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Profile: Sam Ervin

Sam Ervin was a participant or observer in the following events:

The Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, chaired by Senator Sam Ervin, uncovers the existence of a sophisticated computer system used by the Department of Defense to monitor US citizens suspected of “subversive” activities. The system is operated from the military’s “domestic war room,” overseen by the Directorate of Civil Disturbance and Planning Operations in the basement of the Pentagon (see April 1968). It is designed to keep track of “all public outbursts and political dissent” inside the United States. The Senate subcommittee uncovers a database of thousands of US citizens labeled as possible threats to national security. According to New Times magazine, the subcommittee discovers “computerized files on 18,000 of the celebrated to obscure, on people such as Senator George McGovern and former Massachusetts Gov. Francis Sargent down to ordinary citizens who had, sometimes unknowingly, become ‘associated with known militant groups.’” (Ridenhour 11/28/1975)

Sam Ervin.Sam Ervin. [Source: Wally McNamee / Corbis]The US Senate votes 77-0 to create the Select Committee on Presidential Activities, which comes to be known as the Senate Watergate Committee. The chairman is Sam Ervin (D-NC), whose carefully cultivated image as a folksy “country lawyer” camouflages a keen legal mind. Ervin’s deputy is Howard Baker (R-TN). (Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007) Senate Republicans attempt to dilute the effectiveness of the investigative committee with resolutions demanding probes into the 1964 and 1968 elections as well—Hugh Scott (R-PA) says there is “wholesale evidence of wiretapping against the Republicans” in the 1968 campaign, yet refuses to present any evidence—but those resolutions fail in floor votes. After the vote, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward learns that the resolutions were drafted by White House lawyers. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 250-251) Ervin, already chosen to head the committee, told fellow senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who held his own ineffective senatorial investigation, that he knew little more about the Watergate conspiracy than what he read in the papers, but “I know the people around [President] Nixon, and that’s enough. They’re thugs.” (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 247) Ervin has already contacted Woodward and asked him to help him compile information. Ervin implies that he wants Woodward to convince his unnamed sources to come forward and testify. Woodward demurs, but he and colleague Carl Bernstein write a story reporting Ervin’s intention to call President Nixon’s top aides, including H. R. Haldeman, to testify. (Woodward 2005, pp. 93-94) Woodward does suggest that Ervin should take a hard look at the secret campaign “slush fund” (see Early 1970 and September 29, 1972), and that everything he and Bernstein have found points to a massive undercover operation led by Haldeman. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 247-249)

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)

The Senate Watergate Committee begins its first day of public hearings. The hearings are televised starting May 18. (Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007) Washington Post legal analyst Jules Witcover writes that the first day of hearings is as dramatic as “watching grass grow.” The witnesses, beginning with Robert C. Odle, director of administration for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), insist that neither he or any of his colleagues knew of any illegal activities, and did not learn of the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) until seeing news reports of the five burglars’ arrests. He says that when he saw CREEP security consultant James McCord was one of the five, his first thought was that he would have to find a replacement for McCord. Odle does say he saw another Watergate conspirator, G. Gordon Liddy, shred a large stack of documents the same day as the burglary, but thought little of it. Other witnesses, particularly two of the police officers who made the initial arrests, add little to the fund of knowledge already possessed by Watergate observers. Witcover writes that the senators on the committee, led by Senator Sam Ervin (D-NC), engage in little or no “showboating” for the cameras. Witcover predicts that when McCord and other witnesses begin testifying, the hearings should “heat up.” (Witcover 5/18/1973)

Comedian Bill Cosby, one of many on Nixon’s enemies list.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:
bullet “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.”
bullet “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.”
bullet “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.”
bullet “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.”
bullet “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.”
bullet “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.”
bullet “7. [US Representative] Allard Lowenstein, Long Island, NY: Guiding force behind the 18-year-old ‘Dump Nixon’ vote campaign.”
bullet “8. Morton Halperin, leading executive at Common Cause: A scandal would be most helpful here.”
bullet “9. Leonard Woodcock, UAW, Detroit, Mich.: No comments necessary.”
bullet “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.”
bullet “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.”
bullet “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.”
bullet “13. John Conyers, congressman, Detroit: Coming on fast. Emerging as a leading black anti-Nixon spokesman. Has known weakness for white females.”
bullet “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)
bullet “15. Stewart Rawlings Mott, Mott Associates, NY: Nothing but big money for radic-lib candidates.”
bullet “16. Ronald Dellums, congressman, Calif: Had extensive [Edward M. Kennedy] EMK-Tunney support in his election bid. Success might help in California next year.”
bullet “17. Daniel Schorr, Columbia Broadcasting System, Washington: A real media enemy.”
bullet “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.”
bullet “19. [Actor] Paul Newman, Calif: Radic-lib causes. Heavy McCarthy involvement ‘68. Used effectively in nation wide TV commercials. ‘72 involvement certain.”
bullet “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)

Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox and the Senate Watergate Committee demand that President Nixon hand over a selection of presidential documents and the secret White House tapes (see July 13-16, 1973). Nixon refuses to hand over any of the requested material. (Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007) He invokes “executive privilege,” which Nixon says is essential to maintaining the constitutional mandate of the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. Cox immediately subpoenas the documents and tapes, as does the Senate committee. Commitee chairman Sam Ervin (D-NC) says: “I deeply regret that this situation has arisen, because I think that the Watergate tragedy is the greatest tragedy this country has ever suffered. I used to think that the Civil War was our country’s greatest tragedy, but I do remember that there were some redeeming features in the Civil War in that there was some spirit of sacrifice and heroism displayed on both sides. I see no redeeming features in Watergate.” Vice chairman Howard Baker (R-TN) is a bit more equivocal, saying he is disappointed in being “on the brink of a constitutional confrontation between the Congress and the White House.” The documents, Baker says, are “essential, if not vital, to the full, thorough inquiry mandated and required of this committee.” In a letter to Ervin, Nixon says the tapes are not essential to the investigation; he has personally gone through them and they “are entirely consistent with what I know to be the truth and what I have stated to be the truth.” However, some of the comments on the tapes could be misconstrued, he says, and much of the conversations on the tapes are of a “frank and very private” nature. The tapes will remain “under my sole personal control,” Nixon writes. “None has been transcribed or made public and none will be.” Cox argues that, as a member of the executive branch himself, there is no issue over separation of powers; White House consultant Charles Alan Wright retorts in a letter to Cox that since he does not report either to the attorney general or the president, his role is hard to define. But if Cox is indeed a member of the executive branch, “you are subject to the instructions of your superiors, up to and including the president, and can have access to presidential papers only as and if the president sees fit to make them available to you.” Even more importantly, Wright notes, if the tapes become available to the judiciary, then the argument of separation of powers involving the executive and judicial branches is an issue. Cox rejects Wright’s argument. The ultimate arbiter of this dispute may not even be the Supreme Court, as it has no power to compel Nixon to turn over the tapes even if it rules against him. Impeachment and conviction seems the only legal method to ultimately force Nixon’s hand if he continues to be recalcitrant. (Kilpatrick 7/24/1973)


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