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Profile: Thomas F. Eagleton

Thomas F. Eagleton was a participant or observer in the following events:

The Democratic National Convention, held to nominate George S. McGovern as the Democratic presidential candidate, is chaotic at best. The nomination of McGovern’s running mate is especially troublesome, as recalcitrant and sometimes obstreporous delegates and party officials nominate 39 separate candidates for vice president, including Martha Mitchell (see June 22-25, 1972) and China’s Communist leader Mao Zedong. McGovern and the party officials finally settle on freshman senator Thomas Eagleton (D-MO)—after McGovern goes through 24 separate possibilities who turn him down one after the other. Because of the fractious and time-consuming proceedings, McGovern does not make his speech accepting the nomination until 3 a.m. EST. (Reeves 2001, pp. 513)

Thomas Eagleton.Thomas Eagleton. [Source: Wally McNamee / Corbis]Democratic vice presidential candidate Thomas Eagleton withdraws from the campaign. A week before, anonymous (actually Nixon campaign) sources leaked information to the press about Eagleton’s history of “nervous exhaustion” and “depression.” Between 1960 and 1966, Eagleton had been hospitalized three times, and had twice undergone electroshock therapy. Eagleton acknowledges that he lied to McGovern aides about his medical history when they asked him about any potential skeletons in his closet. Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern says that although he knew nothing about Eagleton’s medical history, he would have chosen Eagleton as his running mate regardless. (“They nominated a crazy man!” former Treasury Secretary John Connally exclaims upon hearing the news.) After several leading Democrats turn down the position, McGovern finally lands a replacement running mate in former Peace Corps chief Sargent Shriver, the brother-in-law of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA). (Reeves 2001, pp. 518-519)

Around 2 a.m., Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward meets his FBI source, W. Mark Felt (popularly called “Deep Throat”—see May 31, 2005) in the underground parking garage Felt has designated as their rendezvous (see August 1972). Woodward’s partner Carl Bernstein has unearthed fascinating but puzzling information about a Nixon campaign “dirty tricks” squad headed by California lawyer Donald Segretti (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond and October 7, 1972). Woodward is desperately searching for a way to pull together the disparate threads of the various Watergate stories. An unusually forthcoming Felt says he will not give Woodward any new names, but directs him to look in “the direction of what was called ‘Offensive Security.’” Things “got all out of hand,” Felt tells Woodward, in “heavy-handed operation[s]” that went farther than perhaps their originators had intended. Felt says bluntly that Nixon campaign chairman John Mitchell was involved, and, “Only the president and Mitchell know” how deep Mitchell’s involvement really is. Mitchell “learned some things in those ten days after Watergate,” information that shocked even him. If what Mitchell knows ever comes to light, it could destroy the Nixon administration. Mitchell himself knew he was ruined after Watergate investigation began, and left the administration to try to limit the damage. Felt adds that Nixon aide John Ehrlichman ordered Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt to leave town (see June 18, 1972), a revelation that surprises Woodward, since Ehrlichman’s name has not yet come up in the conspiracy stories.
Four Major Groups - There are four major groups within the Nixon presidential campaign, Felt says. The “November Group” handles campaign advertising. Another group handles political espionage and sabotage for both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. A third “primary group” did the same for the campaign primaries (this group not only worked to sabotage Democrats, but Republican primary opponents of Nixon’s as well). And a fourth, the “Howard Hunt group,” is also known as the “Plumbers,” working under Hunt (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Felt calls the Plumbers the “really heavy operations team.” Hunt’s group reports directly to Charles Colson, Nixon’s special counsel. One set of operations by Hunt’s group involved planting items in the press; Felt believes Colson and Hunt leaked stories of former Democratic vice presidential candidate Thomas Eagleton’s drunk driving record to reporters. “Total manipulation—that was their goal, with everyone eating at one time or another out of their hands. Even the press.” The Post is specifically being targeted, Felt warns; the White House plans to use the courts to make Woodward and Bernstein divulge their sources.
Watergate Investigation Deliberately Narrow - Felt says that the Justice Department’s indictments against the seven Watergate burglars (see September 15, 1972) was as narrow as Department officials could make it. Evidence of political espionage or illegal campaign finances that was not directly related to the burglary was not considered. Felt says that the investigation, as narrow as it was, was plagued by witness perjury and evasions.
Everything is Interconnected - Everything—surveillance operations, illegal campaign finances, campaign “dirty tricks”—is interconnected, Felt says. The Segretti story is just the tip of the iceberg: “You could write stories from now until Christmas or well beyond that.” The two men have been alternately standing and sitting in the unlighted parking garage for hours; dawn is approaching, and both are exhausted. Woodward knows he needs specifics, the names of these higher-ups. How is he to know if he is not being railroaded down investigative dead ends by White House media manipulation operations? How about the “Canuck letter” that destroyed the candidacy of Democratic presidential hopeful Edmund Muskie? “It was a White House operation,” Felt replies: “done inside the gates surrounding the White House and the Executive Office Building. Is that enough?” It is not, Woodward retorts. Are there more intelligence and sabotage operations still to come? Woodward angrily says that he is tired of their “chickensh_t games,” with Felt pretending he never provided primary information and Woodward contenting himself with scraps of disconnected information. Felt replies: “Okay. This is very serious. You can safely say that 50 people worked for the White House and CREEP [the Nixon re-election campaign] to play games and spy and sabotage and gather intelligence. Some of it is beyond belief, kicking at the opposition in every imaginable way. You already know some of it.” Woodward lists the many examples that he and Bernstein have been able to unearth: surveillance, following people, press leaks, fake letters, campaign sabotage, investigations of campaign workers’ private lives, theft, campaign provacateurs. Felt nods. “It’s all in the [FBI] files. Justice and the Bureau know about it, even though it wasn’t followed up.” Woodward, despite himself, is stunned. The White House had implemented a systematic plan to subvert the entire electoral process? Had used fifty people to do it? “You can safely say more than fifty,” Felt says, and walks up the ramp and out of the garage. It was 6 a.m. Woodward uses Felt’s information to help create one of the most devastating stories yet published about Watergate (see October 10, 1972). (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 130-135; Woodward 2005, pp. 75-79)
'Organizing Principle' of Watergate - Nixon White House counsel Leonard Garment will write in his 2000 book In Search of Deep Throat (in which he misidentifies the source as obscure Nixon staffer John Sears) that while Woodward’s source did not deliver “much in the way of specific information, he gave Woodward and Bernstein what they needed: an organizing principle.” It is during this time, Garment will write, that the reporters begin to truly understand the entirety of the Watergate conspiracy. (Woodward 2005, pp. 191-194)

After FBI Director William Ruckelshaus announces that 13 government officials and four reporters had been illegally wiretapped by the FBI at the behest of the Nixon administration (see May 1969), Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward learns that Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had authorized at least “some” of the taps. Incredulous, Woodward phones Kissinger for his response. Kissinger blames then-White House chief of staff H. R. Haldeman for authorizing the taps. But Kissinger does not directly deny authorizing any wiretaps, and Woodward presses the point. Kissinger admits that he may have given the FBI some names of people suspected of leaking information to the press, and that the agency might have construed that as authorization to wiretap. Woodward tells Kissinger that two separate sources have named him as personally authorizing electronic surveillance, and Kissinger replies, “Almost never.” As Woodward continues to press, Kissinger becomes angry, accusing Woodward of subjecting him to “police interrogation.” Kissinger says that if his office issued the authorizations, then he is responsible. Kissinger then asks Woodward if the reporter intends to quote him. Woodward says yes, and Kissinger explodes, “I’m telling you what I said was for background!” They had made no such agreement, Woodward says; Kissinger accuses Woodward of trying to penalize him for being honest. “In five years in Washington,” Kissinger complains, “I’ve never been trapped into talking like this.” Woodward cannot imagine what kind of treatment Kissinger is used to receiving. After the conversation, Woodward learns that Kissinger is routinely allowed to put his remarks on so-called “retroactive background” by other reporters. The Post editors decide to hold off on writing about Kissinger; as a result, they are beaten to the punch by the New York Times, which reports that Kissinger had fingered his own aides as being responsible for the wiretaps. The Post will report the 17 wiretaps, and add that the Secret Service had forwarded information on the private life of a Democratic presidential candidate to the White House; information on 1972 vice-presidential candidate Thomas Eagleton arrived in Haldeman’s office before it was leaked to the press; and Haldeman ordered the FBI to investigate CBS reporter Daniel Schorr in early 1973. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 313-316)

Former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams testifies to the House Intelligence Committee about his knowledge of the Iran-Contra affair (see Mid-October, 1986). Like CIA official Alan Fiers (see November 25, 1986), Abrams testifies that neither he nor his superiors at the State Department knew anything of the illegal diversion of funds to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986); like Fiers, Abrams is lying (see Late 1985 and After). Several days later, Abrams testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Thomas Eagleton (D-MO) accuses Abrams of lying during the first session, and Abrams replies, “You’ve heard my testimony.” Eagleton retorts, “I’ve heard it, and I want to puke.” (Lacayo, Beaty, and van Voorst 7/22/1991; Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993) Abrams will later admit to lying to both the House and Senate (see October 7, 1991).

John C. Danforth.John C. Danforth. [Source: Huffington Post]Attorney General Janet Reno names former Senator John Danforth (R-MO) as a special counsel to investigate the events of the April 1993 tragedy outside of Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993), and specifically to determine whether actions by the FBI led to the fire that destroyed the Branch Davidian compound and killed almost 80 Davidians. Reno opens the investigation after learning that the FBI concealed evidence of the use of incendiary gas cartridges during the assault on the Davidian compound, actions that some believe may have started some of the fires (see August 10, 1999 and After, August 25, 1999 and After, and August 26, 1999). Danforth is a former US attorney general and an Episcopal priest. According to an Associated Press report, “both admirers and detractors have noted his emphasis on morals as well as his stubborn independence.” Former Senator Thomas Eagleton (D-MO), who served in the Senate with Danforth for 10 years, says: “He calls them like he sees them. Members of the Senate or House will have full faith in his finding.” (Associated Press 9/7/1999; Yost 9/9/1999; Fort Worth Star-Telegram 7/21/2000) Republicans in Congress have called on Reno to resign, while Democrats defend her tenure and say her actions during and after the Waco assault have been “commendable.” House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde (R-IL) says that he will hold off on attempting to launch a five-member commission to probe the Waco debacle. He will allow the Danforth investigation to proceed unimpeded, unless he feels the Justice Department is not cooperating with the probe. “Should events prove otherwise, we will reconsider this decision,” Hyde says. (Yost 9/9/1999) Danforth’s investigation will clear the FBI and the federal government of any wrongdoing (see July 21, 2000).


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