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John Dean being sworn in by committee chairman Sam Ervin. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]In five days of explosive testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee, former White House counsel John Dean claims that President Nixon was personally involved with the cover-up of the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972 and June 3, 1973) within days of the crime. Dean gives a seven-hour opening statement detailing a program of political and campaign espionage activities conducted by the White House in recent years. He also tells the committee that he believes Nixon has tape-recorded some of the conversations regarding the Watergate conspiracy (see July 13-16, 1973). Dean tells the committee that he has White House documents detailing elements of the conspiracy in a safe-deposit box, and has given the keys to that box to Judge John Sirica, the judge overseeing the Watergate prosecutions. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] Dean, described by Time Magazine as “owlish” and speaking “in a lifeless monotone,” nevertheless displays “impressive poise and a masterly memory” as he “sp[ins] his detailed web of evidence. He readily admit[s] his own illegal and improper acts. But he emerge[s] unshaken from five full days of recital and cross examination, with his basic story challenged but intact.” Without a convincing rebuttal, it would be difficult for either the committee or the nation to believe that Nixon “was not an active and fully aware participant in the Watergate cover-up, as Dean charged.”
Implicates Nixon Aides - While Dean admits that he had no first-hand knowledge of Nixon’s complicity until September 1972, he directly implicates Nixon’s two most senior aides at the time, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, of what Time calls “multiple actions in the Watergate coverup,” as well as former Nixon campaign chairman John Mitchell.
White House-Sourced Questioning of Dean Backfires - An initial White House attempt at rebutting Dean’s testimony, consisting of a statement and a list of questions drawn up by White House counsel Fred Buzhardt, are “easily handled” by Dean, and even backfires, to the point where the White House disavows any involvement in the material, saying that they were “Buzhardt’s friendly personal contribution to the proceedings.” The questions attempt to portray Dean as the “mastermind” behind the Watergate conspiracy, with Mitchell his “patron.” Time writes, “Creating a constitutional crisis almost alone, the Buzhardt statement in effect charge[s], Dean and Mitchell kept the truth of all that concealed for some nine months from such shrewd White House officials as H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, Charles W. Colson—and the president.” But few on the committee find Buzhardt’s contention believable, considering the increasing amount of evidence to the contrary.
Testimony Details 'Climate of Fear' at White House - As yet much of Dean’s testimony remains uncorroborated, but, Time writes: “even if those facts leave many unconvinced of Nixon’s complicity in Watergate, Dean’s dismaying description of the climate of fear existing within the Nixon White House is almost as alarming as the affair that it spawned. With little regard for the law and under repeated proddings by the president himself. Dean contended, the Nixon staff used or contemplated using almost any available tactic to undermine political opponents, punish press critics, subdue antiwar protesters and gather political intelligence, including lists of ‘enemies’” (see June 27, 1973). Overall, Dean says, the Watergate break-in (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) was “the first act in a great American tragedy” and he finds it “very difficult” to testify about what others, including “men I greatly admire and respect,” had done. He finds it easier to admit to his own crimes. [Time, 7/9/1973]
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:
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“7. [US Representative] Allard Lowenstein, Long Island, NY: Guiding force behind the 18-year-old ‘Dump Nixon’ vote campaign.”
“8. Morton Halperin, leading executive at Common Cause: A scandal would be most helpful here.”
“9. Leonard Woodcock, UAW, Detroit, Mich.: No comments necessary.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“13. John Conyers, congressman, Detroit: Coming on fast. Emerging as a leading black anti-Nixon spokesman. Has known weakness for white females.”
“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]
“15. Stewart Rawlings Mott, Mott Associates, NY: Nothing but big money for radic-lib candidates.”
“16. Ronald Dellums, congressman, Calif: Had extensive [Edward M. Kennedy] EMK-Tunney support in his election bid. Success might help in California next year.”
“17. Daniel Schorr, Columbia Broadcasting System, Washington: A real media enemy.”
“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.”
“19. [Actor] Paul Newman, Calif: Radic-lib causes. Heavy McCarthy involvement ‘68. Used effectively in nation wide TV commercials. ‘72 involvement certain.”
“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]
Entity Tags: Paul Newman, National Welfare Rights Organization, Ralph Metcalfe, Parren Mitchell, Robert F Drinan, National Economic Council, Richard M. Nixon, Morton H. Halperin, Louis Stokes, Mary McGrory, John V. Lindsay, Lawrence O’Brien, Maxwell Dane, Leonard Woodcock, Robert Kastenmeier, Lyn Nofziger, Los Angeles Times, Robert N.C. Nix, Sam Ervin, S. Harrison Dogole, United Auto Workers, Walter Mondale, Tony Randall, William Clay, William R. Anderson, Wright Patman, William Proxmire, Ron Dellums, Stewart Rawlings Mott, Southern Christian Leadership Convention, S. Sterling Munro Jr, John Ehrlichman, Steve McQueen, Samuel M Lambert, Shirley Chisholm, Sidney Davidoff, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, John Dean, National Education Association, John Brademas, CBS News, Charles Colson, Charles Diggs, Charles Dyson, Charles Rangel, Brookings Institution, Council for a Livable World, Common Cause, Black Panthers, Birch Bayh, Bill Cosby, Allard Lowenstein, Alexander E. Barkan, AFL-CIO, Daniel Schorr, Arnold M. Picker, John Conyers, Augustus Hawkins, Bernard T. Feld, Bella Abzug, Dick Gregory, Barbra Streisand, Edmund Muskie, H.R. Haldeman, Harold Hughes, Gregory Peck, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, Jane Fonda, J. William Fulbright, Howard Stein, Gordon Strachan, George S. McGovern, Joe Namath, Edward Kennedy, Eugene McCarthy, Fred R Harris, Gaylord Nelson, George C. Wallace, Hubert H. Humphrey, George Collins, Ed Guthman
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
President Nixon refuses to testify before the Senate Watergate Committee, and will not provide access to White House documents. Nixon invokes “executive privilege” in his denials. Weeks before, Nixon promised not to use the executive privilege claim to impede testimony or evidence (see May 22, 1973). [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
In testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee, former Nixon campaign chairman John Mitchell explains why he was so systematically dishonest with FBI investigators in the early months of the Watergate probe: “I certainly was not about to do anything that would provide for the disclosure of the various aspects of the Watergate conspiracy and its links to the White House.” [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
’Newsweek’ cover on the revelation of the White House taping system. [Source: Ideobook.net]White House aide Alexander Butterfield shocks the Senate Watergate Committee with his revelation of a secret recording system in the White House. Butterfield reveals that since 1971, President Nixon has been recording every conversation and telephone call in the Oval Office. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Butterfield is actually the aide who, at Nixon’s request, had the taping system installed. [Sussman, 1974] He is now the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Taping System Installed in 1970 at Nixon's Behest - Butterfield says the taping system was installed in the spring or summer of 1970, but corrects his testimony after committee chairman Sam Ervin reads him a letter from Nixon lawyer Fred Buzhardt stating that the first time the system was used was the spring of 1971; Butterfield then says the system was installed at that time (see February 1971). The system was installed and operated by Secret Service agents. Asked why Nixon would have such a system, Butterfield replies, perhaps ingenuously, “There was no doubt in my mind they were installed to record things for posterity, for the Nixon library.” Committee counsel Samuel Dash says the committee will request selected tapes to hear for themselves. Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox is also expected to request some of the tapes. Dash acknowledges that two other Nixon aides, H. R. Haldeman and Lawrence Higby, were also asked about the existence of the taping system, but both have refused to confirm the existence of the device. [Washington Post, 7/17/1973] Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s deputy, Alexander Haig, also knew of the taping system, but Kissinger himself did not know. Former White House counsel John Dean suspected that such a system existed. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 331]
'Small Fry' - Butterfield is described by one reporter as a “small fry,” the man responsible for keeping Nixon’s schedule and handling paper flow. On July 13, three committee staff members prepare Butterfield for his public testimony of July 16. They ask whether there is a White House recording system, but are not prepared for Butterfield’s answer, or the ramifications of his admission. Butterfield makes the same admission three days later, in open testimony before the committee and the television cameras, and in more detail. [Houston Chronicle, 6/7/1997] Butterfield explains his reluctance to discuss the recording system by saying, “It is very obvious that this could be—I cannot say that any longer—is embarrassing to our government.” [Washington Post, 7/17/1973]
No Longer Dean's Word Against Nixon's - During preparation, when the staff members ask Butterfield how the White House could have such detailed knowledge of the conversations, Butterfield replies: “I was hoping you guys wouldn’t ask me that.… Well, yes, there’s a recording system in the White House.” Nixon had had five voice-activated microphones placed in his desk in the Oval Office and two in wall lamps by the office fireplace, Butterfield reveals. More were in the Cabinet Room, Nixon’s “hideaway” office in the Old Executive Office Building, and even at Camp David, the presidential retreat. Before Butterfield’s testimony, Nixon and his top legal advisers felt they could duck and deny the worst charges against them. They feel that much of the Watergate imbroglio boils down to Nixon’s word against White House whistleblower John Dean (who had informed the committee that he suspected a recording system existed), and as Haig, who succeeded Haldeman as Nixon’s chief of staff, told Nixon: “Nobody in Congress likes [Dean]. We can take the son of a b_tch on.” Few in the White House know of Nixon’s secret and extensive taping system. Although senior Nixon aide H. R. Haldeman had told the few aides who do know of the system to invoke executive privilege and refuse to discuss it, Haig quietly told at least one aide, his former deputy Lawrence Higby, to “tell the truth” if asked under oath. Nixon’s lawyers had effectively rebutted Dean’s earlier testimony when Buzhardt secretly supplied a sympathetic Senate lawyer with highly detailed, nearly verbatim accounts of Nixon and Dean’s private conversations—accounts drawn from the secret tapes. Haig will later claim to be “shocked” at Butterfield’s revelation, saying, “It never occurred to me that anyone in his right mind would install anything so Orwellian as a system that never shut off, that preserved every word, every joke, every curse, every tantrum, every flight of presidential paranoia, every bit of flattery and bad advice and tattling by his advisers.” In reality, Haig had known of the system for months before Butterfield’s testimony, and had advised Nixon to have the tapes destroyed before the Watergate prosecutors could get their hands on them. [Washington Post, 7/17/1973; Werth, 2006, pp. 81-82] “Without the tapes,” reporter Mike Feinsilber will write in 1997, “it was unlikely Nixon would have had to give up the presidency.” [Houston Chronicle, 6/7/1997] Butterfield was considered so unimportant that, had Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein not pressured committee lawyers to interview him, the committee may not have bothered with him. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 330-331]
Entity Tags: H.R. Haldeman, Mike Feinsilber, John Dean, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Lawrence Higby, Alexander Butterfield, Fred Buzhardt, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, Richard M. Nixon, Nixon administration
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
White House special counsel Richard Moore, who testifies to the Senate Watergate Committee before former White House aide Alexander Butterfield admits to the existence of a secret White House taping system (see July 13-16, 1973), insists that it is his “firm conviction” that President Nixon knew nothing of the cover-up of the Watergate conspiracy until March 21, 1973 (see March 21, 1973). Moore recalls an April 19 conversation with Nixon, in which Nixon allegedly said that then-White House counsel John Dean had told Nixon of the cover-up on March 21. According to Moore, Dean also told Nixon about the demands for “hush money” from convicted Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt to keep Hunt quiet about his knowledge of the burglary of the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist (see September 9, 1971). Terry Lenzner, one of the committee’s lawyers, reads White House log summaries made by Republican committee counsel Fred Thompson, summaries that have been verified as accurate by White House officials. Moore refuses to acknowledge that those log summaries are accurate reflections of conversations held by Nixon. Moore says that he had concluded on March 20 that Nixon “could not be aware of the things that Mr. Dean was worried about,” including the cover-up and the potential of it being publicly revealed. Lenzner asks: “Mr. Moore, do you agree now that your understanding of the president’s information and knowledge was basically incorrect. That he did, in fact, have information at that meeting… on March 20 concerning [Gordon] Strachan [an aide to Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman] and also possible involvement in Watergate and also involving the Ellsberg break-in?” Moore replies: “You have heard my statement on that, of course, that [Nixon] did not, that it was my judgment that he did not. I know of nothing to change that.” Dean has testified that on March 13 he told Nixon of Strachan’s possible involvement with the cover-up, and on March 17 he told Nixon of the Ellsberg break-in, testimony substantiated by the White House log summaries. Moore suggests that the committee ask someone who was at those meetings. Moore’s testimony will be proven false by the so-called “Nixon tapes.” [Washington Post, 7/17/1973]
Entity Tags: H.R. Haldeman, Daniel Ellsberg, Alexander Butterfield, E. Howard Hunt, Gordon Strachan, Nixon administration, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, John Dean, Fred Thompson, Richard Moore, Richard M. Nixon, Terry Lenzner
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
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. [Washington Post, 7/24/1973]
John Ehrlichman testifies before the Senate Watergate Committee. [Source: Associated Press]Former senior White House aide John Ehrlichman testifies before the Senate Watergate Committee. [CNN, 2/15/1999] He disputes previous testimony by former White House counsel John Dean (see June 3, 1973), and defends both the Ellsberg break-in (see September 9, 1971) and President Nixon’s overall conduct. [Facts on File, 8/28/2006]
Former acting director of the FBI L. Patrick Gray testifies before the Senate Watergate Committee. He admits to destroying potentially incriminating evidence (see Late December 1972), and testifies that although he improperly cooperated with the White House in providing Nixon aides with FBI files on its Watergate investigation, he never considered himself part of the Watergate conspiracy: “At no time did I feel I was dealing with individuals who were trying to sweep me into the very conspiracy that I was charged with investigating. That’s a madman’s horror.” Gray, a Navy veteran, adds: “In the service of my country, I withstood hours and hours of depth charging, shelling, bombing, but I never expected to run into a Watergate in the service of a president of the United States. And I ran into a buzz saw, obviously.” [New York Times, 7/7/2005]
August 16, 1972 front page of the Washington Post, reporting on Nixon’s address. [Source: Southern Methodist University]President Nixon delivers his second prime-time televised speech about Watergate to the nation. He says that both the Senate investigations have focused more on trying to “implicate the president personally in the illegal activities that took place,” and reminds listeners that he has already taken “full responsibility” for the “abuses [that] occurred during my administration” (see April 30, 1973). But in light of the increasing evidence being revealed about the Watergate conspiracy, Nixon’s speech is later proven to be a compilation of lies, half-truths, justifications, and evasions.
'No Prior Knowledge' - He again insists that “I had no prior knowledge of the Watergate break-in; I neither took part in nor knew about any of the subsequent cover-up activities; I neither authorized nor encouraged subordinates to engage in illegal or improper campaign tactics. That was and that is the simple truth.” He says that in all the Senate testimony, “there is not the slightest suggestion that I had any knowledge of the planning for the Watergate break-in.” He says only one witness has challenged his statement under oath, referring to former White House counsel John Dean (see April 6-20, 1973) and June 25-29, 1973), and says Dean’s “testimony has been contradicted by every other witness in a position to know the facts.” Instead, says Nixon, he insisted from the outset that the investigation into the Watergate burglary be “thorough and aboveboard,” and if there were any evidence of “higher involvement, we should get the facts out first.” A cover-up would be unconscionable, he says. He again insists that he was told in September 1972 that an FBI investigation, “the most extensive investigation since the assassination of President Kennedy… had established that only those seven (see June 17, 1972) were involved.” Throughout, Nixon says, he relied on the reports of his staff members, Justice Department, and FBI officials, who consistently reassured him that there was no involvement by anyone in the White House in the burglaries. “Because I trusted the agencies conducting the investigations, because I believed the reports I was getting, I did not believe the newspaper accounts that suggested a cover-up. I was convinced there was no cover-up, because I was convinced that no one had anything to cover up.”
Internal Investigation - He didn’t realize that those assurances were wrong until March 21, when he “received new information from [Dean] that led me to conclude that the reports I had been getting for over nine months were not true.” He immediately launched an internal investigation (see August 29, 1972), initially relying on Dean to conduct the investigation, then turning the task over to his senior aide, John Ehrlichman, and to the Attorney General, Richard Kleindienst. The results prompted him to give the case to the Criminal Division of the Justice Department, ordering the complete cooperation of “all members of the administration.” He never tried to hide the facts, Nixon asserts, but instead has consistently tried “to discover the facts—and to lay those facts before the appropriate law enforcement authorities so that justice could be done and the guilty dealt with.”
Refusal to Turn over Tapes; 'Privileged' Communications - Nixon says he is resisting subpoenas to turn over the secret recordings he has had made of White House and other conversations (see July 13-16, 1973) because of “a much more important principle… than what the tapes might prove about Watergate.” A president must be able to talk “openly and candidly with his advisers about issues and individuals” without having those conversations ever made public. These are “privileged” conversations, he says, similar to those between a lawyer and his client or “a priest and a penitent.” The conversations between a president and his advisers, Nixon says, are “even more important.” The conversations on those tapes are “blunt and candid,” made without thought to any future public disclosure, and for future presidents and their advisers to know that their conversations and advice might one day be made public would cripple their ability to talk freely and offer unfettered opinions. “That is why I shall continue to oppose efforts which would set a precedent that would cripple all future presidents by inhibiting conversations between them and those they look to for advice,” he says. “This principle of confidentiality of presidential conversations is at stake in the question of these tapes. I must and I shall oppose any efforts to destroy this principle.”
'Hard and Tough' Politics - Watergate has come to encompass more than just a burglary, Nixon says, but has brought up issues of partisan politics, “enemy lists” (see June 27, 1973), and even threats to national security. Nixon has always run “hard and tough” political campaigns, but has never stepped outside the law and “the limits of decency” in doing so. “To the extent that these things were done in the 1972 campaign, they were serious abuses, and I deplore them,” he says. The “few overzealous people” involved in the Watergate burglary should not reflect on his administration or the political process as a whole. He will “ensure that one of the results of Watergate is a new level of political decency and integrity in America—in which what has been wrong in our politics no longer corrupts or demeans what is right in our politics.”
Legal Wiretapping to Protect the Nation - The measures he has taken to protect the security of the nation have all been within the law and with the intention of protecting the government from possible subversion and even overthrow, he asserts. The wiretaps he authorized had been legal, he says, until the 1972 decision by the Supreme Court that rejected such wiretaps as unlawful (see June 19, 1972). Until then, Nixon says, he—like his predecessors—had implemented such wiretaps “to protect the national security in the public interest.” Since the Supreme Court decision, he says, he has stopped all such surveillance efforts. But the law must be mindful of “tying the president’s hands in a way that would risk sacrificing our security, and with it all our liberties.” He will continue to “protect the security of this nation… by constitutional means, in ways that will not threaten [American] freedom.”
The Fault of the Radicals - He blames the antiwar and civil rights movements of the 1960s as encouraging “individuals and groups… to take the law into their own hands,” often with the praise and support from the media and even from “some of our pulpits as evidence of a new idealism. Those of us who insisted on the old restraints, who warned of the overriding importance of operating within the law and by the rules, were accused of being reactionaries.” In the wake of this radical, anti-government atmosphere, the country was plagued by “a rising spiral of violence and fear, of riots and arson and bombings, all in the name of peace and in the name of justice. Political discussion turned into savage debate. Free speech was brutally suppressed as hecklers shouted down or even physically assaulted those with whom they disagreed. Serious people raised serious questions about whether we could survive as a free democracy.” That attitude permeated political campaigns, to the extent that “some persons in 1972 adopted the morality that they themselves had tightly condemned and committed acts that have no place in our political system… who mistakenly thought their cause justified their violations of the law.”
Looking Forward - It is time to put Watergate behind us, Nixon says, to abandon this “continued, backward-looking obsession with Watergate” and stop “neglect[ing] matters of far greater importance to all of the American people.… The time has come to turn Watergate over to the courts, where the questions of guilt or innocence belong. The time has come for the rest of us to get on with the urgent business of our nation.” [White House, 8/15/1973; White House, 8/15/1973; White House, 8/15/1973; AMDOCS Documents for the Study of American History, 6/1993; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Henry Petersen. [Source: Spartacus Educational]Former Attorney General Richard Kleindienst and Assistant Attorney General Henry Petersen testify before the Senate Watergate Committee. Both say they had been disturbed by the amount of White House interference they had gotten over their attempts to investigate the Watergate burglary, particularly from White House aide John Ehrlichman. Kleindienst tells of a phone call from Ehrlichman to Petersen demanding that the Justice Department stop “harassing” Maurice Stans, the former Nixon re-election campaign finance chairman. Kleindienst recalls that he told Ehrlichman he was flirting with an obstruction of justice charge, and threatened to resign “if the president tells me that you have the authority and the power to give specific instructions to people in the Department of Justice.” Ehrlichman reassured Kleindienst that “it will never happen again.” Kleindienst also recalls Ehrlichman coming to him in early 1973 asking for “technical” advice about securing lenient sentences or even presidential pardons for the Watergate burglars (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Ehrlichman “did not have much of a knowledge of the criminal justice system,” Kleindienst says, and asked such questions as “What happens when somebody is convicted of a crime?… When are you eligible for a pardon? When do the circumstances arise for executive pardon?” (Ehrlichman has already testified that he never sought any executive clemency for one of the burglars, E. Howard Hunt.) Kleindienst testifies that when he told Petersen of the conversation, Petersen declared that the defendants would almost certainly do “jail time,” and said he would strongly oppose any efforts to grant anyone clemency. Petersen testifies that Kleindienst replied, “Tell those crazy guys over there [at the White House] what you just told me before they do something they will be sorry for.” For his part, Petersen says it struck him most how suspiciously everyone at the White House and the re-election campaign were acting. “There were no records,” he recalls. “Things were destroyed. They didn’t act like innocent people. Innocent people come in and say: ‘Fine, what do you want to know?’ It was not like that.” Petersen says that he and the Justice Department could and would have solved the entire case, and that they had the case 90 percent solved when Archibald Cox was appointed to take over the investigation (see May 18, 1973). “Damn it!” he cries, “I resent the appointment of a special prosecutor!” [Time, 8/20/1973]
Jeb Magruder. [Source: Southern Methodist University]Jeb Magruder, the former deputy chairman of the Nixon re-election campaign, pleads guilty to obstruction of justice. He will be sentenced to between ten months and four years in federal prison. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
Howard Hunt during the Senate hearings. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Convicted Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt testifies before the Senate Watergate Committee. He has been adamant about remaining silent before the investigators, both when he was interrogated by the FBI and the Watergate grand jury prosecutors, and had inspired the four so-called “Cubans” among the burglars—Bernard Barker, Virgilio Gonzales, Eugenio Martinez, and Frank Sturgis—to also remain silent. The “Cubans” are aghast at Hunt’s open testimony in the Senate; among other things, he confirms that former Nixon White House and campaign aides John Mitchell, John Dean, and Jeb Magruder were primarily responsible for the covert actions of the Nixon campaign, and says that the CIA is heavily involved in domestic activities. Hunt’s fellow White House aide, G. Gordon Liddy, who has also remained obstinately silent, is overtly disgusted at Hunt. When Hunt is returned to his jail cell, Liddy asks the guards to transfer him to another block, away from Hunt, and says, “From now on, it’s every man for himself.” [Vanderbilt University Television News Archive, 9/25/1973; Harper's, 10/1974]
Entity Tags: Frank Sturgis, Central Intelligence Agency, Bernard Barker, E. Howard Hunt, Federal Bureau of Investigation, G. Gordon Liddy, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, Eugenio Martinez, Jeb S. Magruder, Virgilio Gonzales, John Dean, John Mitchell
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Donald Segretti, a former “agent provocateur” operative for the Nixon re-election campaign (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond), pleads guilty to charges of illegal distribution of false campaign literature. He will serve six months in federal prison. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
Spiro T. Agnew. [Source: University of Maryland]Vice President Spiro T. Agnew resigns. He will be replaced by an appointee, House Republican Gerald Ford (see October 12, 1973). Agnew, a conservative Maryland Republican with a long history of racial repression, ethnic jokes, and racial slurs in his record, appealed to conservative Southern voters as Richard Nixon’s vice presidential candidate in 1968 and 1972 (see 1969-1971). Agnew was the first vice president to be given his own office in the West Wing. [Time, 9/30/1996; US Senate, 2007] But by mid- and late 1971, Agnew is battling attempts from within the White House to force him to resign (see Mid-1971 and Beyond).
Nolo Contendre - Agnew’s lawyers reach a deal with the Justice Department, agreeing to a plea of nolo contendre (no contest) to the tax charge, a $160,000 levy of tax repayments, and a $10,000 fine. In return, Agnew agrees to leave office. One of his last actions as vice president is to visit Nixon, who assures him that he is doing the right thing. Agnew later recalls bitterly: “It was hard to believe he was not genuinely sorry about the course of events. Within two days, this consummate actor would be celebrating his appointment of a new vice president with never a thought of me.” For his part, Nixon will recall, “The Agnew resignation was necessary although a very serious blow.” Nixon apparently is not as concerned about punishing a White House official for misconduct as much as he hopes Agnew’s resignation will redirect the public anger away from himself. That ploy, too, will backfire: Nixon later writes that “all [Agnew’s resignation] did was to open the way to put pressure on the president to resign as well.” [US Senate, 2007] Agnew later says that Nixon “naively believed that by throwing me to the wolves, he had appeased his enemies.” [New York Times, 9/19/1996] The State of Maryland will later lift Agnew’s license to practice law. [University of Maryland Newsdesk, 10/6/2003]
'Affluent Obscurity' - Agnew will return to private life (in what one reporter will call “an affluent obscurity”) [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 9/21/1996] as an international business consultant (see 1980s). He will publish a 1980 memoir entitled Go Quietly… Or Else, in which he says he was forced to resign by scheming Nixon aides, and a novel about a corrupt American vice president “destroyed by his own ambition.” Continuing to maintain his innocence of any wrongdoing (see 1981), he refuses any contact from Nixon until he chooses to attend Nixon’s funeral in 1994. [New York Times, 9/19/1996; US Senate, 2007]
Stories of President Nixon’s emotional and physical debilitation circulate around Washington, with rumors of bouts of heavy drinking and depressive episodes. The press does not report these rumors, mostly because Nixon keeps himself out of the public eye, shuttling between his home in San Clemente, California, his vacation home in Key Biscayne, Florida, and Camp David. In his notes taken during a meeting about the Yom Kippur War, Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill (D-MA) writes, “President is acting very strangely.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 606]
President Nixon, still attempting to circumvent the courts’ insistence that he hand over relevant tapes of his White House conversations (see July 13-16, 1973) to the Watergate investigation, offers a compromise: He will personally prepare “summaries” of the tapes for Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, and allow Senator John Stennis (D-MS) to listen to the tapes and authenticate the summaries’ accuracy. In return, Cox must agree not to subpoena or otherwise seek further tapes or other records of Nixon’s conversations. Cox will refuse (see October 19-20, 1973). [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Former White House counsel John Dean pleads guilty to one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice in regards to his role in the Watergate cover-up. In return for his continued cooperation with the FBI and the Senate Watergate Committee (see April 6-20, 1973), Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox grants Dean immunity from any further Watergate-related charges. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
Washington Post headline of firings. [Source: Washington Post]After Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox refuses President Nixon’s offer of a “compromise” on the issue of the White House tapes (see October 19, 1973), Nixon orders (through his chief of staff Alexander Haig) Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Cox. Richardson refuses the presidential order, and resigns on the spot. Haig then orders Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox. Ruckelshaus also refuses, and resigns also. Haig finally finds a willing Justice Department official in Solicitor General Robert Bork, who is named acting attorney general and fires Cox. (Of the firing, Bork tells reporters, “All I will say is that I carried out the president’s directive.”) White House press secretary Ronald Ziegler announces that the Office of the Special Prosecutor has been abolished. FBI agents are sent to prevent Cox’s staff from taking their files out of their offices. Ziegler justifies the firing by saying that Cox “defied” Nixon’s instructions “at a time of serious world crisis” and made it “necessary” for Nixon to discharge him. After his firing, Cox says, “Whether ours shall continue to be a government of laws and not of men is now for Congress and ultimately the American people.” The press dubs Cox’s firings and the abolishment of the OSP the “Saturday Night Massacre,” and the public reacts with a fury unprecedented in modern American political history. In a period of ten days, Congress receives more than a million letters and telegrams (some sources say the number is closer to three million), almost all demanding Nixon’s impeachment. Congress will soon launch an impeachment inquiry. Former Washington Post editor Barry Sussman writes in 1974 that Cox’s firing was not a result of impetuous presidential anger. Nixon had been more than reluctant to accept a special prosecutor for Watergate. Cox, named special prosecutor in the spring of 1973, had quickly earned the ire of White House officials and of Nixon himself, and by October 7, Nixon had announced privately that Cox would be fired. [Washington Post, 10/21/1973; Sussman, 1974, pp. 251; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Entity Tags: John Sirica, Archibald Cox, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Barry Sussman, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard M. Nixon, William Ruckelshaus, John Stennis, Elliot Richardson, Robert Bork, Ron Ziegler
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Anthony Cornelius Harris. [Source: Corbis / TruTV]A wave of politically motivated murders takes place in San Francisco, claiming the lives of 15 people. Eight others are wounded. Most of the victims are shot to death; the first two victims, Richard Hague and his wife Quita, are attacked with machete blows. Quita Hague is also sexually molested. She is nearly decapitated, but Hague, though suffering terrible wounds, survives. Shopkeeper Saleem “Sammy” Erakat, a Jordanian Arab, is murdered, apparently for appearing “too white.” College student Angela Roselli, who survives an attack, remembers her assailant as having “this zombie look” as he shot her. “It was like he was in a trance. He was looking at me, but he was looking through me,” she says. The killings, called the “Zebra murders,” are later found to be racially motivated. “It was a very frightening time for the people of this city because of the random nature of the shootings,” future San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos will recall; Agnos is gravely wounded by one of the killers in December 1973, shot twice in the back. The killings are perpetrated by a small number of black extremists, members of the “Death Angels,” a splinter group from the Nation of Islam, which officially repudiates violence in its name. Mayor Joseph Alioto tells reporters that the “Death Angels” are a group “dedicated to the murder and mutilation of whites and dissident blacks.” Local press accounts falsely report that the killings are “initiation rituals” for membership in the Nation of Islam, and local African-American leaders take umbrage at Alioto’s implication that members of that organization are responsible for the murders. The name “Zebra” does not come from the black-against-white nature of the murders, but from the special radio band, “Z for Zebra,” used by police during their seven-month hunt for the killers. During the intensive police investigation, Alioto orders sweeping stop-and-search patrols that target many black males over six feet tall. After some 600 black men are detained, US District Judge Alphonso Zirpoli rules the dragnet is unconstitutional, calling it racial “profiling.” Agnos will recall: “The whole city was just in the grip of terror. But it was an ugly thing, a time when we failed our test on our commitment to civil liberties. When we are fearful, we tend to compromise that commitment too quickly.” Robert Brooks, a security guard detained and questioned by police, tells a reporter: “I think the mayor is persecuting the black community for the acts of a few crazy dudes. If the killings continue, some other people are talking about retaliation against blacks. That will be too bad. The thing is bad enough now.” Anthony Cornelius Harris, an accomplice in the murders, eventually gives information that leads to the arrest and conviction of four men: Manuel Moore, J.C. Simon, Larry C. Green, and Jessie Lee Cooks. All of the four are later convicted of 74 counts of murder, conspiracy, and assault. Moore, Simon, and Green will insist they are innocent of the charges; Cooks has already pled guilty to the murder of one of the victims, physical therapist Frances Rose. Another participant, Leroy Decker, who attempted to kill a gas company clerk, Robert Stoeckmann, is later convicted of assault with a deadly weapon. Five others are arrested and charged with participation in the murders, but are later released for lack of evidence. [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/13/2002; TruTV, 2010]
Entity Tags: J.C. Simon, Art Agnos, Anthony Cornelius Harris, Angela Roselli, Alphonso Zirpoli, Frances Rose, Robert Stoeckmann, Saleem (“Sammy”) Erakat, Quita Hague, Larry C. Green, Joseph Alioto, Jessie Lee Cooks, Leroy Decker, Death Angels, Manuel Moore, Nation of Islam, Richard Hague
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
Former White House counsel John Dean admits to destroying two notebooks he retrieved from the safe of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see June 28, 1972). Dean says the notebooks contained the names and addresses of people connected with the burglary as well as other crimes. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
President Nixon during the press conference. [Source: Business Week]During a press conference, President Nixon denies any involvement in the Watergate conspiracy, and declares, “I am not a crook.” [Washington Post, 11/18/1973] A defensive Nixon says he has never profited from his years of public service: “I have earned every cent. And in all of my years of public life I have never obstructed justice. People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook. I’ve earned everything I’ve got.” The statement about his finances comes from allegations that he paid insufficient taxes in 1970 and 1971. In regards to Watergate, Nixon only admits that he made mistakes in letting campaign officials operate with insufficient supervision. He says that the telephone conversations of his brother, Donald Nixon, were taped, but refuses to say why; sources have said that Donald Nixon’s phone was tapped because of his potentially embarrassing financial dealings. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Rose Mary Woods. [Source: Genevieve Naylor / Corbis]A gap of 18 and ½ minutes is found on the tape of a conversation between President Nixon and his aide, H. R. Haldeman, from June 20, 1972 (see July 13-16, 1973). Nixon lawyer Fred Buzhardt says he has no explanation for “the phenomenon.” Nixon’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods, denies any deliberate erasure. But electronics experts will eventually find that the tape has been deliberately erased at least five separate times. White House chief of staff Alexander Haig will blame “some sinister force” for the erasure.
Watergate Discussed - Former Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox’s subpoena of the tape (see July 23-26, 1973) says that “there is every reason to infer that the meeting included discussion of the Watergate incident.” That supposition is bolstered by previous testimony from former White House aide John Ehrlichman (see July 24, 1973). Watergate prosecutor Leon Jaworski says he is considering having all the remaining Watergate tapes placed under guard to prevent any further tampering. [Washington Post, 11/22/1973; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Three Suspects - Evidence later shows that only three people could have made the erasure: Woods; Stephen Bull, Nixon’s assistant; and Nixon himself. [Reston, 2007, pp. 33]
Washington Post Learns of Gap - Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward learned of “deliberate erasures” in the first week of November from his FBI source, W. Mark Felt (see May 31, 2005). White House sources confirmed that the tapes were often of poor quality, and that some inadvertent gaps existed, but, as press secretary Ron Ziegler tells Woodward’s colleague Carl Bernstein, to say that those gaps were deliberate would be “inaccurate.” When the deliberate gap is reported, Ziegler calls Bernstein to say that he did not know about the gap beforehand. Neither Bernstein nor Woodward doubt Ziegler—by this time, it is obvious that Nixon’s paranoia and penchant for secrecy extends even to the most trusted members of his staff. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 333-334]
Symbolic - In 2005, Woodward will write: “The missing 18 1/2-minute gap soon becomes a symbol for Nixon’s entire Watergate problem. The truth had been deleted. The truth was missing.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 103]
Entity Tags: Rose Mary Woods, Stephen Bull, Richard M. Nixon, W. Mark Felt, Leon Jaworski, Ron Ziegler, H.R. Haldeman, Archibald Cox, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., John Ehrlichman, Carl Bernstein, Fred Buzhardt, Bob Woodward
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Former White House appointment secretary Dwight Chapin is indicted on four counts of lying to the Watergate grand jury. Chapin will be convicted on two of the four counts in May 1974. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
Egil “Bud” Krogh, the former White House aide who helped coordinate the “Plumbers” (see March 20, 1971), pleads guilty to violating the civil rights of Dr. Lewis Fielding. The “Plumbers” broke into Fielding’s office to try to find incriminating evidence against one of Fielding’s clients, Daniel Ellsberg (see September 9, 1971). Krogh will serve six months in jail of an original two-to-six-year sentence. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ] Krogh said during the trial, “I now feel that the sincerity of my motivation cannot justify what was done, and that I cannot in conscience assert national security as a defense.” [Harper's, 10/1974]
Former White House aide Tom Charles Huston, the author of the infamous “Huston Plan” (see July 14, 1970), talks about Watergate and civil liberties with a small audience, the Philadelphia chapter of the conservative organization Young Americans for Freedom (YAF).
Plan for Surveillance - His topic is “Government Surveillance of Private Citizens: Necessary or Ominous?” Huston discusses at some length the discussions and issues surrounding his plan, which would have allowed for draconian police and surveillance powers to be used against the populace and particularly against anyone identifying themselves with antiwar protesters and organizations. According to Huston, the country was reeling from bombings and bomb threats, closed-down schools, National Guard alerts, university ROTC buildings being burned, police officers injured and killed, civilians killed, snipers firing from rooftops. Huston paints a picture of a country on the brink of armed insurrection.
Overreaction - But Huston isn’t ready to draw such a conclusion. “Looking back, it is easy to understand why people now think the administration overreacted,” he says. “And had I known at the time that if we had done nothing, the problem would just go away, I would have recommended that we do nothing. But we did not understand that, and I don’t think that any reasonable person could have known this. Something had to be done. In the last analysis, I suppose this is an example of the dangers of letting down your guard against increased executive powers—no matter what the circumstances. Not that the danger was not real, but in this case the risk of the remedy was as great as the disease. There was a willingness to accept without challenge the Executive’s claim to increased power. That’s why we acted as we did, and it was a mistake.”
"Hooray for Watergate" - During the question-and-answer session, a middle-aged woman tells a story of how her son was being beat up by neighborhood bullies, and how, after trying in vain to get authorities to step in, gave her son a baseball bat and told him to defend himself. By this point the crowd is chanting and cheering in sympathy with the increasingly agitated mother, and some begin yelling: “Hooray for Watergate! Hooray for Watergate!” Huston is clearly nonplussed by the audience’s reaction, and, when the chanting and cheering dies down, says, “I’d like to say that this really goes to the heart of the problem. Back in 1970, one thing that bothered me the most was that it seemed as though the only way to solve the problem was to hand out baseball bats. In fact, it was already beginning to happen…. Something had to be done. And out of it came the Plumbers and then a progression to Watergate. Well, I think that it’s the best thing that ever happened to this country that it got stopped when it did. We faced up to it…. [We] made mistakes.” [Harper's, 10/1974]
Bo Burlingame, a former member of the radical antiwar group the Weather Underground, interviews former Nixon White House aide Tom Charles Huston, the author of the notorious, unconstitutional “Huston Plan” (see July 14, 1970). Huston is just coming off a speech to a conservative audience in which he said that his plan, and Nixon’s attempt to seize executive power at the expense of Congress and the Constitution, was excessive and mistaken (see Late 1973). Huston, a lawyer, a former Army intelligence officer, and an early leader of the Indiana chapter of the conservative extremist group Young Americans for Freedom, tells Burlingame that he found an interesting parallel between his group of right-wing extremists and Burlingame’s left-wing extremists: “I was interested to learn that you people were frustrated because nobody was listening to you. You know, we felt the same thing at the White House. It seemed as if a momentous crisis was at hand, and nobody was aware of it or cared.”
Coup d'Etat Begins with Creation of Fear in Populace - Huston is contemptuous and dismissive of many of his former White House colleagues, particularly Richard Nixon. “Frankly, I wouldn’t put anything past him and those damn technocrats,” he says of Nixon and his senior aides. “[Y]ou can’t begin to compete with the professional Nixonites when it comes to deception.… If Nixon told them to nationalize the railroads, they’d have nationalized the railroads. If he’d told them to exterminate the Jews, they’d have exterminated the Jews.” He took a position with the White House in January 1969 “believing that things were finally going to be set straight.”
Disillusioned - Huston became increasingly disillusioned with the lack of idealism in the Nixon White House, and left after deciding that Nixon and his top officials were less interested in implementing true conservative reforms and more interested in merely accumulating power. The Nixon team was an apolitical, power-hungry bunch “whose intellectual tradition is rooted in the philosophy of [marketing and advertising guru] J. Walter Thompson.… This administration has done more to debauch conservative values than anything else in recent history.”
Fear and Repression - Considering his plan to abrogate the fundamental rights of hundreds of thousands of Americans, Huston seems quite supportive of those rights even in the face of national danger. “The real threat to national security is repression,” he had told a New York Times interviewer not long before the Burlingame interview. “A handful of people can’t frontally overthrow the government. But if they can engender enough fear, they can generate an atmosphere that will bring out every repressive demagogue in the country.”
Explaining the Huston Plan - Huston explains the rationale behind his radically repressive plan, telling Burlingame that the country was on the brink of mass insurrection and the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover was not doing nearly enough to combat the civil rights and antiwar protesters, particularly groups like the Black Panthers and Burlingame’s Weather Underground. By early 1970, many in the White House were ready to ease Hoover out of power; when, shortly thereafter, the mass protests against the Cambodia bombings (see February 23-24, 1969 and April 24-30, 1970) and the Jackson State and Kent State shootings (see May 4-5, 1970) occurred, Huston and others at the White House thought there was a far more organized and systematic underground, left-wing revolution going on than they had evidence to document. “We just didn’t believe we were getting the whole story,” he says.
Removing Hoover - Getting rid of Hoover and replacing him with someone more amenable to the White House’s agenda was the first goal, Huston says. The June 1970 “Interagency Committee on Intelligence” (see June 5, 1970) was designed to maneuver around Hoover and have him implicitly authorize counter-insurrection methods that he had always opposed, including “surreptitious entry” and “covert mail coverage.” The committee was the genesis of the Huston Plan. But Hoover stops the plan in its tracks by going through Attorney General John Mitchell. Whatever he said to Mitchell is not known, but Mitchell chewed out Huston and saw to it that the plan was terminated. Huston says that the unit of illegal campaign operatives later known as the “Plumbers” (see July 20, 1971) stems in part from the White House’s inability to force Hoover from power. Had Hoover made the FBI available to conduct the illegal burglaries and surveillances that Nixon wanted done—had Nixon supported the Huston Plan—the Plumbers would have never come into existence. “I find that totally indefensible,” Huston observes.
Ethical Confusion - Burlingame is bemused by Huston’s apparent ethical schizophrenia—on the one hand, Huston has come out strongly for constitutional freedoms, and on the other hand is now saying that his plan, which he himself has long admitted was blatantly illegal, would have avoided the entire Watergate contretemps and would have worked to bring the country into line. In fact, Huston asserts, he believed at the time that the Watergate conspiracy was completely legal. “I took the view that in internal security matters the president had the right to infringe on what would, in other circumstances, be constitutional rights, but that decision encompassed a decision that you forfeit the right to prosecute.” This view is why he left the Justice Department entirely out of the loop on his plan, he says.
Deliberately Keeping outside the Framework of the Law - The entire Huston plan would have never been used for anything except intelligence-gathering, he says. It was necessary for the plan to be exercised outside the structure of US law, he says. “[Y]ou don’t want a constitutional or legal mandate,” he says. “You don’t want to institutionalize the excesses required to meet extraordinary threats. The law just can’t anticipate all the contingencies.” He now thinks that he went too far with pushing for extraordinary powers; that if Hoover could have been eased out of power, the FBI could have done what needed doing without breaking the law. Burlingame writes that he cannot help but think that Huston is employing “tortured legalisms” to “cover his flank,” and questions Huston’s portrait of himself as an increasingly marginalized conservative idealist who became so disillusioned with the amoral power-mad bureaucrats of the Nixon administration that he walked out rather than further jeopardize his own principles. [Harper's, 10/1974]
Entity Tags: John Mitchell, Bo Burlingame, Black Panthers, ’Plumbers’, Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Walter Thompson, Young Americans for Freedom, J. Edgar Hoover, Tom Charles Huston, US Department of Justice, Weather Underground, Nixon administration, Richard M. Nixon
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Amid rumors and observations of President Nixon’s crumbling physical and emotional state (see Mid-October, 1973), Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) writes in a memo to himself: “I have reason to suspect that all might not be well mentally in the White House. This is the only copy that will ever be made of this; it will be locked in my safe.” The memo will not be revealed until 2001, when it is reported in Richard Reeves’s biography, President Nixon. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 606]
The Washington Post reports that “Operation Candor,” the White House’s public relations campaign to clear President Nixon’s name regarding Watergate, has been shut down. It also reports that several of Nixon’s most senior advisers no longer believe his protestations of innocence and ignorance. White House chief of staff Alexander Haig calls the story “scurrilous.” Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward soon learn that Haig himself is dubious of Nixon’s course, and has urged Nixon to cut ties with three of his former aides, H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and Charles Colson—to let them go down and ensure he doesn’t go with them. Nixon’s legal defense is constructed in concert with theirs, and the White House has been supplying their lawyers with the same documents it has been releasing to the special prosecutor’s office. Nixon himself has no intention of either accepting responsibility for his role in the Watergate conspiracy or making any public apology. “Contrition is bullsh_t,” press secretary Ron Ziegler has said, and that is an apparent reflection of Nixon’s own views. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 334-335]
Two British animal rights activists, Ronnie Lee and Cliff Goodman of the “Band of Mercy,” are jailed for firebombing a British vivisection research center. Following the attack, Lee issues a statement saying that the firebombing was intended to “prevent the torture and murder of our animal brothers and sisters.” [Animal Liberation Front, 2002 ; Anti-Defamation League, 2005] After being released from jail, Lee and other Band of Mercy members will form the Animal Liberation Front (see 1976).
Wisconsin Posse Comitatus (see 1969) activist Thomas Stockheimer, who founded the Wisconsin chapter in 1970 from his own organization, the “Little People’s Tax Advisory Committee,” and several of his followers lure IRS agent Fred Chicken to a farm in Abbotsford, Wisconsin, and assault him. Stockheimer is later convicted of felony assault against Chicken, and after losing an appeal, becomes a fugitive. During his appeals process, Stockheimer introduces future Posse Comitatus leader James Wickstrom to the Posse Comitatus (see February 14-21, 1983 and 1984). Stockheimer’s anti-Semitism, racism, and anti-tax philophophy are what attracts Wickstrom to the group. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 12/2004; Anti-Defamation League, 2011]
Tax protester Ardie McBrearty founds the United States Taxpayers Union (USTU), an organization dedicated to abolishing the 16th Amendment (see 1951-1967 and 1970-1972), and also the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), consumer protection statutes, gun control laws, and other “unconstitutional” legislation. McBrearty, an avowed Christian Identity follower (see 1960s and After), will abandon tax protest in favor of armed white supremacist militancy, joining The Order (see Late September 1983 and August 1984 and After). He will eventually earn 40 years in prison for his role in The Order’s violent actions. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 12/2001] In a 1982 lawsuit, McBrearty will argue that a 1977 agreement with UTSU mandated that the group should pay “all necessary personal and family obligations of said individual [and] all costs incurred in the defense of a client member.” McBrearty will be convicted for tax law violations in 1979 and will sue the UTSU shortly thereafter. The courts will dismiss the lawsuit because such an agreement “contravene[s] public policy and [i]s therefore unenforceable.” [OpenJurist, 1/18/1982] It is unclear whether McBrearty’s loss of the lawsuit triggers his desire to join a more actively violent organization, such as The Order.
Herbert L. “Bart” Porter, the former scheduling director for the Nixon re-election campaign, pleads guilty to lying to the FBI and the grand jury in the Watergate investigation (see January 8-11, 1973). Porter will only serve a month of his five-to-fifteen-month sentence. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ] In October 1974, Porter will write with a certain fondness of his time at the minimum-security federal prison camp at Lompoc, California: “The camp was physically attractive, with green lawns and flowers outside. Inside, it had the appearance of a BOQ [military officers’ quarters]. There were no fences, no bars. Everything was wide open. I am glad to have had the privilege of spending three-and-a-half weeks with people I would have never known otherwise. It’s often said that if more men from the upper classes had to spend time in jails and prison, conditions would be improved. If this is true, then the Republican party should become one of reform.” [Harper's, 10/1974]
Peter Rodino. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]The House of Representatives authorizes the House Judiciary Committee to begin investigating whether grounds exist to impeach President Nixon. The Judiciary Committee is chaired by Peter Rodino (D-MI). [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Herbert Kalmbach, Richard Nixon’s personal lawyer and formerly the assistant finance chairman of the Nixon re-election campaign, pleads guilty to violating the Federal Corrupt Practices Act and a misdemeanor charge of fraudulently promising an ambassadorship in return for a campaign contribution. The FBI’s internal report says that Kalmbach’s primary function in the Watergate conspiracy was to distribute the money used to silence the original seven Watergate defendants (see January 8-11, 1973). [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
Editorial cartoon from the Washington Post by ‘Herblock,’ July 14, 1974. [Source: Washington Post / Library of Congress]The Watergate grand jury indicts seven Nixon officials and aides for a variety of crimes committed as a part of the Watergate conspiracy, including perjury and conspiring to pay “hush money” to the convicted Watergate burglars. The indicted White House officials are former top Nixon aides John Ehrlichman, H. R. Haldeman, and Charles Colson; former assistant attorney general Robert Mardian; and Haldeman’s former assistant Gordon Strachan. The former Nixon campaign officials are former campaign chairman John Mitchell and former campaign lawyer Kenneth Parkinson. The charges against Colson will be dropped after he pleads guilty to obstruction of justice in the Ellsberg case (see March 7, 1974). [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 335; O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ; Reeves, 2001, pp. 607; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] President Nixon is labeled an “unindicted co-conspirator” by the grand jury, on a 19-0 vote. [Time, 6/17/1974]
Former White House aides John Ehrlichman, Charles Colson, and G. Gordon Liddy, and three Cuban-Americans, including two of the convicted Watergate burglars (see January 8-11, 1973), Bernard Barker and Eugenio Martinez, are charged with planning and executing the burglary of the offices of Dr. Lewis Fielding, Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist (see September 9, 1971). Colson will quickly reach a plea-bargain agreement, promise to cooperate with the prosecution, plead guilty to one count of obstruction of justice, and serve approximately seven months in prison. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 335; Billy Graham Center, 12/8/2004] He will also be disbarred. In the guilty plea agreement, Colson admits to having devised “a scheme to obtain derogatory information about Daniel Ellsberg,” who himself was facing criminal charges relating to the Pentagon Papers leak. Colson wanted to smear Ellsberg’s reputation in the media, in essence having Ellsberg “tried in the newspapers” even though this would have an “adverse effect on his right to a fair trial.” Colson also admits to having written a “scurrilous and libelous memorandum” about one of Ellsberg’s attorneys. He does not admit to actually taking part in the planning of the Fielding burglary. [Time, 6/17/1974] In 2006, White House counsel John Dean will write that Colson’s promise of cooperation is virtually worthless: “[I]n the end he proved to be utterly useless as a government witness, since the government could not vouch for his honesty.” [Dean, 2006, pp. xxiii]
President Nixon demands IRS probes of every senior White House staffer and every member of Congress, in hopes of finding some ammunition to use in defending himself from Watergate-related charges. He says in a memo to chief of staff H. R. Haldeman, “It could be said, if any questions are raised, that this is what we are going because of letters we have received indicating that people in government do not get IRS checks because of their special position…. Give me an oral report.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 577]
G. Gordon Liddy, one of the “Plumbers,” is convicted of an array of crimes related to the Ellsberg break-in (see September 9, 1971), and is sentenced from six to twenty years in prison. He faces concurrent charges of violating the civil rights of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis Fielding (see March 7, 1974). [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
President Nixon still refuses to hand over the tapes subpoenaed by the Watergate special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski (see April 16, 1974). Instead, Nixon provides more edited transcripts of the tapes to the House Judiciary Committee. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Transcripts Prove His Innocence, Nixon Claims - A summary of the tapes, written by White House officials, says that the transcripts prove Nixon’s innocence. “In all of the thousands of words spoken,” the summary says, “even though they often are unclear and ambiguous, not once does it appear that the president of the United States was engaged in a criminal plot to obstruct justice.” [Washington Post, 5/1/1974] Shortly after the release of the transcripts, Nixon appears on television with a pile of looseleaf notebooks—the transcripts, which he says he has personally compiled—and says: “In these transcripts, portions not relevant to my knowledge or actions with regard to Watergate are not included, but everything that is relevant is included—the rough as well as the smooth—the strategy sessions, the exploration of alternatives, the weighing of human and political costs. As far as what the president personally knew and did with regard to Watergate and the cover-up is concerned, these materials—together with those already made available—will tell it all.… I want there to be no question remaining about the fact that the president has nothing to hide in this matter.” [White House, 4/29/1974; White House, 4/29/1974; White House, 4/29/1974; White House, 4/29/1974; Washington Post, 2007] “As far as the president’s role with regard to Watergate is concerned,” Nixon claims, “the entire story is there.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 608] He rails against the idea of impeaching him (see February 6, 1974), saying that the charges are based on “[r]umor, gossip, innuendo, [and] accounts from unnamed sources,” and implicitly accuses former White House counsel John Dean of lying about his involvement in the Watergate cover-up (see April 6-20, 1973). The 18 ½ minute erasure on one of the key tape recordings (see November 21, 1973) is “a mystery” to him, Nixon asserts. The nation must move past Watergate to deal with more serious matters, he says. [Washington Post, 2007]
Reaction Divided - Reaction on Congress is divided largely along party lines. House Minority Leader John Rhodes (R-AZ) says the transcripts show Nixon is “in substantial compliance” with a Judiciary Committee subpoena. Speaker of the House Carl Albert (D-FL) has a different view: “Why substitute other evidence when the direct evidence [the actual tapes] is available?” [Washington Post, 5/1/1974]
Transcripts Heavily Edited, Doctored - It quickly becomes evident that the transcripts have been heavily edited and altered, both to clean up Nixon’s language and to cloak the details of the events documented in the tapes. Only 11 of the 64 conversations cited in the subpoenas are present, and those have been doctored. The term “expletive deleted” quickly enters the political and popular lexicon, and even with much of the profanity and ethnic slurs deleted, the impression given by the transcripts is not popular with the American people; in the words of reporter Mike Feinsilber, the transcripts show Nixon “as a vengeful schemer—rambling, undisciplined, mean-spirited and bigoted.” Even the edited transcripts document Nixon participating in discussions about raising blackmail money and “laundering” payments, offering clemency or parole to convicted Watergate figures, discussing how to handle perjury or obstruction of justice charges, and debating how best to use the term “national security” to advance his own personal and political agendas. In one conversation, Dean says that one of their biggest problems is that they are not “pros” at the kinds of activities they are engaging in: “This is the sort of thing Mafia people can do.” Nixon replies: “That’s right.… Maybe it takes a gang to do that.” The Judiciary Committee immediately joins the special prosecutor in demanding the actual tapes. [Washington Post, 5/1/1974; Houston Chronicle, 6/7/1999; Reeves, 2001, pp. 608]
A small team of investigators working for the Senate Watergate Committee issues a preliminary report about the suspicious $100,000 gift made to the Nixon re-election campaign by President Nixon’s close friend, Charles “Bebe” Rebozo, which may have been disbursed illegally to Nixon’s family and friends, and perhaps to Nixon himself. Nixon has angrily declared the entire matter off-limits, but a four-man team of investigators, headed by former assistant US attorney Terry Lenzner, has uncovered much of the truth behind the Rebozo gift. The investigators have until May 28, when the entire Watergate Committee is slated to terminate its proceedings. Lenzner and his team were greatly aided by testimony from Nixon’s personal attorney, Herbert Kalmbach, who testified before the committee and was later found guilty of taking part in the Watergate conspiracy (see February 25, 1974). Kalmbach said that Rebozo had asked him about the potential illegal use of the donations, but then changed his mind and claimed he had never made the donations in the first place (see April 30 - May 1, 1973). In his own testimony, Rebozo denied ever asking Kalmbach anything about the donations; Kalmbach must have “misunderstood.” However, the evidence shows otherwise. Lenzner’s investigators believe that Rebozo did indeed make the donations, and that they were indeed illegally disbursed to Nixon’s friends, brothers, and other unnamed people, as Rebozo had originally claimed. The investigators have found that in April 1973, when he first spoke to Kalmbach, Rebozo was looking for a fast, safe way to replace the cash so he could safely claim that he had never made the donation. Lenzner believes that Rebozo secured the replacement cash from another millionaire friend of Nixon’s, financier Robert Abplanalp, through Abplanalp’s lawyer, William Griffin. In May 1973, Lenzner believes that Rebozo and Hughes Corporation executive Richard Danner, the original source of the contribution, met with Nixon, where Abplanalp provided the cash to replace the missing $100,000. Lenzner hopes to secure IRS files on Rebozo that will confirm the team’s findings. Lenzner believes that White House lawyer Fred Buzhardt was in charge of what he calls the “Hughes-Rebozo cover-up.” Buzhardt testified once before the committee, but was able to recall so little that he has been summoned to testify a second time. “It was an incredible performance,” says one committee investigator. “He couldn’t remember anything—not even what he was doing two days before he testified.” Ultimately, little will come of Lenzner’s investigation. [Time, 5/6/1974]
Former Attorney General Richard Kleindienst pleads guilty to a misdemeanor charge resulting from his agreement not to pursue charges in the ITT corruption case (see 1969). Kleindienst admits to giving in to pressure from President Nixon and White House aide John Ehrlichman to drop the Justice Department’s investigation of ITT. He pleads guilty to failing to testify accurately before the Senate. The judge in the case fines Kleindienst $100 and gives him a 30-day suspended jail sentence, calling Kleindienst a man of the “highest integrity” but one who has “a heart that is too loyal.” [New York Times, 2/4/2000]
Former Nixon White House aide Charles Colson, later described by reporter David Plotz as “Richard Nixon’s hard man, the ‘evil genius’ of an evil administration,” is sentenced to jail after pleading guilty (see March 7, 1974) to taking part in the plan to break into Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office (see September 9, 1971) and interfering with Ellsberg’s trial (see June 28, 1971). Colson also, according to Watergate historian Stanley Kutler, tried to hire Teamster thugs to beat up antiwar demonstrators, and plotted to either raid or firebomb the Brookings Institution (see June 8-9, 1973). Colson will serve seven months in jail (see September 3, 1974). [Slate, 3/10/2000] Colson tells the court: “I shall be cooperating with the prosecutor, but that is not to say that the prosecutor has bargained for my testimony, that there is any quid pro quo: there was not. I reached my own conclusion that I have a duty to tell everything I know about these important issues, and a major reason for my plea was to free me to do so.” Colson’s testimony against Richard Nixon is damning, as he tells the court Nixon had “on numerous occasions urged me to disseminate damaging information about Daniel Ellsberg.” Vice President Ford defends Nixon, saying, “There’s a big difference between telling Chuck Colson to smear Ellsberg and ordering—or allegedly ordering—a break-in.” Colson will later become a born-again Christian evangelist, and found an influential prison ministry. [Slate, 3/10/2000; Werth, 2006, pp. 273-274]
The US Supreme Court rules in Richardson v. Ramirez that states may deny convicted felons the right to vote. The case originated when felons who had completed their sentences sued the California secretary of state and election officials, challenging a state constitutional provision and related statutes that permanently denied them the right to vote unless their rights were restored, on an individual basis, by court order or executive pardon. The burden is generally on the state to show a “compelling state interest” in denying a citizen the right to vote. The plaintiffs argued that California had no compelling state interest in denying them their right to vote. The plaintiffs won their case in California’s Supreme Court. However, the US Supreme Court rules that a state does not have to prove that its felony disfranchisement laws serve a compelling state interest. The Court finds that the Fourteenth Amendment exempts felony disenfranchisement laws from the burden placed on states in voting rights matters. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012; RICHARDSON v. RAMIREZ, 418 US 24 (1974), 2012] The Court writes: “[I]t is not for us to choose one set of values over the other. If respondents are correct, and the view which they advocate is indeed the more enlightened one, presumably the people of the State of California will ultimately come around to the view. And if they do not do so, their failure is some evidence, at least, of the fact that there are two sides to the argument.” [ProCon, 10/19/2010; RICHARDSON v. RAMIREZ, 418 US 24 (1974), 2012]
The Justice Department’s Office of Planning and Evaluation (OPE) submits a report on the role and actions of the FBI in the Watergate investigations. The report finds that, even with the attempts of former Attorneys General John Mitchell and Richard Kleindienst, White House aides John Dean and Jeb Magruder, and others to “mislead and thwart the Bureau’s legitimate line of inquiry,” and the “contrived covers” used to direct attention away from the White House, the FBI investigation was “the ultimate key to the solution of not only the Watergate break-in (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) but the cover itself.” The report continues: “There can be no question that the actions of former Attorneys General Mitchell and Kleindienst served to thwart and/or impede the Bureau’s investigative effort. The actions of John W. Dean at the White House and Jeb S. Magruder at the Committee to Re-elect the President were purposefully designed to mislead and thwart the Bureau’s legitimate line of inquiry. At every stage of the investigation there were contrived covers placed in order to mislead the investigators.” The OPE notes the following problems in the investigation, and provides explanations of some:
Providing information concerning ongoing investigations to the White House, and allowing Dean to actually sit in on interviews of White House personnel (see June 22, 1972).
Failing to interview key members of CREEP, the Nixon re-election campaign organization, as well as allowing CREEP attorneys to sit in on interviews of CREEP employees and allowing those attorneys access to FBI investigative materials. The report says that the investigation initially focused on James McCord and E. Howard Hunt, and interviewed CREEP officials tied directly to them. The net was widened later on. However, the report acknowledges that many CREEP employees undoubtedly lied to FBI investigators, “most notably John Mitchell, Jeb Magruder, Bart Porter, Sally Harmony, and Maurice Stans.” Porter and Magruder in particular “lied most convincingly.” Another CREEP employee, Robert Reisner (Magruder’s assistant), was not interviewed because Reisner successfully hid from FBI investigators. The FBI believes it was Reisner who cleaned out the “Operation Gemstone” files from Magruder’s office (see January 29, 1972 and September 29, 1972). Numerous other financial and other files were also destroyed after being requested by the FBI, most notably Alfred Baldwin’s surveillance tapes and logs from the Democratic offices in the Watergate (see May 29, 1972). Many of these files were destroyed by G. Gordon Liddy. “It is apparent that most [CREEP] people in the summer of 1972 were quite willing to lie and/or tell us considerably less than the full truth,” the report notes.
An untenable delay in searching and securing Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt’s desk in the White House, putting the contents of that desk at risk of being removed, and the “[a]lleged activities by former Acting Director [L. Patrick] Gray to limit, contain, or obstruct FBI investigation of Watergate” (see June 22, 1972). Gray is known to have destroyed materials from Hunt’s desk given to him by Dean, and is known to have extensively interfered with the FBI’s investigation (see June 28-29, 1972 and Late December 1972). The report notes that while it cannot find specific evidence that Gray broke any laws in his attempts to impede the FBI’s investigation into the Watergate conspiracy, it is clear that Gray cooperated with the White House, specifically through Dean, to ensure that the White House was always aware of what avenues of investigation were being pursued. The OPE says that Gray’s destruction of files from Hunt’s safe did not necessarily impede the FBI’s investigation, because it has no way of knowing what was in those files. The report says that it is unfortunate that “many people make no distinction between the FBI’s actions and Mr. Gray’s actions.”
Failure to interview key individuals with knowledge of the suspicious monies found in the burglars’ bank accounts.
Failing to secure and execute search warrants for the burglars’ homes, automobiles, and offices. The OPE says that many of those issuing this criticism “should know better,” and claims that the FBI agents involved did their level best to obtain search warrants within the bounds of the law. The report notes that after the burglary, the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case, Earl Silbert, did not believe there was probable cause to search burglar James McCord’s home or office until after July 10, 1972, when Baldwin told the FBI that he had taken surveillance equipment to McCord’s home (see June 17, 1972). Even then, Silbert decided that because of the amount of time—23 days—that had expired, a search warrant would have been pointless.
Failing to identify and interview a number of people listed in the burglars’ address books. The OPE report notes that the decision to interview far less than half of the names in the books was made by FBI agents in the Miami field office, and due to the “fast moving extensive investigation which was then being conducted,” the decision to only track down a selected few from the books was right and proper. The report notes that subsequent interviews by reporters of some of the people in the address books elicited no new information. The report also notes that Gray refused to countenance interviews of the remaining subjects in the address book while the trial of the seven burglars (see January 8-11, 1973) was underway.
Failing to find and remove a surveillance device from the Democratic National Committee headquarters (see September 13, 1972). The OPE calls this failure “inexplicable.”
Failure to thoroughly investigate CREEP agent Donald Segretti (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond) and other CREEP operatives. The OPE finds that because Segretti was initially uncooperative with FBI investigators, and because an “extensive investigation” turned up nothing to connect Segretti with the Watergate conspiracy, the agents chose not to continue looking into Segretti’s actions. Only after press reports named Segretti as part of a massive, White House-directed attempt to subvert the elections process (see October 7, 1972) did the FBI discuss reopening its investigation into Segretti. After reviewing its information, the FBI decided again not to bother with Segretti. The OPE finds that the decision was valid, because Segretti had not apparently broken any federal laws, and the FBI does not conduct violations of election laws unless specifically requested to do so by the Justice Department. The report also says that politics were a concern: by opening a large, extensive investigation into the Nixon campaign’s “dirty tricks,” that investigation might have impacted the upcoming presidential elections.
Media leaks from within the FBI concerning key details about the investigation (see May 31, 2005). The report finds no evidence to pin the blame for the leaks on any particular individual. The report notes that New York Times reporter John Crewdson seemed to have unwarranted access to FBI documents and files, but says it has turned that matter over to another agency inside the bureau.
Failing to interview, or adequately interview, key White House officials such as H. R. Haldeman, Charles Colson, Dwight Chapin, and others. The report justifies the decision not to interview Haldeman because the FBI had no information that Haldeman had any knowledge of, or involvement in, the burglary itself.
“Alleged attempt on part of Department of Justice officials to limit, contain, or obstruct FBI investigation.” The report is particularly critical of Kleindienst’s concealment of his contact with Liddy about the burglary (see June 17, 1972).
“Alleged attempt by CIA officials to interfere, contain, or impede FBI Watergate investigation.” The report notes that during the Senate Watergate Committee hearings, Republican co-chairman Howard Baker (R-TN) tried repeatedly to assert that the CIA was behind the burglary. The report calls Baker’s theory “intriguing” but says no evidence of CIA involvement on any operational level was ever found. The report notes that there is still no explanation for the discussions regarding the CIA paying the burglars (see June 26-29, 1972), or the CIA’s involvement with Hunt before the burglary—loaning him cameras, providing him with materials for a disguise, and helping Hunt get film from the first burglary developed. According to the report, Gray stopped the FBI from pursuing these leads. The FBI report says that the CIA involvement apparently had nothing to do with the Watergate burglary, but was more in support of Hunt’s activities with the Ellsberg break-in (see September 9, 1971).
“Alleged activities on part of White House officials to limit, contain, or obstruct FBI Watergate investigation (Dean, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Colson, et cetera).” The report notes, “There is absolutely no question but that the president’s most senior associates at the White House conspired with great success for nine months to obstruct our investigation.” The report says it was “common knowledge” throughout the investigation that the White House was paying only “lip service” to investigators’ requests for honest, complete answers; the report cites Dean as a specific offender. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
Entity Tags: Donald Segretti, Richard Kleindienst, Office of Planning and Evaluation (FBI), Nixon administration, Robert Reisner, Sally Harmony, Democratic National Committee, US Department of Justice, Alfred Baldwin, Central Intelligence Agency, Charles Colson, Maurice Stans, L. Patrick Gray, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, John Dean, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Committee to Re-elect the President, Earl Silbert, Dwight Chapin, E. Howard Hunt, G. Gordon Liddy, John Mitchell, Howard Baker, Herbert L. Porter, James McCord, H.R. Haldeman, John Crewdson, Jeb S. Magruder
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
The Supreme Court, in the case of United States v. Nixon, votes 8-0 to uphold the subpoena of special prosecutor Leon Jaworski demanding the Watergate tapes for use in the trial of Nixon’s former aides (see March 1, 1974). (William Rehnquist, a Nixon appointee, recused himself from deliberations.) The Court rules, in an opinion written by Chief Justice Warren Burger, that Nixon’s claim of “executive privilege” authorizing him to keep the tapes to himself does not apply, and that his lawyers’ claim that neither the courts nor the special prosecutor have the authority to review the claim also has no weight. Jaworski and one of his senior staffers, Philip Lacovara, argued the case against an array of lawyers for Nixon headed by James St. Clair. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a “friend of the court” brief on behalf of Jaworski. [UNITED STATES v. NIXON, 7/24/1974; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Barbara Jordan speaking before the House Judiciary Committee. [Source: American Rhetoric (.com)]Barbara Jordan (D-TX), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, makes an eloquent speech reminding her colleagues of the constitutional basis for impeaching a president (see May 9, 1974). Jordan says that America has come too far for her “to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.” Jordan reminds her colleagues that impeachment is not conviction. It proceeds “from the misconduct of public men… the abuse or violation of some public trust.” To vote for impeachment, she says, is not a vote for removing the president from office. The power of impeachment is “an essential check in the hands of this body, the legislature, against and upon the encroachment of the executive.” The framers of the Constitution “did not make the accusers and the judges the same person.… The framers confined in the Congress the power, if need be, to remove the president in order to strike a delicate balance between a president swollen with power and grown tyrannical and preservation of the independence of the executive.” It cannot become a political tool to strike against a president that a group of partisans dislikes, but must “proceed within the confines of the constitutional term, ‘high crime and misdemeanors.’” The evidence against President Nixon is enough to show that he did know that money from his re-election campaign funded the Watergate burglaries (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), and he did know of campaign official E. Howard Hunt’s participation in the burglary of a psychiatrist’s office to find damaging information against a political enemy (see September 9, 1971), as well as Hunt’s participation in the Dita Beard/ITT affair (see February 22, 1972), and “Hunt’s fabrication of cables designed to discredit the Kennedy administration.” The Nixon White House has not cooperated properly with Congress and the special Watergate prosecutor in turning over evidence under subpoena; Jordan says it was not clear that Nixon would even obey a Supreme Court ruling that the evidence must be given up (see July 24, 1974). Nixon has repeatedly lied to Congress, the investigators, and the US citizenry about what he knew and when he knew it, and has repeatedly attempted to “thwart the lawful investigation by government prosecutors.” In short, Nixon has betrayed the public trust. He is impeachable, Jordan says, because he has attempted to “subvert the Constitution.” She says: “If the impeachment provision in the Constitution of the United States will not reach the offenses charged here, then perhaps that eighteenth century Constitution should be abandoned to a twentieth century paper shredder. Has the president committed offenses and planned and directed and acquiesced in a course of conduct which the Constitution will not tolerate? This is the question. We know that. We know the question. We should now forthwith proceed to answer the question. It is reason, and not passion, which must guide our deliberations, guide our debate, and guide our decision.” [American Rhetoric, 7/25/1974]
Alexander Haig. [Source: Brooks Institute]President Richard Nixon`s chief of staff Alexander Haig pays an urgent call on Vice President Gerald Ford to discuss the terms under which Nixon will resign (see August 8, 1974). Haig gives Ford a handwritten list of what White House counsel Fred Buzhardt, the author of the list, calls “permutations for the option of resignation.” The idea is for Nixon to agree to resign in return for Ford’s agreement to pardon Nixon for any crimes Nixon may have committed while president. Ford listens to Haig but does not agree to any terms. The next day, after learning of the meeting, Ford’s own counsel, Robert Hartmann, is outraged that Ford did not just throw Haig out of his office. With fellow counsel John Marsh, Hartmann demands that Ford call Haig and state unequivocally, for the record, and in front of witnesses that Ford has made no such agreements. Haig considers Hartmann essentially incompetent, and Hartmann views Haig as a power-hungry “assh_le.” The subsequent tensions between Haig, one of the Nixon holdovers in Ford’s presidency, and Ford’s staff will shape future events in the Ford administration. In part to counteract Haig’s influence, Ford will name former NATO ambassador and Nixon aide Donald Rumsfeld as the head of his transition team. Rumsfeld will in turn name former Wyoming congressman and current investment executive Dick Cheney as his deputy; Cheney has lectured his clients that Watergate was never a criminal conspiracy, but merely a power struggle between the White House and Congress. [Werth, 2006, pp. 20]
Betty Ford. [Source: Wally McNamee / Corbis]Despite President Ford’s insistence that he is not considering a pardon for former President Richard Nixon (see September 5-6, 1974), and Ford’s own denials in his 1976 memoir A Time to Heal, Ford tells his lawyer, Robert Hartmann, that he and his wife Betty have decided that if Nixon resigns, Ford will likely pardon him for any Watergate crimes. “We felt we were ready,” Ford tells Hartmann. “This just has to stop; it’s tearing the country to pieces. I decided to go ahead and get it over with, so I called [Nixon’s chief of staff] Al Haig and told them they should do whatever they decided to do; it was all right with me” (see August 1-2, 1974). This is not the last time stories will conflict over Ford’s decision on whether to pardon Nixon (see August 30, 1974 and September 5-6, 1974). [Werth, 2006, pp. 204]
Under tremendous pressure, President Nixon releases transcripts of three conversations he had with then-chief of staff H. R. Haldeman. One tape, of a June 23, 1972 conversation, becomes known as “the smoking gun” (see June 23, 1972). In that conversation, he discusses ordering the FBI to abandon its investigation of the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Nixon also releases tapes that prove he ordered a cover-up of the burglary on June 23, 1972, six days after the break-in. The tapes also show that he knew of the involvement of White House officials and officials from the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP). [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Nixon makes one last televised pitch to save his presidency, admitting that he had listened to the June 23 tape—an admission proving he had knowingly lied—and adding: “Whatever mistakes I made in the handling of Watergate, the basic truth remains that when all the facts were brought to my attention I insisted on a full investigation and prosecution of those guilty. I am firmly convinced that the record, in its entirety, does not justify the extreme step of impeachment and removal of a president.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 609]
Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig has Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski to lunch at Haig’s home. Haig wants to personally inform Jaworski that President Nixon will resign (see August 8, 1974), that Nixon’s papers, and the secret recordings he made while president, will be shipped to his California home, and that Jaworski will have access to those documents as needed. “There’s no hanky-panky involved,” Haig assures Jaworski, but then says: “I don’t mind telling you that I haven’t the slightest doubt that the tapes were screwed with. The ones with the gaps and other problems.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 31]
Barry Goldwater. [Source: Blogger (.com)]Three senior Republican congressmen—Barry Goldwater (R-AZ), Hugh Scott (R-PA), and John Rhodes (R-AZ)—meet with President Nixon, and tell him that his chances of avoiding impeachment are “gloomy.” Pressure is mounting both in the press and among the citizenry for Nixon to resign. [Dean, 2006, pp. xxxi; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
On his final working day in office, President Nixon instructs the National Archives to keep his presidential papers sealed until January 1, 1985. Nixon has already bestowed a great number of papers, documents, and other materials to the Archives (and taken a controversial $432,000 tax deduction for the gift), but before today they had been slated to be released to public view at the end of his presidency—effectively August 10, 1974. Author James Reston Jr. will write, somewhat sardonically: “What presence of mind! Here was a president about to resign in disgrace and humiliation, who was cool enough to concern himself with frustrating the work of historians who would want to analyze him.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 61-62]
Law professor and House candidate Bill Clinton. [Source: About (.com)]Bill Clinton, a University of Arkansas law professor and candidate for the House of Representatives, says his opponent, John Paul Hammerschmidt (R-AR), is wrong in opposing President Nixon’s resignation, and is wrong to question whether Nixon committed impeachable offenses. Hammerschmidt now says the House should begin digging into Nixon’s alleged crimes, but Clinton retorts, “I don’t see how in the world he can say that when a year ago he was saying we should forget about it and he voted against giving funds for the House Judiciary Committee staff.” Clinton says: “I think it’s plain that the president should resign and spare the country the agony of this impeachment and removal proceeding. I think the country could be spared a lot of agony and the government could worry about inflation and a lot of other problems if he’d go on and resign.” There is “no question that an admission of making false statements to government officials and interfering with the FBI and the CIA is an impeachable offense,” Clinton says. [Arkansas Gazette, 8/8/1974]
Washington Post headline from August 7, 1974: ‘Nixon Says He Won’t Resign.’ [Source: Washington Post]President Nixon’s speechwriter, Ray Price, writes a speech for Nixon to use in case the president chooses to stay and fight the Watergate allegations rather than resign. According to Price, who will allow the New York Times to publish the speech in 1996, Nixon is never shown this particular speech. Price’s speech acknowledges that the House Judiciary Committee has prepared articles of impeachment against Nixon (see July 27, 1974, July 29, 1974, and July 30, 1974), and that the matter will almost certainly go to the Senate for a trial. The speech has Nixon acknowledging the “smoking gun” tape of June 23, 1972 and released on August 5, 1974 (see June 23, 1972) as a conversation that could “be widely interpreted as evidence that I was involved from the outset in efforts at cover-up.” He should have made the tape available much sooner, the speech acknowledges, and excuses the lapse by saying he “did not focus on it thoroughly…” His failure to release the tape was “a serious mistake.” According to the speech, Nixon would say that he “seriously considered resigning,” but to do so “would leave unresolved the questions that have already cost the country so much in anguish, division and uncertainty. More important, it would leave a permanent crack in our Constitutional structure: it would establish the principle that under pressure, a president could be removed from office by means short of those provided by the Constitution. By establishing that principle, it would invite such pressures on every future president who might, for whatever reason, fall into a period of unpopularity.… I firmly believe that I have not committed any act of commission or omission that justifies removing a duly elected president from office. If I did believe that I had committed such an act, I would have resigned long ago…” In the long run, the benefits of Nixon staying and fighting “will be a more stable government,” avoiding “the descent toward chaos if presidents could be removed short of impeachment and trial.” America must not become like so many other countries, where “governmental instability has reached almost epidemic proportions…” For Nixon to resign could result in the destruction of the US government as it now stands, or almost as bad, would allow the government to “fall such easy prey to those who would exult in the breaking of the president that the game becomes a national habit.” [Cannon, 1994, pp. 309; New York Times, 12/22/1996; PBS, 1/2/1997; National Archives and Records Administration, 3/24/1999]
As President Nixon is resigning his office (see August 8, 1974), Watergate prosecutor Leon Jaworski receives a memo from his staff recommending Nixon be prosecuted. The memo, from Carl Feldbaum and Peter Kreindler, says: “[T]here is clear evidence that Richard M. Nixon participated in a conspiracy to obstruct justice by concealing the identity of those responsible for the Watergate break-in and other criminal offenses.… Mr. Nixon should be indicted and prosecuted.” They summarize the arguments against prosecution: Nixon has been punished enough by being forced to resign, the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach him (see July 27, 1974, July 29, 1974, and July 30, 1974), prosecuting Nixon might “aggravate political divisions in the country,” “the times call for conciliation rather than recrimination,” and a fair trial for Nixon would be difficult “because of massive pre-trial publicity.” Those arguments are outweighed by those favoring indictment and prosecution: the “principle of equal justice under law requires that every person, no matter what his past position or office, answer to the criminal justice system for his past offenses,” especially if Nixon’s “aides and associates, who acted upon his orders and what they conceived to be his interests, are to be prosecuted for the same offenses.” Not prosecuting Nixon would further divide the country, the memo asserts, and would threaten “the integrity of the criminal justice system and the legislative process, which together marshalled the substantial evidence of Mr. Nixon’s guilt.” The Constitution provides that anyone removed from office by impeachment should be tried in a court of law. Nixon’s resignation is not “sufficient retribution for [his] criminal offenses… [a] person should not be permitted to trade in the abused office in return for immunity.” And finally, to allow the argument of massive pre-trial publicity to obviate the ability to indict and prosecute Nixon “effectively would immunize all future presidents for their actions, however criminal. Moreover, the courts may be the appropriate forum to resolve questions of pre-trial publicity in the context of an adversary proceeding.” [Leon Jaworski, 1982]
While President Nixon is bidding his White House staffers farewell (see August 8, 1974), White House military office chief William Gulley collects a dozen boxes with personal papers from the residency wing of the White House. Nixon wants the papers delivered to his private home in California, where they cannot be viewed by others. In consultation with Nixon’s military aide, Jack Brennan, Gulley determines to get the papers to California before incoming President Ford can consolidate control of the White House and stop any shipments of presidential documents out of Washington and public view. Gulley will be successful. [Werth, 2006, pp. 44-45] At about this same time, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has 30 crates of his own files, including phone transcripts, secretly shipped to the bomb shelter of Vice President Nelson Rockefeller’s estate in New York, consigning those files to public oblivion. [Werth, 2006, pp. 241]
Newly installed President Gerald Ford (see August 9, 1974) has no intention of pardoning former President Richard Nixon. Press secretary Jerald terHorst tells reporters, “I don’t think the American people would stand for it.” TerHorst adds that Ford even opposes granting Nixon immunity from prosecution. “I can assure you of that,” he says. [Werth, 2006, pp. 17-18] Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski is “stunned and upset” by terHorst’s statement that Ford is not considering executive clemency for Nixon. Jaworski wants to avoid any court and constitutional battles over Nixon’s legal liabilities, but he suspects Ford is attempting to pressure him into making the first move. Jaworski has tried to work with both Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig and with his own staff, who to a man suspect him of having more loyalty to Nixon than an interest in pursuing the truth. But whatever loyalties Jaworski has towards Nixon have eroded over the months of investigations. Jaworski will later recall a “galling frustration” with Nixon, who “continually twisted the facts while I, who knew the truth, had to remain silent.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 30-31]
Time cover of Leon Jaworski. [Source: Time]Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski and his staff discuss how to proceed with the Watergate prosecutions. The combined trial of Nixon aide H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, former Attorney General John Mitchell, and three other Nixon aides, is scheduled for September 9, though that date seems unlikely. Most of the prosecution lawyers assume Jaworski will put Nixon on trial along with his aides. Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig has already told Jaworski that Nixon will refuse to testify or be involved in any legal proceedings, and implied that Nixon’s mental and physical conditions are rapidly deteriorating. Jaworski is not sure what to do. His staff calls the entire issue of who should take what responsibility for handling Nixon the “monkey problem.” Prosecutors Richard Ben-Veniste and George Frampton later write, “On whose back was the monkey going to end up: the prosecutors, Congress, the White House, the grand jury, the court?” [Werth, 2006, pp. 31-33]
Richard Nixon’s presidential documents—46 million pieces of paper and 950 reels of recording tape—are being packed up in boxes and stored throughout the White House, the Executive Office Building (EOB), and other locations. The question is, should all the materials be turned over to Nixon, as he insists, or retained for evidence in upcoming Watergate trials? President Ford wants to stay out of the dispute. Ford’s staff learns that White House aides still loyal to Nixon are stuffing documents into “burn bags” at an extraordinary rate, and the White House “burn room,” where documents are chemically destroyed, is overflowing, with cartons of documents stacking up in the halls. Ford orders his staff to guard the materials and prevent them from being destroyed or removed. Unfortunately, the problem is not so easily resolved. Ford’s staffers are working out of the EOB, and Nixon’s people command the West Wing, where they show little inclination to obey any directives from Ford’s people. One of Ford’s attorneys, Benton Becker, tries to prevent Army soldiers from loading a truck with boxes full of Nixon materials; the truck will convey the materials to Andrews Air Force Base, where they will be flown to California. When Becker tells the colonel in charge that Ford has ordered the documents to remain, the colonel retorts, “I take my orders from General Haig” [Alexander Haig, Nixon’s chief of staff]. Becker tells White House security not to let the truck leave the grounds, and informs Ford, who angrily confronts Haig. Haig denies any knowledge of the situation and says the colonel must be acting on his own, an explanation Becker finds hard to believe. Like it or not, Ford is now involved in the custody battle over Nixon’s documents. [Werth, 2006, pp. 33-35]
White House lawyer Fred Buzhardt, a Nixon loyalist who is retiring into private practice, orders Staff Secretary Jerry Jones to box up all the Watergate tapes and place the boxes on an Air Force truck outside the White House, joining boxes and crates of White House documents being shipped to Nixon’s home in San Clemente, California (see August 8, 1974). Ever since the now-infamous 18-and-one-half minute gap had been discovered on one of the tapes, Jones has been the only person authorized to enter the guarded vault in the EOB where the tapes are stored. Jones complies, believing that Buzhardt has authorization from President Ford’s personal lawyer, Philip Buchen. But two hours into the packing process, Buzhardt stops Jones from continuing. “I think what happened is Buchen changed his mind,” Jones later recalls, “and then Fred had a problem. I think we probably could have shipped them after Buchen told him not to. But Fred felt that being the case, we simply couldn’t do it.… It was a trust thing. We were all in the position that if we did the wrong thing, or if I relied on Fred and he did the wrong thing, or he relied on me and I did the wrong thing, or we both relied on [chief of staff Alexander] Haig and he did the wrong thing, we could go to jail.” By August 12, Jones recalls, “nobody knew what in the hell to do with these things.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 72-73]
August 19, 1974 cover of Time magazine, inspired by Ford’s speech. [Source: Time]Gerald Ford gives his first speech as president to the House of Representatives. When he enters the chamber, he receives a thunderous ovation in the House of Representatives. Columnist and author Jimmy Breslin will later write: “When the doors swung open and everybody in the chamber saw that it was not Richard Nixon walking in, the cheers that went up around me were merely perfunctory when matched with the feeling of relief, a feeling so intense that it could be felt, almost heard, as it rose from their chests and shoulders to leave them free of Nixon and all the name meant to their careers and their country. Oh, they liked Jerry Ford very much.… But for anybody who was standing up with the crowd, watching, listening, feeling, it was obvious that these men, who are in politics for a living, would have cheered for anybody.” Ford promises listeners: “There will be no illegal tappings, eavesdroppings, buggings, or break-ins by my administration. There will be hot pursuit of tough laws to prevent illegal invasions of privacy in both government and private activities.” ABC reporter and pundit Harry Reasoner says after the speech that it is surprising “how easy it is to give this man the benefit of the doubt,” adding, “The old saying may be demonstrated again—that God takes care of fools, drunkards, and the United States.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 52-54]
Jerald terHorst. [Source: Dirck Halstead / Getty Images]During a White House press briefing, Press Secretary Jerald terHorst is grilled about the fate of the thousands of hours of recordings made by former President Richard Nixon, recordings clandestinely made by Nixon of conversations with his aides, staffers, advisers, and visitors (see February 1971 and July 13-16, 1973). The practice of secretly recording White House conversations began with Franklin D. Roosevelt, but Nixon had gone far beyond the simple recording systems made by his predecessors. He had hidden microphones in the lamps and room fixtures in the Oval Office, his office in the Executive Office Building (EOB), the Cabinet Room, and in the Aspen Lodge at Camp David. In all, he made over 3,700 hours of recordings between July 1971 and July 1973. The tapes are loaded with evidence of criminal conspiracies and deeds involving Nixon and dozens of his closest advisers and aides, and are of intense interest to reporters and the Watergate prosecutors. TerHorst causes a stir when he tells listeners that the tapes are currently being guarded by Secret Service personnel, and “they have been ruled to be the personal property” of Nixon. Ruled by whom? reporters demand. The “ruling” is based on a “formal,” albeit unwritten, legal opinion by White House lawyers Fred Buzhardt and James St. Clair, who had helped frame Nixon’s Watergate defense. TerHorst is unaware of the legal dispute over the tapes brewing in the White House and in the office of Leon Jaworski, the Watergate special prosecutor. Ford was not involved in the decision to turn the materials over to Nixon, says terHorst, but concurs in it. TerHorst is speculating far more than the reporters realize; he has been given little information and only scanty guidance from Buzhardt. When asked if the decision to give the documents and tapes to Nixon comes from “an agreement among the different staffs, the special prosecutor, the Justice Department, and the White House legal staff,” terHorst replies unsteadily, “I assume there would be because I’m sure neither one would just take unilateral action.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 71-75]
Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski receives a phone call from Senator James Eastland (D-MS), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee and a longtime friend of Richard Nixon. Eastland tells Jaworski that Nixon had called him from the Nixon compound in San Clemente, California. Nixon had cried during the conversation, says Eastland: “He said, ‘Jim, don’t let Jaworski put me in that trial with [former aides H. R.] Haldeman and [John] Ehrlichman. I can’t take any more.…’ He’s in bad shape, Leon.” Jaworski asks if Eastland has any plans for a Senate resolution opposing prosecution for Nixon; such a resolution would not be legally binding, but would provide cover for both Jaworski and President Ford if either decided to do something to keep Nixon out of court. “We’ll think on it,” Eastland says. Despite his mandate to pursue Nixon and bring him before a jury, Jaworski does not want Nixon in court. But he cannot find a legal justification for such an action. Prosecution counsel Philip Lacovara will recall: “The whole premise of this exercise called Watergate was to follow the facts wherever they lead, and if they led into the Oval Office, to apply the law to those facts in the same way that the law would apply to any other person. It would be fundamentally inconsistent with the idea of equal application of the law to prosecute people who had acted on President Nixon’s behalf, and indeed under President Nixon’s direction, and to give him a pass.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 74-75]
Because reporters do not realize that President Ford has ordered his staff to prevent the Watergate tapes from being spirited out of the White House, they begin speculating that Ford may be part of the conspiracy to get the tapes out of Washington (see August 8, 1974). Ford realizes that he cannot take advice from Richard Nixon’s lawyers any longer. He immediately replaces Fred Buzhardt with his own lawyer, Philip Buchen. Buzhardt had been an invaluable “mole” for Nixon, and is a valuable, if unofficial, legal adviser to Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig as well. His loss is damaging to both the former president and his former chief of staff. Ford also removes Haig from any responsibilities for dealing with Nixon, and gives over custody of the tapes and documents to Buchen. Haig knows his days are numbered, but he is determined to accomplish one more task. “I’ve lost the battle,” he tells an aide, “but I’ll stay long enough to get Nixon the pardon.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 79-83]
Lesley Stahl. [Source: John Neubauer / Getty Images]Judge John Sirica, presiding over the Watergate trial of former Nixon aide John Ehrlichman, subpoenas former President Nixon to appear as a witness on behalf of Ehrlichman. Ehrlichman has heard the tapes the prosecution intends to use against him, and, already convicted of conspiracy and lying about his involvement in the Ellsberg break-in (see September 9, 1971), knows he needs a powerful defense to avoid more jail time. He demanded that Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski hand over the White House files on Ehrlichman for his defense. But Jaworski instead gave Ehrlichman an affidavit from Nixon’s former White House lawyer Fred Buzhardt, who affirmed that nothing in those ten million documents would help Ehrlichman in his defense. Days later, Buzhardt suffered a heart attack, rendering it impossible for Ehrlichman to challenge his affirmation. Ehrlichman hopes that the subpoena will muddy the legal waters by provoking a confrontation between Nixon’s lawyers and Jaworski’s. CBS reporter Lesley Stahl informs her viewers, incorrectly, that it seems Jaworski “has indicted Mr. Nixon.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 84-88]
The White House announces that none of former President Richard Nixon’s documents and tapes will be released to him, but will instead remain in White House custody pending a resolution of the legal issues surrounding the materials. Nixon has correctly argued that all other presidents routinely receive their files and documents upon leaving office, but these are extraordinary circumstances and Nixon has no constitutional or legal right to those materials. President Ford’s counsel, Philip Buchen, speaking for Ford, notes that the decision to keep the files “in no way constitutes a denial” that they legally belong to Nixon. Another of Ford’s counselors, Robert Hartmann, later writes that the key to this question is not Nixon’s desire for the files or the Watergate prosecutors’ equal desire for them, but that “Ford wanted to get rid of them. He had no desire to be the daily arbiter of this no-win contest. Nixon’s files were a millstone hung around his fledgling presidency. He desperately wanted to cut himself free.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 83-84]
The House Judiciary Committee releases its final Watergate report, a 528-page document that concludes there is “clear and convincing evidence” that Richard Nixon “condoned, encouraged… directed, coached, and personally helped to fabricate perjury,” had abused the powers of the presidency, and, had he not resigned, should have been removed from office. Ten of Nixon’s staunchest House allies release a concurring statement that says, while Nixon was “hounded from office,” he undoubtedly “impeded the FBI investigation of the Watergate affair… created and preserved the evidence of that transgression… and concealed its terrible import, even from his own counsel, until he could no longer do so. [Nixon] imprisoned the truth about his role in the Watergate cover-up so long and so tightly within the solitude of his Oval Office that it could not be unleashed without destroying his presidency.” The House votes to accept the report 412-3. Committee chairman Peter Rodino (D-NJ) says: “I feel tremendously relieved. The country can get moving again.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 160-161]
Judge John Sirica, presiding over the Watergate trial of H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and John Mitchell, postpones their trial until September 30. This gives Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski some much-desired breathing room. Jaworski must decide whether to indict Richard Nixon. Jaworski’s staff unanimously believes Nixon must at least be indicted, if not actively prosecuted, or history will condemn the entire work of the special prosecution. George Frampton, one of Jaworski’s staff, notes that the politicians who could have made a decision on the issue have not done so. In a memo to Jaworski, Frampton writes that no one “can expect you now to abandon your mandate and responsibilities to the administration of justice in order to assume their burden.… I wonder if ten years from now history will endorse the notion that Mr. Nixon has ‘suffered enough.’ The powerful men around him have lost their liberty and their livelihoods. Mr. Nixon, on the other hand, will be supported in lavish style with a pension and subsidies at taxpayer expense until his death. He may reenter public life, no matter how morally crippled.” The breadth and depth of crimes allegedly committed by Nixon are such that Jaworski is not sure where to even start with an indictment. [Werth, 2006, pp. 162-163]
The House of Representatives agrees to allow former Nixon aide H. R. Haldeman and his lawyers to review, but not copy, transcripts, memoranda, and notes from its Watergate inquiry. Haldeman, like Nixon and others, is facing a raft of criminal and civil trials. Haldeman stops in Charlotte, North Carolina, to give a deposition in a civil trial alleging that his tough security measures during a Charlotte visit by Nixon—when local police and Veterans of Foreign Wars members forcibly ejected unwanted audience members—violated protesters’ civil rights. One protester shouts, “Bob, I want you to tell the truth in there and don’t lie.” Haldeman answers, “I’ve never lied in my life.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 161]
Philip Lacovara, a lawyer on Leon Jaworski’s Watergate prosecution staff, is adamant in pushing for an indictment against Richard Nixon (see August 22, 1974). Lacovara is a Goldwater conservative among a coterie of liberals and moderates; it is his role to interpret the team’s duties and responsibilities in light of the Constitution. As such, his recommendations carry weight. Jaworski is also discussing legal strategies with Herbert “Jack” Miller, Nixon’s lawyer, who intends to argue that Nixon cannot be given a fair trial by an impartial jury due to the incredible media coverage of the Watergate conspiracy (see Late August 1974). Jaworski’s prosecutors are solidly behind Lacovara in demanding that Nixon be indicted. “To do otherwise,” prosecutors Richard Ben-Veniste and George Frampton will later write, “was to admit that the enormity of Nixon’s crimes and the importance of his office automatically guaranteed him immunity from prosecution.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 207-208]
Former Nixon White House counsel Leonard Garment, now working for President Ford, meets with former Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas to further his case for pardoning Richard Nixon. Garment has already spoken to a number of journalists who believe the time has come for a pardon. Garment asks Fortas if Nixon should be pardoned; Fortas says he should. This, Fortas says, is “Ecclesiastes time,” a time to cast away stones and to heal. A public prosecution of Nixon would be a “horror,” Fortas muses. Garment phones Ford’s chief of staff Alexander Haig, who is pushing the case for a pardon from within the White House, and Haig gives Garment permission to meet with Ford and make his case. [Werth, 2006, pp. 206-207]
A US marshal serves two judicial subpoenas to Richard Nixon at his home in San Clemente, California. Nixon is slated to testify at the upcoming Watergate trials of H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and John Mitchell. [Werth, 2006, pp. 223-224]
Philip Lacovara. [Source: Oyez.org]One of Leon Jaworski’s senior Watergate prosecutors, Philip Lacovara, is incensed at what he and many others perceive as waffling by President Ford on the decision to pardon Richard Nixon. Ford has repeatedly acknowledged that he has the right to pardon Nixon if he so chooses, but he has also said that he is leaving the decision to indict to Jaworski. In Lacovara’s opinion, Ford is shifting the burden of responsibility and the possibility of any future blame directly onto Jaworski. Lacovara says that Jaworski should confront Ford, and “put [the matter] squarely to [Ford] over whether he wishes to have a criminal prosecution of the former president or not.… I believe he should be asked to face this issue now and make the operative judgment concerning the former president, rather than leaving this matter in the limbo of uncertainty that has been created.” Lacovara also knows that the question of a pardon hangs over the trial of the Watergate “Big Three”—H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and John Mitchell. If Nixon is to be indicted along with these three, and then pardoned during the trial, it would wreak havoc on any chance of winning a guilty verdict for any of the three. If Ford is going to pardon Nixon, Lacovara says, he should do it now, before the Watergate trials can commence. Jaworski has an additional worry, fueled by Nixon’s lawyers: that Nixon might die during the proceedings, and Jaworski will be held to blame. Nixon’s lawyers are calling their client “mortally ill with phlebitis,” Lacovara will recall, and are arguing: “Why should the special prosecutor put this man into his grave? He’d suffered horribly enough and been forced to resign in disgrace. Just as a matter of human decency, this fatally ill man should not be called before the bar.” According to Lacovara, Jaworski does not want to make the decision to indict Nixon. Later, Jaworski tells former Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig, with whom Jaworski stays in close contact, that his staff is pressuring hm to push Ford to either “fish or cut bait… and not dangle the possibility of a pardon out there. The president needs to know that this is a call that he’s ultimately going to have to make.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 229-232]
Richard Nixon implores his former White House military aide, William Gulley, to help him secure his presidential files—including the so-called Watergate tapes—from White House custody. During the conversation, a melancholy and obviously bitter Nixon tells Gulley: “I’d like you to know that nothing more can hurt me, but associating with me can hurt those who do. You should always remember that, because the media aren’t going to let up on me. This is not going to satisfy them. They won’t be satisfied until they have me in jail.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 242]
President Ford assigns attorney Benton Becker to find out what the technicalities of a presidential pardon are. Among Ford’s questions: Can a president pardon someone before that person is indicted? Would it stop a conviction if issued after an indictment but before jury deliberations? Does a pardon need to cite specific crimes, or can it be for across-the-board violations of the entire US criminal code? Would it affect charges brought by individual states or communities? In light of some senators’ push for Richard Nixon’s impeachment even though he has already resigned, would it stop an impeachment proceeding? “What does a pardon really mean?” Ford asks Becker. “Am I erasing everything he did, as if it never occurred? Does a pardon erase a criminal act or does it only erase criminal punishment?” [Werth, 2006, pp. 248-249]
Defense Secretary James Schlesinger and Attorney General William Saxbe suggest that the Nixon pardon be tied to a proposal to grant conditional amnesty to Vietnam draft evaders, many of whom are still living as “outlaws” in Canada. The proposal has encountered stiff resistance from conservatives and veterans’ groups, but a bigger question is whether an amnesty proposal would be considered some sort of underhanded “quid pro quo” for Nixon’s pardon. The idea is eventually abandoned. [Werth, 2006, pp. 251-252]
Nathan Lewin publishes an angry op-ed column in the New Republic calling for a full investigation and prosecution of Richard Nixon. Lewin is the law partner of Herbert “Jack” Miller, who now represents Nixon. It will be Miller’s job to argue that Nixon should not be indicted by the Watergate special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski. Lewin writes that Nixon “robbed the Senate” of the opportunity to render a strong judgment about his presidency when he resigned, and notes “the probability that Richard Nixon knows of or participated actively in crimes related to Watergate that have not yet been made the subject of a formal charge.” In light of these not-yet-uncovered crimes, Lewin asks, “What possible explanation will there ever be if history records that those who acted on Nixon’s instructions, express or implied, were charged and convicted of crimes and sent to jail while their chief spent his retirement years strolling the Pacific beaches, writing about his accomplishments in foreign policy and lecturing to college students?” Nixon is unworried about Miller’s partnership with Lewin. Miller will decide that the best way to keep Nixon out of the courts is to claim that, because of the massive negative publicity generated by Watergate, there is nowhere in the country Nixon can go to receive a fair trial from an impartial jury. [Werth, 2006, pp. 187-189]
Researching the legal and technical aspects of presidential pardons (see August 30, 1974), Benton Becker, President Ford’s lawyer, finds that they only apply to federal crimes, meaning, for example, that Richard Nixon can still be prosecuted for crimes in California arising from his connections to the Ellsberg burglary (see September 9, 1971). It would not affect a Senate impeachment trial, even though the possibility of that happening is increasingly remote. Becker finds two legal references of particular use in his research: the 1915 Supreme Court case of United States v. Burdick, which attempted to answer the fundamental question of the meaning of a presidential pardon; and an 1833 quote from the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Marshall, who wrote, “A pardon is an act of grace… which exempts the individual on whom it is bestowed from the punishment the law inflicts for a crime he has committed.” Becker determines that such an “act of grace” is an implicit admission of guilt. Unlike the proposed conditional amnesty for draft evaders (see August 31, 1974), a pardon will strike convictions from the books and exempt those pardoned from any responsibility for answering for their crimes, but it does not forget (in a legal sense) that those crimes took place. “The pardon is an act of forgiveness,” Becker explains. “We are forgiving you—the president, the executive, the king—is forgiving you for what you’ve done, your illegal act that you’ve either been convicted of, or that you’ve been accused of, or that you’re being investigated for, or that you’re on trial for. And you don’t have to accept this—you can refuse this.” The Burdick decision convinces Becker that by pardoning Nixon, Ford can stop his imminent prosecution, and undoubted conviction, without having to condone Nixon’s crimes. For Nixon to accept a pardon would be, in a legal sense, an admission of criminal wrongdoing. [Werth, 2006, pp. 263-265]
One of the outbuildings at Fort Holabird. [Source: Hugh D. Cox]Former White House counsel John Dean begins a one-to-four-year term in prison for his role in the Watergate coverup. Dean’s sentence would have been far longer had he not cooperated so completely with the Watergate investigators. He is the 15th Watergate figure to go to jail, but the first to be asked whether Richard Nixon should join him in prison. (Dean refuses to comment.) Privately, Dean is shaken that Nixon is still insisting on his innocence. Later, Dean will write that he believes a number of reasons—hubris, victimization, self-pity, belief that history will exonerate him, and fear of jail—is all part of Nixon’s recalcitrance, but Dean does not believe that Nixon made a deal with President Ford for any sort of clemency. Dean will serve his term at Fort Holabird, a former army base just outside Baltimore used for government witnesses. Dean will mingle with three fellow Watergate convicts—Charles Colson, Jeb Stuart Magruder, and Herbert Kalmbach—and a number of organized crime figures in the government’s witness protection program. [Werth, 2006, pp. 269-270] Colson, who has provided damning testimony against Nixon as part of his plea agreement (see June 1974), leads the others in reaching out to Dean in prison. Dean, who is held in relative isolation, briefly meets Magruder in the hallway. Magruder is preparing to testify against the “Big Three” of John Mitchell, John Ehrlichman, and H. R. Haldeman in their upcoming trial. Magruder says to Dean: “Welcome to the club, John. This place looks just like the White House with all of us here.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 269-270]
Richard Nixon’s lawyer, Jack Miller, has prepared a “deed of trust” for Nixon’s presidential documents and tapes. According to the proposal, Nixon and the government will share ownership, and the files will be available for court subpoenas for up to five years. Two keys will be necessary to access the material, with Nixon retaining one and the General Services Administration (GSA) retaining the second. Miller is not sure Nixon will accept the plan, but he presents it to President Ford’s lawyers Benton Becker and Philip Buchen. (Nixon has another reason for wanting to retain control of the documents; his agent, Irv “Swifty” Lazar, is peddling a proposal for his biography to publishers, with an asking price of over $2 million. The documents will be a necessary source for the biography.) Buchen tells Miller that Ford is considering pardoning Nixon (see August 30, 1974). Miller is not sure Nixon wants a pardon, with its implication of guilt (see September 2, 1974). Miller has had trouble discussing Watergate with Nixon, who does not want to discuss it and certainly does not want to admit any guilt or complicity in the conspiracy. Becker says that the entire issue of Nixon’s pardon, and the concurrent question of the Nixon files, has to be resolved quickly. [Werth, 2006, pp. 280-281]
President Ford and his lawyer, Benton Becker, discuss pardoning Nixon. [Source: David Hume Kennerly / Getty Images]President Ford authorizes his attorney, Benton Becker, to tell Richard Nixon, “It’s not final, but in all probability a pardon will be forthcoming.” Ford agrees not to seek a decision on Nixon’s presidential files (see September 4, 1974) as a condition for a pardon; however, a statement of contrition (if not an outright admission of guilt) is something Ford and his advisers want from Nixon in return for a pardon. As Becker prepares to leave for California to meet with Nixon and his lawyer, Ford tells Becker to carefully judge Nixon’s physical and mental health. As for the records, Becker will later recall: “We walked out of the office; [Ford] had his hand over my shoulder, he said, ‘I will never, ever give up those records. They belong to the American people. You let President Nixon know that I feel very strongly about this.’” [Werth, 2006, pp. 293] When Becker arrives in San Clemente, he meets with Ron Ziegler, Nixon’s former press secretary, who now serves as Nixon’s personal aide. Ziegler tells Becker, “I can tell you right now that President Nixon will make no statement of admission or complicity in return for a pardon from Jerry Ford.” Becker believes Ziegler was forewarned by Ford’s ad hoc chief of staff, Alexander Haig, who has maintained close contact with the Nixon staff since Nixon’s resignation. Ziegler apparently knows that Ford will not insist on either a document turnover or a statement of contrition in return for a pardon, and is toeing a hard line. Angered by what he considers Haig’s intolerable betrayal of Ford, Becker bluffs Ziegler, turning around and preparing to leave without further discussion. The bluff works; Ziegler and Becker discuss the problem until early in the morning hours. [Werth, 2006, pp. 294-295] By the next morning, Becker has overseen a tentative agreement with Nixon’s lawyer Jack Miller and General Services Administration (GSA) head Arthur Sampson. The agreement will “temporarily” store the documents in a facility near San Clemente, under restricted access requiring both Nixon and a GSA official to access the documents, and Nixon retaining control of who accesses the materials. On September 1, 1979, the agreement reads, Nixon will donate the materials entirely to the federal government. As for the tapes, Nixon retains the right to destroy the tapes after five years, which will be destroyed anyway on September 1, 1989, or on the occasion of Nixon’s death, “whichever event shall first occur.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 297-298]
During the careful negotiations over the conditions of Richard Nixon’s possible pardon (see September 5-6, 1974), Nixon aide Ron Ziegler brings up the issue of the “statement of contrition,” and shows Benton Becker, the lawyer negotiating for President Ford, a draft statement. The statement, crafted by a speechwriter, blames the pressures of the office, Nixon’s preoccupation with foreign crises, and his decision to rely on the judgment of his staff, for his alleged involvement. The statement makes no admission of guilt or acceptance of responsibility whatsoever. Such a statement would invite state prosecution of Nixon even if Ford grants him a pardon for federal crimes, Becker notes. Nixon would be better off saying nothing at all than making this statement. A revised statement merely admits that Nixon was guilty of poor judgment. Becker presses for more. A third revision has Nixon admitting that he “can see clearly now that I was wrong in not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate, particularly when it reached the stage of judicial proceedings and grew from a political scandal into a national tragedy.” Becker seizes on the word “forthrightly” as an implied admission of contrition and a subtle acceptance of guilt. “The word is a synonym for ‘honestly,’” he will later recall. “That had meaning for me as a former prosecutor, because that meant obstruction of justice.” Ford, contacted by phone about the statement, is not happy with the legal parsing that Becker is trying to stretch into an implied admission of responsibility. Ford will later write, “I was taking one hell of a risk [in pardoning Nixon] and [Nixon] didn’t seem to be responsive at all.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 299-301] Becker finally meets face-to-face with Nixon, who seems to Becker unhealthily aged and almost “freakishly grotesque,” with long, thin arms dangling from the sleeves of his suit. Nixon doesn’t want to discuss Watergate at all, attempting repeatedly to steer the discussion towards football and responding in monosyllables to Becker’s attempts to discuss the details of the forthcoming pardon. After Becker manages to get a grudging, distracted acquiescence from Nixon to the deal, Nixon suddenly turns maudlin. He says Becker has been “a gentleman” towards him, and wants to give him a present. “But look around the office,” he says. “I don’t have anything anymore. They took it all away from me. Everything I had is gone.” Nixon gives Becker the last two bits of presidential memorabilia he owns, taken, he says, “from my personal jewelry box.” They are a presidential tiepin and a pair of presidential seal cufflinks. Nixon is almost in tears, and a distinctly uncomfortable Becker withdraws as graciously as he may. “I just wanted to get the hell out of there,” Becker will later recall. [Werth, 2006, pp. 304-306]
President Ford, realizing that has got all the concessions he is likely to get from Richard Nixon (see September 6, 1974) and fearing that Nixon may die before he can issue any executive clemency, finalizes his plans to announce a pardon for Nixon. He informs his closest advisers. Press secretary Jerald terHorst is not fully aware of the internal dealings for any pardon until he enters the press room, having been informed that Ford is preparing to make a major announcement. TerHorst is stunned at the news that Ford will pardon Nixon. He belatedly realizes that for weeks he has been misled by Ford and, accordingly, he has inadvertently misled the press and the American people about Ford’s intentions. Ford’s explanation that he did not want to force terHorst to lie to the press carries little weight with the press secretary. He feels that his 25-year relationship with Ford has been irrevocably tainted. Nevertheless, terHorst restrains himself, agreeing to come in early the next morning to help craft the statement to the press. But, driving home at the end of the workday, terHorst decides to resign. [Werth, 2006, pp. 312-313]
Ford delivering the televised address in which he announces the pardon of Nixon. [Source: Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum]At 11:01 a.m., President Ford delivers a statement announcing the pardon of former President Richard Nixon to a bank of television cameras and reporters. He calls Watergate and Nixon’s travails “an American tragedy in which we have all played a part.” He says that to withhold a pardon would subject Nixon, and the country, to a drawn-out legal proceeding that would take a year or more, and “[u]gly passions would again be aroused.” The American people would be even more polarized, and the opinions of foreign nations towards the US would sink even further as the highly public testimonies and possible trial of Nixon played out on television and in the press. It is doubtful that Nixon could ever receive a fair trial, Ford says. But Nixon’s fate is not Ford’s ultimate concern, he says, but the fate of the country. His duty to the “laws of God” outweigh his duty to the Constitution, Ford says, and he must “be true to my own convictions and my own conscience. My conscience tells me clearly and certainly that I cannot continue to prolong the bad dreams that continue to reopen a chapter that is closed.… [O]nly I, as president, have the constitutional power to firmly shut and seal this book.… I do believe with all my heart and mind and spirit that I, not as president, but as a humble servant of God, will receive justice without mercy if I fail to show mercy.” Nixon and his family have “suffered enough,” Ford continues, “and will continue to suffer no matter what I do.” Thereby, Ford proclaims a “full, free and absolute pardon upon Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he… has committed or may have committed or taken part in” duiring his presidency. On camera, Ford signs the pardon document. [Werth, 2006, pp. 320-321]
Less than ten minutes after President Ford announces his pardon of Richard Nixon (see September 8, 1974), Nixon’s aide Ron Ziegler reads the “statement of contrition” he and Nixon’s lawyer have agreed to as part of the pardon deal (see September 6, 1974). The statement is substantially the same as the draft agreed upon by Nixon and Ford’s respective representatives. Nixon, traveling with his wife Pat to the Palm Beach, California, estate of Ambassador Walter Annenberg, tells Pat, “This is the most humiliating day of my life.” But, author Barry Werth notes, Nixon has traded for the pardon, and gotten his terms. He will be able to write his own version of history without ever having to admit guilt or responsibility for any aspect of Watergate. He will be able to rehabilitate himself, perhaps even once again play a role in world affairs. He admits to nothing more than “mistakes” and “misjudgment.” Nevertheless, as historian Stephen Ambrose will note, in accepting the pardon, Nixon implicitly acknowledges his guilt. Werth will write in 2006, “Full, free, and absolute, a pardon was also damning and irrevocable—especially for a presumed offender who never was so much as charged with a crime.” Nixon will later write, “Next to the resignation, accepting the pardon was the most painful decision of my political career.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 321-323]
After attending church, President Ford works on the final wording of his statement announcing the pardon of Richard Nixon. His statement will emphasize Nixon’s failing health and decades of service to the Republican Party and America. Ford alerts a few Congressional leaders of his upcoming announcement. Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) is nonplussed. “What are you pardoning him of?” he asks, “It doesn’t make any sense.” Ford replies, “The public has the right to know that in the eyes of the president, Nixon is clear.” Goldwater is taken aback. “He may be clear in your eyes, but he’s not clear in mine,” Goldwater retorts. House Speaker Tip O’Neill (D-MA) is equally blunt. “I’m telling you right now,” O’Neill says: “this will cost you the election. I hope it’s not part of any deal.” Ford responds, “No, there’s no deal,” to which O’Neill says, “Then why the hell are you doing it?” O’Neill says that if Ford has to pardon Nixon, the timing is bad. He needs to wait. Ford disagrees. The resistance from without is reflected inside the White House, when press secretary Jerald terHorst tenders his resignation to Ford (see September 7, 1974). TerHorst’s letter says in part, “I cannot in good conscience support your decision to pardon” Nixon, “even before he has been charged with the commission of any crime. As your spokesperson, I do not know how I could credibly defend that action in the absence of a like decision to grant absolute pardon to the young men who evaded military service (see August 31, 1974) as a matter of conscience and the absence of pardon for former aides of Mr. Nixon who have been charged with crimes—and imprisoned.… [I]t is impossible to conclude that the former president is more deserving of mercy than persons of lesser station in life whose offenses have had far less effect on our national well-being.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 316-319]
Just hours after President Ford announces his pardon of Richard Nixon (see September 8, 1974), he sees evidence that the pardon is even more unpopular than he had feared. The White House switchboard is flooded with “angry calls, heavy and constant,” as Ford’s lawyer Philip Buchen will later recall. The response, says resigning press secretary Jerald terHorst (see September 8, 1974), is roughly 8-1 against. TerHorst’s admission to the press that he is resigning over the pardon adds even more fuel to the blaze of criticism. “I resigned,” terHorst tells reporters, “because I just couldn’t remain part of an act that I felt was ethically wrong.” Reporters almost uniformly side with terHorst against Ford; as author Barry Werth will later write, “the press concluded intrinsically that terHorst’s act of conscience trumped the president’s.” TerHorst’s resignation is inevitably compared to Nixon’s infamous “Saturday Night Massacre” (see October 19-20, 1973), and engenders a similar avalanche of press criticism and public outrage. The day after, protesters greet Ford in Pittsburgh with chants of “Jail Ford!” Conservative columnist George Will writes, “The lethal fact is that Mr. Ford has now demonstrated that… he doesn’t mean what he says.” The New York Times calls the pardon a “profoundly unwise, divisive, and unjust act.… This blundering intervention is a body blow to the president’s own credibility and to the public’s reviving confidence in the integrity of its government.” Ford’s popularity plunges almost overnight from 70 percent to 48 percent; fewer than one in five Americans identify themselves as Republicans. Ford’s biographer John Robert Greene will write that journalists begin “treating Ford as just another Nixon clone in the White House—deceitful, controlled by the leftover Nixonites, and in general no different than any of his immediate predecessors.” Werth will conclude that Ford’s “self-sacrific[e]” is the political equivalent of him “smothering a grenade.” Nixon’s refusal to atone in any fashion for his crimes placed the burden of handling Watergate squarely on Ford’s shoulders, and that burden will weigh on his presidency throughout his term, as well as damage his chances for election in 1976. Ford will later write: “I thought people would consider his resignation from the presidency as sufficient punishment and shame. I thought there would be greater forgiveness.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 328-332] Years later, Ford’s chief of staff, Dick Cheney, will reflect that the pardon should have “been delayed until after the 1974 elections because I think it did cost us seats [in Congress]. If you say that that is a political judgment, it’s true, but then, the presidency is a political office.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 27]
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