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Profile: Richard Reeves

Richard Reeves was a participant or observer in the following events:

President Nixon meets with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, CIA Director Richard Helms, and the heads of the NSA and DIA to discuss a proposed new domestic intelligence system. His presentation is prepared by young White House aide Tom Charles Huston (derisively called “Secret Agent X-5” behind his back by some White House officials). The plan is based on the assumption that, as Nixon says, “hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Americans—mostly under 30—are determined to destroy our society.” Nixon complains that the various US intelligence agencies spend as much time battling with one another over turf and influence as they do working to locate threats to national security both inside and outside of the country. The agencies need to prove the assumed connections between the antiwar demonstrators and Communists. The group in Nixon’s office will now be called the “Interagency Committee on Intelligence,” Nixon orders, with Hoover chairing the new ad hoc group, and demands an immediate “threat assessment” about domestic enemies to his administration. Huston will be the White House liaison. Historian Richard Reeves will later write: “The elevation of Huston, a fourth-level White House aide, into the company of Hoover and Helms was a calculated insult. Nixon was convinced that both the FBI and the CIA had failed to find the links he was sure bound domestic troubles and foreign communism. But bringing them to the White House was also part of a larger Nixon plan. He was determined to exert presidential control over the parts of the government he cared most about—the agencies dealing with foreign policy, military matters, intelligence, law, criminal justice, and general order.” (Reeves 2001, pp. 229-230)

Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan, one of the most conservative members of the Nixon administration, is appalled at the president’s priorities for the upcoming year, which features increased human resource spending, education and health care reform, wage guarantees, and plans to withdraw US troops from Vietnam. Buchanan writes: “Neither liberal nor conservative, neither fish nor fowl, the Nixon administration… is a hybrid, whose zigging and zagging has succeeded in winning the enthusiasm and loyalty of neither the left nor the right, but the suspicion and distrust of both…. Truly, the liberals went swimming and President Nixon stole their clothes—but in the process we left our old conservative suit lying by the swimming hole for someone to pick up… . Conservatives are the n_ggers of the Nixon administration.” Nixon responds by scrawling in the margin of Buchanan’s memo, “You overlook RN’s consistent hard line on foreign policy.” What Buchanan either fails to grasp or ignores, according to historian Richard Reeves, is that Nixon feels he has enough support among hardline Republican conservatives like Buchanan; he now wants to win the loyalty of conservative Democrats and mainstream Republicans, and drive the Democratic Party ever farther to the left. Reeves will also note: “He also had a secret: he did not much care whether or not this new agenda passed. The idea was to make it look and sound good enough to keep Congress and the press busy so that he could concentrate on his own driving dreams: the realignment of American politics and of world power structures.” (Reeves 2001, pp. 294-295)

Nixon aide Charles Colson and Colson’s aide George Bell begin working on an “enemies list,” people and organizations the White House believes are inimical to President Nixon and his agenda (see June 27, 1973). The initial list includes a group of reporters who may have written favorably about Nixon and his actions in the past, but who cannot be trusted to continue, and a second group of reporters who are considered “definitely hostile.” A second list, from White House aide Tom Charles Huston, is staggeringly long, and includes, in historian Richard Reeves’s words, “most every man or woman who had ever said a discouraging word about Nixon.” A third list is made up of “enemy” organizations, including several left-of-center think tanks and foundations, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the AFL-CIO. (Reeves 2001, pp. 297-298)

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)

Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman orders the White House files to be culled and the most sensitive, and potentially embarrassing, documents removed. Designated “White House Special Files,” these are to be destroyed if President Nixon loses the election (see November 7, 1972). They will not actually be destroyed; eventually they will be seized by the FBI as part of its Watergate probe. Historian Richard Reeves will write, “Many White House papers were destroyed or disappeared during the Watergate investigations, but much more survived for history than Richard Nixon ever intended.” (Reeves 2001, pp. 17)

President Nixon announces that his White House aides and staff members will appear if asked before the Senate Watergate Committee. He promises “major new developments” in the investigation, and says there has been real progress towards finding the truth. (Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007) No one will be given immunity from prosecution, Nixon promises. Nixon also says that he will suspend “any person in the executive branch or in government” who is indicted in the Watergate investigations. After Nixon’s brief statement, reporters hammer press secretary Ron Ziegler, who initially insists that Nixon’s statement does not contradict earlier positions. But the reporters are relentless, and Ziegler finally says: “This is the operative statement. The others are inoperative.” (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 291-292) (Historian Richard Reeves will quote Ziegler somewhat differently, in a version that has entered the popular vernacular. According to Reeves, Ziegler says: “This is the operative statement on Watergate. Other statements are inoperative.”) (Reeves 2001, pp. 590) The White House issues an official statement claiming Nixon had no prior knowledge of the Watergate affair. (Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007)

In an editorial, the Washington Post castigates the Gore campaign for continuing to press for recounts in Florida. After acknowledging that George W. Bush’s lead in that state “appear[s] to have melted to fewer than 300 votes” as the recounts continue (see 5:00 p.m. November 9, 2000), and noting that for Gore to “call for as careful a count as possible in an election as close as this, with so much a stake, seems unobjectionable to us; it can only help to ensure legitimacy,” it then slams Gore campaign manager William Daley for his suggestion that Gore may file lawsuits to ask for manual recounts. Daley said, referring to the widely held belief in the Gore camp that if the votes are tallied completely, Gore would have significantly more votes than Bush, “If the will of the people is to prevail, Al Gore should be awarded a victory in Florida and be our next president.” The Post calls Daley’s remark “poisonous,” saying that Daley is attempting to imply that the Bush camp is trying to steal the election, and demands that Gore “disown” it immediately. The Post also chides Gore officials for implying, somehow, that “Gore’s narrow lead in the popular vote somehow gives him superior status—if not quite a partial claim to the office, then a greater right to contest the electoral outcome in Florida. But that’s false, and they know it. The electoral vote is what matters.” The editorial chides the Bush campaign for leaking its “transition plans” and trying to give “the impression of measuring for new curtains in the Oval Office,” as Bush has not been certified the winner of the race. “Florida hasn’t certified its results, and Mr. Bush has no more claim to the title of president-elect than the vice president. Both sides need to back off at this stage. They are risking a political war that could spread far beyond Florida, one that would be far harder to stop than to begin.” The Post concludes by advising the Gore campaign that calling for recounts is far different from filing lawsuits to force recounts; the first is acceptable, but the second “should be approached with enormous caution and restraint.” (Washington Post 11/10/2000) In 2010, the Center for American Progress will note that Daley’s claim that Gore “should be awarded a victory in Florida and be our next president” was a claim Bush campaign lawyer James Baker “was saying pretty much every day on Bush’s behalf.” The Post does not have a similar reaction to Baker’s claims. (Alterman 12/9/2010) The same day the Post editorial is published, the New York Times publishes a piece by historian Richard Reeves that flatly falsifies presidential history in its call for Gore to abandon his post-election challenge (see November 10, 2000). The Post also publishes an editorial by former Republican Senator Bob Dole asking Gore to concede for the good of the nation (see November 11, 2000).

Historian and presidential biographer Richard Reeves fundamentally misrepresents history in a New York Times editorial asking Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) to end the Florida election standoff by conceding to George W. Bush (R-TX). Reeves notes correctly that the 1960 presidential election between Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat John F. Kennedy was extraordinarily close. Reeves asserts that Nixon and Kennedy discussed the situation after the votes were initially tallied and Nixon decided not to challenge the results. “If Nixon had decided to pursue a challenge, he might have had a good case,” Reeves writes. “Republicans were producing claims of fraud, waving sworn depositions from election officials in Illinois and Texas. It was great stuff: there were 6,138 votes cast by the 4,895 voters registered in Fannin County, Texas; in the 38th precinct of Chicago’s sixth ward, 43 voters seemed to have cast 121 votes in the hour after the polls opened. But whatever else he was, Nixon was a patriot. He understood what recounts and lawsuits and depositions carried out over months—even years—would do to the nation. He was also a realist, and he knew that investigations might well turn up examples of his own party’s tradition of recording votes for folks dead or alive in southern Illinois and a few other venues.” Reeves goes on to note that Kennedy’s slight popular vote lead translated into a strong Electoral College lead, and that Nixon’s patron, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “was angry about the alleged fraud but finally told Nixon that he could not back him in a challenge to the results.” As Nixon reportedly explained to a reporter afterwards, “The country can’t afford the agony of a constitutional crisis, and I damn well will not be a party to creating one just to become president or anything else.” Reeves uses the example of Nixon’s patriotism and restraint in arguing that Gore should emulate Nixon and gracefully concede the election. (Reeves 11/10/2000) However, Reeves fundamentally misrepresents Nixon’s actions and historical events. Nixon was, as Reeves writes, convinced that Kennedy fraudulently won the election. And rumors of election fraud had circulated even before Election Day, such as in Chicago, where Democratic majorities were considered suspect. When the votes were tallied and Kennedy declared the winner, angry Republicans demanded an investigation. Nixon later said in both interviews and his own memoirs that he refused to dispute the election. Publicly, Nixon conceded the election to Kennedy, but privately, he encouraged his aides and fellow Republicans to overturn the results. In the weeks after the election, many newspapers pursued the story, fueled by Republicans who made a bevy of allegations and charges of election fraud and rampant cheating. Slate’s David Greenberg later writes: “[T]he Republican Party made a veritable crusade of undoing the results. Even if they ultimately failed, party leaders figured, they could taint Kennedy’s victory, claim he had no mandate for his agenda, galvanize the rank and file, and have a winning issue for upcoming elections.” Three days after the election, Senator Thruston Morton (R-KY), the chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), launched bids for recounts and investigations in 11 states, including Texas, Illinois, and New Jersey. Days later, close Nixon aides sent agents to conduct what they called “field checks” in eight of those states. Another aide tried to create a “Nixon Recount Committee” in Chicago. Recounts were indeed obtained. Grand juries were empaneled and a special prosecutor was appointed. The FBI launched investigations into voter fraud and election theft. The recounts and investigations proved nothing of significance, and one by one, they lapsed. The last recount, in Illinois, lasted for over a month after the election; on December 9, 1960, when recount tallies gave Nixon a mere 943 extra votes, Republicans filed a lawsuit in federal court to summarily grant Illinois’s 27 electoral votes to Nixon, which was dismissed. Republicans then took their case to the Illinois Board of Elections, which, even though it had a majority of Republicans comprising it, rejected the petition. Even after December 19, when the Electoral College formally certified Kennedy as the winner, recounts and legal challenges were still in the works. (Greenberg 10/16/2000; Posner 11/10/2000) Boston Globe columnist David Nyhan, considered a liberal like Reeves, echoes Reeves’s portrayal of Nixon in a column that is published the same day as Reeves’s. Nyhan calls Nixon’s supposed concession that president’s “most magnaminous act” and recommends that Gore step aside. (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 11/16/2000)

Richard Reeves.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)


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