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Profile: William O. Bittman

William O. Bittman was a participant or observer in the following events:

Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt emerges from hiding (see June 18, 1972). In the following days, Washington reporter Carl Bernstein learns that Hunt’s lawyer William O. Bittman had received $25,000 in cash to represent Hunt. Bernstein learns this from a legal colleague of Bittman’s, who is disturbed that such a well-respected attorney as Bittman—a former assistant attorney general in the Justice Department—might have taken illicit monies. Bittman’s colleague also tells Bernstein that the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) has earmarked at least $100,000 for something committee officials call “Convention Security.” Bittman refuses to confirm or deny the transaction. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 34) According to later testimony by senior campaign aide Frederick LaRue, LaRue gave $210,000 in CREEP slush fund money to Bittman for Bittman to distribute to the seven defendants. LaRue will claim he gave Bittman the money on the orders of White House counsel John Dean. (O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 pdf file)

After the first day of testimony in the Watergate trial (see January 8-11, 1973), Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein piles into a taxicab with the four Miami-based Watergate burglars and their lawyer, and accompanies them to the airport and even onto the plane one of them is taking in order to have a conversation—an impromptu interview—with one of the men. (In the book All the President’s Men, Bernstein does not identify the subject of the conversation.) The airborne conversation flows with surprising ease. Bernstein learns that E. Howard Hunt has been pressuring the others for a week to plead guilty; their families will be cared for financially, and they will certainly receive some sort of executive clemency within a few months. Hunt is once again serving as a “case officer” giving orders to his lower-level operatives. Their lawyer, Henry Rothblatt (see Early January, 1973), is furious, and has instructed his clients to “stay away from that son of a b_tch Hunt.” (Hunt’s lawyer, William Bittman, denies that Hunt pressured anyone to do anything.) Bernstein, colleague Bob Woodward, and Post editors are leery of publishing the story, worrying that the trial judge, John Sirica, might consider the interview a possible obstruction of justice or interference with the trial. The next day, the New York Times’s Seymour Hersh prints a story that says burglar Frank Sturgis believes former Nixon campaign chief John Mitchell knew about, and even encouraged, the Watergate operation. Time magazine claims that the four Miami burglars will receive $1,000 a month for their jail sentences. And columnist Jack Anderson writes that campaign money for the defendants is being funneled through burglar E. Howard Hunt. Emboldened by the other stories, the Post prints Bernstein’s story. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 232-233)

L. Patrick Gray.L. Patrick Gray. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]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 pdf file) 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 pdf file) 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 pdf file)

Charles Colson.Charles Colson. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward learns of the White House’s plan to have “Plumber” E. Howard Hunt (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) break into the apartment of gunman Arthur Bremer immediately after Bremer shot presidential candidate George Wallace (see May 15, 1972). Hunt broke into Bremer’s apartment on the orders of White House aide Charles Colson, says a Senate Watergate Committee lawyer, a claim verified by Hunt’s lawyer, William Bittman. Woodward interviews Colson in the offices of his law firm, Colson & Shapiro; Colson, law partner David Shapiro, and attorney Judah Best not only deny that Colson ever ordered Hunt to do such a thing, but attempt to bribe Woodward with information about the “Canuck letter” (see February 24-25, 1972)—if Woodward will not print the story of Colson ordering Hunt to break into Bremer’s apartment, they will give him copies of two memos asserting that White House aide H. R. Haldeman tried to blame Colson for the authorship of the letter. Woodward refuses; the story runs. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 329-330)


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