a shouting match, and take the dispute to Kleindienst, who informs them that because he is recusing himself from the matter (see April 19, 1973), he cannot settle the issue. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 593]
Entity Tags: Nixon administration, H.R. Haldeman, Earl Silbert, Daniel Ellsberg, Henry Peterson, John Mitchell, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, John Ehrlichman, Richard Kleindienst, US Department of Justice, Richard M. Nixon
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
White House counsel John Dean tells President Nixon that he and senior aides H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman should resign in an attempt to protect Nixon from the Watergate fallout. Nixon concurs; in fact, he has already had two letters of resignation drawn up for Dean to sign. One reads, “In view of my increasing involvement in the Watergate matter, my impending appearance before the grand jury and the probability of its action, I request an immediate and indefinite leave of absence from my position on your staff.” The other is similarly worded, but tenders Dean’s resignation. Dean balks at signing them, and asks to rewrite and resubmit them. Nixon continues trying to rewrite his earlier exchanges with Dean, hoping to shape Dean’s testimony about Nixon’s earlier assertions of executive privilege and the payout of “hush money” to the convicted burglars (see April 15, 1973). Dean attempts to take credit for attempting to stop the Watergate conspiracy in its inception, but Nixon wants Dean’s testimony to credit him and not Dean. He even wants Dean to testify that the case was broken because of Nixon’s actions. After Dean leaves, Nixon, Haldeman, and Ehrlichman discuss the way they want the Watergate story to be told, deflecting and minimizing their own roles in the conspiracy and crediting themselves for bringing the story to light. Dean later returns with a written request for an indefinite leave of absence that says nothing about his Watergate involvement. Nixon wants to fire Dean and retain Haldeman and Ehrlichman, but knows that will send Dean into a spate of testimony that will drag everyone, including Nixon, down. “There’s no sense in aggravating Dean,” Nixon says. “He’ll do anything to save his own ass. He’s pissing as high as he can get now. We can’t let him piss any higher” and implicate Nixon. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 588-590]
After learning that the White House will soon make a dramatic Watergate admission, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward meets clandestinely with his “Deep Throat” source, FBI deputy director W. Mark Felt (see May 31, 2005). Felt drops a bombshell. “You’d better hang on for this,” he says. “Dean and Haldeman are out—for sure” (see April 30, 1973). John Dean is President Nixon’s White House counsel and one of the key figures in the Watergate conspiracy. H. R. Haldeman is Nixon’s chief of staff and closest confidante. “Out. They’ll resign. There’s no way the president can avoid it.” Woodward and his colleague Carl Bernstein inform Post editor Ben Bradlee of Felt’s revelation (avoiding any identification of Felt). Bradlee is reluctant to print such an explosive story based on one “deep background” source, no matter how reliable. The story does not go to print. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 75-81] Felt’s story is accurate as far as it goes. The day before, Attorney General Richard Kleindienst had informed President Nixon that Dean and former campaign deputy Jeb Magruder testified, and that they named Haldeman, White House aide John Ehrlichman, and former campaign chief John Mitchell as co-conspirators. Dean went even further, demanding complete immunity and threatening to implicate Nixon if he was not given legal protection. Kleindienst says he will have to recuse himself from further involvement in the investigation because of his close relationship with Mitchell (see April 19, 1973), but deputy attorney general Henry Peterson will keep Nixon informed of any and all events that transpire. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 586-587] It is not clear if Felt knew that Mitchell and Ehrlichman had also been implicated; in any event, he does not inform Woodward. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 75-81]
Entity Tags: W. Mark Felt, Richard M. Nixon, Richard Kleindienst, Nixon administration, John Mitchell, H.R. Haldeman, Carl Bernstein, Henry Peterson, Bob Woodward, John Dean, John Ehrlichman, Ben Bradlee, Jeb S. Magruder
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Former Nixon campaign director John Mitchell testifies before the Watergate grand jury. An associate of Mitchell’s says that Mitchell is resigned to going to jail. He has no intention of saying anything that might jeopardize President Nixon. It is less certain what he will say about Nixon aides H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman; he hates both of them and blames them for “ruining” Nixon and persuading Nixon to let him take a fall. After his testimony, Mitchell confirms that he participated in meetings where the idea of electronically monitoring the Democrats was discussed, but says he turned down any ideas of gathering intelligence against political opponents that were illegal. Another associate of Mitchell says that the former director admitted paying the seven Watergate defendants during the trial, but that money was supposed to be for legal fees and not to buy their silence, as his former deputy Jeb Magruder has testified (see April 14-18, 1973). Mitchell testified that someone at the White House went over his head to get approval for the electronic surveillance against the Democrats. The associate says Mitchell believes that person was Charles Colson, but has no proof and did not mention Colson’s name to the grand jury. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 300-301]
Vacationing in his Key Biscayne, Florida home, President Nixon calls chief of staff H. R. Haldeman and senior aide John Ehrlichman. He tells Haldeman: “You’re doing the right thing [by resigning—see April 16-17, 1973 and April 30, 1973]. That’s what I used to think when I killed some innocent children in Hanoi.” He also speaks to White House counsel John Dean. Dean will later say that Nixon tells him, “You’re still my counsel.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 594]
White House press secretary Ron Ziegler, with President Nixon in Florida (see April 22, 1973), calls chief of staff H. R. Haldeman and informs him that he and aide John Ehrlichman must resign. Ziegler paraphrases what Nixon told him: “He must get this out of his mind. He has an obligation to run the nation and he cannot, as a human being, run the country with this on his mind.” Ziegler assures Haldeman that Nixon is extremely reluctant to ask for their resignations, but he sees no other way to dodge any further involvement in the Watergate imbroglio. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 593-594]
The New York Daily News reports that acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray destroyed potentially incriminating evidence taken from the safe of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see Late December 1972). Gray, who testified to this days before to the Watergate grand jury, said that he received the material from White House counsel John Dean. “I said early in the game,” Gray testifies, “that Watergate would be a spreading stain that would tarnish everyone with whom it came in contact—and I’m no exception.” Shortly afterwards, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward learns from his “Deep Throat” source, FBI deputy director W. Mark Felt (see May 31, 2005), that the story is true. Felt informs Woodward that Gray was told by Nixon aides Dean and John Ehrlichman that the files were “political dynamite” that could do more damage to the Nixon administration than Watergate (see June 28, 1972). Woodward realizes that the story means Gray’s career at the FBI is finished. Woodward and his colleague Carl Bernstein write their own report for April 30; the same day, Gray resigns from the FBI (see April 5, 1973). Instead of Felt being named FBI director, as he had hoped, Nixon appoints the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, William Ruckelshaus, to head the bureau. Felt is keenly disappointed. [Time, 8/20/1973; O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ; Woodward, 2005, pp. 96-98] When he learns of Gray’s actions, Post editor Howard Simons muses: “A director of the FBI destroying evidence? I never thought it could happen.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 306-307] The FBI’s 1974 report on its Watergate investigation dates Gray’s resignation as April 27, not April 29 [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ] , a date supported by reports from Time. [Time, 8/20/1973]
Entity Tags: Carl Bernstein, E. Howard Hunt, John Dean, Bob Woodward, John Ehrlichman, Howard Simons, William Ruckelshaus, L. Patrick Gray, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Daily News, W. Mark Felt, Richard M. Nixon
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
At Camp David, White House press secretary Ron Ziegler tells White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman that President Nixon is considering resigning. Haldeman replies: “That’s not going to happen. He’s just steeling himself to meet with us (see April 24, 1973). He’s creating a big crisis he can’t meet, so that he can meet the lesser crisis of dealing with us.” When the two meet with Nixon, Haldeman is shocked at how bad Nixon looks. Standing on the porch of the Aspen Lodge, Nixon, looking at the spring foliage, says, “I have to enjoy this because I may not be alive much longer.” Nixon says he prayed last night not to wake up this morning. A horrified Haldeman tries to reassure Nixon that he accepts Nixon’s decision to ask for his resignation. “What you have to remember,” he says, “is that nothing that has happened in the Watergate mess has changed your mandate in the non-Watergate areas. That is what matters. That is what you do best.” Nixon then meets with White House aide John Ehrlichman and tells Ehrlichman the same thing he told Haldeman—that he prayed not to wake up in the morning. “Don’t think like that,” Ehrlichman says. Nixon begins to cry. “This is like cutting off my arms,” he says. “You and Bob, you’ll need money. I have some—Bebe [Rebozo, Nixon’s millionaire friend] has it—and you can have it.” Ehrlichman replies: “That would just make things worse. You can do one thing for me, though, sometime. Just explain all of this to my kids, will you?” When Ehrlichman leaves, Ziegler joins Nixon in the lodge and Nixon says, “It’s all over, Ron, do you know that?” Ziegler knows Nixon means his presidency. Later, Nixon tells his speech writer, Ray Price, who is working on Nixon’s announcement of the resignations of Haldeman and Ehrlichman (see April 30, 1973): “Maybe I should resign, Ray. If you think so just put it in” the speech. Nixon walks towards the swimming pool, and Price stays close behind him, fearing that Nixon might attempt to drown himself. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 600-602]
About an hour after President Nixon’s televised speech announcing the firing of his top staffers H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman (see April 30, 1973), Nixon calls Haldeman. The conversation is recorded on Nixon’s secret taping system. Nixon says to Haldeman, “Hope I didn’t get you down.” Haldeman is reassuring: “No, sir. You got your points over. You’ve got it set right.” Nixon replies: “Well, it’s a tough thing, Bob, for you, for John, the rest, but g_ddamn it, I’m never going to discuss this son-of-a-b_tching Watergate thing again. Never. Never. Never. Never.” [PBS, 1/2/1997]
President Nixon announces that his closest senior aides, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, have resigned (see April 30, 1973). Attorney General Richard Kleindienst also resigns, to be replaced by Elliot Richardson; White House counsel John Dean, who is cooperating with Congressional investigators (see April 6-20, 1973), is also said to resign, although actually he was fired. Nixon makes his announcements on prime-time television; he tells his listeners that he wants to speak “from my heart.”
Knew Nothing Until He Watched the News - Nixon claims that he knew nothing of the so-called “Watergate affair” until he learned of the Watergate burglary (see June 17, 1972) from news reports. He describes himself as “appalled at this senseless, illegal action,” and “shocked to learn that employees of the Re-Election Committee [Committee to Re-elect the President, or CREEP)] were apparently among those guilty. I immediately ordered an investigation by appropriate government authorities.” Nixon says that he asked those authorities on several occasions “[I]f there was any reason to believe that members of my administration were in any way involved. I received repeated assurances that there were not. Because of these continuing reassurances, because I believed the reports I was getting, because I had faith in the persons from whom I was getting them, I discounted the stories in the press that appeared to implicate members of my administration or other officials of the campaign committee.”
'Personally Assumed Responsibility' for Inquiries, Demanded Cooperation - Nixon goes on to say that he believed the denials until March 1973, and the denials and comments he made were not intended to mislead, but merely “based on the information provided to us at the time we made those comments.” He then learned that “there was a real possibility that some of these charges were true, and suggesting further that there had been an effort to conceal the facts both from the public, from you, and from me.” On March 21, Nixon says, “I personally assumed the responsibility for coordinating intensive new inquiries into the matter, and I personally ordered those conducting the investigations to get all the facts and to report them directly to me, right here in this office.” Nixon says that he ordered everyone in government and at CREEP to fully cooperate with the investigators, the prosecutors, and the grand jury looking into the matter. Although insisting on “ground rules… that would preserve the basic constitutional separation of powers between the Congress and the presidency,” he “directed” members of his staff to testify under oath to the Senate Watergate Committee. The “integrity of this office” must “take priority over all personal considerations.”
Concerns with Ethics, Integrity Impelled Resignations - It is this concern for the integrity of the presidency, and his commitment to the most “rigorous legal and ethical standards,” that moved Nixon to accept the resignations of Haldeman and Ehrlichman, which he hastens to note do not imply any “implication whatever of personal wrongdoing on their part.” He asked Kleindienst to resign, not because of any implication of wrongdoing, but because of his “close personal and professional [association with] some of those who are involved in this case.” He has given Kleindienst’s successor, Richardson, the authority to name a special prosecutor to take over the investigation if Richardson deems it necessary. Nixon says: “[J]ustice will be pursued fairly, fully, and impartially, no matter who is involved. This office is a sacred trust and I am determined to be worthy of that trust.”
Shifting the Blame - Nixon says that until 1972, he had personally run his own political campaigns. But he was too busy with “crucially important decisions… intense negotiations [and] vital new directions” for the nation; he decided “the presidency should come first and politics second.” He therefore delegated as much of his campaign’s operations to others, and attempted to keep the campaign and the functions of the White House as separate as possible. Though Nixon makes it clear that unidentified subordinates “whose zeal exceeded their judgment and who may have done wrong in a cause they deeply believed to be right” are the criminals in Watergate, since he is “the man at the top,” he “must bear the responsibility.” “That responsibility, therefore, belongs here, in this office. I accept it. And I pledge to you tonight, from this office, that I will do everything in my power to ensure that the guilty are brought to justice and that such abuses are purged from our political processes in the years to come, long after I have left this office.” The nation must allow the judicial system to do its work without interference, he says, and it must not distract the nation from “the vital work before us… at a time of critical importance to America and the world.” Nixon himself intends to return his “full attention” to the “larger duties of this office,” and allow the investigation to proceed without his direction. [White House, 4/30/1973; White House, 4/30/1973; White House, 4/30/1973; CNN, 5/20/2007]
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. [Washington Post, 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]
Entity Tags: United States Information Agency, Richard M. Nixon, Washington Post, Richard Kleindienst, Leonard Garment, Ben Bradlee, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Gordon Strachan, John Moss, Elliot Richardson, Howard Simons, Hugh Scott, John Ehrlichman, John Dean, James McCartney, H.R. Haldeman
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Washington Post headline from Dean story. [Source: Washington Post]Former White House counsel John Dean has told Watergate investigators that he discussed the Watergate cover-up with President Nixon at least 35 times [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] between January and April of 1973, according to sources quoted by the Washington Post. Dean plans on testifying to his assertions in the Senate Watergate hearings (see May 17-18, 1973), whether or not he is granted immunity from prosecution. He will also allege that Nixon himself is deeply involved with the Watergate cover-up. Nixon had prior knowledge of payments used to buy the silence of various Watergate conspirators, and knew of offers of executive clemency for the conspirators issued in his name. Dean has little solid evidence besides his own personal knowledge of events inside the White House.
Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Nixon Central Figures in Cover-Up - Dean will testify that two of Nixon’s closest aides, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman (see April 30, 1973), were also present at many of the meetings where the cover-up was discussed in Nixon’s presence. The White House, and Haldeman and Ehrlichman, have tried to portray Dean as the central figure in the Watergate conspiracy, and the Justice Department says there is ample evidence to indict Dean for a number of crimes related to the cover-up. Dean and his supporters paint Dean as a White House loyalist who merely did what he was told, until he began agonizing over the effect Watergate was having on Nixon. Dean alleges that Nixon asked him how much the seven Watergate defendants (see June 17, 1972) would have to be paid to ensure their silence, aside from the $460,000 already paid out; when Dean replied that the cost would be around $1 million, Nixon allegedly replied that such a payoff would be no problem. Dean has told investigators that later Nixon insisted he had been merely “joking” about the payoff. Dean says by that time—March 26—Nixon knew that Dean would be cooperating with the Watergate investigation, and that he believes Nixon was trying to retract the statement for his own legal well-being.
Pressured to Confess - Dean has also testified that Nixon tried to force him to sign a letter of resignation that would have amounted to a confession that Dean had directed the Watergate cover-up without the knowledge of Nixon, Haldeman, or Ehrlichman. When Dean refused to sign, he says, Nixon warned him “in the strongest terms” never to reveal the Nixon administration’s covert activities and plans. Dean also says that Nixon personally directed the White House’s efforts to counterattack the press over Watergate (see October 16-November, 1972). Until January 1, Dean has told investigators, he usually reported to Haldeman and Ehrlichman regarding his Watergate-related activities, but after that date Nixon began taking more of an active role in dealing with Dean, and gave Dean direct orders on handling the cover-up.
Reliable Witness - Dean has so far met eight times with the Watergate prosecutors, and twice with the chief legal counsel of the Senate Watergate committee, Samuel Dash. Dash and the prosecutors find Dean a compelling and believable witness. “[E]verything we have gotten from Dean that we were able to check out has turned out to be accurate,” says one Justice Department source. Dean says he tried without success to obtain records that would support his allegations in his final days in the White House, and believes that many of those records may have been destroyed by now. Dean did manage to remove some secret documents before his firing, documents that prompted Nixon to recently admit to “covert activities” surrounding Watergate. Dean’s information has already led to the revelation of the burglary of the office of Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see September 9, 1971), and to the resignation of FBI director L. Patrick Gray after Gray was found to have destroyed evidence taken from the safe of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see June 28, 1972). [Washington Post, 6/3/1973]
Entity Tags: L. Patrick Gray, E. Howard Hunt, Daniel Ellsberg, H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, Samuel Dash, Washington Post, Richard M. Nixon, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, Nixon administration, John Dean
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein learns of White House aide Charles Colson’s plan to burglarize the Brookings Institution (see June 30-July 1, 1971 and June 1974), and, alarmingly, of Colson’s plans to actually firebomb the building. An associate of former White House counsel John Dean tells Bernstein that Colson did not want to just burglarize the Institute: “Chuck Colson wanted to rub two sticks together.”
Urgent Trip to See Nixon - Colson could not have been serious, Bernstein says, but the associate replies: “Serious enough for [White House aide] John Caulfield to run out of Colson’s office in a panic. He came straight to John Dean, saying he didn’t ever want to talk to that man Colson again because he was crazy. And that John better do something before it was too late. John caught the first courier flight out to San Clemente [President Nixon’s home in California] to see [then-White House aide John] Ehrlichman. That’s how serious it was.” Ehrlichman indeed shut the operation down before it could start, but the associate implies Ehrlichman’s decision may have been based more on the fact that Dean knew about it than over any shock or outrage over the firebombing plan.
Reasoning behind Attack - Colson wanted to firebomb Brookings because former Kissinger aide Morton Halperin, a Brookings fellow, may have had classified State Department documents at the Institute that the White House wanted back. A fire at the Institute would cover up a burglary of Halperin’s office.
Confirmation from Associate - Bernstein confirms the story from an associate of Caulfield’s, who clarifies: “Not a fire, a firebombing. That was what Colson thought would do the trick. Caulfield said, ‘This has gone too far’ and [that] he didn’t ever want anything to do with Colson again in his life.” Both Dean and Caulfield told FBI investigators about the plan, Caulfield’s associate says.
Woodward Calls Colson - When Bernstein’s colleague Bob Woodward calls Colson for a comment on the story, Colson jokes: “There’s no question about that. There is one mistake. It was not the Brookings, but the Washington Post. I told them to hire a wrecking crane and go over and knock down the building and Newsweek also.… I wanted the Washington Post destroyed.” When Woodward tells him the newspaper is printing the story, Colson retorts: “Explicitly, it is bullsh_t. I absolutely made no such statement or suggestion. It is ludicrous.… [T]his one has gone too far.” Colson calls back and says he may have made such a suggestion, but he was not serious. The Post prints the story. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 324-325]
Confirmation by Dean - In 2006, Dean will write that when he “learned of [Colson’s] insane plan, I flew to California… to plead my case to John Ehrlichman, a titular superior to both Colson and myself. By pointing out, with some outrage, that if anyone died it would involve a capital crime that might be traced back to the White House, I was able to shut down Colson’s scheme.” [Dean, 2006, pp. xxiii]
Three government sources say that former White House aide John Ehrlichman and former White House counsel John Dean secretly recorded telephone and face-to-face conversations with other Watergate conspirators, beginning in January 1973. Ehrlichman taped a conversation with former FBI director L. Patrick Gray concerning incriminating files removed from the safe of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see June 28, 1972), and another conversation with Dean about the same documents. In January, Dean taped several conversations with political operative Donald Segretti (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond). [Washington Post, 6/13/1973]
Watergate investigators find a memo addressed to John Ehrlichman detailing plans to burglarize the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist (see September 9, 1971). The one-page memo was sent to Ehrlichman by former White House aides David Young and Egil “Bud” Krogh, and was dated before the September 3, 1971 burglary. The memo was given to investigators by Young, who has been granted immunity from prosecution in return for his cooperation. Young, says Justice Department sources, will testify that Ehrlichman saw the memo and approved the burglary operation. Ehrlichman, through his attorney, denies any advance knowledge of the burglary. Young and Krogh directed the day-to-day operations of the so-called “Plumbers,” a group of White House and Nixon campaign operatives charged with stopping media leaks. Krogh has testified in an affidavit that he was given “general authorization to engage in covert activity” to obtain information on Ellsberg by Ehrlichman. Krogh won Senate confirmation as an undersecretary in the Department of Transportation, but has since resigned his post. Young was a member of the National Security Council and a former appointments secretary to National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger; he resigned in April. [Washington Post, 6/13/1973]
Comedian Bill Cosby, one of many on Nixon’s enemies list. [Source: Quixoticals]Former White House counsel John Dean, continuing his testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee (see June 25-29, 1973), provides a sheaf of documents to the committee. Among those is the “Opponents List and Political Enemies Project,” informally called President Nixon’s “enemies list.” The list is actually a set of documents “several inches thick” of names and information about Nixon’s political enemies. It was compiled by a number of administration officials, including Dean, White House aides Charles Colson, Gordon Strachan, and Lyn Nofziger, beginning in 1971. One of the documents from August 16, 1971, has Dean suggesting ways in which “we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.” Methods proposed included administration manipulation of “grant availability, federal contracts, litigation, prosecution, etc.” The Dean memo was given to then-chief of staff H. R. Haldeman and top White House aide John Ehrlichman for approval. Though Dean testifies that he does not know if the plan was set into motion, subsequent documents submitted to the committee indicate that it was indeed implemented. A condensed list of 20 “White House enemies” was produced by Colson’s office; a larger list included ten Democratic senators, all 12 black House members, over 50 news and television reporters, prominent businessmen, labor leaders, and entertainers, and contributors to the 1972 presidential campaign of Democratic senator Edmund Muskie. The condensed list includes, in priority order:
“1. Arnold M. Picker, United Artists Corp., NY. Top Muskie fund raiser. Success here could be both debilitating and very embarrassing to the Muskie machine. If effort looks promising, both Ruth and David Picker should be programmed and then a follow through with United Artists.”
“2. Alexander E. Barkan, national director of AFL-CIO’s committee on Political Education, Washington D.C.: Without a doubt the most powerful political force programmed against us in 1968 ($10 million, 4.6 million votes, 115 million pamphlets, 176,000 workers—all programmed by Barkan’s COPE—so says Teddy White in The Making of the President 1968). We can expect the same effort this time.”
“3. Ed Guthman, managing editor, Los Angeles Times: Guthman, former Kennedy aide, was a highly sophisticated hatchetman against us in ‘68. It is obvious he is the prime mover behind the current Key Biscayne effort. It is time to give him the message.”
“4. Maxwell Dane, Doyle, Dane and Bernbach, NY: The top Democratic advertising firm—they destroyed Goldwater in ‘64. They should be hit hard starting with Dane.”
“5. Charles Dyson, Dyson-Kissner Corp., NY: Dyson and [Democratic National Committee chairman] Larry O’Brien were close business associates after ‘68. Dyson has huge business holdings and is presently deeply involved in the Businessmen’s Educational Fund which bankrolls a national radio network of five-minute programs—anti-Nixon in character.”
“6. Howard Stein, Dreyfus Corp., NY: Heaviest contributor to [Democratic presidential candidate Eugene] McCarthy in ‘68. If McCarthy goes, will do the same in ‘72. If not, Lindsay or McGovern will receive the funds.”
“7. [US Representative] Allard Lowenstein, Long Island, NY: Guiding force behind the 18-year-old ‘Dump Nixon’ vote campaign.”
“8. Morton Halperin, leading executive at Common Cause: A scandal would be most helpful here.”
“9. Leonard Woodcock, UAW, Detroit, Mich.: No comments necessary.”
“10. S. Sterling Munro Jr., Sen. [Henry Jackson’s aide, Silver Spring, Md: We should give him a try. Positive results would stick a pin in Jackson’s white hat.”
“11. Bernard T. Feld, president, Council for a Livable World: Heavy far left funding. They will program an ‘all court press’ against us in ‘72.”
“12. Sidney Davidoff, New York City, [New York City Mayor John V.] Lindsay’s top personal aide: a first class SOB, wheeler-dealer and suspected bagman. Positive results would really shake the Lindsay camp and Lindsay’s plans to capture youth vote. Davidoff in charge.”
“13. John Conyers, congressman, Detroit: Coming on fast. Emerging as a leading black anti-Nixon spokesman. Has known weakness for white females.”
“14. Samuel M. Lambert, president, National Education Association: Has taken us on vis-a-vis federal aid to parochial schools—a ‘72 issue.” [Facts on File, 6/2003] Committee chairman Sam Ervin (D-NC) is clearly outraged by the list, and particularly by Lambert’s inclusion. He says, “Here is a man listed among the opponents whose only offense is that he believed in the First Amendment and shared Thomas Jefferson’s conviction, as expressed in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, that to compel a man to make contributions of money for the dissemination of religious opinions he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical. Isn’t that true?” Dean replies, “I cannot disagree with the chairman at all.” [Time, 7/9/1973]
“15. Stewart Rawlings Mott, Mott Associates, NY: Nothing but big money for radic-lib candidates.”
“16. Ronald Dellums, congressman, Calif: Had extensive [Edward M. Kennedy] EMK-Tunney support in his election bid. Success might help in California next year.”
“17. Daniel Schorr, Columbia Broadcasting System, Washington: A real media enemy.”
“18. S. Harrison Dogole, Philadelphia, Pa: President of Globe Security Systems—fourth largest private detective agency in US. Heavy Humphrey [former presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey] contributor. Could program his agency against us.”
“19. [Actor] Paul Newman, Calif: Radic-lib causes. Heavy McCarthy involvement ‘68. Used effectively in nation wide TV commercials. ‘72 involvement certain.”
“20. Mary McGrory, Washington columnist: Daily hate Nixon articles.”
Another “master list” of political enemies prepared by Colson’s office includes Democratic senators Birch Bayh, J. W. Fulbright, Fred R. Harris, Harold Hughes, Edward M. Kennedy, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Edmund Muskie, Gaylord Nelson, and William Proxmire; House representatives Bella Abzug, William R. Anderson, John Brademas, Father Robert F. Drinan, Robert Kastenmeier, Wright Patman; African-American representatives Shirley Chisholm, William Clay, George Collins, John Conyers, Ronald Dellums, Charles Diggs, Augustus Hawkins, Ralph Metcalfe, Robert N.C. Nix, Parren Mitchell, Charles Rangel, Louis Stokes; and several other politicians, including Lindsay, McCarthy, and George Wallace, the governor of Alabama (see May 15, 1972). The list also includes an array of liberal, civil rights and antiwar organizations, including the Black Panthers, the Brookings Institution, Common Cause, the Farmers Union, the National Economic Council, the National Education Association, the National Welfare Rights Organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Convention; a variety of labor organizations; many reporters, columnists, and other news figures; a short list of celebrities including Bill Cosby, Jane Fonda, Dick Gregory, Steve McQueen, Joe Namath, Gregory Peck, Tony Randall, and Barbra Streisand; and a huge list of businessmen and academics. The documents provide suggestions for avenues of attack against individual listees, including using “income tax discrepancies,” allegations of Communist connections, and other information. [Facts on File, 6/2003] In 1999, Schorr will joke that being on Nixon’s enemies list “changed my life a great deal. It increased my lecture fee, got me invited to lots of very nice dinners. It was so wonderful that one of my colleagues that I will not mention, but a very important man at CBS, said, ‘Why you, Schorr? Why couldn’t it have been me on the enemies list?’” [CNN, 3/27/1999] Schorr does not mention that he was the subject of an FBI investigation because of his listing. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
Entity Tags: Paul Newman, National Welfare Rights Organization, Ralph Metcalfe, Parren Mitchell, Robert F Drinan, National Economic Council, Richard M. Nixon, Morton H. Halperin, Louis Stokes, Mary McGrory, John V. Lindsay, Lawrence O’Brien, Maxwell Dane, Leonard Woodcock, Robert Kastenmeier, Lyn Nofziger, Los Angeles Times, Robert N.C. Nix, Sam Ervin, S. Harrison Dogole, United Auto Workers, Walter Mondale, Tony Randall, William Clay, William R. Anderson, Wright Patman, William Proxmire, Ron Dellums, Stewart Rawlings Mott, Southern Christian Leadership Convention, S. Sterling Munro Jr, John Ehrlichman, Steve McQueen, Samuel M Lambert, Shirley Chisholm, Sidney Davidoff, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, John Dean, National Education Association, John Brademas, CBS News, Charles Colson, Charles Diggs, Charles Dyson, Charles Rangel, Brookings Institution, Council for a Livable World, Common Cause, Black Panthers, Birch Bayh, Bill Cosby, Allard Lowenstein, Alexander E. Barkan, AFL-CIO, Daniel Schorr, Arnold M. Picker, John Conyers, Augustus Hawkins, Bernard T. Feld, Bella Abzug, Dick Gregory, Barbra Streisand, Edmund Muskie, H.R. Haldeman, Harold Hughes, Gregory Peck, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, Jane Fonda, J. William Fulbright, Howard Stein, Gordon Strachan, George S. McGovern, Joe Namath, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Eugene McCarthy, Fred R Harris, Gaylord Nelson, George C. Wallace, Hubert H. Humphrey, George Collins, Ed Guthman
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
John Ehrlichman testifies before the Senate Watergate Committee. [Source: Associated Press]Former senior White House aide John Ehrlichman testifies before the Senate Watergate Committee. [CNN, 2/15/1999] He disputes previous testimony by former White House counsel John Dean (see June 3, 1973), and defends both the Ellsberg break-in (see September 9, 1971) and President Nixon’s overall conduct. [Facts on File, 8/28/2006]
August 16, 1972 front page of the Washington Post, reporting on Nixon’s address. [Source: Southern Methodist University]President Nixon delivers his second prime-time televised speech about Watergate to the nation. He says that both the Senate investigations have focused more on trying to “implicate the president personally in the illegal activities that took place,” and reminds listeners that he has already taken “full responsibility” for the “abuses [that] occurred during my administration” (see April 30, 1973). But in light of the increasing evidence being revealed about the Watergate conspiracy, Nixon’s speech is later proven to be a compilation of lies, half-truths, justifications, and evasions.
'No Prior Knowledge' - He again insists that “I had no prior knowledge of the Watergate break-in; I neither took part in nor knew about any of the subsequent cover-up activities; I neither authorized nor encouraged subordinates to engage in illegal or improper campaign tactics. That was and that is the simple truth.” He says that in all the Senate testimony, “there is not the slightest suggestion that I had any knowledge of the planning for the Watergate break-in.” He says only one witness has challenged his statement under oath, referring to former White House counsel John Dean (see April 6-20, 1973) and June 25-29, 1973), and says Dean’s “testimony has been contradicted by every other witness in a position to know the facts.” Instead, says Nixon, he insisted from the outset that the investigation into the Watergate burglary be “thorough and aboveboard,” and if there were any evidence of “higher involvement, we should get the facts out first.” A cover-up would be unconscionable, he says. He again insists that he was told in September 1972 that an FBI investigation, “the most extensive investigation since the assassination of President Kennedy… had established that only those seven (see June 17, 1972) were involved.” Throughout, Nixon says, he relied on the reports of his staff members, Justice Department, and FBI officials, who consistently reassured him that there was no involvement by anyone in the White House in the burglaries. “Because I trusted the agencies conducting the investigations, because I believed the reports I was getting, I did not believe the newspaper accounts that suggested a cover-up. I was convinced there was no cover-up, because I was convinced that no one had anything to cover up.”
Internal Investigation - He didn’t realize that those assurances were wrong until March 21, when he “received new information from [Dean] that led me to conclude that the reports I had been getting for over nine months were not true.” He immediately launched an internal investigation (see August 29, 1972), initially relying on Dean to conduct the investigation, then turning the task over to his senior aide, John Ehrlichman, and to the Attorney General, Richard Kleindienst. The results prompted him to give the case to the Criminal Division of the Justice Department, ordering the complete cooperation of “all members of the administration.” He never tried to hide the facts, Nixon asserts, but instead has consistently tried “to discover the facts—and to lay those facts before the appropriate law enforcement authorities so that justice could be done and the guilty dealt with.”
Refusal to Turn over Tapes; 'Privileged' Communications - Nixon says he is resisting subpoenas to turn over the secret recordings he has had made of White House and other conversations (see July 13-16, 1973) because of “a much more important principle… than what the tapes might prove about Watergate.” A president must be able to talk “openly and candidly with his advisers about issues and individuals” without having those conversations ever made public. These are “privileged” conversations, he says, similar to those between a lawyer and his client or “a priest and a penitent.” The conversations between a president and his advisers, Nixon says, are “even more important.” The conversations on those tapes are “blunt and candid,” made without thought to any future public disclosure, and for future presidents and their advisers to know that their conversations and advice might one day be made public would cripple their ability to talk freely and offer unfettered opinions. “That is why I shall continue to oppose efforts which would set a precedent that would cripple all future presidents by inhibiting conversations between them and those they look to for advice,” he says. “This principle of confidentiality of presidential conversations is at stake in the question of these tapes. I must and I shall oppose any efforts to destroy this principle.”
'Hard and Tough' Politics - Watergate has come to encompass more than just a burglary, Nixon says, but has brought up issues of partisan politics, “enemy lists” (see June 27, 1973), and even threats to national security. Nixon has always run “hard and tough” political campaigns, but has never stepped outside the law and “the limits of decency” in doing so. “To the extent that these things were done in the 1972 campaign, they were serious abuses, and I deplore them,” he says. The “few overzealous people” involved in the Watergate burglary should not reflect on his administration or the political process as a whole. He will “ensure that one of the results of Watergate is a new level of political decency and integrity in America—in which what has been wrong in our politics no longer corrupts or demeans what is right in our politics.”
Legal Wiretapping to Protect the Nation - The measures he has taken to protect the security of the nation have all been within the law and with the intention of protecting the government from possible subversion and even overthrow, he asserts. The wiretaps he authorized had been legal, he says, until the 1972 decision by the Supreme Court that rejected such wiretaps as unlawful (see June 19, 1972). Until then, Nixon says, he—like his predecessors—had implemented such wiretaps “to protect the national security in the public interest.” Since the Supreme Court decision, he says, he has stopped all such surveillance efforts. But the law must be mindful of “tying the president’s hands in a way that would risk sacrificing our security, and with it all our liberties.” He will continue to “protect the security of this nation… by constitutional means, in ways that will not threaten [American] freedom.”
The Fault of the Radicals - He blames the antiwar and civil rights movements of the 1960s as encouraging “individuals and groups… to take the law into their own hands,” often with the praise and support from the media and even from “some of our pulpits as evidence of a new idealism. Those of us who insisted on the old restraints, who warned of the overriding importance of operating within the law and by the rules, were accused of being reactionaries.” In the wake of this radical, anti-government atmosphere, the country was plagued by “a rising spiral of violence and fear, of riots and arson and bombings, all in the name of peace and in the name of justice. Political discussion turned into savage debate. Free speech was brutally suppressed as hecklers shouted down or even physically assaulted those with whom they disagreed. Serious people raised serious questions about whether we could survive as a free democracy.” That attitude permeated political campaigns, to the extent that “some persons in 1972 adopted the morality that they themselves had tightly condemned and committed acts that have no place in our political system… who mistakenly thought their cause justified their violations of the law.”
Looking Forward - It is time to put Watergate behind us, Nixon says, to abandon this “continued, backward-looking obsession with Watergate” and stop “neglect[ing] matters of far greater importance to all of the American people.… The time has come to turn Watergate over to the courts, where the questions of guilt or innocence belong. The time has come for the rest of us to get on with the urgent business of our nation.” [White House, 8/15/1973; White House, 8/15/1973; White House, 8/15/1973; AMDOCS Documents for the Study of American History, 6/1993; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Henry Petersen. [Source: Spartacus Educational]Former Attorney General Richard Kleindienst and Assistant Attorney General Henry Petersen testify before the Senate Watergate Committee. Both say they had been disturbed by the amount of White House interference they had gotten over their attempts to investigate the Watergate burglary, particularly from White House aide John Ehrlichman. Kleindienst tells of a phone call from Ehrlichman to Petersen demanding that the Justice Department stop “harassing” Maurice Stans, the former Nixon re-election campaign finance chairman. Kleindienst recalls that he told Ehrlichman he was flirting with an obstruction of justice charge, and threatened to resign “if the president tells me that you have the authority and the power to give specific instructions to people in the Department of Justice.” Ehrlichman reassured Kleindienst that “it will never happen again.” Kleindienst also recalls Ehrlichman coming to him in early 1973 asking for “technical” advice about securing lenient sentences or even presidential pardons for the Watergate burglars (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Ehrlichman “did not have much of a knowledge of the criminal justice system,” Kleindienst says, and asked such questions as “What happens when somebody is convicted of a crime?… When are you eligible for a pardon? When do the circumstances arise for executive pardon?” (Ehrlichman has already testified that he never sought any executive clemency for one of the burglars, E. Howard Hunt.) Kleindienst testifies that when he told Petersen of the conversation, Petersen declared that the defendants would almost certainly do “jail time,” and said he would strongly oppose any efforts to grant anyone clemency. Petersen testifies that Kleindienst replied, “Tell those crazy guys over there [at the White House] what you just told me before they do something they will be sorry for.” For his part, Petersen says it struck him most how suspiciously everyone at the White House and the re-election campaign were acting. “There were no records,” he recalls. “Things were destroyed. They didn’t act like innocent people. Innocent people come in and say: ‘Fine, what do you want to know?’ It was not like that.” Petersen says that he and the Justice Department could and would have solved the entire case, and that they had the case 90 percent solved when Archibald Cox was appointed to take over the investigation (see May 18, 1973). “Damn it!” he cries, “I resent the appointment of a special prosecutor!” [Time, 8/20/1973]
Rose Mary Woods. [Source: Genevieve Naylor / Corbis]A gap of 18 and ½ minutes is found on the tape of a conversation between President Nixon and his aide, H. R. Haldeman, from June 20, 1972 (see July 13-16, 1973). Nixon lawyer Fred Buzhardt says he has no explanation for “the phenomenon.” Nixon’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods, denies any deliberate erasure. But electronics experts will eventually find that the tape has been deliberately erased at least five separate times. White House chief of staff Alexander Haig will blame “some sinister force” for the erasure.
Watergate Discussed - Former Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox’s subpoena of the tape (see July 23-26, 1973) says that “there is every reason to infer that the meeting included discussion of the Watergate incident.” That supposition is bolstered by previous testimony from former White House aide John Ehrlichman (see July 24, 1973). Watergate prosecutor Leon Jaworski says he is considering having all the remaining Watergate tapes placed under guard to prevent any further tampering. [Washington Post, 11/22/1973; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Three Suspects - Evidence later shows that only three people could have made the erasure: Woods; Stephen Bull, Nixon’s assistant; and Nixon himself. [Reston, 2007, pp. 33]
Washington Post Learns of Gap - Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward learned of “deliberate erasures” in the first week of November from his FBI source, W. Mark Felt (see May 31, 2005). White House sources confirmed that the tapes were often of poor quality, and that some inadvertent gaps existed, but, as press secretary Ron Ziegler tells Woodward’s colleague Carl Bernstein, to say that those gaps were deliberate would be “inaccurate.” When the deliberate gap is reported, Ziegler calls Bernstein to say that he did not know about the gap beforehand. Neither Bernstein nor Woodward doubt Ziegler—by this time, it is obvious that Nixon’s paranoia and penchant for secrecy extends even to the most trusted members of his staff. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 333-334]
Symbolic - In 2005, Woodward will write: “The missing 18 1/2-minute gap soon becomes a symbol for Nixon’s entire Watergate problem. The truth had been deleted. The truth was missing.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 103]
Entity Tags: Rose Mary Woods, Stephen Bull, Richard M. Nixon, W. Mark Felt, Leon Jaworski, Ron Ziegler, H.R. Haldeman, Archibald Cox, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., John Ehrlichman, Carl Bernstein, Fred Buzhardt, Bob Woodward
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
The Washington Post reports that “Operation Candor,” the White House’s public relations campaign to clear President Nixon’s name regarding Watergate, has been shut down. It also reports that several of Nixon’s most senior advisers no longer believe his protestations of innocence and ignorance. White House chief of staff Alexander Haig calls the story “scurrilous.” Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward soon learn that Haig himself is dubious of Nixon’s course, and has urged Nixon to cut ties with three of his former aides, H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and Charles Colson—to let them go down and ensure he doesn’t go with them. Nixon’s legal defense is constructed in concert with theirs, and the White House has been supplying their lawyers with the same documents it has been releasing to the special prosecutor’s office. Nixon himself has no intention of either accepting responsibility for his role in the Watergate conspiracy or making any public apology. “Contrition is bullsh_t,” press secretary Ron Ziegler has said, and that is an apparent reflection of Nixon’s own views. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 334-335]
Editorial cartoon from the Washington Post by ‘Herblock,’ July 14, 1974. [Source: Washington Post / Library of Congress]The Watergate grand jury indicts seven Nixon officials and aides for a variety of crimes committed as a part of the Watergate conspiracy, including perjury and conspiring to pay “hush money” to the convicted Watergate burglars. The indicted White House officials are former top Nixon aides John Ehrlichman, H. R. Haldeman, and Charles Colson; former assistant attorney general Robert Mardian; and Haldeman’s former assistant Gordon Strachan. The former Nixon campaign officials are former campaign chairman John Mitchell and former campaign lawyer Kenneth Parkinson. The charges against Colson will be dropped after he pleads guilty to obstruction of justice in the Ellsberg case (see March 7, 1974). [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 335; O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ; Reeves, 2001, pp. 607; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] President Nixon is labeled an “unindicted co-conspirator” by the grand jury, on a 19-0 vote. [Time, 6/17/1974]
Former White House aides John Ehrlichman, Charles Colson, and G. Gordon Liddy, and three Cuban-Americans, including two of the convicted Watergate burglars (see January 8-11, 1973), Bernard Barker and Eugenio Martinez, are charged with planning and executing the burglary of the offices of Dr. Lewis Fielding, Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist (see September 9, 1971). Colson will quickly reach a plea-bargain agreement, promise to cooperate with the prosecution, plead guilty to one count of obstruction of justice, and serve approximately seven months in prison. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 335; Billy Graham Center, 12/8/2004] He will also be disbarred. In the guilty plea agreement, Colson admits to having devised “a scheme to obtain derogatory information about Daniel Ellsberg,” who himself was facing criminal charges relating to the Pentagon Papers leak. Colson wanted to smear Ellsberg’s reputation in the media, in essence having Ellsberg “tried in the newspapers” even though this would have an “adverse effect on his right to a fair trial.” Colson also admits to having written a “scurrilous and libelous memorandum” about one of Ellsberg’s attorneys. He does not admit to actually taking part in the planning of the Fielding burglary. [Time, 6/17/1974] In 2006, White House counsel John Dean will write that Colson’s promise of cooperation is virtually worthless: “[I]n the end he proved to be utterly useless as a government witness, since the government could not vouch for his honesty.” [Dean, 2006, pp. xxiii]
Former Attorney General Richard Kleindienst pleads guilty to a misdemeanor charge resulting from his agreement not to pursue charges in the ITT corruption case (see 1969). Kleindienst admits to giving in to pressure from President Nixon and White House aide John Ehrlichman to drop the Justice Department’s investigation of ITT. He pleads guilty to failing to testify accurately before the Senate. The judge in the case fines Kleindienst $100 and gives him a 30-day suspended jail sentence, calling Kleindienst a man of the “highest integrity” but one who has “a heart that is too loyal.” [New York Times, 2/4/2000]
Time cover of Leon Jaworski. [Source: Time]Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski and his staff discuss how to proceed with the Watergate prosecutions. The combined trial of Nixon aide H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, former Attorney General John Mitchell, and three other Nixon aides, is scheduled for September 9, though that date seems unlikely. Most of the prosecution lawyers assume Jaworski will put Nixon on trial along with his aides. Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig has already told Jaworski that Nixon will refuse to testify or be involved in any legal proceedings, and implied that Nixon’s mental and physical conditions are rapidly deteriorating. Jaworski is not sure what to do. His staff calls the entire issue of who should take what responsibility for handling Nixon the “monkey problem.” Prosecutors Richard Ben-Veniste and George Frampton later write, “On whose back was the monkey going to end up: the prosecutors, Congress, the White House, the grand jury, the court?” [Werth, 2006, pp. 31-33]
Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski receives a phone call from Senator James Eastland (D-MS), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee and a longtime friend of Richard Nixon. Eastland tells Jaworski that Nixon had called him from the Nixon compound in San Clemente, California. Nixon had cried during the conversation, says Eastland: “He said, ‘Jim, don’t let Jaworski put me in that trial with [former aides H. R.] Haldeman and [John] Ehrlichman. I can’t take any more.…’ He’s in bad shape, Leon.” Jaworski asks if Eastland has any plans for a Senate resolution opposing prosecution for Nixon; such a resolution would not be legally binding, but would provide cover for both Jaworski and President Ford if either decided to do something to keep Nixon out of court. “We’ll think on it,” Eastland says. Despite his mandate to pursue Nixon and bring him before a jury, Jaworski does not want Nixon in court. But he cannot find a legal justification for such an action. Prosecution counsel Philip Lacovara will recall: “The whole premise of this exercise called Watergate was to follow the facts wherever they lead, and if they led into the Oval Office, to apply the law to those facts in the same way that the law would apply to any other person. It would be fundamentally inconsistent with the idea of equal application of the law to prosecute people who had acted on President Nixon’s behalf, and indeed under President Nixon’s direction, and to give him a pass.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 74-75]
Lesley Stahl. [Source: John Neubauer / Getty Images]Judge John Sirica, presiding over the Watergate trial of former Nixon aide John Ehrlichman, subpoenas former President Nixon to appear as a witness on behalf of Ehrlichman. Ehrlichman has heard the tapes the prosecution intends to use against him, and, already convicted of conspiracy and lying about his involvement in the Ellsberg break-in (see September 9, 1971), knows he needs a powerful defense to avoid more jail time. He demanded that Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski hand over the White House files on Ehrlichman for his defense. But Jaworski instead gave Ehrlichman an affidavit from Nixon’s former White House lawyer Fred Buzhardt, who affirmed that nothing in those ten million documents would help Ehrlichman in his defense. Days later, Buzhardt suffered a heart attack, rendering it impossible for Ehrlichman to challenge his affirmation. Ehrlichman hopes that the subpoena will muddy the legal waters by provoking a confrontation between Nixon’s lawyers and Jaworski’s. CBS reporter Lesley Stahl informs her viewers, incorrectly, that it seems Jaworski “has indicted Mr. Nixon.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 84-88]
Judge John Sirica, presiding over the Watergate trial of H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and John Mitchell, postpones their trial until September 30. This gives Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski some much-desired breathing room. Jaworski must decide whether to indict Richard Nixon. Jaworski’s staff unanimously believes Nixon must at least be indicted, if not actively prosecuted, or history will condemn the entire work of the special prosecution. George Frampton, one of Jaworski’s staff, notes that the politicians who could have made a decision on the issue have not done so. In a memo to Jaworski, Frampton writes that no one “can expect you now to abandon your mandate and responsibilities to the administration of justice in order to assume their burden.… I wonder if ten years from now history will endorse the notion that Mr. Nixon has ‘suffered enough.’ The powerful men around him have lost their liberty and their livelihoods. Mr. Nixon, on the other hand, will be supported in lavish style with a pension and subsidies at taxpayer expense until his death. He may reenter public life, no matter how morally crippled.” The breadth and depth of crimes allegedly committed by Nixon are such that Jaworski is not sure where to even start with an indictment. [Werth, 2006, pp. 162-163]
A US marshal serves two judicial subpoenas to Richard Nixon at his home in San Clemente, California. Nixon is slated to testify at the upcoming Watergate trials of H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and John Mitchell. [Werth, 2006, pp. 223-224]
Philip Lacovara. [Source: Oyez.org]One of Leon Jaworski’s senior Watergate prosecutors, Philip Lacovara, is incensed at what he and many others perceive as waffling by President Ford on the decision to pardon Richard Nixon. Ford has repeatedly acknowledged that he has the right to pardon Nixon if he so chooses, but he has also said that he is leaving the decision to indict to Jaworski. In Lacovara’s opinion, Ford is shifting the burden of responsibility and the possibility of any future blame directly onto Jaworski. Lacovara says that Jaworski should confront Ford, and “put [the matter] squarely to [Ford] over whether he wishes to have a criminal prosecution of the former president or not.… I believe he should be asked to face this issue now and make the operative judgment concerning the former president, rather than leaving this matter in the limbo of uncertainty that has been created.” Lacovara also knows that the question of a pardon hangs over the trial of the Watergate “Big Three”—H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and John Mitchell. If Nixon is to be indicted along with these three, and then pardoned during the trial, it would wreak havoc on any chance of winning a guilty verdict for any of the three. If Ford is going to pardon Nixon, Lacovara says, he should do it now, before the Watergate trials can commence. Jaworski has an additional worry, fueled by Nixon’s lawyers: that Nixon might die during the proceedings, and Jaworski will be held to blame. Nixon’s lawyers are calling their client “mortally ill with phlebitis,” Lacovara will recall, and are arguing: “Why should the special prosecutor put this man into his grave? He’d suffered horribly enough and been forced to resign in disgrace. Just as a matter of human decency, this fatally ill man should not be called before the bar.” According to Lacovara, Jaworski does not want to make the decision to indict Nixon. Later, Jaworski tells former Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig, with whom Jaworski stays in close contact, that his staff is pressuring hm to push Ford to either “fish or cut bait… and not dangle the possibility of a pardon out there. The president needs to know that this is a call that he’s ultimately going to have to make.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 229-232]
One of the outbuildings at Fort Holabird. [Source: Hugh D. Cox]Former White House counsel John Dean begins a one-to-four-year term in prison for his role in the Watergate coverup. Dean’s sentence would have been far longer had he not cooperated so completely with the Watergate investigators. He is the 15th Watergate figure to go to jail, but the first to be asked whether Richard Nixon should join him in prison. (Dean refuses to comment.) Privately, Dean is shaken that Nixon is still insisting on his innocence. Later, Dean will write that he believes a number of reasons—hubris, victimization, self-pity, belief that history will exonerate him, and fear of jail—is all part of Nixon’s recalcitrance, but Dean does not believe that Nixon made a deal with President Ford for any sort of clemency. Dean will serve his term at Fort Holabird, a former army base just outside Baltimore used for government witnesses. Dean will mingle with three fellow Watergate convicts—Charles Colson, Jeb Stuart Magruder, and Herbert Kalmbach—and a number of organized crime figures in the government’s witness protection program. [Werth, 2006, pp. 269-270] Colson, who has provided damning testimony against Nixon as part of his plea agreement (see June 1974), leads the others in reaching out to Dean in prison. Dean, who is held in relative isolation, briefly meets Magruder in the hallway. Magruder is preparing to testify against the “Big Three” of John Mitchell, John Ehrlichman, and H. R. Haldeman in their upcoming trial. Magruder says to Dean: “Welcome to the club, John. This place looks just like the White House with all of us here.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 269-270]
E. Howard Hunt. [Source: Michael Brennan / Corbis]Convicted Watergate burglar and former CIA operative E. Howard Hunt (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) denies that his requests for money from the Nixon White House ever amounted to blackmail or “hush money” (see Mid-November, 1972 and January 8-9, 1973). Writing in Harper’s magazine, Hunt says his situation was comparable to a CIA agent caught and incarcerated in a foreign country. Those agents, he says, are entitled to expect that the government will financially support their families and continue to pay their salaries until the agents are released.
Comparisons to CIA Agents Captured by Foreign Governments - He compares himself to American pilot Francis Gary Powers, whose U-2 surveillance plane was shot down over the Soviet Union during the Eisenhower administration, and who was financially supported by the government until his release. Another agent, John Downey, was kept prisoner for 20 years by China; when he returned, Hunt notes, he was paid twenty years’ worth of back salary. Hunt says that his situation is no different, and that not only was his efforts to secure large sums of cash from the Nixon administration understandable in the context of these captured intelligence agents, but something that should have been expected and handled without comment. “It was this time-honored understanding that for a time buoyed the hopes of the seven men who were indicted—and in two cases tried—for surreptitious entry into Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate,” he writes. “That their attorneys’ fees were partially paid, that family living allowances were provided—and that these support funds were delivered by clandestine means—was to be expected.”
Dropoff of White House Support - He names then-Nixon campaign chairman John Mitchell, Mitchell’s deputy Jeb Magruder, and then-White House counsel John Dean as the “official sponsors of their project.” The fact that the White House and the CIA paid on Hunt’s demands “clearly indicates,” Hunt claims, “a perception on the Haldeman-Ehrlichman level of the appropriateness of clandestine support.” (H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman were then-President Nixon’s top aides and closest confidantes.) It is only because “[a]s time passed, however, the burden of providing moneys was assumed by less sophisticated personnel” that Hunt’s “urgent requests for overdue support began to be interpreted as threats, i.e. ‘blackmail.’” He says that Dean and perhaps Nixon “misconstrued” the situation. Since there was no question that the “Watergate Seven” would be granted immunity from prosecution, “there was no question of buying silence, of suppressing the truth with ‘hush money.’” He concludes: “The Watergate Seven understood the tradition of clandestine support. Tragically for the nation, not all the president’s men were equally aware.” [Harper's, 10/1974]
Conflict with Other Versions of Events - Hunt’s reconstruction of events directly clashes with others’ recollections and interpretations, as well as the facts themselves (see June 20-21, 1972, June 26-29, 1972, June 29, 1972, July 7, 1972, July 25, 1972, August 29, 1972, December 8, 1972, January 10, 1973, January 10, 1973, March 13, 1973, March 21, 1973, March 21, 1973, and July 5, 1974).
Entity Tags: Francis Gary Powers, E. Howard Hunt, Central Intelligence Agency, Eisenhower administration, H.R. Haldeman, Jeb S. Magruder, John Mitchell, John Downey, John Dean, Nixon administration, John Ehrlichman
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Former President Richard Nixon is admitted to the hospital with life-threatening blood clots. His lawyer tells Judge John Sirica, who is presiding over the conjoined trials of former Nixon aides John Ehrlichman, H. R. Haldeman, and John Mitchell, that even though Nixon has been subpoenaed to testify (see August 28, 1974), he will not be available to the court until early 1975. Sirica wants the trial over and done with by Christmas. Nixon thusly escapes ever having to publicly answer for, or even discuss under oath, his crimes. [Werth, 2006, pp. 338-339]
H. R. Haldeman testifying to Congress in July 1973. Haldeman’s testimony was damaging to all four defendants. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Former Nixon aides John Ehrlichman, H. R. Haldeman, and John Mitchell, along with former Mitchell aide Robert Mardian, are convicted of various Watergate-related crimes, including conspiracy, obstruction of justice, fraud, and perjury. Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Mitchell receive sentences of two to eight years in prison; Mardian will be given a sentence of ten months to three years. They immediately appeal their convictions on the grounds that they could not receive a fair trial because of the massive publicity surrounding Watergate. This was the same argument President Nixon’s lawyers used to influence President Ford’s decision to pardon Nixon (see September 8, 1974). The appeals court will reject the contention. [New York Times, 2/16/1999; Werth, 2006, pp. 334]
Ehrlichman Asks for Leniency - All four will write letters to Judge John Sirica asking for leniency in sentencing. The only letter that is made public is Ehrlichman’s; he writes of his “profound regret” for his role in the Watergate conspiracy, and adds: “I have been found to be a perjurer. No reversal on appeal can remove the stigma.” Ehrlichman asks that he be allowed to spend his sentence working with the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico, using his legal talents to help them with land-use problems. Sirica will ignore the letter in his sentencing. Sirica will also ignore Haldeman’s argument that he only did the bidding of his boss, President Nixon, and that since Nixon never served jail time, neither should Haldeman. Mitchell, mired in divorce proceedings from his wife, says of the sentence: “It could have been a hell of a lot worse. They could have sentenced me to spend the rest of my life with Martha Mitchell.” [Time, 3/3/1975]
'Abdicated My Moral Judgments' - Reflecting on his conviction and his conduct during the Nixon years, Ehrlichman will say in 1977: “I abdicated my moral judgments and turned them over to somebody else. And if I had any advice for my kids, it would be never—to never, ever—defer your moral judgments to anybody: your parents, your wife, anybody.” [New York Times, 2/16/1999]
Interviewer David Frost has a difficult time with his subject, former President Richard Nixon, in the day’s early questioning (see April 6, 1977). Frost attempts to recoup with a line of questioning suggested by his adviser James Reston, Jr., one used in the trial of former Nixon aide John Ehrlichman (see January 1, 1975). Were there no limits to what a president can do, even if the president wants to do something plainly illegal? he asks. Could he do anything despite the law? Burglary? Forgery? Even murder? “If the president does it, that means it’s not illegal,” Nixon retorts. “Never had his imperialism been so baldly stated,” Reston will later reflect. Frost asks if the dividing line between, for example, a police burglary and the murder of an antiwar protester is only the president’s judgment? Nixon agrees, and adds: “There’s nothing specific that the Constitution contemplates in that respect. I haven’t read every word, every jot and every tittle, but I do know this: That it has been, however, argued that as far as a president is concerned, that in war time, a president does have certain extraordinary powers which would make acts that would otherwise be unlawful, lawful if undertaken for the purpose of preserving the nation and the Constitution, which is essential for the rights we’re all talking about.” [Time, 5/30/1977; Reston, 2007, pp. 102-105; Landmark Cases, 8/28/2007]
Former President Richard Nixon is nearly 20 minutes late for his second Watergate interview with David Frost (see April 13-15, 1977 and April 13, 1977). Neither Frost nor his team of researchers realize how rattled Nixon is from the last session. Frost begins the interview by asking about the so-called “Dean report” (see March 20, 1973), the results of John Dean’s “internal investigation” of the Watergate conspiracy. Dean’s report would have served two purposes: it would hopefully have removed suspicion from any White House officials as to their involvement in the conspiracy, and, if it was ever pulled apart and shown to be a compendium of lies and evasion, would have pointed to Dean as the central figure in the conspiracy. Dean never wrote the report, but instead became a witness for the prosecution (see April 6-20, 1973. June 3, 1973, and June 25-29, 1973). Since Dean never wrote the report, Frost asks Nixon why he told the deputy attorney general, Henry Peterson, that there was indeed such a report (Nixon had called it “accurate but not full”). Astonishingly, Nixon asserts that Dean did write the report, and that it indeed showed no “vulnerability or criminality on the part of the president… so let’s not get away from that fact.” Frost sees Nixon’s vulnerability. Frost asks when he read the report. Caught, Nixon backs off of his assertion, saying that he “just heard that ah… that he had written a report… ah… the… that… ah… he… ah… ah, considered it to be inadequate.” Frost researcher James Reston, Jr. later writes, “[Nixon] was firmly skewered. His face showed it. His gibberish confirmed it.”
Ehrlichman's Report - Frost moves on to another report on Watergate by former aide John Ehrlichman, the so-called “modified, limited hangout,” and the offer of $200,000 in cash to Ehrlichman and fellow aide H. R. Haldeman for their legal fees. Nixon had told the nation that Ehrlichman would produce an informative and factual report on Watergate, even though he knew by then that Ehrlichman was himself heavily involved in the conspiracy (see August 15, 1973). “That’s like asking Al Capone for an independent investigation of organized crime in Chicago,” Frost observes. “How could one of the prime suspects, even if he was the Pope, conduct an independent inquiry?” Instead of answering the question, Nixon ducks into obfuscation about what exactly constitutes a “prime suspect.”
Nixon Begins to Crack - Reston later writes that, looking back on the interview, it is at this point that Nixon begins to “crack” in earnest. Frost has cast serious doubts on Nixon’s veracity and used Nixon’s own words and actions to demonstrate his culpability. Now Frost asks a broader question: “I still don’t know why you didn’t pick up the phone and tell the cops. When you found out the things that Haldeman and Ehrlichman had done, there is no evidence anywhere of a rebuke, but only of scenarios and excuses.” Nixon responds with what Reston calls a long, “disjointed peroration… about Richard the Isolated and Richard the Victimized… Nixon was desperate to move from fact to sentiment.” But Nixon is not merely rambling. Woven throughout are mentions of the guilt of the various White House officials (but always others, never Nixon’s own guilt), apology, mistakes and misjudgments. Clearly he is hoping that he can paint himself as a sympathetic figure, victimized by fate, bad fortune, and the ill will of his enemies. (Haldeman is so outraged by this stretch that he will soon announce his intention to tell everything in a book—see February 1978; Ehrlichman will call it a “smarmy, maudlin rationalization that will be tested and found false.”) Nixon says he merely “screwed up terribly in what was a little thing [that] became a big thing.”
Crossroads - Frost tries to ease an admission of complicity from Nixon—perhaps if hammering him with facts won’t work, appealing to Nixon’s sentimentality will. “Why not go a little farther?” Frost asks. “That word mistake is a trigger word with people. Would you say to clear the air that, for whatever motives, however waylaid by emotion or whatever you were waylaid by, you were part of a cover-up?” Nixon refuses. Behind the cameras, Nixon staffer Jack Brennan holds up a legal pad with the message “LET’S TALK” (or perhaps “LET HIM TALK”—Reston’s memory is unclear on this point). Either way, Frost decides to take a short break. Brennan hustles Reston into a room, closes the door, and says, “You’ve brought him to the toughest moment of his life. He wants to be forthcoming, but you’ve got to give him a chance.” He wouldn’t confess to being part of a criminal conspiracy, and he wouldn’t admit to committing an impeachable offense. Nixon’s staff has been arguing for days that Nixon should admit to something, but Brennan and Reston cannot agree as to what. Reston later writes that Nixon is at a personal crossroads: “Could he admit his demonstrated guilt, express contrition, and apologize? Two years of national agony were reduced to the human moment. Could he conquer his pride and his conceit? Now we were into Greek theater.” When the interview resumes, Nixon briefly reminisces about his brother Arthur, who died from meningitis at age seven. Was Frost using the story of his brother to open Nixon up? “We’re at an extraordinary moment,” Frost says, and dramatically tosses his clipboard onto the coffee table separating the two men. “Would you do what the American people yearn to hear—not because they yearn to hear it, but just to tell all—to level? You’ve explained how you got caught up in this thing. You’ve explained your motives. I don’t want to quibble about any of that. Coming down to sheer substance, would you go further?” Nixon responds, “Well, what would you express?” Reston will later write, “Every American journalist I have ever known would shrivel at this plea for help, hiding with terror behind the pose of the uninvolved, ‘objective’ interviewer. The question was worthy of Socrates: Frost must lead Nixon to truth and enlightenment.” Frost gropes about a bit, then lists the categories of wrongdoing. First, there were more than mere mistakes. “There was wrongdoing, whether it was a crime or not. Yes, it may have been a crime, too. Two, the power of the presidency was abused. The oath of office was not fulfilled. And three, the American people were put through two years of agony, and… I think the American people need to hear it. I think that unless you say it, you’re going to be haunted for the rest of your life…”
Apology and Admission - Nixon’s response is typically long, prefaced with a rambling discussion of his instructions to speechwriter Ray Price to include his own name with those of Haldeman’s and Ehrlichman’s in the speech announcing their resignations “if you think I ought to” (see April 29, 1973), a litany of all the good things he did while president, and a short, bitter diatribe against those who had sought to bring him down. He never committed a crime, he insists, because he lacked the motive for the commission of a crime.
Terrible Mistakes - But all this is prelude. Nixon shifts to the core of the issue: he had made terrible mistakes not worthy of the presidency. He had violated his own standards of excellence. He deliberately misled the American people about Watergate, he admits, and now he regrets his actions. His statements were not true because they did not go as far as they should have, and “for all of those things I have a deep regret… I don’t go with the idea that what brought me down was a coup, a conspiracy. I gave ‘em the sword. They stuck it in and twisted it with relish. I guess if I’d been in their position, I’d’a done the same thing.” Nixon will not, or perhaps cannot, plainly admit that he broke the law in working to conceal the facts surrounding Watergate, but he does admit that after March 21, 1973, he failed to carry out his duties as president and went to “the edge of the law.… That I came to the edge, I would have to say that a reasonable person could call that a cover-up.” Reston notes that Nixon has just admitted to a standard of guilt high enough for a civil court if not a criminal court. But Nixon isn’t done. [Reston, 2007, pp. 137-155]
Calls Resigning a 'Voluntary Impeachment' - “I did not commit, in my view, an impeachable offense,” he says. “Now, the House has ruled overwhelmingly that I did. Of course, that was only an indictment, and it would have to be tried in the Senate. I might have won, I might have lost. But even if I had won in the Senate by a vote or two, I would have been crippled. And in any event, for six months the country couldn’t afford having the president in the dock in the United States Senate. And there can never be an impeachment in the future in this country without a president voluntarily impeaching himself. I have impeached myself. That speaks for itself.” Resigning the presidency (see August 8, 1974), he says, was a “voluntary impeachment.” [Guardian, 9/7/2007]
Reactions - Frost and his researchers are stunned at Nixon’s statements, as will the millions be who watch the interview when it is broadcast. [Reston, 2007, pp. 137-155] In 2002, Frost will recall, “I sensed at that moment he was most the vulnerable he’d ever be, ever again. It seemed like an almost constitutional moment with his vulnerability at that point.… I hadn’t expected him to go as far as that, frankly. I thought he would have stonewalled more at the last stage. I think that was probably one of the reasons why it was something of a catharsis for the American people at that time that he had finally faced up to these issues, not in a court of law, which a lot of people would have loved to have seen him in a court of law, but that wasn’t going to happen. So—he’d been pardoned. But faced up in a forum where he was clearly not in control and I think that’s why it had the impact it did, probably.” [National Public Radio, 6/17/2002] Not everyone is impressed with Nixon’s mea culpa; the Washington Post, for one, writes, “He went no further than he did in his resignation speech two and a half years ago,” in a story co-written by Watergate investigative reporter Bob Woodward. [Washington Post, 4/30/2007] This interview will air on US television on May 26, 1977. [Guardian, 5/27/1977]
Former Nixon White House aide John Ehrlichman reviews his former colleague H. R. Haldeman’s new book about Watergate, The Ends of Power (see February 1978). Ehrlichman is dismissive of the book, calling it “full of… dramatic hyperbole, overstatement and stereotype[s]…” Ehrlichman says some passages in the book are “full of poison [and] factual errors which impeach its substance.” He writes: “Four or five times the reader is told that Bob Haldeman is a direct, unvarnished, no-nonsense b_stard who always tells it like it is. That is the Haldeman I remember. But time after time, the accounts of Watergate events in his book are couched in the vague terms of the diplomat who is walking on eggs.” Ehrlichman writes of his surprise to learn that Nixon probably ordered the burglary of “Pentagon Papers” leaker Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office (see September 9, 1971), though he notes that Nixon “instantly voiced his approval of it” when Ehrlichman told him of the impending operation (see September 8, 1971). Ehrlichman accuses Haldeman of misquoting him, and sometimes making up statements supposedly said by Ehrlichman out of whole cloth. Ehrlichman concludes: “With all its factual inaccuracies, the book does give valid and important insights to anyone interested in the Nixon mystery. Unfortunately, these revelations are unduly restrained and limited in scope. Bob Haldeman was in a unique position to write a truly valuable book about Richard Nixon. I hope that The Ends of Power is not his last word. [Time, 3/6/1978] A Time magazine article calls it “a second-rate book.” [Time, 3/6/1978]
John Ehrlichman. [Source: PBS]After years of protracted legal wrangling, selected portions of former President Richard Nixon’s secret White House recordings (see July 13-16, 1973) are made public. In a January 2, 1997 panel discussion on PBS, two former Nixon aides, John Ehrlichman and Monica Crowley, and former New York Times reporter Tom Wicker, discuss the content and dissemination of the tapes. All three have listened to the released portions of the tapes, currently housed at the National Archives.
Context - Ehrlichman complains that the selections lack context: “The archivist has snipped little tiny segments, in some cases six or eight seconds, and you don’t know what was said before or after. And it’s tough on a listener.… I think there could be a lot more context given. What they’ve done is try and select out the things that embodied abuses of government power under their regulations, and that’s what they’re giving you.” Wicker says it is hard to know when Nixon’s “popping off” about this or that supposed enemy was ever acted upon and when his instructions to “get” a particular person were ignored. Crowley says: “I think all presidents say things in the heat of disappointment, frustration, anger, even fatigue, that they never intend to have acted upon. And Nixon’s rantings have become a lightning rod for criticism because we can hear his but we can’t hear those of other presidents.”
Brookings Institution Burglary Halted - Ehrlichman explains why Nixon’s 1972 order to burglarize the Brookings Institution (see June 30-July 1, 1971) was never carried out: “because I shot it down.… I tracked down who had followed up—who was proposing to do this thing and I told ‘em to stop. It sounded ridiculous to me. So that was the end of it.”
Comparison of Ellsberg and Hiss - Ehrlichman says that, listening to the tapes, it seems as if Nixon was comparing Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the notorious “Pentagon Papers” (see June 13, 1971), to his “Communist” nemesis of the 1950s, Alger Hiss. Hiss, prosecuted by Nixon for allegedly selling US intelligence to the Soviet Union, helped Nixon vault to national prominence. Ehrlichman now says Nixon seemed to hope that Ellsberg could provide him with another, similar boost to his political stature before the 1972 presidential elections. In general, Ehrlichman says, Nixon was “very sensitive” to press leaks, especially those that he considered a threat to national security, and “his reaction in some cases was pretty extreme.”
Mentions of Jews - Ehrlichman goes on to address Nixon’s well-documented diatribes against Jews (see September 1971), and says that such outbursts were not confined to Jews: another day “it was major Italian donors to the Democrats, and [the next] it would be black contributors.… He broke it down along ethnic lines. He broke it down along socioeconomic lines. I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on the fact that he was talking about Jewish people in this particular segment.” Wicker says the tapes largely confirm the public impression of Nixon as a “dark… evil man” because of his blatant orders of criminal behavior and his rampant ethnic slurs. [PBS, 1/2/1997]
Richard Reeves. [Source: Real Clear Politics.com]In his biography of former President Nixon, columnist and historian Richard Reeves sums up the isolation and duplicity that characterized the eight years of the Nixon presidency, particularly the second term after the controversy of the Watergate conspiracy became front-page news. Reeves writes: “Deceived and confused egos… eventually undermined the president.So many layers of lies were needed to protect the secrecy that no one, including the president himself, knew what the truth was anymore. No one inside the White House knew whom or what to believe. There was a chaos of lies at the top. The rings of deception built around the president, [Henry] Kissinger, [H. R.] Haldeman, and [John] Ehrlichman to protect themselves against ‘The Establishment’ as Nixon imagined it, gradually isolated his Cabinet and much of his staff. Colleagues became distrusted parts of the hated bureaucracy, enemies who must be kept away by bodyguards of lies. In the beginning, the idea was to make the president’s world secure from outsiders; in the end, even the insiders themselves could no longer penetrate to reality. There are many lines in the many lies of Nixon’s Oval Office tapes, but two that weave and twist through the plots are attempts to cover up past lies while trying to unravel them at the same time… It comes as no surprise then to learn that all the principals were spying on each other, stealing each other’s papers, tapping each other’s telephones, bugging their own offices. It was hard to keep track of the deceptions, even for the deceivers.… In the end, no one knew whether anyone was telling the truth, the whole truth, or any truth at all.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 15-16]
Former FBI Director L. Patrick Gray, who resigned under fire during the Watergate investigation (see April 27-30, 1973), appears on ABC’s This Week to respond to the recent revelation that his then-deputy, W. Mark Felt, was the notorious informant “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005). Thirty years before, Felt had lied to Gray when asked if he had leaked information to the press (see October 19, 1972). Gray, whose health is in serious decline, airs decades’ worth of pent-up grievances against both Felt and the Nixon administration, which he says left him to “twist slowly, slowly in the wind” (Nixon aide John Ehrlichman’s words—see Late March, 1973) after he admitted giving information about the Watergate investigation to White House staffers (see June 28, 1972 and July 21, 1972). He felt “anger, anger of the fiercest sort” after hearing Ehrlichman’s words, and adds, “I could not believe that those guys were as rotten as they were turning out to be.” He was justified in burning key White House documents instead of turning them over to the FBI (see Late December 1972), he says, because the documents were unrelated to the Watergate investigation. Learning that Felt, his trusted deputy, was “Deep Throat” was, Gray says, “like [being] hit with a tremendous sledgehammer.” Gray says that if he could, he would ask Felt: “Mark, why? Why didn’t you come to me? Why didn’t we work it out together?” Gray says he now realizes that he could not stop the FBI from leaking information to the press because Felt was in charge of stopping the leaks. “I think he fooled me… by being the perfect example of the FBI agent that he was.… He did his job well, he did it thoroughly, and I trusted him all along, and I was, I can’t begin to tell you how deep was my shock and my grief when I found that it was Mark Felt.” Two weeks after the interview, Gray will die of cancer. [New York Times, 6/26/2005; Roberts, 2008, pp. 151] After Gray’s death, his son Ed Gray will call his father “the only wholly honest” man involved in Watergate. [Associated Press, 7/6/2005]
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