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The Words Of Watergate
AN ANNIVERSARY LOOK BACK AT THE BIGGEST PRESIDENTIAL SCANDAL EVER, THROUGH THE CHANGES IT WROUGHT IN THE LANGUAGE
October 1997 | Volume 48, Issue 6
In fact, the transcripts showed that the President had lied repeatedly. He had denied knowing anything about the conspiracy to hide responsibility for the third-rate burglary (see below) at Watergate until nine months after it took place, when John Dean told him that the cover-up had become a cancer on the Presidency . Now the tapes revealed that he had been told about the plot to obstruct justice just six days after the event. Moreover, he had participated actively in it.
At the time of Nixon’s June 23 conversations with Haldeman, the FBI was starting to follow a money trail. About twenty-three hundred dollars, mostly in sequential hundred-dollar bills, had been found on the five men arrested in the DNC offices; more packets of bills were discovered in their hotel rooms. Knowing that the trail led to two Republican-party contributors, and from them to the President’s re-election campaign committee, Haldeman proposed—and Nixon immediately agreed—that the CIA be asked to tell the FBI not to interview the donors. The ruse seemed plausible because the White House consultant E. Howard Hunt, Jr., who had helped plan and oversee the break-in, was a former CIA agent. (Hunt was not arrested on the scene, but his name and telephone number appeared in address books carried by two of the burglars, together with the notations “W.H.” and “W. House.” Moreover—truly great spycraft!—an unmailed check by him for his country-club dues was found in one of their hotel rooms.)
Said the President to his chief of staff: “You call them [the CIA director, Richard M. Helms, and his deputy, Lt. Gen. Vernon A. Walters] in. … Play it tough. That’s the way they play it and that’s the way we are going to play it. … Say: ‘Look, the problem is that this will open the whole, the whole Bay of Pigs thing. … and that they should call the FBI in and say that we wish for the country, don’t go any further into this case’‘period!”
The ploy did not work. Two weeks later a nervous L. Patrick Gray III, acting director of the FBI, following J. Edgar Hoover’s death in May, asked the CIA to put its request not to interview the Republican contributors into writing. Walters not only declined to do so but wrote a memo saying that further investigation could not damage the agency because it had had no involvement in the break-in.
Revelation of the June 23 transcripts led almost immediately to Nixon’s resignation. These meetings constituted the smoking gun . (If the President had been involved in the cover-up even earlier, that evidence was lost in the gap .) Nixon was later pardoned by his successor; see mistakes and misjudgments . Haldeman served eighteen months in federal prison.
John N. Mitchell, director of the Committee to Re-elect the President and former Attorney General of the United States .
John F. Ehrlichman, President Nixon’s chief domestic affairs adviser, produced this spicy characterization of Mitchell during a conversation with Haldeman and Nixon on March 27, 1973. The brunt of the discussion was how to get Mitchell to take the rap (“to come forward,” as Ehrlichman later put it) for the Watergate break-in. Mitchell was an obvious fall guy. The re-election committee’s security coordinator, James W. McCord, Jr., was one of the five men arrested in the DNC offices (the other four were Miamians with ties to the CIA and anti-Castro groups); the committee’s counsel, G. Gordon Liddy, was the chief planner of the break-in; and committee money had financed the operation (see launder ). The hope of the White House conspirators was that prosecutors would be so pleased by snaring Mitchell that they would proceed no further—in other words, that the wolves would be thrown off the scent by the big enchilada.
Haldeman: “He is as high up as they’ve got.” Ehrlichman: “He’s the big enchilada.” Ehrlichman did eighteen months in prison for various Watergate-related crimes; Mitchell, nineteen.
The conspiracy to cover up responsibility for the Watergate break-in and other criminal activities.
When John Dean, who was only thirty-four at that point in time, testified before the Senate Watergate committee on June 25, 1973, he was pitting his word against that of the President of the United States. When ten months later, on April 30, 1974, more than twelve-hundred pages of White House transcripts were released, Dean’s testimony suddenly seemed much more credible. According to the record of his conversation with the President on the morning of March 21, 1973 (the meeting in which Nixon claimed falsely to have learned for the first time of the cover-up), Dean had warned, “We have a cancer—within—close to the Presidency, that’s growing. It’s growing daily.”