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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. (Wallechinsky and Wallace 1981)
Deputy Attorney General Richard Kleindienst, discussing the “subversion” of the antiwar and civil rights protest movements, says: “When you see an epidemic like this cropping up all over the country—the same kind of people saying the same kind of things—you begin to get a picture that it is a national subversive activity.… All of these student protesters should be rounded up and put into detention camps.” (Hunt 9/1/2009, pp. 17)
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)
Deputy Attorney General William Rehnquist is sworn in as an associate justice of the Supreme Court, replacing the retiring John Harlan. Rehnquist was active in the Arizona Republican Party, and became well-known in the state as a conservative activist who, among other things, opposed school integration. Rehnquist befriended fellow Phoenix attorney Richard Kleindienst, who, after becoming attorney general under Richard Nixon, brought Rehnquist into the Justice Department. Rehnquist faced little difficulty in his confirmation hearings in the Democratically-led Senate Judiciary Hearings. (Oyez (.org) 9/3/2005) Rehnquist may have perjured himself during those hearings. He was confronted with charges that, as a Republican Party attorney and poll watcher, he had harassed and challenged minority voters in Arizona during the 1962, 1964, and 1966 elections. Rehnquist swore in an affidavit that the charges were false, even though the evidence available to the Senate showed Rehnquist did take part in such activities, which were legal in Arizona at the time. (Rehnquist will again deny the charges in 1986, when he is nominated for chief justice—see September 26, 1986). Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will observe: “After reading and rereading his testimony, it appears to me that what he was really saying to the Senate [in 1971] was that he was not quite sure himself of his behavior, but he could not bring himself to tell the truth. Thus, his blanket 1971 denial forced him to remain consistent to that denial in 1986, and since his blanket denial was a lie, he had to continue lying. His false statement to Congress in 1971 was a crime, but the statute of limitations had passed. His false statement to Congress in 1986, however, was pure perjury.” (Dean 2007, pp. 129-137)
Though the five Watergate burglars (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) are not yet allowed to make telephone calls, phones begin ringing at 5 a.m. at the CIA, the White House, the offices of the Nixon re-election campaign (CREEP), and Nixon’s home in Key Biscayne, where White House aide H. R. Haldeman is. By 3:30 p.m., when the five appear for arraignment (see June 17, 1972), lawyers are waiting to represent them. At CREEP, accused burglar G. Gordon Liddy, released on bail, is busily shredding files; fellow burglar E. Howard Hunt is doing the same at his office. White House aide Charles Colson orders all White House phone directories listing Hunt as a White House employee destroyed. CREEP deputy director Jeb Magruder speaks to his boss, CREEP director John Mitchell, by phone, then begins burning his copies of the “Gemstone” files (see January 29, 1972). Later in the day, Liddy bursts into Attorney General Richard Kleindienst’s office saying that Mitchell wants the five burglars—Bernard Barker, Virgilio Gonzales, Eugenio Martinez, James McCord, and Frank Sturgis—released from prison immediately (see June 17, 1972). Kleindienst does not believe Liddy, and has no authority to release them anyway. (Reeves 2001, pp. 501)
Hours after the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), Attorney General Richard Kleindienst is contacted by burglar G. Gordon Liddy. Liddy, who is accompanied by Nixon campaign press spokesman Powell Moore, tells Kleindienst that campaign chairman John Mitchell wants Liddy to discuss the break-in with Kleindienst. Liddy tells the attorney general that some campaign and/or White House employees might be involved in the break-in, and asks if he can help facilitate their release. Kleindienst refuses, replying that he has a relationship with Mitchell, and therefore does not believe that Mitchell would have sent someone like Liddy to tell him anything. Kleindienst does not tell the FBI about the contact, and therefore the FBI has no early warning of any possible contacts between the burglary and the Nixon administration. In 1974, an internal review of the FBI’s Watergate investigation will be highly critical of Kleindienst’s decision to conceal Liddy’s information, noting: “It is difficult not to find fault with the failure of Kleindienst to immediately advise the Bureau of Liddy’s contact with him.… Had he done so, there is no doubt that our investigative direction at CRP [the Nixon campaign, often given the acronym CREEP] would have been vastly different. First, we would have not have had to conduct an exhaustive investigation to identify Liddy as we had to do. Secondly, it is easy to speculate that the successful cover up would have never gotten off the ground since we would have had reason to zero in on Mitchell and Liddy rather than to waste our time checking into [fellow burglar James] McCord’s security set-up and security co-workers at CRP.” (O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 )
James McCord, one of the five Watergate burglars (see June 17, 1972), is identified as the security director for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP). McCord is also identified as a security consultant for the Republican National Committee (RNC), where he has maintained an office since January 1. After his arrest, McCord used a phony name to the police and the court, which kept his identity unclear for two days. The director of CREEP, former attorney general John Mitchell, originally denies that McCord is a member of the campaign, and merely identifies him as a Republican security aide who helped CREEP install a security system. (McCord has his own security business in Maryland, McCord Associates (see June 18, 1972).) (Woodward and Bernstein 6/19/1972; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007) Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward learns that McCord is a member of a small Air Force Reserve unit in Washington attached to the Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP); the OEP, says a fellow reservist, is tasked with compiling lists of “radicals” and developing contingency plans for censorship of the news media and the US mail in time of war. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 23) RNC chairman Bob Dole says that McCord provided similar services for that organization, and says of the burglary, “we deplore action of this kind in or out of politics.” Democratic Party chairman Lawrence O’Brien, whose offices were burgled and subject to electronic surveillance, says the “bugging incident… raised the ugliest questions about the integrity of the political process that I have encountered in a quarter century,” and adds, “No mere statement of innocence by Mr. Nixon’s campaign manager will dispel these questions.” (O’Brien has inside knowledge of the White House connections (see June 17, 1972).) O’Brien calls on Mitchell’s successor, Attorney General Richard Kleindienst, to order an immediate, “searching professional investigation” of the entire matter by the FBI. The FBI is already mounting an investigation. (Woodward and Bernstein 6/19/1972; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007)
White House counsel John Dean informs Attorney General Richard Kleindienst that “this matter [the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972)] could lead directly to the White House.” Kleindienst is already aware of the possible link to the White House (see June 17, 1972). Kleindienst informs Deputy Attorney General Henry Peterson of Dean’s statement. Neither official divulges the possibility of a White House connection in the burglary to the FBI. (O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 )
The Senate confirmation hearings of FBI director L. Patrick Gray (see February 17, 1973) begin. (Woodward 2005, pp. 13-14) As predicted (see February 27, 1973), they are an opportunity for angry Democrats to grill Gray about the FBI’s failure to expand their investigation of the Watergate conspiracy beyond the burglary itself (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Gray launches his testimony by insisting that the FBI conducted a “massive special” investigation, a “full-court press” with “no holds barred.” But on the first day of testimony, without even being asked, Gray volunteers that he had given White House Council John Dean some of the raw FBI files of the investigation (see June 28, 1972), and offers the senators the files to peruse for themselves. (Time 4/2/1973; Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 272-273; O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 ) Gray admits to turning over at least 82 FBI documents on the investigation to Dean, even though the FBI’s general counsel had ordered that no documents be turned over without the approval of Attorney General Richard Kleindienst. In doing so, not only did Gray circumvent Kleindienst, whose Justice Department would have to prosecute anyone violating federal laws in the Watergate conspiracy, but gave information to White House officials bent on concealing evidence of their own involvement. Gray turns over a document showing that he spoke with Dean at least 33 times about the Watergate investigation between June and September 1972. (Time 4/2/1973; O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 ) After the second day of testimony, Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein learns from Gray’s lawyer, William Bittman, that Dean had never given the FBI two notebooks from the safe of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see June 19, 1972). Bittman believes the notebooks contained information about who was involved in the Watergate conspiracy. Bittman, clearly disturbed by the missing documents, notes that they were “[v]aluable enough for someone to want them to disappear.” The Gray hearings will bring John Dean’s involvement in Watergate to the fore, and reveal that Gray took possession of the notebooks. (Time 4/2/1973; Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 272-273; O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 )
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.” (Purdom 7/7/2005)
L. Patrick Gray, the acting director of the FBI, withdraws his name from consideration to become the full-fledged director after a bruising month of Senate hearings (see February 28-29, 1973). (Time 4/16/1973) Gray resigns from the FBI shortly thereafter (see April 27-30, 1973). (Purdom 7/7/2005) (Gray and the White House made some fruitless attempts to skew the hearings in Gray’s favor. According to the FBI’s 1974 internal Watergate report, “It is noted that in connection with his confirmation hearings, Mr. Gray on occasion instructed that proposed questions and answers about various matters be prepared which could be furnished to friendly Republican Senators.” One such set of “friendly” questions was indeed asked by Senator Edward Gurney (R-FL) about the ongoing FBI investigation of Donald Segretti—see June 27, 1971, and Beyond.) (O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 ) The Senate Judiciary Committee was sharply divided over Gray’s nomination, with many senators viewing Gray as little more than a White House operative due to his admitted improper cooperation with White House aides in the FBI’s Watergate investigation, and his admitted destruction of potentially incriminating evidence. Many in the Nixon White House had privately withdrawn their support for Gray. Committee chairman James Eastland (D-MS) told Attorney General Richard Kleindienst that it was unlikely the committee will approve Gray’s ascension to the post. The committee’s ranking minority member, Roman Hruska (R-NE), a Nixon loyalist, proposed that the commitee delay any decision until after the Senate Watergate Committee completes its investigation, giving Gray time to quietly resign, but Gray’s most powerful opponent on the committee, Robert Byrd (D-WV) headed off that proposal. After the session, Gray asked President Nixon to withdraw his name from consideration. Nixon says that Gray is a victim of “totally unfair innuendo and suspicion,” and defends his administration’s access to the FBI files as “completely proper and necessary.” Byrd proposes that the FBI become an independent agency not answerable to the attorney general, as does another lawmaker, Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA). The proposal will not gain much traction. (Time 4/16/1973)
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)
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)
The Washington Post reports that testimony from former Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) director Jeb Magruder (see April 14-18, 1973) shows that White House counsel John Dean and former CREEP director John Mitchell “approved and helped plan the Watergate bugging operation,” and that “Mitchell and Dean later arranged to buy the silence of the seven convicted Watergate conspirators.” A simultaneous piece by the New York Times reports that Attorney General Richard Kleindienst has recused himself from handling the case because of “persistent reports” that three or more of his colleagues will be indicted (see April 16-17, 1973). The Watergate grand jury is shifting its focus from the Watergate bugging itself to the issue of the cover-up and the possibility of obstruction of justice by administration officials. If indicted, the story says, Dean will cooperate with the investigation. Dean’s office issues a statement from Dean that says although he will continue to refrain from making public comments on the case, that policy may change. “[S]ome may hope or think that I will become a scapegoat in the Watergate case. Anyone who believes this does not know me, does not know the true facts, nor understand our system of justice.” A friend of Dean’s confirms Dean’s new defiance, saying: “John welcomes the opportunity to tell his side of the story to the grand jury. He’s not going to go down in flames for the activities of others.” (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 293-296)
Attorney General Richard Kleindienst meets with President Nixon to tell him that White House counsel John Dean has testified about the White House’s ordering of the Ellsberg break-in (see September 9, 1971). The biggest problem is not the ties to the Watergate burglary, Kleindienst says, but the trial of Daniel Ellsberg now going on in Santa Monica, California (see May 11, 1973). The prosecution must inform the trial judge about the new information, and the judge must decide whether to inform Ellsberg’s lawyers. Nixon tries to claim that the break-in is a matter of national security and must not be divulged, but Kleindienst says it is too late for that, the information will “be out in the street tomorrow or two days from now, a week, and the law clearly dictates that we have to do—it could be another g_ddamn cover-up, you know.… We can’t have another cover-up, Mr. President.” Nixon says, “I don’t want any cover-ups of anything.”
Motive - Dean’s primary motive for divulging this information is his desire for immunity from prosecution, Kleindienst believes. He adds that Deputy Attorney General Henry Peterson has asked about granting Dean immunity: “and he even comes up to the point where a trump card of Dean would be that I’m going to implicate the president—and I told Henry at that point you have to tell Dean to go f_ck himself. You’re not going to blackmail the government of the United States and implicate the president in the Ellsberg matter.” Nixon, depressed and reckless, says that maybe he should just be impeached and removed from office, letting Vice President Spiro Agnew have the presidency. “There’s not going to be anything like that,” Kleindienst assures Nixon.
Details of Testimony - Nixon also grills Peterson about Dean’s testimony, and learns that Dean has divulged his knowledge of the destruction of key evidence by FBI chief L. Patrick Gray (see Late December 1972 and April 27-30, 1973)—Gray denies destroying the evidence, claiming Dean is lying. Nixon says Gray has to resign. Peterson says he will not give in to Dean on any attempt to blackmail his way into an immunity agreement; Nixon agrees, comparing it to the stories of paying Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt “hush money” (see June 20-21, 1972)—“I would never approve the payoff of Hunt,” Nixon assures Peterson. Nixon ends the conversation by asking Peterson for the details of any upcoming case against chief of staff H. R. Haldeman. Peterson agrees to give him that information. (Reeves 2001, pp. 595-598)
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. (Nixon 4/30/1973; Nixon 4/30/1973; Nixon 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. (Stern and Johnson 5/1/1973)
Reaction at the Washington Post - Knight Newspapers reporter James McCartney later writes an article for the Columbia Journalism Review on the Post’s Watergate coverage, which describes the reaction in the Post offices to the news: “For a split second [executive editor] Ben Bradlee’s mouth dropped open with an expression of sheer delight.… ‘How do you like them apples?’ he said to the grinning Simons [managing editor Howard Simons]. ‘Not a bad start.’” As reporters and employees begin gathering around, Simons murmurs: “Don’t gloat. We can’t afford to gloat.” (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 310)
President Nixon 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.” (Nixon 8/15/1973; Nixon 8/15/1973; Nixon 8/15/1973; AMDOCS Documents for the Study of American History 6/1993; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007)
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)
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.” (Stout 2/4/2000)
The Justice Department’s Office of Planning and Evaluation (OPE) submits a report on the role and actions of the FBI in the Watergate investigations. The report finds that, even with the attempts of former Attorneys General John Mitchell and Richard Kleindienst, White House aides John Dean and Jeb Magruder, and others to “mislead and thwart the Bureau’s legitimate line of inquiry,” and the “contrived covers” used to direct attention away from the White House, the FBI investigation was “the ultimate key to the solution of not only the Watergate break-in (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) but the cover itself.” The report continues: “There can be no question that the actions of former Attorneys General Mitchell and Kleindienst served to thwart and/or impede the Bureau’s investigative effort. The actions of John W. Dean at the White House and Jeb S. Magruder at the Committee to Re-elect the President were purposefully designed to mislead and thwart the Bureau’s legitimate line of inquiry. At every stage of the investigation there were contrived covers placed in order to mislead the investigators.” The OPE notes the following problems in the investigation, and provides explanations of some:
Providing information concerning ongoing investigations to the White House, and allowing Dean to actually sit in on interviews of White House personnel (see June 22, 1972).
Failing to interview key members of CREEP, the Nixon re-election campaign organization, as well as allowing CREEP attorneys to sit in on interviews of CREEP employees and allowing those attorneys access to FBI investigative materials. The report says that the investigation initially focused on James McCord and E. Howard Hunt, and interviewed CREEP officials tied directly to them. The net was widened later on. However, the report acknowledges that many CREEP employees undoubtedly lied to FBI investigators, “most notably John Mitchell, Jeb Magruder, Bart Porter, Sally Harmony, and Maurice Stans.” Porter and Magruder in particular “lied most convincingly.” Another CREEP employee, Robert Reisner (Magruder’s assistant), was not interviewed because Reisner successfully hid from FBI investigators. The FBI believes it was Reisner who cleaned out the “Operation Gemstone” files from Magruder’s office (see January 29, 1972 and September 29, 1972). Numerous other financial and other files were also destroyed after being requested by the FBI, most notably Alfred Baldwin’s surveillance tapes and logs from the Democratic offices in the Watergate (see May 29, 1972). Many of these files were destroyed by G. Gordon Liddy. “It is apparent that most [CREEP] people in the summer of 1972 were quite willing to lie and/or tell us considerably less than the full truth,” the report notes.
An untenable delay in searching and securing Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt’s desk in the White House, putting the contents of that desk at risk of being removed, and the “[a]lleged activities by former Acting Director [L. Patrick] Gray to limit, contain, or obstruct FBI investigation of Watergate” (see June 22, 1972). Gray is known to have destroyed materials from Hunt’s desk given to him by Dean, and is known to have extensively interfered with the FBI’s investigation (see June 28-29, 1972 and Late December 1972). The report notes that while it cannot find specific evidence that Gray broke any laws in his attempts to impede the FBI’s investigation into the Watergate conspiracy, it is clear that Gray cooperated with the White House, specifically through Dean, to ensure that the White House was always aware of what avenues of investigation were being pursued. The OPE says that Gray’s destruction of files from Hunt’s safe did not necessarily impede the FBI’s investigation, because it has no way of knowing what was in those files. The report says that it is unfortunate that “many people make no distinction between the FBI’s actions and Mr. Gray’s actions.”
Failure to interview key individuals with knowledge of the suspicious monies found in the burglars’ bank accounts.
Failing to secure and execute search warrants for the burglars’ homes, automobiles, and offices. The OPE says that many of those issuing this criticism “should know better,” and claims that the FBI agents involved did their level best to obtain search warrants within the bounds of the law. The report notes that after the burglary, the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case, Earl Silbert, did not believe there was probable cause to search burglar James McCord’s home or office until after July 10, 1972, when Baldwin told the FBI that he had taken surveillance equipment to McCord’s home (see June 17, 1972). Even then, Silbert decided that because of the amount of time—23 days—that had expired, a search warrant would have been pointless.
Failing to identify and interview a number of people listed in the burglars’ address books. The OPE report notes that the decision to interview far less than half of the names in the books was made by FBI agents in the Miami field office, and due to the “fast moving extensive investigation which was then being conducted,” the decision to only track down a selected few from the books was right and proper. The report notes that subsequent interviews by reporters of some of the people in the address books elicited no new information. The report also notes that Gray refused to countenance interviews of the remaining subjects in the address book while the trial of the seven burglars (see January 8-11, 1973) was underway.
Failing to find and remove a surveillance device from the Democratic National Committee headquarters (see September 13, 1972). The OPE calls this failure “inexplicable.”
Failure to thoroughly investigate CREEP agent Donald Segretti (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond) and other CREEP operatives. The OPE finds that because Segretti was initially uncooperative with FBI investigators, and because an “extensive investigation” turned up nothing to connect Segretti with the Watergate conspiracy, the agents chose not to continue looking into Segretti’s actions. Only after press reports named Segretti as part of a massive, White House-directed attempt to subvert the elections process (see October 7, 1972) did the FBI discuss reopening its investigation into Segretti. After reviewing its information, the FBI decided again not to bother with Segretti. The OPE finds that the decision was valid, because Segretti had not apparently broken any federal laws, and the FBI does not conduct violations of election laws unless specifically requested to do so by the Justice Department. The report also says that politics were a concern: by opening a large, extensive investigation into the Nixon campaign’s “dirty tricks,” that investigation might have impacted the upcoming presidential elections.
Media leaks from within the FBI concerning key details about the investigation (see May 31, 2005). The report finds no evidence to pin the blame for the leaks on any particular individual. The report notes that New York Times reporter John Crewdson seemed to have unwarranted access to FBI documents and files, but says it has turned that matter over to another agency inside the bureau.
Failing to interview, or adequately interview, key White House officials such as H. R. Haldeman, Charles Colson, Dwight Chapin, and others. The report justifies the decision not to interview Haldeman because the FBI had no information that Haldeman had any knowledge of, or involvement in, the burglary itself.
“Alleged attempt on part of Department of Justice officials to limit, contain, or obstruct FBI investigation.” The report is particularly critical of Kleindienst’s concealment of his contact with Liddy about the burglary (see June 17, 1972).
“Alleged attempt by CIA officials to interfere, contain, or impede FBI Watergate investigation.” The report notes that during the Senate Watergate Committee hearings, Republican co-chairman Howard Baker (R-TN) tried repeatedly to assert that the CIA was behind the burglary. The report calls Baker’s theory “intriguing” but says no evidence of CIA involvement on any operational level was ever found. The report notes that there is still no explanation for the discussions regarding the CIA paying the burglars (see June 26-29, 1972), or the CIA’s involvement with Hunt before the burglary—loaning him cameras, providing him with materials for a disguise, and helping Hunt get film from the first burglary developed. According to the report, Gray stopped the FBI from pursuing these leads. The FBI report says that the CIA involvement apparently had nothing to do with the Watergate burglary, but was more in support of Hunt’s activities with the Ellsberg break-in (see September 9, 1971).
“Alleged activities on part of White House officials to limit, contain, or obstruct FBI Watergate investigation (Dean, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Colson, et cetera).” The report notes, “There is absolutely no question but that the president’s most senior associates at the White House conspired with great success for nine months to obstruct our investigation.” The report says it was “common knowledge” throughout the investigation that the White House was paying only “lip service” to investigators’ requests for honest, complete answers; the report cites Dean as a specific offender. (O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 )
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