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Profile: William Sullivan
William Sullivan was a participant or observer in the following events:
When the press reports the secret US-led invasion of Cambodia (see April 24-30, 1970) and the subsequent massive air strikes in that country, Alexander Haig, the military aide to National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, notes that New York Times reporter William Beecher has been asking some suspiciously well-informed questions about the operation. Beecher’s latest story also alerts Defense Secretary Melvin Laird to the bombings (Laird, whom Kissinger considers a hated rival, has been kept out of the loop on the bombings). Haig tells the FBI he suspects a “serious security violation” has taken place, and receives four new wiretaps: on Beecher; Laird’s assistant Robert Pursley; Secretary of State William Rogers’s assistant Richard Pederson; and Rogers’s deputy, William Sullivan. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 212]
Entity Tags: Melvin Laird, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Federal Bureau of Investigation, Henry A. Kissinger, William Sullivan, Richard Pederson, William P. Rogers, William Beecher, Robert Pursley
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Nixon and Watergate
William Sullivan, a high-ranking FBI official with decades of experience in conducting covert intelligence operations against anti-war and civil rights organizations and the chief of the FBI’s investigation into the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr, writes a memo to White House counsel John Dean offering some advice on how the White House should handle the burgeoning Watergate investigation. Sullivan blasts the entire operation for “atrocious judgment” and a “lack of professionalism and competency.” He then turns to the problem of handling the Senate investigation (see February 7, 1973). There are three major elements in the Watergate conspiracy, Sullivan writes: “the breaking and entering of the [Watergate] building… the applications of technical surveillances… [and] the financing.” Sullivan observes that the financing “might turn out to be the most serious and harmful element in the problem.” Sullivan then turns to some of the details of the defense:
If the Senate investigation turns out to be a relatively limited and partisan probe, then the White House should, Sullivan counsels, sit back, deny everything, and wait for it to run its course. If the investigation is “real and exhaustive,” then “sitting tight” is “the wrong tactic.”
Sullivan recommends hiring a top-flight legal representative, preferably someone with a reputation for integrity and bipartisanship, and recommends having only “one or two men in high authority” working with that lawyer to ensure that the lawyer only hears what the White House wants him to hear. Another lawyer should be hired as an assistant, one who knows the Senate well and has experience in the Washington “jungle.”
When the Senate investigation launches its probe, press secretary Ron Ziegler should “issue a very clear, forceful and carefully constructed statement in representing the president, condemning again the Watergate activities and saying that he has instructed all concerned in the government to give their complete and willing cooperation to Senator Ervin and his colleagues.”
Sullivan writes that avoiding or downplaying specific issues would be a mistake. Instead, each issue should “be faced openly, briefly and without equivocation.” The investigation needs to be as brief as possible.
The overriding purpose of the Watergate defense should be to protect Richard Nixon and the Office of the President. “If worse comes to worse, bearing in mind the main objectives stated above, those involved in the Watergate affair should be considered expendable in the best interests of the country. Their culpability should be set forth in its entirety thereby directing the attention of the probers and the attention of the reading public away from the White House and to the men themselves where the blame belongs.”
Sullivan says that he knows little about the financial element of the Watergate conspiracy, but again warns of the potential damage it could cause. “[I]f it is as serious as I think it could be then those fully knowledgeable in this area should give the matter the most searching thought possible. Much more harm could be done here than in the area of the other two elements, namely breaking and entering and possessing and using electronic surveillance devices.” [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
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