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Profile: Ken Clawson

Ken Clawson was a participant or observer in the following events:

Edmund Muskie.Edmund Muskie. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Less than two weeks before the New Hampshire presidential primary, the Manchester Union-Leader publishes a letter to the editor alleging that leading Democratic candidate and Maine senator Edmund Muskie approved a racial slur of Americans of French-Canadian descent (an important voting bloc in New Hampshire), and notes: “We have always known that Senator Muskie was a hypocrite. But we never expected to have it so clearly revealed as in this letter sent to us from Florida.” The crudely written letter becomes widely known as the “Canuck letter.” The next day, the paper’s publisher, William Loeb, publishes an attack on Muskie’s wife. An angry Muskie denounces the letter and the editorial, calling Loeb a “gutless coward,” and in the process apparently bursts into tears. The media focuses on Muskie’s tears, and the “weakness” it implies. As a result, Muskie’s standing in the polls begins to slip, and when votes are cast in New Hampshire, Muskie receives only 48% of the vote, far less than predicted. The letter is later found to have been a “dirty trick” of the Nixon campaign committee (see October 10, 1972), with White House communications official Ken Clawson admitting to actually writing the letter (see October 10, 1972). (Bernstein and Woodward 10/10/1972; Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007)
View from 1987 - In 1987, David Broder, the author of the Washington Post story on the incident, recalls: “In retrospect, though, there were a few problems with the Muskie story. First, it is unclear whether Muskie did cry.… Melting snow from his hatless head filled his eyes, he said, and made him wipe his face… the senator believes that he was damaged more by the press and television coverage of the event than by his own actions… it is now clear that the incident should have been placed in a different context: Muskie was victimized by the classic dirty trick that had been engineered by agents of the distant and detached President Nixon. The Loeb editorial that had brought Muskie out in the snowstorm had been based on a letter forged by a White House staff member intent on destroying Muskie’s credibility. But we didn’t know that and we didn’t work hard enough to find out.… Had those facts been known, I might have described Muskie in different terms: not as a victim of his over-ambitious campaign strategy and his too-human temperament, but as the victim of a fraud, managed by operatives of a frightened and unscrupulous president. That story surely would have had a different impact…. Unwittingly, I did my part in the work of the Nixon operatives in helping destroy the credibility of the Muskie candidacy.”
Media Expectations - Broder will admit that the story falls neatly into a storyline many in the media want to report: “the unraveling of a presidential front-runner’s campaign.” Muskie has shown frequent bouts of anger; according to Broder, many reporters are just waiting for something to trigger Muskie into an outburst that will damage his candidacy. For himself, Muskie will describe his emotional reaction: “I was just g_ddamned mad and choked up over my anger.… [I]t was a bad scene, whatever it was.” (Broder 2/1987)

Arthur Bremer being restrained after shooting George Wallace.Arthur Bremer being restrained after shooting George Wallace. [Source: Kansas City Star]Around 4 p.m, gunman Arthur Bremer shoots Alabama Governor George Wallace in a Maryland shopping center. Wallace, mounting a third-party bid for the presidency, survives the shooting, but is crippled for life. He is also essentially out of the race. The political ramifications are powerful: Wallace, a segregationist Democrat, is doing well in many Southern states. With Wallace out of the picture, his voters will almost uniformly go to Richard Nixon, and whatever threadbare chance of victory Democratic candidate George McGovern has of defeating Nixon is over.
Lone Gunman - There is no evidence to connect Nixon or the GOP with Bremer—all evidence will show that Bremer is a classic “lone gunman” who stalked several presidential candidates before gunning down Wallace—but Nixon and his campaign officials know that even a hint of a connection between the Nixon campaign and Bremer would be politically devastating.
Break-in - On the night of the shooting, Nixon aide Charles Colson orders campaign operative E. Howard Hunt (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) to break into Bremer’s Milwaukee apartment to discover if Bremer had any political connections (hopefully Democratic or liberal connections, though none are ascertained). (Woodward 2005, pp. 47-50) Interestingly, by 6:30 p.m., White House communications official Ken Clawson calls the Washington Post to announce that “left-wing” literature had been found in Bremer’s apartment, and that Bremer may have been associated with the presidential campaign of George McGovern. No such evidence is found. Colson tells reporters that Bremer is a dues-paying member of the Young Democrats of Milwaukee, a lie that makes it into several newspapers. Post editor Howard Simons will consider the idea that Wallace was assassinated on the orders of the White House—“the ultimate dirty trick”—but no evidence of that connection ever surfaces. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 326; Reeves 2001, pp. 480)
FBI Leaves Apartment - Hunt will claim in his autobiography, Undercover, that he refused the order to burglarize Bremer’s apartment. The FBI finds both left-wing and right-wing literature in Bremer’s apartment, as well as a diary whose opening line is, “Now I start my diary of my personal plot to kill by pistol either Richard Nixon or George Wallace.” Local reporters will later claim that the FBI leaves Bremer’s apartment for about 90 minutes, during which time reporters and other unidentified figures are able to spirit away papers and other materials. It is not clear whether Hunt is one of those “unidentified figures.” (Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007)
Deep Throat - Top FBI official W. Mark Felt provides useful information for Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s profile of Bremer, operating as a “deep background” source. It is the first time Felt, who will become Woodward’s “Deep Throat” Watergate source (see May 31, 2005), gives important information to Woodward. (Woodward 2005, pp. 47-50)

Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward learns that two of the Watergate burglars (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) have the name “E. Howard Hunt” in their address books, both with notations that indicate Hunt has a post at the White House. Woodward contacts his FBI source, W. Mark Felt—later known as “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005)—and asks Felt the first of many Watergate-related questions. Felt is reticent, merely telling Woodward that the burglary will “heat up” before hanging up on Woodward. Unsure what to do next, Woodward calls the White House and asks for Hunt. When no one answers Hunt’s office phone, the White House operator suggests that Hunt may be in the office of Charles Colson, the special counsel to President Nixon. Colson’s office gives Woodward the number of the Mullen Company, a public relations firm for which Hunt writes (Mullen is a possible CIA front company—see June 17, 1972). Woodward calls Hunt there, and when Hunt answers, asks him why his name is in the address book of two of the Watergate burglars. “Good God!” Hunt shouts, then says he has no comment, and slams down the phone. Within hours, Hunt will go into hiding. White House communications official Ken Clawson tells Woodward that Hunt worked with the White House in declassifying the Pentagon Papers (see March 1971), and, more recently, on a narcotics enforcement project. Clawson then puzzles Woodward by making the following unsolicited statement: “I’ve looked into the matter very thoroughly, and I am convinced that neither Mr. Colson nor anyone else at the White House had any knowledge of, or participation in, this deplorable incident at the Democratic National Committee.” Woodward soon learns that Hunt was a CIA agent between 1949 and 1970. Woodward again calls Felt, who guardedly tells him that Hunt is connected to the burglaries by far more than mere address books. Felt does not tell Woodward that he has already reviewed Hunt’s White House personnel file, and found that Hunt worked over 600 hours for Colson in less than a year. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 24-25; Woodward 2005, pp. 56-58)

Washington Post staff writer Marilyn Berger reports that the deputy director of White House communications, Ken W. Clawson, told her in regards to the infamous “Canuck letter” (see February 24-25, 1972) that sabotaged Democrat Edmund Muskie’s presidential campaign, “I wrote the letter.” Berger says the conversation took place on September 25, over drinks at her apartment.
Woodward Skeptical - Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward is initially dubious; Clawson, a former Post reporter, had joined the White House a mere three weeks before the letter was given to the Union-Leader. But Woodward remembers something a friend had told him about new White House aides being ordered to prove themselves by “screwing an enemy of the White House.” Perhaps the letter was Clawson’s rite of initiation, Woodward reasons. Berger says that Clawson saw nothing morally or ethically wrong with writing such a letter. “That’s politics, that’s the way things are,” he told her. Berger confirms the story during a hastily arranged lunch date with Clawson, but Clawson says he will deny it “on a stack of Bibles over his mother’s grave” if asked. In a phone call to Woodward, Clawson denies writing the letter, and claims that Berger is mistaken. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 136-141)
Alleged Author Never Located - The conservative newspaper publisher who printed the letter, William Loeb of the Manchester Union-Leader, says that the letter’s purported author, “Paul Davenport,” has never been located, and though he believes the letter to be authentic, he is now investigating the particulars of the letter because of a letter he has received that alleged someone else was paid $1,000 to assist with the “Canuck hoax.” The editor of the Union-Leader, B. J. McQuaid, says cryptically that Clawson had been “useful” to the paper in connection with the letter. (Bernstein and Woodward 10/10/1972)

FBI agents are now convinced that the Watergate break-in (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) is one example of actions conducted by a massive campaign of political espionage and sabotage conducted on behalf of the Nixon re-election effort, the Washington Post reports. (Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007) The efforts, ongoing since at least 1971, were directed at all of the major Democratic presidential contenders, and represent a fundamental strategy of the Nixon re-election effort. The entire conspiracy is, according to FBI and Justice Department information, directed by officials in the Nixon administration and in the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP). Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been set aside to pay for what reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward call “an extensive undercover campaign aimed at discrediting individual Democratic presidential candidates and disrupting their campaigns.” Some of the operations include:
bullet Following members of Democratic candidates’ families and assembling files on their personal lives (former Democratic presidential candidate Edmund Muskie tells reporter Carl Bernstein that his children were followed and that inquiries about them had been made at their school, but cannot be sure that it was Nixon campaign agents doing the surveillance; Bernstein will report this and other Muskie campaign allegations on October 12).
bullet Forging letters and distributing them under the candidates’ letterheads.
bullet Leaking false and fabricated items to the press (Bernstein’s October 12 story includes an item about false allegations of sexual misconduct against Democrats Hubert Humphrey and Henry Jackson).
bullet Sabotaging Democrats’ campaign schedules with planned disruptions (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond).
bullet Stealing confidential campaign files.
bullet Investigating the lives of dozens of Democratic campaign workers.
bullet Planting “provocateurs” in organizations expected to demonstrate at the Democratic and Republican national conventions.
bullet Investigating potential donors to the Nixon campaign before approaching them for money.
A CREEP spokesman calls the allegations “not only fiction but a collection of absurdities,” and notes that “the entire matter is in the hands of the authorities.” Perhaps the best-known example of CREEP political sabotage is the so-called “Canuck letter” (see (February 24-25, 1972). The letter was apparently written by White House official Ken Clawson, who denies writing the letter (see October 10, 1972). (Bernstein and Woodward 10/10/1972) Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, who co-writes the story, uses information from his “Deep Throat” FBI source (see October 9, 1972) to pen what he later recalls as a much more “aggressive, interpretive” story than he and colleague Carl Bernstein have ever written before. White House press secretary Ron Ziegler refuses to answer questions about the story 29 separate times in a press conference held just after the story is published. Woodward later writes that he is astonished the FBI never responded to the story, even though information sourced from the bureau is heavily cited throughout the story. Woodward later learns that the FBI had repeatedly declined to investigate Segretti. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 149-150; Woodward 2005, pp. 75-81)


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