History Podcasts

Nixon's Memo to Haldeman

Nixon's Memo to Haldeman

On March 10, 1970, President Richard Nixon records a memorandum to his aide H.R. Haldeman asking him to set up a special group to keep tabs on Nixon's opponents.


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1. See Evans , Rowland Jr. and Novak , Robert D. , Nixon in the White House: The Frustration of Power ( New York , 1971 ), 133 –64Google Scholar Schell , Jonathan , The Time of Illusion ( New York , 1975 ), 40 – 49 Google Scholar , 77–84 Panetta , Leon E. and Gall , Peter , “Bring Us Together”: The Nixon Team and trie Civil Rights Retreat ( Philadelphia , 1971 )Google Scholar Phillips , Kevin P. , The Emerging Republican Majority ( New Rochelle, N.Y. , 1969 )Google Scholar . For skeptical views of the importance of southern politics to the making of Nixon's civil rights policy, see “Mr. Nixon and the South,” Wall Street Journal, 3 September 1969, 14 “‘Strategy’ Myth Belied,” Portland Oregonian, 8 April 1970, Folder: School Desegregation, Box 111, Charles W. Colson Files, White House Special Files, Richard M. Nixon Presidential Materials, National Archives, College Park, Maryland Murphy , Reg and Gulliver , Hal , The Southern Strategy ( New York , 1971 ), 3 .Google Scholar

2. Historians who have accepted the southern strategy argument include Carroll , Peter N. , It Seemed Like Nothing Happened: America in the 1970s ( New Brunswick, N.J. , 1982 ), 38 – 43 Google Scholar Grantham , Dewey W. , Recent America: The United States Since 1945 ( Arlington Heights, Ill. , 1987 ), 325 Google Scholar Grantham , Dewey W. , The Life and Death of the Solid South: A Political History ( Lexington, Ky., 1988 ), 177 –79Google Scholar Weisbrot , Robert , Freedom Bound: A History of America's Civil Rights Movement ( New York , 1990 ), 282 –85Google Scholar Blum , John Morton , Years of Discord: American Politics and Society, 1961–1974 ( New York , 1991 ), 332 –41Google Scholar , 409 King , Alvy L. , “Richard Nixon, Southern Strategies, and Desegregation of Public Schools,” in Richard M. Nixon: Politician, President, Administrator , ed. Friedman , Leon and Levantrosser , William F. ( Westport, Conn. , 1991 ), 143 –58Google Scholar Schaller , Michael , Scharf , Virginia , and Schulzinger , Robert D. , Present Tense: The United States Since 1945 ( Boston , 1992 ), 404 –6Google Scholar Sitkoff , Harvard , The Struggle for Black Equality, 1954–1992 ( New York , 1993 ), 212 –23Google Scholar Grantham , Dewey W. , The South in Modern America: A Region at Odds ( New York , 1994 ), 282 –86.Google Scholar

3. Parmet , Herbert S. , Richard Nixon and His America ( Boston , 1990 ), 602 –5Google Scholar Graham , Hugh Davis , The Civil Rights Era: Origins and Development of National Policy, 1960–1972 ( New York , 1990 ), 301 –65Google Scholar idem, “The Incoherence of Civil Rights Policy in the Nixon Administration,” in Richard M. Nixon, ed. Friedman and Levantrosser, 168. For other studies that play down the importance of southern politics in the making of Nixon's civil rights policies, see Wilz , John Edward , Democracy Challenged: The United States Since World War II ( New York , 1990 ), 282 –83Google Scholar . Wicker , Tom , One of Us: Richard Nixon and the American Dream ( New York , 1991 ), 505 Google Scholar Greene , John Robert , The Limits of Power: The Nixon and Ford Administrations ( Bloomington, Ind. , 1992 ), 41 – 47 Google Scholar Hoff , Joan , Nixon Reconsidered ( New York , 1994 ), 80 Google Scholar Bartley , Numan V. , The New South, 1945–1980 ( Baton Rouge, La. , 1995 )Google Scholar . For an early interpretation of Nixon's “vacillation” between enforcing civil rights and “appeasing” white southerners, see Tindall , George Brown , The Disruption of the Solid South ( Athens, Ga. , 1972 ), 69 Google Scholar , and Tindall , George Brown , “ Southern Strategy: A Historical Perspective ,” North Carolina Historical Review 48 (April 1971 ): 126 –41Google Scholar . A more recent critique of Nixon's southern strategy is Carter , Dan T. , George Wallace, Richard Nixon, and the Transformation of American Politics—Thirteenth Charles Edmondson Lectures ( Waco, Tex. , 1992 ), 27 – 45 Google Scholar , and The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, The Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics ( New York , 1995 ).Google Scholar

4. Graham, Civil Rights Era, 301–21 Hoff, Nixon Reconsidered, 50–76 Wicker, One of Us, 484–507.


Nixon Could Keep A Secret

Diana Klebanow is a former adjunct professor of political science at Long island University, Brooklyn, N.Y., and coauthor of People’s Lawyers: Crusaders for Justicein American History and Urban Legacy: The Story of America’s Cities. This article is reprinted with permission from USA Today magazine, where it first appeared.

Critics of Pres. Richard M. Nixon regarded him as a politician who not only wanted to defeat his enemy, but to destroy him. Yet, in his presidential re-election bid in 1972 when he ran against Sen. George McGovern (D-SD), Nixon showed restraint by keeping a secret that could have wrecked McGovern’s career. This information concerned the fact that McGovern had fathered an out-of-wedlock child in 1941 when he was an 18 year-old college student. Unknown to Nixon at the time was the additional accusation that McGovern had fathered another out-of-wedlock child when he was married. This latter incident allegedly occurred during World War II, when he was stationed in Europe.

McGovern, who was soundly defeated by Nixon, had been regarded as the “conscience” of the Democratic Party. At his death in 2012, The New York Times described him as a “liberal trounced but never silenced.” Part of the admiration for him stemmed from his staunch stance against the Vietnam War, which was a key issue in the 1972 campaign.

While the war was highly unpopular in certain parts of the nation, McGovern’s campaign was run poorly and he faced the embarrassment of having to replace the vice presidential candidate, Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton (D-MO) when it became known that Eagleton had failed to reveal that he had received electroshock treatments for his depression. Although McGovern had assured the public that he was “1,000 percent” behind Eagleton, he dropped him from the ticket on July 31. As a result, Eagleton had the distinction of being the vice presidential candidate for a total of eighteen days.

There is irony that Eagleton was criticized for his failure to inform McGovern about his shock treatments in view of the fact that McGovern kept his own secret hidden from the public. When faced with a similar situation in the presidential campaign in 1884, New York Gov. Grover Cleveland did not deny the accusation, stating he had supported the child. He was elected president – twice. (In fact, he is the only man to take up residence in the White House in nonconsecutive terms). In the case of McGovern, the matter never became public in the course of his lifetime.

McGovern was born in 1922 in South Dakota, the son of a Methodist minister. He served for two terms in the House of Representatives as a member from South Dakota beginning in 1957, and gained respect for his interest in fighting world hunger. He made an unsuccessful bid for a Senate seat in 1960, but would be elected in 1962 and re-elected in 1968.

Prior to his entry into politics, McGovern had interrupted his studies at Dakota Wesleyan University to enlist in the armed forces following the outbreak of World War II, and won a Distinguished Flying Cross as a bomber pilot. After the war, he finished his undergraduate work, and attended divinity school in Illinois. However, he changed his mind about becoming a minister. Instead, he earned a master’s degree in history at Northwestern University in 1949, and became a history professor at Dakota Wesleyan. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern in 1953, but had another change of mind and decided to pursue a career in politics.

J. Edgar Hoover, head of the Federal Bureau of first learned about McGovern‘s out-of-wedlock child in 1960 during a background check conducted by the Bureau in December, 1960. It was initiated when Pres.-elect John F. Kennedy indicated he wanted to name McGovern to be the first director of the President’s Food for Peace program.

The FBI had concluded its investigation at the end of the month, and McGovern became director of the program on Jan. 21, 1961. In a memo about its findings, it stated that the overall results were “favorable” with one exception: “McGovern father of illegitimate child.” The “tip” came from a former student at Dakota Wesleyan, who told FBI agents about a rumor regarding the child, and the agents pursued the lead. The results of the investigation were given to Hoover. According to an account on July 26, 2015 in the Argus Leader (the newspaper in Sioux Falls, S.D., which had filed a Freedom of Information request for the FBI files following McGovern’s death in 2012, and received the information nearly three years later), McGovern told the Kennedy administration about the child. However, it remained hidden from the public. When McGovern resigned his position in 1962, it was because he decided to run for the Senate.

The matter resurfaced when McGovern was the 1972 Democratic candidate for president, and someone in the FBI (presumably Hoover) leaked the Bureau’s information to Nixon. Hoover and McGovern always had a strained relationship, and McGovern had publicly questioned whether Hoover was fit to serve as the FBI’s Director.

On July 31, the evening of Eagleton’s ouster from the ticket, Nixon and his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman had a conversation regarding how to deal with the “Fort Wayne” story. It was a reference to the child’s alleged place of birth. This conversation was recorded. According to the account in Joshua M. Glasser’s The Eighteen-Day Running Mate: McGovern, Eagleton, and a Campaign in Crisis (2012), Nixon decided against using it, and cited “The [Grover] Cleveland episode.” He added it was difficult to know what the reaction to it would be. However, he planned to “keep it in the bank.”

Nixon never used it against McGovern. He might have felt it could backfire, and that he would be blamed for the leak. Another possibility was that it was unnecessary because McGovern had irrevocably damaged his campaign because of the way he handled the Eagleton matter. Nevertheless, it was not disregarded completely.

Two days after the above conversation, Nixon demonstrated that he also had a gracious side to his personality, at least when he no longer regarded a person as a threat. This aspect was revealed in a letter Nixon sent to Terry Eagleton, the Senator’s 13 year-old-son, who had visited the White House the previous year. Nixon wrote, “Years later, you will look back and say, ‘I am proud of the way my Dad handled himself in the greatest trial of his life.’” The boy showed the letter to his father, and sent Nixon a reply. “Do you know what my Dad said when he read your letter? He said, ‘It’s going to make it tougher to talk against Nixon.’” Neither Nixon nor Eagleton revealed the existence of the letters. They came to light when former Nixon speechwriter William Safire included them in his book, Before The Fall: An Inside View of the Pre- Watergate White House (1975).

In the closing weeks of the 1972 campaign, several members McGovern’s staff learned about the existence of the child. Ted Van Dyk, a veteran Democratic strategist and McGovern advisor, received a telephone call from the Democratic mayor of Terre Haute, Ind. As recounted in Van Dyk’s Heroes, Hacks, and Fools: Memoirs from the Political Inside (2007), the mayor said that a man flashing a Senate investigators badge had appeared at the city’s records bureau, demanding to see a birth certificate listing McGovern as the father of a child. The man obtained a copy of the certificate, and left the office. Although Van Dyk referred to Terre Haute as the place of the child’s birth, other accounts said the child had been born in Fort Wayne.

Van Dyk informed three other staffers of the call, and they conferred with McGovern. He admitted to fathering a child, stating that it happened when he was a teenage Army recruit (a version which differed from the account he later told his biographer). There was more disturbing news in the evening when the telephone operator at the McGovern headquarters received a call stating the St. Louis Globe Democrat would carry the story in the morning papers.

Van Dyk wrote that McGovern told his wife Eleanor -- whom he had married in 1943, and was the mother of their five children—about the illicit offspring. McGovern also telephoned Portland, Ore., speaking to child’s mother. She subsequently informed her daughter (now an adult), and told her that McGovern was her father.

McGovern and his staffers decided that they would not raise the issue, but, if confronted, would tell the truth. The story did not run, but the team worried every day that it would be published. Van Dyk never indicated if he was disappointed in McGovern when he learned the news. Instead, he referred to the story as a “Nixon’s dirty trick.”

Nixon trounced McGovern in the 1972 election, but was forced to resign nearly two years later over the Watergate scandal. Although he tried to regain the stature he once held as President, he always felt he would be vilified by his “enemies” in the press and in academia, regardless of what he had accomplished in his life. In spite of his anger, Nixon kept his silence about McGovern.

On Aug. 1, 1973, Haldeman testified before the Senate Committee investigating the Watergate scandal, and was asked about a memo he had written on Feb. 10, 1973, three days after the Senate had voted to establish the Committee. Haldeman had sent the memo to John W. Dean, Jr., Nixon’s counsel, who later turned it over to the Committee. In the memo, Haldeman made a brief reference to the “Fort Wayne story.” He wanted the White House to ask syndicated columnists Rowland Evans, Jr. and Robert Novak to put out the story, stating Nixon had known about it, but took the “high road” by not mentioning it in the campaign. Although there was no mention of the nature of the “Fort Wayne story” in the memo and Haldeman did not refer to McGovern in his testimony, Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (among other insiders) knew about the allegations regarding McGovern’s child.

The next day, the Post ran their article, “Leak Involving McGovern Proposed.” While the reporters referred to Haldeman’s memo and noted it was designed to put Nixon in a favorable light, they focused on the “Fort Wayne story.” They stated the Post confirmed the existence of a birth certificate in that city listing McGovern as the child’s father, and they questioned him about it. He said he was aware of the certificate, but denied he was the child’s father. The reporters also interviewed the child’s mother. She said her late husband was the father of her daughter, adding that she had no idea how McGovern’s name got on the child’s birth certificate. The story got nowhere.

Despite his defeat in 1972, McGovern still believed that he could become President. In March 1975, he wrote a letter to FBI Director Clarence M. Kelley asking for a copy of any file the Bureau had on him. He spoke to two FBI inspectors in April, telling them he might be nominated for president in the following year, and specifically asked if the FBI had information about a child he had fathered as a young man. At a meeting the next month, they told him the FBI had verified this information during its background check in 1960. According to the FBI files, McGovern “made no comment nor asked any questions about the statement that the allegation concerning the illegitimate child had been verified during the special inquiry investigation.”

McGovern apparently felt this material would not be revealed, and would not present any difficulty in the future. He made futile bids for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976, 1984, and briefly toyed with the idea of running again in 1992.

The allegation about his other out-of-wedlock child was reported by Tom Lawrence on July 28, 2015 in the Prairie Black Hills Pioneer, a newspaper published in Spearfish, S.D. Lawrence wrote that Donald (“Don”) C. Simmons, Jr., former director of the McGovern Center for Leadership and Public Service and Dean of the College of Public Service at Dakota Wesleyan University, stated that another child was born out of a relationship McGovern had while serving in World War II. Simmons, who was a close friend of McGovern during the last years of the latter’s life, said that the second child died before reaching adulthood, and McGovern, who was “haunted” by the loss, visited the grave in Europe. Lawrence added that Simmons was writing a book about his friendship with McGovern.

During the last years of his life, McGovern told Thomas J. Knock, a history professor of Southern Methodist University, about the child. The story is included in Knock’s first volume of his McGovern biography, The Rise of a Prairie Statesman: The Life and Times of George McGovern (2016). In an interview in the Washington Post on July 30, 2015, Knock stated that McGovern told him about it voluntarily about 15 years before because “he felt confident in my credentials as a historian and biographer to deal with it responsibly.”

Knock disclosed that the child was conceived when McGovern lost his virginity during a camping trip to South Dakota’s Lake Mitchell, and that he was wracked with guilt about it. When the girl learned she was pregnant, she “was remarkably calm and strong about it,” and went to stay with her older sister and brother-in-law in Indiana. She gave birth there in 1941. The city where the child was born is not identified in the book. McGovern eventually met his daughter, and brought her gifts, but no specifics are mentioned.

Was it wrong for a prominent politician to hide the fact that he fathered a child out of wedlock? Knock did not think the matter had any historical significance, and said, “It could have happened to almost anyone.” However, if the situation had been reversed, and Nixon had fathered a child out of wedlock, the judgment might not have been so kind.

Reprinted with permission from USA Today Magazine, May 2016. Copyright © 2016 by the Society for the Advancement of Education, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


When the secret bombing of Cambodia began to be leaked to the press several of Nixon&rsquos top aides believed the leaks to have come from within the offices of the National Security Council. Henry Kissinger, then Nixon&rsquos Secretary of State, was determined to convince Nixon that the leaks were from elsewhere. Kissinger approached J. Edgar Hoover and requested that several of Nixon&rsquos top political aides and the office and home telephones of several reporters be tapped as a means of identifying the source of the leaks. These wiretaps began in 1969.

Hoover informed Kissinger that the FBI suspected Kissinger&rsquos aide at the National Security Council, Morton Halperin, was the source of the leak to New York Times reporter Henry Beecher, who had first broken the story. Hoover ordered that Halperin&rsquos phone be tapped, and for the next nearly two years the illegal tap was in place to monitor Halperin&rsquos communications. Once the secret bombing was revealed there were no further follow-ups to the story containing additional information in the press. Halperin holds the distinction of being the first person known to be the victim of an illegal wiretap ordered by the Nixon administration.

Once the first wiretap to control leaks was installed others soon followed. The Vietnam War had been a major factor during the 1968 election campaign. Nixon ordered the creation of a team less than two weeks into his first administration to begin planning his re-election campaign in 1972. As the Nixon Administration went on he ordered, through the FBI, the wiretapping of leaders of the anti-war movement, and public figures who were outspoken against the war. Nixon also ordered the creation of a list of those figures who were considered his political enemies.

What came to be called the White House Enemies List was actually two lists, one of 20 individuals revealed in 1973, and another of 576 individuals which was exposed later that year. The first list of 20 were compiled for John Dean, Nixon&rsquos White House Counsel who explained its purpose as, &ldquo…how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies,&rdquo In a memo to administration official Lawrence Higby. The intent was to have the Internal Revenue Service harass the persons on the list of twenty with continuous tax audits.

Actor Paul Newman was on the list, and later described his place there as his greatest achievement. Morton Halperin, suspected of leaking the story of the Cambodian bombing, was on the list as well. When newsman Daniel Schorr read the list on television in 1973 he was surprised and amused to come upon his own name. Schorr had previously had his neighbors questioned by the FBI regarding his personal habits and activities in an attempt to discredit him. The IRS through its Commissioner, Donald Alexander, refused to comply with the request for audits on the individuals listed as Nixon&rsquos enemies.


Woodward and Bernstein: 40 years after Watergate, Nixon was far worse than we thought

Countless answers have been offered in the 40 years since June 17, 1972, when a team of burglars wearing business suits and rubber gloves was arrested at 2:30 a.m. at the headquarters of the Democratic Party in the Watergate office building in Washington. Four days afterward, the Nixon White House offered its answer: “Certain elements may try to stretch this beyond what it was,” press secretary Ronald Ziegler scoffed, dismissing the incident as a “third-rate burglary.”

History proved that it was anything but. Two years later, Richard Nixon would become the first and only U.S. president to resign, his role in the criminal conspiracy to obstruct justice — the Watergate coverup — definitively established.

Another answer has since persisted, often unchallenged: the notion that the coverup was worse than the crime. This idea minimizes the scale and reach of Nixon’s criminal actions.

Ervin’s answer to his own question hints at the magnitude of Watergate: “To destroy, insofar as the presidential election of 1972 was concerned, the integrity of the process by which the President of the United States is nominated and elected.” Yet Watergate was far more than that. At its most virulent, Watergate was a brazen and daring assault, led by Nixon himself, against the heart of American democracy: the Constitution, our system of free elections, the rule of law.

Today, much more than when we first covered this story as young Washington Post reporters, an abundant record provides unambiguous answers and evidence about Watergate and its meaning. This record has expanded continuously over the decades with the transcription of hundreds of hours of Nixon’s secret tapes, adding detail and context to the hearings in the Senate and House of Representatives the trials and guilty pleas of some 40 Nixon aides and associates who went to jail and the memoirs of Nixon and his deputies. Such documentation makes it possible to trace the president’s personal dominance over a massive campaign of political espionage, sabotage and other illegal activities against his real or perceived opponents.

In the course of his five-and-a-half-year presidency, beginning in 1969, Nixon launched and managed five successive and overlapping wars — against the anti-Vietnam War movement, the news media, the Democrats, the justice system and, finally, against history itself. All reflected a mind-set and a pattern of behavior that were uniquely and pervasively Nixon’s: a willingness to disregard the law for political advantage, and a quest for dirt and secrets about his opponents as an organizing principle of his presidency.

Long before the Watergate break-in, gumshoeing, burglary, wiretapping and political sabotage had become a way of life in the Nixon White House.

What was Watergate? It was Nixon’s five wars.

Nixon’s first war was against the anti-Vietnam War movement. The president considered it subversive and thought it constrained his ability to prosecute the war in Southeast Asia on his terms. In 1970, he approved the top-secret Huston Plan, authorizing the CIA, the FBI and military intelligence units to intensify electronic surveillance of individuals identified as “domestic security threats.” The plan called for, among other things, intercepting mail and lifting restrictions on “surreptitious entry” — that is, break-ins or “black bag jobs.”

Thomas Charles Huston, the White House aide who devised the plan, informed Nixon that it was illegal, but the president approved it regardless. It was not formally rescinded until FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover objected — not on principle, but because he considered those types of activities the FBI’s turf. Undeterred, Nixon remained fixated on such operations.

In a memorandum dated March 3, 1970, presidential aide Patrick Buchanan wrote to Nixon about what he called the “institutionalized power of the left concentrated in the foundations that succor the Democratic Party.” Of particular concern was the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank with liberal leanings.

On June 17, 1971 — exactly one year before the Watergate break-in — Nixon met in the Oval Office with his chief of staff, H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, and national security adviser Henry Kissinger. At issue was a file about former president Lyndon Johnson’s handling of the 1968 bombing halt in Vietnam.

“You can blackmail Johnson on this stuff, and it might be worth doing,” Haldeman said, according to the tape of the meeting.

“Yeah,” Kissinger said, “but Bob and I have been trying to put the damn thing together for three years.” They wanted the complete story of Johnson’s actions.

“Huston swears to God there’s a file on it at Brookings,” Haldeman said.

“Bob,” Nixon said, “now you remember Huston’s plan? Implement it. . . . I mean, I want it implemented on a thievery basis. God damn it, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get it.”

Nixon would not let the matter drop. Thirteen days later, according to another taped discussion with Haldeman and Kissinger, the president said: “Break in and take it out. You understand?”

The next morning, Nixon said: “Bob, get on the Brookings thing right away. I’ve got to get that safe cracked over there.” And later that morning, he persisted, “Who’s gonna break in the Brookings Institution?”

For reasons that have never been made clear, the break-in apparently was not carried out.

Nixon’s second war was waged ceaselessly against the press, which was reporting more insistently on the faltering Vietnam War and the effectiveness of the antiwar movement. Although Hoover thought he had shut down the Huston Plan, it was in fact implemented by high-level Nixon deputies. A “Plumbers” unit and burglary team were set up under the direction of White House counsel John Ehrlichman and an assistant, Egil Krogh, and led by the operational chiefs of the future Watergate burglary, ex-CIA operative Howard Hunt and former FBI agent G. Gordon Liddy. Hunt was hired as a consultant by Nixon political aide Charles Colson, whose take-no-prisoners sensibility matched the president’s.

An early assignment was to destroy the reputation of Daniel Ellsberg, who had provided the Pentagon Papers, a secret history of the Vietnam War, to the news media in 1971. Publication of the documents in the New York Times, the Washington Post and eventually other newspapers had sent Nixon into rants and rages, recorded on his tapes, about Ellsberg, the antiwar movement, the press, Jews, the American left and liberals in Congress — all of whom he conflated. Though Ellsberg was already under indictment and charged with espionage, the team headed by Hunt and Liddy broke into the office of his psychiatrist, seeking information that might smear Ellsberg and undermine his credibility in the antiwar movement.

“You can’t drop it, Bob,” Nixon told Haldeman on June 29, 1971. “You can’t let the Jew steal that stuff and get away with it. You understand?”

He went on: “People don’t trust these Eastern establishment people. He’s Harvard. He’s a Jew. You know, and he’s an arrogant intellectual.”

Nixon’s anti-Semitic rages were well-known to those who worked most closely with him, including some aides who were Jewish. As we reported in our 1976 book, “The Final Days,” he would tell his deputies, including Kissinger, that “the Jewish cabal is out to get me.” In a July 3, 1971, conversation with Haldeman, he said: “The government is full of Jews. Second, most Jews are disloyal. You know what I mean? You have a Garment [White House counsel Leonard Garment] and a Kissinger and, frankly, a Safire [presidential speechwriter William Safire], and, by God, they’re exceptions. But Bob, generally speaking, you can’t trust the bastards. They turn on you.”

Ellsberg’s leak seemed to feed his prejudice and paranoia.

In response to suspected leaks to the press about Vietnam, Kissinger had ordered FBI wiretaps in 1969 on the telephones of 17 journalists and White House aides, without court approval. Many news stories based on the purported leaks questioned progress in the American war effort, further fueling the antiwar movement. In a tape from the Oval Office on Feb. 22, 1971, Nixon said, “In the short run, it would be so much easier, wouldn’t it, to run this war in a dictatorial way, kill all the reporters and carry on the war.”

“The press is your enemy,” Nixon explained five days later in a meeting with Adm. Thomas H. Moorer, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to another tape. “Enemies. Understand that? . . . Now, never act that way . . . give them a drink, you know, treat them nice, you just love it, you’re trying to be helpful. But don’t help the bastards. Ever. Because they’re trying to stick the knife right in our groin.”

In Nixon’s third war, he took the weapons in place — the Plumbers, wiretapping and burglary — and deployed them against the Democrats challenging his reelection.

John N. Mitchell, Nixon’s campaign manager and confidante, met with Liddy at the Justice Department in early 1972, when Mitchell was attorney general. Liddy presented a $1 million plan, code-named “Gemstone,” for spying and sabotage during the upcoming presidential campaign.

According to the Senate Watergate report and Liddy’s 1980 autobiography, he used multicolored charts prepared by the CIA to describe elements of the plan. Operation Diamond would neutralize antiwar protesters with mugging squads and kidnapping teams Operation Coal would funnel cash to Rep. Shirley Chisholm, a black congresswoman from Brooklyn seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, in an effort to sow racial and gender discord in the party Operation Opal would use electronic surveillance against various targets, including the headquarters of Democratic presidential candidates Edmund Muskie and George McGovern Operation Sapphire would station prostitutes on a yacht, wired for sound, off Miami Beach during the Democratic National Convention.

Mitchell rejected the plans and told Liddy to burn the charts. At a second meeting, less than three weeks later, Liddy presented a scaled-back, $500,000 version of the plan Mitchell turned it down again. But soon after, Mitchell approved a $250,000 version, according to Jeb Magruder, the deputy campaign manager. It included intelligence-gathering on the Democrats through wiretaps and burglaries.

Under oath, Mitchell later denied approving the plan. He testified that he told Magruder: “We don’t need this. I’m tired of hearing it.” By his own account, he did not object on the grounds that the plan was illegal.

On Oct. 10, 1972, we wrote a story in The Post outlining the extensive sabotage and spying operations of the Nixon campaign and White House, particularly against Muskie, and stating that the Watergate burglary was not an isolated event. The story said that at least 50 operatives had been involved in the espionage and sabotage, many of them under the direction of a young California lawyer named Donald Segretti several days later, we reported that Segretti had been hired by Dwight Chapin, Nixon’s appointments secretary. (The Senate Watergate committee later found more than 50 saboteurs, including 22 who were paid by Segretti.) Herbert Kalmbach, Nixon’s personal attorney, paid Segretti more than $43,000 from leftover campaign funds for these activities. Throughout the operation, Segretti was contacted regularly by Howard Hunt.

The Senate investigation provided more detail about the effectiveness of the covert efforts against Muskie, who in 1971 and early 1972 was considered by the White House to be the Democrat most capable of beating Nixon. The president’s campaign paid Muskie’s chauffeur, a campaign volunteer named Elmer Wyatt, $1,000 a month to photograph internal memos, position papers, schedules and strategy documents, and deliver copies to Mitchell and Nixon’s campaign staff.

Other sabotage directed at Muskie included bogus news releases and allegations of sexual improprieties against other Democratic candidates — produced on counterfeit Muskie stationery. A favored dirty trick that caused havoc at campaign stops involved sweeping up the shoes that Muskie aides left in hotel hallways to be polished, and then depositing them in a dumpster.

Haldeman, the White House chief of staff, advised Nixon of the Chapin-Segretti sabotage plan in May 1971, according to one of the president’s tapes. In a memo to Haldeman and Mitchell dated April 12, 1972, Patrick Buchanan and another Nixon aide wrote: “Our primary objective, to prevent Senator Muskie from sweeping the early primaries, locking up the convention in April, and uniting the Democratic Party behind him for the fall, has been achieved.”

The tapes also reveal Nixon’s obsession with another Democrat: Sen. Edward Kennedy. One of Hunt’s earliest undertakings for the White House was to dig up dirt on Kennedy’s sex life, building on a 1969 auto accident at Chappaquiddick, Mass., that resulted in the death of a young Kennedy aide, Mary Jo Kopechne. Though Kennedy had vowed not to seek the presidency in 1972, he was certain to play a big role in the campaign and had not ruled out a 1976 run.

“I’d really like to get Kennedy taped,” Nixon told Haldeman in April 1971. According to Haldeman’s 1994 book, “The Haldeman Diaries,” the president also wanted to have Kennedy photographed in compromising situations and leak the images to the press.

And when Kennedy received Secret Service protection as he campaigned for McGovern, the Democratic presidential nominee, Nixon and Haldeman discussed a novel plan to keep him under surveillance: They would insert a retired Secret Service agent, Robert Newbrand, who had been part of Nixon’s protection detail when he was vice president, into the team protecting Kennedy.

“I’ll talk to Newbrand and tell him how to approach it,” Haldeman said, “because Newbrand will do anything that I tell him.”

“We just might get lucky and catch this son of a bitch and ruin him for ’76,” replied the president, adding, “That’s going to be fun.”

On Sept. 8, 1971, Nixon ordered Ehrlichman to direct the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the tax returns of all the likely Democratic presidential candidates, as well as Kennedy. “Are we going after their tax returns?” Nixon asked. “You know what I mean? There’s a lot of gold in them thar hills.”

The arrest of the Watergate burglars set in motion Nixon’s fourth war, against the American system of justice. It was a war of lies and hush money, a conspiracy that became necessary to conceal the roles of top officials and to hide the president’s campaign of illegal espionage and political sabotage, including the covert operations that Mitchell described as “the White House horrors” during the Watergate hearings: the Huston Plan, the Plumbers, the Ellsberg break-in, Liddy’s Gemstone plan and the proposed break-in at Brookings.

In a June 23, 1972, tape recording, six days after the arrests at the Watergate, Haldeman warned Nixon that “on the investigation, you know, the Democratic break-in thing, we’re back in the problem area, because the FBI is not under control . . . their investigation is now leading into some productive areas, because they’ve been able to trace the money.”

Haldeman said Mitchell had come up with a plan for the CIA to claim that national security secrets would be compromised if the FBI did not halt its Watergate investigation.

Nixon approved the scheme and ordered Haldeman to call in CIA Director Richard Helms and his deputy Vernon Walters. “Play it tough,” the president directed. “That’s the way they play it, and that’s the way we are going to play it.”

The contents of the tape were made public on Aug. 5, 1974. Four days later, Nixon resigned.

Another tape captured discussions in the Oval Office on Aug. 1, 1972, six weeks after the burglars’ arrest, and the day on which The Post published our first story showing that Nixon campaign funds had gone into the bank account of one of the burglars.

Nixon and Haldeman discussed paying off the burglars and their leaders to keep them from talking to federal investigators. “They have to be paid,” Nixon said. “That’s all there is to that.”

On March 21, 1973, in one of the most memorable Watergate exchanges caught on tape, Nixon met with his counsel, John W. Dean, who since the break-in had been tasked with coordinating the coverup.

“We’re being blackmailed” by Hunt and the burglars, Dean reported, and more people “are going to start perjuring themselves.”

“How much money do you need?” Nixon asked.

“I would say these people are going to cost a million dollars over the next two years,” Dean replied.

“And you could get it in cash,” the president said. “I, I know where it could be gotten. I mean, it’s not easy, but it could be done.”

Hunt was demanding $120,000 immediately. They discussed executive clemency for him and the burglars.

“I am not sure that you will ever be able to deliver on the clemency,” Dean said. “It may just be too hot.”

“You can’t do it till after the ’74 election, that’s for sure,” Nixon declared.

Haldeman then entered the room, and Nixon led the search for ways “to take care of the jackasses who are in jail.”

They discussed a secret $350,000 stash of cash kept in the White House, the possibility of using priests to help hide payments to the burglars, “washing” the money though Las Vegas or New York bookmakers, and empaneling a new grand jury so everyone could plead the Fifth Amendment or claim memory failure. Finally, they decided to send Mitchell on an emergency fundraising mission.

The president praised Dean’s efforts. “You handled it just right. You contained it. Now after the election, we’ve got to have another plan.”

Nixon’s final war, waged even to this day by some former aides and historical revisionists, aims to play down the significance of Watergate and present it as a blip on the president’s record. Nixon lived for 20 years after his resignation and worked tirelessly to minimize the scandal.

Though he accepted a full pardon from President Gerald Ford, Nixon insisted that he had not participated in any crimes. In his 1977 television interviews with British journalist David Frost, he said that he had “let the American people down” but that he had not obstructed justice. “I didn’t think of it as a coverup. I didn’t intend a coverup. Let me say, if I intended the coverup, believe me, I would have done it.”

In his 1978 memoir “RN,” Nixon addressed his role in Watergate: “My actions and omissions, while regrettable and possibly indefensible, were not impeachable.” Twelve years later, in his book “In the Arena,” he decried a dozen “myths” about Watergate and claimed that he was innocent of many of the charges made against him. One myth, he said, was that he ordered the payment of hush money to Hunt and others. Yet, the March 21, 1973, tape shows that he ordered Dean to get the money 12 times.

Even now, there are old Nixon hands and defenders who dismiss the importance of Watergate or claim that key questions remain unanswered. This year, Thomas Mallon, director of the creative writing program at George Washington University, published a novel called “Watergate,” a sometimes witty and entirely fictional story featuring many of the real players. Frank Gannon, a former Nixon White House aide who now works for the Nixon Foundation, reviewed the book for the Wall Street Journal.

“What emerges from ‘Watergate’ is an acute sense of how much we still don’t know about the events of June 17, 1972,” Gannon wrote. “Who ordered the break-in? . . . What was its real purpose? Was it purposely botched? How much was the CIA involved? . . . And how did a politician as tough and canny as Richard Nixon allow himself to be brought down by a ‘third rate burglary?’

“Your guess is as good as mine.”

Of course, Gannon is correct in noting that there are some unanswered questions — but not the big ones. By focusing on the supposed paucity of details concerning the burglary of June 17, 1972, he would divert us from the larger story.

And about that story, there is no need to guess.

In the summer of 1974, it was neither the press nor the Democrats who rose up against Nixon, but the president’s own Republican Party.

On July 24, the Supreme Court ruled 8 to 0 that Nixon would have to turn over the secret tapes demanded by the Watergate special prosecutor. Three of the president’s appointees to the court — Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, Justice Harry Blackmun and Justice Lewis Powell — joined that opinion. The other Nixon appointee, Justice William Rehnquist, recused himself.

Three days later, six Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee joined the Democrats in voting, 27 to 11, to recommend Nixon’s impeachment for nine acts of obstruction of justice in the Watergate coverup.

By August, Nixon’s impending impeachment in the House was a certainty, and a group of Republicans led by Sen. Barry Goldwater banded together to declare his presidency over. “Too many lies, too many crimes,” Goldwater said.

On Aug. 7, the group visited Nixon at the White House.

How many votes would he have in a Senate trial? the president asked.

“I took kind of a nose count today,” Goldwater replied, “and I couldn’t find more than four very firm votes, and those would be from older Southerners. Some are very worried about what’s been going on, and are undecided, and I’m one of them.”

The next day, Nixon went on national television and announced that he would resign.

In his last remarks about Watergate as a senator, 77-year-old Sam Ervin, a revered constitutionalist respected by both parties, posed a final question: “Why was Watergate?”

The president and his aides, Ervin answered, had “a lust for political power.” That lust, he explained, “blinded them to ethical considerations and legal requirements to Aristotle’s aphorism that the good of man must be the end of politics.”

Nixon had lost his moral authority as president. His secret tapes — and what they reveal — will probably be his most lasting legacy. On them, he is heard talking almost endlessly about what would be good for him, his place in history and, above all, his grudges, animosities and schemes for revenge. The dog that never seems to bark is any discussion of what is good and necessary for the well-being of the nation.

The Watergate that we wrote about in The Washington Post from 1972 to 1974 is not Watergate as we know it today. It was only a glimpse into something far worse. By the time he was forced to resign, Nixon had turned his White House, to a remarkable extent, into a criminal enterprise.

On the day he left, Aug. 9, 1974, Nixon gave an emotional farewell speech in the East Room to his staff, his friends and his Cabinet. His family stood with him. Near the end of his remarks, he waved his arm, as if to highlight the most important thing he had to say.

“Always remember,” he said, “others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.”

His hatred had brought about his downfall. Nixon apparently grasped this insight, but it was too late. He had already destroyed himself.

Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward are the co-authors of two Watergate books, “All the President’s Men,” published in 1974, and “The Final Days,” published in 1976. This is their first joint byline in 36 years.


NIXON’S S.O.B.

At 1973 Senate hearings, Haldeman tried to justify White House lawyers sitting in while FBI agents queried presidential staff.

Chris Whipple
October 2017

White House chief of staff H.R. Haldeman became the model for all who followed.

On the 39th floor of New York City’s Pierre Hotel, in a suite monitored by closed-circuit cameras and Secret Service agents, Richard M. Nixon looked out over the threadbare landscape of Central Park. It was December 1968, and Nixon was huddled with his closest adviser, H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, a grave young man in a tweed jacket and a brush haircut. The victorious candidate and his chief of staff were scribbling on yellow legal pads, planning the next presidency of the United States, now just a month away.

Having served as Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president, Nixon knew the presidency could be a “splendid misery,” as Jefferson put it, unresponsive even to the commands of the most celebrated general in modern history. “Poor Ike!” predecessor Harry Truman had quipped upon Eisenhower’s election. “He’ll sit here and he’ll say, ‘Do this! Do that!’ And nothing will happen. It won’t be a bit like the Army.”

Richard Nixon was determined to control his fate. His cabinet would be full of strong, idiosyncratic personalities. But the 37th president wanted someone to keep them in line, to ensure that his agenda would be executed, giving him time and space to think. Haldeman would be that person. As his chief of staff recalled years later, referring to himself in the third person: “Eisenhower had told Nixon that every president has to have his own ‘SOB.’ Nixon had looked over everyone in his entourage and decided that Haldeman was a pluperfect SOB. And because of that somewhat unflattering appraisal, my career took a rise.”

Nixon confers with Haldeman on a flight during the campaign that brought the Californians victory. (AP Photo)


Of course, Haldeman’s career, and the Nixon presidency, would suffer a spectacular fall that began when the Watergate scandal unfolded, eventually sending the disgraced president into exile and his chief to prison. Newsweek wrote: “Harry Robbins Haldeman is Richard Nixon’s son of a bitch, glowering out at the world under a crew cut that would flatter a drill instructor with a gaze that would freeze Medusa.”

Indeed, Haldeman seemed to personify Nixon’s “imperial presidency.” And yet, in one of the great ironies of presidential history, Haldeman’s successors credit him with creating the template for the modern White House chief of staff—a model that presidents since Nixon have strayed from at their peril. “There was a conventional wisdom that Watergate occurred because [of] the White House chief of staff system under Haldeman,” says Dick Cheney, who at 34 became Gerald Ford’s gatekeeper. “That wasn’t true. The truth is, sooner or later nearly every president, no matter what he thinks when he arrives, ends up following the Haldeman system.”

Harry Robbins Haldeman and Richard Milhous Nixon made for an odd couple, worlds apart socially. H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, an advertising agency executive in Los Angeles, was an unlikely candidate for presidential consigliere. “Bob Haldeman would have been a superstar had he never gone to the White House,” recalls Larry Higby, who at 23 followed Haldeman from J. Walter Thompson to the White House. Indeed, Haldeman in the early 1960s was Southern California royalty: regent of the University of California president of the UCLA alumni association founding chairman of the California Institute of the Arts. But Haldeman had found his calling as an advance man in Nixon’s 1960 presidential campaign he would later manage Nixon’s successful run for the White House in 1968.


Holed up in Nixon’s transition headquarters at the Pierre, Haldeman devised what he called a staff system, to be followed as a model of White House governance.

On December 19, 1968, he summoned members of the nascent administration to a meeting. Watching from the back of the room, speechwriter William Safire took notes as the president-elect’s newly anointed chief addressed the troops:

“Our job is not to do the work of government, but to get the work out to where it belongs—out to the Departments,” Haldeman explained to subordinates. “Nothing goes to the president that is not completely staffed out first, for accuracy and form, for lateral coordination, checked for related material, reviewed by competent staff concerned with that area—and all that is essential for Presidential attention.”

Haldeman warned about what he called end-running—when someone with his own agenda meets privately with the president without going through the chief of staff, all too often resulting in an ill-considered presidential edict with unintended consequences: “That is the principal occupation of 98 percent of the people in the bureaucracy. Do not permit anyone to end-run you or any of the rest of us. Don’t become a source of end-running yourself, or we’ll miss you at the White House.”

No nuance of statecraft or image making escaped Haldeman’s attention. Nothing was exempt from his “zero defect” policy, recalls Terry O’Donnell, a White House veteran who became a Nixon aide in 1972. “He expected perfection. He said, ‘This White House is the president’s house and it should be the best in the world,’” O’Donnell said. “So if he walked through the West Wing and saw a paper askance, he’d make note of it. And if he went, literally, into the john at Camp David—because this really happened—and the toilet paper roll was almost run down, he made a note of it and said, ‘Terry, that’s not as it should be. Fix it.’”

With their Germanic names, Haldeman and Nixon’s chief domestic adviser, John Ehrlichman, were christened by the media “the Berlin Wall.” The narrative took hold of Haldeman as the leader of a Praetorian Guard that isolated the president, building a wall between Nixon and his cabinet. Yet that narrative was not true. “It was just the opposite,” says Higby. “Contrary to what people think, Haldeman worked to get more people in to see the president.” It was Nixon who demanded isolation, preferring memos to meetings, retreating to his private hideaway in the Old Executive Office Building. Nixon was “pathologically shy,” according to Stephen Bull, at the time a young presidential assistant. Haldeman knew that Nixon functioned best when given privacy and latitude to make decisions. “The most important thing the president has is time,” says Bull. “And the chief’s job is to preserve as much of it for him as he can.”


With Haldeman cracking the whip, Nixon forged bipartisan success in domestic and foreign affairs. The president was ideologically closer to his Democratic opposition than many supposed. Welfare reform—or “workfare”—was conceived by Democrat Daniel P. Moynihan, a special assistant to Nixon. And, as Nixon biographer Evan Thomas points out, “Nixon began the march, and his administration was an active player in other traditionally liberal realms like health care, consumer and job safety, and the environment. He embraced the mid-20th-century ethos that government existed to solve problems, and he kept at them until he was swallowed by Watergate.”

Among Nixon’s major domestic achievements, denounced by the Republican Party ever since, was the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency.

In Nixon’s mind, enemies had infiltrated government top to bottom he was determined to root them out. Yet Haldeman often acted as a brake on presidential orders the staff chief considered unwise or even illegal. “Presidents are like everybody else,” explains Higby. “They have moments of pique—moments when they’re really furious or really upset. Not only would Haldeman talk Nixon out of crazy ideas, but they had an understanding that the stuff he [Haldeman] felt was really bad and really wrong, he wouldn’t do.” Better to let the president cool off, and return another day. “Now, he would always go back to the president, a day or two later, and say, ‘I didn’t do that,’” says Higby. “‘Remember you wanted me to do that? I didn’t do that. Here’s why.’”

The White House tapes capture countless instances of Nixon doing a slow burn as Haldeman tries to tamp down the president’s anger. In the summer of 1971, Nixon was convinced that classified documents had been spirited out of the State Department and locked up at the Brookings Institution, a liberal think tank. He demanded action.

NIXON: …I want Brookings, I want them just to break in and take it out. Do you understand?

NIXON: That’s what I’m talking about. Don’t discuss it here… I want the break-in. Hell, they do that. You’re to break into the place, rifle the files, and bring ’em out.

HALDEMAN: I don’t have any problem with breaking in. It’s a Defense Department–approved security…

NIXON: Just go in and take it. Go in around 8:00 or 9:00 o’clock.

HALDEMAN: Make an inspection of the safe.

NIXON: That’s right. You go in to inspect the safe. I mean, clean it up.

In a subsequent meeting, the commander-in-chief offers a dark rationale for law-breaking.

NIXON: Do you think, for Christ’s sakes, that The New York Times is worried about all the legal niceties? Those sons of bitches are killing me… We’re up against an enemy, a conspiracy. They’re using any means. We are going to use any means. Is that clear?

Haldeman managed to shelve the break-in plan, but before long the harebrained plot would come to life again.

A typewriter from Rose Mary Woods’s office and the famous tape recorder. (National Archives)


Nixon’s fate turned on ending the Vietnam War his inability to do so triggered a pattern of destructive behavior that would end his presidency. More than 57,000 Americans, along with hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, including civilians, had been killed. Nixon and his inner circle blamed domestic opposition agitators who were pawns of Moscow traitors who were leaking national security secrets. The White House was literally surrounded by antiwar protesters.

Besieged, Nixon and his chief would unwittingly give their enemies the keys to the fortress. In February 1971, Nixon had posed to Haldeman a seemingly mundane question: How could they preserve the president’s conversations for posterity? Haldeman suggested installing a manual recorder, which the president could turn on and off, taping selectively. But Nixon was incapable of operating even the simplest mechanical device. “So eventually Haldeman said, ‘Well, the only other thing you can do is do a voice-activated system,’” Higby recalled. “And that is when we put in the system that later became the tapes.” As one Nixon staffer would later note ruefully, “For want of a toggle switch, the presidency was lost.”

On June 13, 1971, The New York Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers, a secret history of the U.S. in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967, drawn from classified documents. The sensational leak, by a former Pentagon aide named Daniel Ellsberg, enraged Nixon. His determination to “get” Ellsberg set in motion what Attorney General John Mitchell called
the “White House horrors”—the ill-conceived intelligence operations that would doom his presidency. For Nixon’s chief of staff, managing this crisis would be the ultimate test. H.R. Haldeman would fail that test spectacularly.

With the tapes silently rolling, Nixon demanded dirt on his enemies, and on Ellsberg in particular, setting into motion a chain of events that would spiral out of Haldeman’s control. The chief had become adept at ignoring orders that were beyond the pale. But other Nixon confidants were less squeamish. Charles Colson, a ruthless political hatchet man and Nixon favorite, became the president’s go-to person for dubious if not flagrantly illegal commands. Colson came and went from the Oval Office, meeting privately with Nixon. And it wasn’t just Colson Ehrlichman had set up an under-the-radar intelligence unit within the White House itself. “The Plumbers,” as they were known, were born of Nixon’s frustration with his own FBI. Nixon was convinced that J. Edgar Hoover was refusing to do for him what he had done for other presidents: off-the-shelf—that is, illegal—political espionage.

The origin of the illegal break-in at the Democratic National Committee on June 17, 1972, remains a mystery, debated for 40 years. There is still no evidence that Haldeman or Nixon specifically approved the plot. But one thing is clear: With winks and nods and looks-the-other-way, the White House gave the green light to an intelligence apparatus that had become a criminal enterprise.

How could the break-in and the other White House “horrors” have happened on Haldeman’s watch? “This is the big mystery about Haldeman,” says biographer Thomas. “Most people seem to think he was the best chief of staff ever in many ways. The paperwork was good, the quality of the paper was good, the chain of command. And Haldeman enforced that. So he runs this incredibly tight ship. But he just misses the danger of Watergate.” For Terry O’Donnell, who worked closely with him, the idea of Haldeman approving tawdry second-story jobs makes no sense: “He had a very keen sense of where the line politically and otherwise was about what you can do. I don’t think he ever would have bought into any of the illegal activities—and he would have driven a spike into the Watergate break-in, the stupidest damn thing.”


Saturday, June 17, 1972, was a beautiful day at the presidential compound in San Clemente, California. Working by the pool, Higby and Haldeman looked up to see press secretary Ron Ziegler hurrying toward them. Ziegler brought a strange news clipping: Five men, wearing rubber surgical gloves, had been arrested while trying to plant electronic surveillance devices at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate. “The news item was jarring, almost comical to me,” Haldeman writes in his memoir. “My immediate reaction was to smile. Wiretap the Democratic Committee? For what? The idea was ludicrous.” But Haldeman’s claim that he was surprised is as dubious as Captain Renault in Casablanca voicing shock that there was gambling going on at Rick’s cafe. More persuasive is Haldeman’s next entry: “Not that I was all that horrified of wiretapping or bugging in general. Ever since a conversation with J. Edgar Hoover at New York’s Pierre Hotel in 1968, which revealed the extent of the political wiretapping by President Lyndon B. Johnson, I had felt no instinctive aversion to such bugging by Republicans.”

Within days, Nixon and his chief of staff were neck-deep in the cover-up: They discussed everything from paying hush money to the burglars to ordering the CIA to stop the FBI from pursuing its investigation. As Thomas observes: “Haldeman says, ‘Well, gee, I didn’t think of it as obstruction of justice I thought of it as containment.’ But, boy, his radar sure is failing him.” Dean points out that Haldeman “withholds a lot of information from Nixon… He uses a kind of code language and code signals in those early conversations—alerting him to the fact that there are some problems. It was just too ugly to face so that’s why it went forward.”


By spring 1973, as congressional investigators and prosecutors were closing in, pressure was growing for Nixon to save himself by firing Haldeman and Ehrlichman. On the evening of April 30, in a televised address from the Oval Office, Nixon announced the resignations of “two of the finest public servants it has been my privilege to know.” Yet Haldeman wasn’t finished doing Nixon’s bidding. When the existence of the White House taping system came to light, Nixon’s ex-chief continued to give him advice. “Haldeman said that the tapes were still our best defense,” Nixon wrote in a memoir. “He recommended that they not be destroyed.” Indeed, Haldeman believed the recordings somehow would exonerate them. “Haldeman said to me, on a number of occasions, I think the tapes will really be the thing that at the end saves the president,” says Higby. The truth was just the opposite. The discovery of the tapes—hard evidence of the president’s immersion in the cover-up—meant the Nixon presidency was finished.


As their defenses collapsed, Nixon and his chief of staff behaved less like seasoned Machiavellians than befuddled amateurs. Haldeman would defend Richard Nixon to the end. Before the Senate Watergate Committee, the president’s ever-dutiful chief insisted that Nixon had no knowledge of the cover-up and never authorized giving hush money to the burglars. For those untruths, H.R. Haldeman would be convicted of perjury, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice and sent to prison at the federal minimum security facility in Lompoc, California, where he served a sentence of 18 months.

“Son of Nixonstein” read a cartoon showing the fallen chief as a monster. To the press, and to most Americans, Haldeman seemed proof that too much power invested in a White House staff chief leads to calamity. But that’s not the way Haldeman’s successors saw him. In January 1986, Nixon’s ill-starred chief would emerge publicly again. The occasion was a symposium in San Diego, that brought together former White House senior aides and chiefs of staff: Dwight Eisenhower’s Andrew Goodpaster John Kennedy’s Theodore Sorensen Lyndon Johnson’s Harry McPherson and three chiefs who followed Haldeman—Gerald Ford’s Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, and Jimmy Carter’s Jack Watson.

Haldeman struck these savvy White House veterans as serene, charming, and in total command of his subject. Cheney was bowled over by his predecessor’s mastery of the nuances implicit in the chief’s job. “After about two days together, it was clear Haldeman knew more about it than anybody else,” Cheney says.

At the conference, Nixon’s ex-chief was asked how the Watergate scandal had come about.

“The thing that went wrong is that the system was not followed,” Haldeman said. “Had we dealt with [Watergate] in the way we set up from the outset…we would have resolved that matter satisfactorily, probably unfortunately for some people, but that was necessary and should have been done. It wasn’t done, and that was what led to the ultimate crisis.”

Facing the ultimate crisis, Haldeman failed to execute his own model of White House governance. “Haldeman is at the center of it,” says Evan Thomas. “Because he’s the guy in the room who should have been able to go, ‘STOP! STOP!’”

“If I had it to do over, I would do so differently,” Haldeman said. “I would take the bad guy in Nixon on frontally, at least some of the time.”


45 Years After Watergate, H.R. Haldeman’s Wife Finally Speaks

The greatest political scandal in American history didn’t just cost Nixon the presidency, it cost Jo her husband. Four decades later, she is opening up for the first time—but not too much.

Natalia Megas

Photo Illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast

On March 1, 1974 the phone rang in a red brick townhome in Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood. A man promptly answered it in a rumpled button-down shirt and crew-cut coiffure. He calmly took notes, then winced. Next to him, his wife steadied herself against his chair. What exactly did Bob do? she thought.

Her husband was H.R. Haldeman, President Nixon’s chief of staff, and he had just been told he was being indicted over Watergate. Now more than 40 years later, Joanne Haldeman is finally speaking out.

It had been almost two years since the break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate, which was followed with Richard Nixon’s landslide reelection. A year after that, Nixon’s administration was already crumbling. The Watergate scandal had spawned break-in convictions, a Senate investigation, and top-level government resignations. Until that phone call, the Watergate affair had been a nuisance for the Haldemans, “a great gummy fungus” Jo called it, that refused to die.

Bob stepped outside to face the press gathering outside their home and immediately retreated. His shoulders sagged and his clothes looked frumpy, a startling contrast to the well-dressed optimist at Nixon’s first inauguration five years earlier. As reporters waited for a comment on his indictment, Bob and Jo embraced. Neither said a word.

Jo Haldeman has been silent about her life as the wife of the second most powerful person in the Nixon White House and a key figure in the Watergate scandal that forced Nixon to resign and sent her husband to Lompoc Federal Prison for 18 months.

At 88, she has written a memoir, In the Shadow of the White House: A Memoir of the Washington and Watergate Years, 1968-1978. She began two years after Bob’s death in 1993 when her eldest grandson casually mentioned the Watergate scandal.

“I want my grandchildren and all future Haldemans to know that when they hear or see ‘Watergate,’ ‘Nixon,’ or the Haldeman name in the news or in books, there is so much more to the story, and much to be proud of as well,” she told The Daily Beast. “I hope that I have succeeded in giving a more humanized picture of the events and the people involved.”

The memoir offers a glimpse into their five years at the White House, often sharing personal stories like the evening with the Apollo 13 astronauts, the presidential helicopter ride to Camp David, and Key Biscayne vacations. It also emphasizes the Nixon administration’s successes like the opening of diplomatic relations with China.

What it doesn’t do is come out of its own shadow.

Jo’s book refuses to offer opinions to me on anything rocking the political boat. I’m instructed not to bring up the Trump administration during our phone interview. When asked about her verdict on the Watergate scandal in relation to Nixon, she replied:

“This question goes beyond the scope of our interview.”

If Bob was Nixon’s palace guard, Jo is her family’s protector. The memoir and interview affirms her desire to remain in the safe zone, to keep wounds healed rather than exposed.

I could only surmise based on her initial reluctance for an interview and request for questions upfront, she does not trust the press, a sentiment not only reflected in the Nixon administration but by Jo.

“Sharks, waiting for their prey,” she writes about the reporters outside their home on March 1, 1974.

Married to Nixon’s SOB

Jo was guarded and answered questions gingerly, articulating every word as if it were her last. One topic she spoke freely about: how much she missed her husband.

The high school sweethearts from California were already married 20 years when they moved with their four children to Washington, D.C. in 1969. Nixon had chosen Haldeman to be his chief of staff after the former advertising executive worked on a handful of Nixon campaigns.

More than a year into Bob’s new White House position, Jo writes she felt her husband was more married to Nixon than she was. Summoning Bob any time of day or night, Nixon the insomniac called the Haldeman’s house frequently.

“I hate that phone,” Jo writes. “Despite the perception of my being the confident and gracious wife of H.R. Haldeman, I often feel insecure and alone.”

Throughout the memoir and our conversation, Jo displays an unwavering allegiance to her husband and to the Nixon administration. Sometimes, she’d stop herself mid sentence or retract a thought. Although she strongly believed in Nixon, she agreed with his resignation.

“I did feel there came a time when it was best for the country that he resign and the country move on. But let’s move off that now,” she said.

Nixon is portrayed in the memoir as an odd character incapable of small talk or jokes and sometimes, a self-absorbed opportunist in a symbiotic relationship with Haldeman.

Whether it was Nixon’s overused jokes about Jo’s “drinking problem” (knowing she didn’t drink alcohol, Nixon teased her about drinking in excess) or his embarrassing silence during his attempt at a birthday toast to his wife, the president’s social awkwardness meant awkwardness for everyone.

Apart from Vice President Spiro Ted Agnew, whom Jo writes is “offensive,” another larger-than-life character in the memoir is Martha Mitchell, wife of Attorney General John Mitchell. An ebullient and outspoken southern belle, the “Mouth of the South,” gained notoriety for her frequent calls to the press, ranging from allegations she was a political prisoner to confirming stories about the Watergate scandal.

Although John Mitchell told the press his prison verdict was better than life with Martha, Jo observes in her memoir that John adored his wife, but her unpredictability was “often embarrassing.” Jo criticizes Martha for her obsession with attention, engaging in gimmicky acts like perching on Bob’s knees at a dinner party and showing up with an entourage of press at Jo’s daughter’s outdoor juice stand.

“Her obsession for attention drives Bob nuts, and at social events, both he and I try to avoid her,” she writes. In typical Jo-esque lingo where she rather smooth things over than make waves, another time she writes, “Martha’s not crazy, just a little kooky.”

After Nixon gave a televised speech on Haldeman and John Ehrlichman’s resignations on April 30, 1973, Nixon called the Haldeman’s house twice to ask Bob for his opinion on how he did. Nixon insisted Bob do some checking around on the public’s reaction, Jo writes.

“For the life of me, I can’t comprehend how the President can be so oblivious to Bob’s feelings.” On another occasion, Jo writes she’s caught off guard when she walks in on Bob, no longer in office, summarizing one of the White House tapes Nixon gave him.

“Every president needs an SOB—and I’m Nixon’s,” Jo quotes Bob saying.

Break-In, Cover-Up, Fallout

Washington, D.C.’s truism was born out of the Watergate scandal: It’s not the crime. It’s the cover-up that gets you.

“You have to realize, they never thought they would be caught,” said Fred Emery, former Washington bureau chief for the Times of London who followed the cover-up trial and interviewed Haldeman about the Watergate scandal.

When five men who worked for the Committee for the Re-Election of the President (CREEP) were arrested in a predawn break-in at the DNC’s headquarters at the Watergate complex on June 17, 1972, there was much political distancing from the story. White House Press Secretary Ron Ziegler called it a “third-rate burglary” and Nixon stated that nobody at the White House was involved.

Jo writes about the first time she and Bob heard of the break-in while vacationing in Key Biscayne, Florida. Bob called it “ridiculous” and “an ill-advised political prank.”

“I feel very definitely that Bob had no awareness of the break-in,” said Jo. “I believed that based on Bob’s reaction that Nixon also had no awareness of the break in.”

However, Emery writes in his book Watergate: The Corruption of American Politics and the Fall of Richard Nixon that Nixon’s deputy assistant and his top adviser claimed Nixon must have known about plans of the break-in, although there is no hard evidence, and Haldeman received memos beforehand about the break-in plans from CREEP liaison Gordon Strachan.

Whatever Bob did before the break-in, his involvement in the cover-up was clearer and it became harder for the Haldemans to ignore. In her memoir, Jo repeatedly calls the scandal “a stain,” especially when the press reported on a slush fund used for spying, sabotage, and silence from the burglars.

Bob shrugged the reports off and Jo’s questioning was met with the “Haldeman look”: “Furrowed brow, steely eyes, and tight lips. It’s intimidating but fleeting,” she writes.

If Jo ever suspected her husband knew more than he shared, she doesn’t let on in her memoir or our conversation. She keeps those thoughts hidden. And perhaps, Bob did too. Bob reacted to an article about the Senate approval for the creation of a Watergate committee, where his photo appeared on the front page of The Washington Post. Jo was confused by it. Bob said: “Well, it looks like Woodward and Bernstein are back at it. They’ve managed to tie me into their latest story,” the story being that he assisted in efforts to get the Senate to shift focus of the investigations from the White House-led campaign of spying and sabotage in 1972.

Haldeman remained steadfast in his innocence, suggesting that everything could still be “worked out,” even as the suggestion of a leave of absence turned into an order for his resignation. In Jo’s memoir, she shares Nixon vacillating between Bob’s and Ehrlichman’s leave of absence and resignation. He finally decides on a resignation because they’d be “eaten alive” otherwise, said Jo. According to Emery, Nixon resolved that both Haldeman and Ehrlichman could not simply take leaves of absence but must resign and fight their case from the outside.

“Haldeman didn’t intend to be the fall guy. He tried, vainly as it turned out, to be the president’s chief defender before the Senate Watergate committee, and brought himself down in the process,” says Emery.

Seventeen days after Haldeman’s resignation, the Senate Watergate Committee opened televised hearings into the Watergate affair. Haldeman was one of thirteen targets in the probe.

The Saturday Night Massacre and the Smoking Gun

Two pivotal events turned Watergate from a scandal into a death sentence for Nixon’s presidency: secret tapes and the Saturday Night Massacre.

Haldeman was one of the handful of people in the White House who knew about the existence of an Oval Office secret taping system. It was exposed publicly by deputy assistant Alexander Butterfield. Soon after, special prosecutor Archibald Cox subpoenaed Nixon for copies of the tapes.

Then Nixon fired him, or rather ordered him to be fired and his Watergate investigation office dissolved.

What followed makes Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey look mild by comparison. Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his deputy, William Ruckelshaus, both refused to fire Cox and both resigned in protest. The political interference by a sitting president into an existing investigation eventually led to talks of impeachment and Nixon’s resignation.

But nobody appeared to see it coming. Haldeman was still hopeful, telling his wife the infamous White House tapes would vindicate him, Jo writes.

The tapes did the opposite. First, there was the 18-½ minute gap in one recording of Haldeman and Nixon speaking.

“I can guarantee you that the president and I were not talking about any cover-up,” Bob told Jo.

Nixon had three conversations with Haldeman in the six days after the Watergate burglary. One of those conversations was the “smoking gun,” where Nixon and Haldeman proposed having the CIA halt the FBI’s investigation on grounds of “national security,” proving Nixon ordered a cover-up of the Watergate burglary.

After hearing that, 11 Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee who had voted against articles of impeachment announced they would vote in the full House to indict Nixon.

Three days after the tape’s release, Nixon resigned.

A few months later, Bob was already preparing to go to jail, asking a former bank officer what it was like to serve eight months at Lompoc Federal Prison, Jo writes.

Haldeman had a long-held line that what he was involved in was a “political containment” of Watergate. He tried to explain it to his children, as it’s related in Jo’s memoir:

“You should also know that what the press calls a ‘cover-up’ and the grand jury calls a ‘conspiracy to obstruct justice,’ I have always considered ‘containment,’” he told them. “The White House experienced many flaps besides the break-in, and it was my job to minimize any fallout… I worked to contain the fallout from Watergate. I don’t think that I ever broke any law, and I look forward to proving my innocence in court.. … I have never knowingly done anything illegal or morally wrong.”

In short, Haldeman’s version of the scandal involved a cover-up sans the illegality of it. Emery added, “and putting out spin to get the focus away from the White House and the president.” Since Haldeman was not a lawyer but an advertising man, he had difficulty in accepting some of these things were unlawful, “although he must have known that lying under oath was a criminal offence,” Emery said.

During Emery’s 1993 interviews with him, Haldeman admitted that he had never been able to get across to anybody the concept of “containment,” even to his wife.

Yet publicly, Jo and her eldest son Hank relate similar narratives to Bob’s.

In Bob’s posthumously published book, The Haldeman Diaries, Jo wrote in a final note that “containment” was steps taken to “minimize the political damage of an issue, as a legal, political reality—-and an ongoing practice of all presidents and political figures.” She added, considering the animosity between the president and press, between the political parties, and the divisiveness on Vietnam, “containment was critical for effective leadership.”

In interviews, Hank said his father was immune from perjury because he didn’t know he was lying in the first place.

Bob seemed to believe it too. Convinced he’d be acquitted unless someone could show what he did was illegal, he turned down a plea bargain offer by the chief prosecutor. When Haldeman took the stand on the 34 th day of trial, his lawyer stated his case: “Mr. Haldeman did not enter into a conspiracy and did not intend to enter into a conspiracy.”

But the court thought otherwise. Haldeman was convicted on three charges of perjury, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and obstruction of justice on New Year’s Day in 1975.

His perjury offenses included falsely testifying before the Watergate Senate Select Committee about the knowledge of hush money being paid to the Watergate burglars, falsely claiming that Nixon told John Dean “it would be wrong” to pay the burglars, and falsely claiming there was no discussion of CREEP deputy director Jeb Magruder committing perjury.

Emery said to me, “the fact is, he got what he deserved…He took part in a conspiracy to cover up what the president did and was willing to lie.”

But Jo views it differently. She said had Bob done anything illegal, he’d have been the first to submit his resignation.

“His actions did not meet those required elements of the charges against him,” she said, “in part because some of the charges required a knowledge or specific intent behind the actions and Bob did not act with that knowledge or specific intent”

As Bob explained to his daughter, Ann: “Perjury is knowingly making a false statement, which I absolutely did not do.”

Jo doesn’t often admit how the Watergate scandal affected her but there are hints of its financial and emotional burdens in the memoir. When Bob was indicted, they had to live off his retirement fund and income from their investments. When Bob went to prison, Jo became a realtor. Jo recounts another time when she arrived at the ticket counter without airplane tickets or when she burst into tears after the special prosecutor wished her well, “…no matter what the outcome might be.”

Bob called Nixon the night of Nixon’s resignation, asking for a pardon, along with all the others charged with Watergate crimes. But Jo opposed it.

“I felt that asking for a pardon was equivalent to admitting guilt. Since Bob did not believe he had engaged in any illegal acts, I did not think he should ask for a pardon,” she said. But she would have been fine if someone else asked for a pardon on his behalf, she writes.

Before Haldeman went to prison in June 1977, Nixon went public with British journalist David Frost in a series of interviews. In one of them, Nixon blamed Haldeman and Ehrlichman for the cover-up.

Jo was angry and Bob felt “dumped,” she writes. At a press conference on his front lawn, Bob said, “I have one brief statement. If you really want to know how I feel about President Nixon, you can find out by reading my book.”

“For the first time, he stated his intention to write about the Watergate story as he saw it,” she said.

A few months later, Nixon wrote a “touching” letter to Haldeman that some might see as an attempt to thwart Haldeman’s Ends of Power (1978) from being too Nixon-negative rather than a form of apology.

“We will always have our deepest respect, admiration and personal affection. I know I reflect the views of many others who had the privilege of knowing the real Bob Haldeman,” Jo records Nixon writing.

But by the time of Ends of Power, Haldeman was soft on Nixon again, writing that the Frost-Nixon interview’s “distortion” of Watergate may have been attributed to the questions, answers, or film editing.

Jo ends her memoir with an epilogue that celebrates her husband’s “remarkable lack of animosity and exceptional ability to accept his destiny.”

Shortly after his father’s release from prison in 1978, Jo’s youngest son Peter swallowed a bottle of Smirnoff and sedatives until he passed out and was eventually saved by an LAPD officer. He wrote in his 1994 article for the New York Times “Growing Up Haldeman,” that he had tried to commit suicide for years. Although Peter was in and out of hospitals, his parents were very supportive. But the Haldeman name haunted him. He wrote that he would mumble his name to receptionists, operators, and interview subjects. Every now and then, a news item would surface “to remind me of the stretch of my father’s professional shadow,” he wrote. Two weeks before his father resigned from the White House, Peter skipped history class because he couldn’t face responding to the “disturbing” picture of his father on the cover of Newsweek. A month later, Peter was expelled from the prestigious Sidwell Friends School.

Upon Haldeman’s prison release on February 9, 1979, he was still embroiled in civil lawsuits that began as early as 1973, and whose plaintiffs ranged from Jane Fonda to protesters.

Much to Jo’s dismay, Bob created a defense fund and asked friends for help. Jo writes, this “disturbs me and I disagree with the idea.”

After prison, Haldeman engaged in discussions on Watergate and Nixon.

“Bob continued to read new books as they came out and to follow new theories as they developed. I think he felt that we never had all the pieces put into the puzzle,” said Jo.

There are many schools of thought on what Haldeman might have been searching for. Some focus questions on what the purpose was of the DNC break-in and who ordered it a missing portion of the White House funds that were used for hush money to the burglars and others, and allegations of CIA complicity in Nixon’s demise. The other focuses on the search for a master manipulator that would excuse the Nixon administration’s wrongdoing, explained Max Holland, author of Leak, a book about Watergate. “The CIA was usually the best candidate.”

Jo never knew if Bob found his answers. In 1993, he fell seriously ill. Peter hoped his father would consider medical treatment instead of seeing a Christian Science healer.

“A basic tenet of Christian Science is that to specify a physical problem is to empower it,” Peter wrote.

As Bob became gravely ill, nobody was to know about it. In fact, none of the children could visit with him until the end. Peter and his younger sister, Ann, were advised not to “raise any red flags.” “I experienced again the comforts and the anxieties peculiar to our brand of collusion. I knew I was no longer ruining it for him, but I also knew I wasn’t saving him,” he wrote.

Two weeks before Bob passed, the nature of his illness was still unclear. He was only 67 when he died. Jo tells me his death certificate reads intra-abdominal neoplasm.

Peter’s article is completely raw and honest, reminiscent of what’s missing in Jo’s memoir. He wrote about the difficulty he had reading Ends of Power, afraid he’d like something in it. When he finally reads it, he’s disappointed to have learned nothing new about his father. He had hoped to discover more about who his father was.


Nixon Could Keep A Secret

Diana Klebanow is a former adjunct professor of political science at Long island University, Brooklyn, N.Y., and coauthor of People’s Lawyers: Crusaders for Justicein American History and Urban Legacy: The Story of America’s Cities. This article is reprinted with permission from USA Today magazine, where it first appeared.

Critics of Pres. Richard M. Nixon regarded him as a politician who not only wanted to defeat his enemy, but to destroy him. Yet, in his presidential re-election bid in 1972 when he ran against Sen. George McGovern (D-SD), Nixon showed restraint by keeping a secret that could have wrecked McGovern’s career. This information concerned the fact that McGovern had fathered an out-of-wedlock child in 1941 when he was an 18 year-old college student. Unknown to Nixon at the time was the additional accusation that McGovern had fathered another out-of-wedlock child when he was married. This latter incident allegedly occurred during World War II, when he was stationed in Europe.

McGovern, who was soundly defeated by Nixon, had been regarded as the “conscience” of the Democratic Party. At his death in 2012, The New York Times described him as a “liberal trounced but never silenced.” Part of the admiration for him stemmed from his staunch stance against the Vietnam War, which was a key issue in the 1972 campaign.

While the war was highly unpopular in certain parts of the nation, McGovern’s campaign was run poorly and he faced the embarrassment of having to replace the vice presidential candidate, Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton (D-MO) when it became known that Eagleton had failed to reveal that he had received electroshock treatments for his depression. Although McGovern had assured the public that he was “1,000 percent” behind Eagleton, he dropped him from the ticket on July 31. As a result, Eagleton had the distinction of being the vice presidential candidate for a total of eighteen days.

There is irony that Eagleton was criticized for his failure to inform McGovern about his shock treatments in view of the fact that McGovern kept his own secret hidden from the public. When faced with a similar situation in the presidential campaign in 1884, New York Gov. Grover Cleveland did not deny the accusation, stating he had supported the child. He was elected president – twice. (In fact, he is the only man to take up residence in the White House in nonconsecutive terms). In the case of McGovern, the matter never became public in the course of his lifetime.

McGovern was born in 1922 in South Dakota, the son of a Methodist minister. He served for two terms in the House of Representatives as a member from South Dakota beginning in 1957, and gained respect for his interest in fighting world hunger. He made an unsuccessful bid for a Senate seat in 1960, but would be elected in 1962 and re-elected in 1968.

Prior to his entry into politics, McGovern had interrupted his studies at Dakota Wesleyan University to enlist in the armed forces following the outbreak of World War II, and won a Distinguished Flying Cross as a bomber pilot. After the war, he finished his undergraduate work, and attended divinity school in Illinois. However, he changed his mind about becoming a minister. Instead, he earned a master’s degree in history at Northwestern University in 1949, and became a history professor at Dakota Wesleyan. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern in 1953, but had another change of mind and decided to pursue a career in politics.

J. Edgar Hoover, head of the Federal Bureau of first learned about McGovern‘s out-of-wedlock child in 1960 during a background check conducted by the Bureau in December, 1960. It was initiated when Pres.-elect John F. Kennedy indicated he wanted to name McGovern to be the first director of the President’s Food for Peace program.

The FBI had concluded its investigation at the end of the month, and McGovern became director of the program on Jan. 21, 1961. In a memo about its findings, it stated that the overall results were “favorable” with one exception: “McGovern father of illegitimate child.” The “tip” came from a former student at Dakota Wesleyan, who told FBI agents about a rumor regarding the child, and the agents pursued the lead. The results of the investigation were given to Hoover. According to an account on July 26, 2015 in the Argus Leader (the newspaper in Sioux Falls, S.D., which had filed a Freedom of Information request for the FBI files following McGovern’s death in 2012, and received the information nearly three years later), McGovern told the Kennedy administration about the child. However, it remained hidden from the public. When McGovern resigned his position in 1962, it was because he decided to run for the Senate.

The matter resurfaced when McGovern was the 1972 Democratic candidate for president, and someone in the FBI (presumably Hoover) leaked the Bureau’s information to Nixon. Hoover and McGovern always had a strained relationship, and McGovern had publicly questioned whether Hoover was fit to serve as the FBI’s Director.

On July 31, the evening of Eagleton’s ouster from the ticket, Nixon and his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman had a conversation regarding how to deal with the “Fort Wayne” story. It was a reference to the child’s alleged place of birth. This conversation was recorded. According to the account in Joshua M. Glasser’s The Eighteen-Day Running Mate: McGovern, Eagleton, and a Campaign in Crisis (2012), Nixon decided against using it, and cited “The [Grover] Cleveland episode.” He added it was difficult to know what the reaction to it would be. However, he planned to “keep it in the bank.”

Nixon never used it against McGovern. He might have felt it could backfire, and that he would be blamed for the leak. Another possibility was that it was unnecessary because McGovern had irrevocably damaged his campaign because of the way he handled the Eagleton matter. Nevertheless, it was not disregarded completely.

Two days after the above conversation, Nixon demonstrated that he also had a gracious side to his personality, at least when he no longer regarded a person as a threat. This aspect was revealed in a letter Nixon sent to Terry Eagleton, the Senator’s 13 year-old-son, who had visited the White House the previous year. Nixon wrote, “Years later, you will look back and say, ‘I am proud of the way my Dad handled himself in the greatest trial of his life.’” The boy showed the letter to his father, and sent Nixon a reply. “Do you know what my Dad said when he read your letter? He said, ‘It’s going to make it tougher to talk against Nixon.’” Neither Nixon nor Eagleton revealed the existence of the letters. They came to light when former Nixon speechwriter William Safire included them in his book, Before The Fall: An Inside View of the Pre- Watergate White House (1975).

In the closing weeks of the 1972 campaign, several members McGovern’s staff learned about the existence of the child. Ted Van Dyk, a veteran Democratic strategist and McGovern advisor, received a telephone call from the Democratic mayor of Terre Haute, Ind. As recounted in Van Dyk’s Heroes, Hacks, and Fools: Memoirs from the Political Inside (2007), the mayor said that a man flashing a Senate investigators badge had appeared at the city’s records bureau, demanding to see a birth certificate listing McGovern as the father of a child. The man obtained a copy of the certificate, and left the office. Although Van Dyk referred to Terre Haute as the place of the child’s birth, other accounts said the child had been born in Fort Wayne.

Van Dyk informed three other staffers of the call, and they conferred with McGovern. He admitted to fathering a child, stating that it happened when he was a teenage Army recruit (a version which differed from the account he later told his biographer). There was more disturbing news in the evening when the telephone operator at the McGovern headquarters received a call stating the St. Louis Globe Democrat would carry the story in the morning papers.

Van Dyk wrote that McGovern told his wife Eleanor -- whom he had married in 1943, and was the mother of their five children—about the illicit offspring. McGovern also telephoned Portland, Ore., speaking to child’s mother. She subsequently informed her daughter (now an adult), and told her that McGovern was her father.

McGovern and his staffers decided that they would not raise the issue, but, if confronted, would tell the truth. The story did not run, but the team worried every day that it would be published. Van Dyk never indicated if he was disappointed in McGovern when he learned the news. Instead, he referred to the story as a “Nixon’s dirty trick.”

Nixon trounced McGovern in the 1972 election, but was forced to resign nearly two years later over the Watergate scandal. Although he tried to regain the stature he once held as President, he always felt he would be vilified by his “enemies” in the press and in academia, regardless of what he had accomplished in his life. In spite of his anger, Nixon kept his silence about McGovern.

On Aug. 1, 1973, Haldeman testified before the Senate Committee investigating the Watergate scandal, and was asked about a memo he had written on Feb. 10, 1973, three days after the Senate had voted to establish the Committee. Haldeman had sent the memo to John W. Dean, Jr., Nixon’s counsel, who later turned it over to the Committee. In the memo, Haldeman made a brief reference to the “Fort Wayne story.” He wanted the White House to ask syndicated columnists Rowland Evans, Jr. and Robert Novak to put out the story, stating Nixon had known about it, but took the “high road” by not mentioning it in the campaign. Although there was no mention of the nature of the “Fort Wayne story” in the memo and Haldeman did not refer to McGovern in his testimony, Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (among other insiders) knew about the allegations regarding McGovern’s child.

The next day, the Post ran their article, “Leak Involving McGovern Proposed.” While the reporters referred to Haldeman’s memo and noted it was designed to put Nixon in a favorable light, they focused on the “Fort Wayne story.” They stated the Post confirmed the existence of a birth certificate in that city listing McGovern as the child’s father, and they questioned him about it. He said he was aware of the certificate, but denied he was the child’s father. The reporters also interviewed the child’s mother. She said her late husband was the father of her daughter, adding that she had no idea how McGovern’s name got on the child’s birth certificate. The story got nowhere.

Despite his defeat in 1972, McGovern still believed that he could become President. In March 1975, he wrote a letter to FBI Director Clarence M. Kelley asking for a copy of any file the Bureau had on him. He spoke to two FBI inspectors in April, telling them he might be nominated for president in the following year, and specifically asked if the FBI had information about a child he had fathered as a young man. At a meeting the next month, they told him the FBI had verified this information during its background check in 1960. According to the FBI files, McGovern “made no comment nor asked any questions about the statement that the allegation concerning the illegitimate child had been verified during the special inquiry investigation.”

McGovern apparently felt this material would not be revealed, and would not present any difficulty in the future. He made futile bids for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976, 1984, and briefly toyed with the idea of running again in 1992.

The allegation about his other out-of-wedlock child was reported by Tom Lawrence on July 28, 2015 in the Prairie Black Hills Pioneer, a newspaper published in Spearfish, S.D. Lawrence wrote that Donald (“Don”) C. Simmons, Jr., former director of the McGovern Center for Leadership and Public Service and Dean of the College of Public Service at Dakota Wesleyan University, stated that another child was born out of a relationship McGovern had while serving in World War II. Simmons, who was a close friend of McGovern during the last years of the latter’s life, said that the second child died before reaching adulthood, and McGovern, who was “haunted” by the loss, visited the grave in Europe. Lawrence added that Simmons was writing a book about his friendship with McGovern.

During the last years of his life, McGovern told Thomas J. Knock, a history professor of Southern Methodist University, about the child. The story is included in Knock’s first volume of his McGovern biography, The Rise of a Prairie Statesman: The Life and Times of George McGovern (2016). In an interview in the Washington Post on July 30, 2015, Knock stated that McGovern told him about it voluntarily about 15 years before because “he felt confident in my credentials as a historian and biographer to deal with it responsibly.”

Knock disclosed that the child was conceived when McGovern lost his virginity during a camping trip to South Dakota’s Lake Mitchell, and that he was wracked with guilt about it. When the girl learned she was pregnant, she “was remarkably calm and strong about it,” and went to stay with her older sister and brother-in-law in Indiana. She gave birth there in 1941. The city where the child was born is not identified in the book. McGovern eventually met his daughter, and brought her gifts, but no specifics are mentioned.

Was it wrong for a prominent politician to hide the fact that he fathered a child out of wedlock? Knock did not think the matter had any historical significance, and said, “It could have happened to almost anyone.” However, if the situation had been reversed, and Nixon had fathered a child out of wedlock, the judgment might not have been so kind.

Reprinted with permission from USA Today Magazine, May 2016. Copyright © 2016 by the Society for the Advancement of Education, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Roger Ailes' Secret Nixon-Era Blueprint for Fox News

Republican media strategist Roger Ailes launched Fox News Channel in 1996, ostensibly as a "fair and balanced" counterpoint to what he regarded as the liberal establishment media. But according to a remarkable document buried deep within the Richard Nixon Presidential Library, the intellectual forerunner for Fox News was a nakedly partisan 1970 plot by Ailes and other Nixon aides to circumvent the "prejudices of network news" and deliver "pro-administration" stories to heartland television viewers.

The memo—called, simply enough, "A Plan For Putting the GOP on TV News"— is included in a 318-page cache of documents detailing Ailes' work for both the Nixon and George H.W. Bush administrations that we obtained from the Nixon and Bush presidential libraries. Through his firms REA Productions and Ailes Communications, Inc., Ailes served as paid consultant to both presidents in the 1970s and 1990s, offering detailed and shrewd advice ranging from what ties to wear to how to keep the pressure up on Saddam Hussein in the run-up to the first Gulf War.

The documents—drawn mostly from the papers of Nixon chief of staff and felon H.R. Haldeman and Bush chief of staff John Sununu—reveal Ailes to be a tireless television producer and joyful propagandist. He was a forceful advocate for the power of television to shape the political narrative, and he reveled in the minutiae constructing political spectacles—stage-managing, for instance, the lighting of the White House Christmas tree with painstaking care. He frequently floated ideas for creating staged events and strategies for manipulating the mainstream media into favorable coverage, and used his contacts at the networks to sniff out the emergence of threatening narratives and offer advice on how to snuff them out—warning Bush, for example, to lay off the golf as war in the Middle East approached because journalists were starting to talk. There are also occasional references to dirty political tricks, as well as some positions that seem at odds with the Tea Party politics of present-day Fox News: Ailes supported government regulation of political campaign ads on television, including strict limits on spending. He also advised Nixon to address high school students, a move that caused his network to shriek about "indoctrination" when Obama did it more than 30 years later.

All 318 pages are available here. First, some highlights:

The Idea Behind Fox News Channel Originated in the Nixon White House

"A Plan for Putting the GOP on TV News" (read it here) is an unsigned, undated memo calling for a partisan, pro-GOP news operation to be potentially paid for and run out of the White House. Aimed at sidelining the "censorship" of the liberal mainstream media and delivering prepackaged pro-Nixon news to local television stations, it reads today like a detailed precis for a Fox News prototype. From context provided by other memos, it's apparent that the plan was hatched during the summer of 1970. And though it's not clear who wrote it, the copy provided by the Nixon Library literally has Ailes' handwriting all over it—it appears he was routed the memo by Haldeman and wrote back his enthusiastic endorsement, refinements, and a request to run the project in the margins.


The 15-page plan begins with an acknowledgment that television had emerged as the most powerful news source in large part because "people are lazy" and want their thinking done for them:

Today television news is watched more often than people read newspapers, than people listen to the radio, than people read or gather any other form of communication. The reason: People are lazy. With television you just sit—watch—listen. The thinking is done for you.

With that in mind, the anonymous GOP official urged the creation of a network "to provide pro-Administration, videotape, hard news actualities to the major cities of the United States." Aware that the national television networks were the enemy, the writer proposed going around them by sending packaged, edited news stories and interviews with politicians directly to local television stations.

This is a plan that places news of importance to localities (Senators and representatives are newsmakers of importance to their localities) on local television news programs while it is still news. It avoids the censorship, the priorities, and the prejudices of network news selectors and disseminators.

This was before satellite, so the idea was that this GOP news outlet would record an interview with a Republican lawmaker in the morning, rush the tape to National Airport via truck, where it is edited into a package en route, and flown to the lawmaker's district in time to make the local news. Local stations, the writer surmised, would be happy to take the free programming. The plan is spectacularly detailed—it was no idle pipe dream. The writer estimated that it would cost $310,000 to launch and slightly less than that to run each year, sketched out a 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. schedule with shooting times, editing times, flight times, and arrival times, and estimated that the editing truck—"Ford, GMC, or IHS chassis V8 engine 5 speed transmission air conditioning Weight: 22,000GVW"—could be "build from chassis in 60 days." In other words, they were serious.


According to Ailes' copious margin notes, he thought it was an "excellent idea" that didn't go far enough and might encounter some "flap about news management."

Basically a very good idea. It should be expanded to include other members of the administration such as cabinet involved in activity with regional or local interest. Also could involve GOP governors when in DC. Who would purchase equipment and run operation—White House? RNC? Congressional caucus? Will get some flap about news management.

And Ailes thought heɽ be just the guy to run such a project, telling Haldeman he wanted in:

Bob—if you decide to go ahead we would as a production company like to bid on packaging the entire project. I know what has to be done and we could test the feasibility for 90 days without making a commitment beyond that point.

A November 1970 memo recounting a meeting between Ailes, Haldeman, and two of Haldeman's aides shows that Ailes got the gig, and that Haldeman had proposed a name:

With regard to the news programming effort as proposed last summer, Ailes feels this is a good idea and that we should be going ahead with it. Haldeman suggested the name ⟊pitol News Service' and Ailes will probably be doing more work in this area.

The idea as initially envisioned doesn't appear to have gotten off the ground. But Ailes obviously did do "more work in this area," first with something called Television News Incorporated (TVN), a right-wing news service Ailes worked on in the early 1970s after he got fired by the White House. According to Rolling Stone, TVN was financed by conservative beermonger Joseph Coors, and its mandate sounds exactly like a privately funded version of Capitol News Service: "[TVN] was designed to inject a far-right slant into local news broadcasts by providing news clips that stations could use without credit—and at a fraction of the true costs of production." Ailes was "the godfather behind the scenes" of TVN, Rolling Stone reported, and it was where he first encountered the motto that would make his career: "Fair and balanced."


Ailes at Fox News in 2006 (Getty)

Though it died in 1975, TVN was obviously an early trial run for the powerhouse Fox News would become. The ideas were the same—to route Republican-friendly stories around the gatekeepers at the network news divisions. In Nixon's day, the only way to do that was to pump stories directly to local stations. By 1996, cable television offered a much more powerful alternative. And the whole project began—on the taxpayer's dime—in the White House under the direction of a Watergate felon. One can only imagine how Fox News would report a similar scheme hatched in the Obama White House.

Dirty Tricks

Some of the documents hint obliquely at Ailes' involvement in Nixonian black ops, though none of the ones that ballooned into Watergate. In a 1970 memo to Haldeman (read it here), he wrote "to guard our flank I would like to see us get one of our people inside the Wallace organization immediately," adding that he would "discuss this in more detail in person." The "Wallace organization" was almost certainly a reference to former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, whose 1968 third-party campaign for president as a segregationist won five southern states and almost cost Nixon the election. At the time Ailes was writing, Wallace was preparing a 1972 run Ailes apparently sought to infiltrate the campaign in order to gather intelligence or perhaps to sabotage it if it became necessary. Wallace ran for the Democratic nomination, but an attempted assassination in May 1972 left him paralyzed and thwarted any later independent run.


Another apparent dirty trick that never got off the ground involves a 1970 television production Ailes was working on as a response to an anti-war CBS News special. The idea appears to have been to interview pro-war Democrats—including Sens. John Stennis and John McClellan—ostensibly for a news show of some kind (it's not clear from the memo what format the final product would take). But the program was in fact being directed by Ailes and financed by the Tell it to Hanoi Committee, a pro-war Nixon front group. A June 1970 memo (read it here) from someone apparently hired by Ailes to put the show together explained that he was pulling the plug because "the fact that this presentation is White House directed, unbeknownst to the Democrats on the show, presents the possibility of a leak that could severely embarrass the White House and damage significantly its already precarious relationship with the Congress. Should two powerful factors like Stennis and McClellan discover they are dupes for the administration the scandal could damage the White House for a long time to come."

Regulating Campaigns

Given the enthusiasm in right-wing circles—including on Fox News—for the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which dealt an enormous blow to the federal government's prerogative to regulate the role of money in political campaigns, Ailes used to hold some rather contrary views on political campaigns. In a June 1971 speech called "CANDIDATE + MONEY + MEDIA = VOTES" (read it here), Ailes argued forcefully for the role of television in political campaigns while lamenting the rise of the canned political ad:

I am in favor of limiting the number of commercials shown shown on TV during a campaign, and in fact would favor a clause requiring no less than 35% of broadcast monies available to a candidate be spent on buying program time instead of commercial time.

That's a radically intrusive proposal, and I'm not aware of anyone serious on either side of the political spectrum who advocates it today. Ailes even goes so far as to endorse the British model of banning political ads except during the three weeks preceding an election:

Three weeks is much too short for this country but, on the other hand, the fatiguing situation we have now with seven semi-announced candidates a year and a half away from the election running around the country Monday morning quarterbacking is also going too far. In my opinion, if the news media would quit trying to create false excitement by covering all potential presidential candidates in terms of a popularity poll, which is meaningless at this stage, they would be taking a giant step forward in journalistic responsibility.

We're about a year-and-a-half away from the 2012 presidential election right now. We've got a bunch of "semi-announced" candidates in the running. I wonder if Fox News is trying to generate any excitement around them by covering them in terms of a popularity poll?

Lighting the Christmas Tree

Ailes' December 1970 memo (read it here) outlining Nixon's role in lighting the White House Christmas tree is a masterwork in political pageantry. Rather than simply throwing a switch, Ailes recommended that "at the end, instead of bringing a child up to the president to light the tree, he walk down to the children seated in front, pick up a small boy, stand him on his chair and ask him to light the tree" because "this simple gesture will do much to humanize him with all the parents."

Ailes' memo scripts the entire event—Nixon is to pick the boy in the "sixth seat of the front row on the right side" and "the president should face camera (2) and keep his arm around the boy"—and recommends that applause be banned since most of the audience will be wearing mittens or gloves and it will therefore "sound like a herd of elephants." Hilariously, the memo includes this bit of megalomaniacal wisdom from Nixon press secretary Ron Zeigler:

Ziegler indicated to me that it is important the president ask the child to help him light the tree and both throw the switch together. Otherwise, the press will play up the boy's name as lighting the Christmas tree.

Don't let the six-year-old steal the spotlight!

Eliminating Poverty and Pollution by 1980

In a 1969 memo (read it here), Ailes argued that the major issue facing the American people was "quality of life," and urged Nixon to devote the rest of his administration to easing it. His solution? Declare the end of poverty and pollution:

He should make a major address on this and state publicly that poverty, air and water pollution will be eliminated in America totally by 1980. This is similar to Kennedy's challenge for the moon. It isn't met in this administration but when it's reached he gets the credit.

When poverty is finally defeated decades or centuries from now, Americans will no doubt look back on the Nixon White House with pride and admiration.

Ailes can be forgiven for inaccurately predicting the end of pollution—his job was just to come up with useful things for Nixon to say. What's less forgivable is his galactically wrong assessment of Nixon's prospects in his 1972 re-election effort. For someone whose job it was to understand public sentiment, Ailes' advice was exactly wrong: "Unless a single major event captures the headlines close to that election we will not see a landslide of any kind. It will probably be a very close contest." In 1972, Nixon won 60% of the popular vote and carried every state save Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.

Nixon's Address to High School Students

When Barack Obama announced early in his administration that he would conduct a live nationwide address to high school and students, Fox News hyperventilated and described it as an attempt to "indoctrinate children to support him politically." When Richard Nixon decided to address high school and college students in 1970, as this memo to Haldeman from deputy assistant to the president Dwight L. Chapin makes clear (read it here), Roger Ailes produced the event:

Roger Ailes is developing a plan which he is going to phone in to me tomorrow morning. Ailes likes the idea of having the president originate live from one of the schools and then shift to the other schools to answer questions.

"I will look into the president's ties."

Among Ailes' chief duties, according to this 1970 memo he wrote to Haldeman (read it here), was selecting Nixon's ties:

I will view the videotape of the HEW Veto to see if there were any shimmers from the design on the tie. My preliminary investigation, however, shows that there were none and whoever reported it may have a set that is not scanning properly. I will look into the president's ties and select those that can definitely be used.

Firing Roger

Ailes stopped his consulting for the White House some time in 1971—he was essentially fired by Nixon after he was quoted disparaging the president in Joe McGinniss' The Selling of the President 1968. But he was a feared figure, known back then for the cut-throat brand of corporate politics that has served him so well at News Corp. While he was being eased out and replaced with two new Hollywood men, Bill Carruthers and Mark Goode, Chapin warned Haldeman in a memo (read it here) that Ailes could go rogue if he wasn't handled properly:

I have a gut feeling we are bordering on disaster if we do not get Roger Ailes in and squared away soon. If we can handle Roger in a proper way and quickly, I think we can avoid any bad feelings. If Roger finds out that Carruthers and Mark Goode are coming on his own, he just may launch a small offensive which I doubt that we need very much at this time.

An undated memo (read it here) laying out talking points for Haldeman in a meeting with Ailes shows the White House trying to let him down gently:

We have not been able to build the relationship between you and the president which we had hoped to see. It is no one's fault. We face this sort of thing everyday. There are different directions that we can go which I think you can explore and which will continue to reap you rewards. The president wants to try a new direction and feels we should not only have a new approach, but new people.

The consolation prizes offered by Haldeman included a consulting gig with the Republican National Committee a talk show featuring Martha Mitchell, the wife of Attorney General John Mitchell or the "development of a TV series with a pro-administration plot."

A Megatonnage Dose of Media Hammering


Ailes with George H.W. Bush in 1998. (White House Press Office)

Most of the records in the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library detailing Ailes' work for the first Bush administration have not been released yet. But the documents that the library did provide in response to our request show Ailes helping Bush navigate a perilous political environment that should be familiar to Obama: A lingering recession, a crisis in the Middle East, and a persistent sense fed by a hostile news outlets that the president is out of touch.


So in August of 1990, days after Saddam Hussein's Iraq invaded Kuwait, Ailes wrote a memo (read it here) to Bush's chief of staff John Sununu warning that the press was preparing to paint Bush as disengaged and shrewdly laying out a plan to combat the perception:

I have had at least half a dozen calls very recently from the press trying to lead me into discussions like, ɿiddling while Rome burns,' 'golfing while Americans are being taken hostage,' etc. The only reason this is of concern to me is that I notice the networks beginning to show more and more footage of the president in the golf cart. It is very clear that they have a point of view which does not represent a fair picture of how the president is handling the crisis. It is my judgment that the American people simply don't believe this about George Bush, and therefore there will not be a major repercussion. On the other hand, I know first hand what a megatonnage dose of media hammering the same message can do. Do a little more fishing and less golfing.


Ailes at the launch of Fox News in 1996 alongside his boss, News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch (AP)

In a November 1990 memo to Sununu (read it here), Ailes lays out Bush's wardrobe in detail—"it is my judgment that he should not wear helmets or hats"—and recommends using military resources to concoct a fake briefing between Bush and his commanders in order to "heighten the drama for the news media."

For ceremonial functions, the president should dress in suit and tie and be the president of the United States. In the field he should where khaki slacks, open shirts, long sleeves with the sleeves rolled up. It is my judgment that he should not wear helmets or hats. A fatigue jacket would be fine in the field with soldiers on Thanksgiving Day.

[snip]

I am sure he will schedule a briefing session with a commander in the field. If the session is scheduled for one hour, and lasted for five hours, it will heighten the drama for the news media and intensify the pressure on Hussein.

All in all, the documents show Ailes to be an engaged, brilliant, and often catty adviser with an obsessive, almost evangelical focus on the power of television to manipulate people for political purposes. It's almost as though, frustrated by the failure of candidates and presidents to hew closely enough to his political instructions, Ailes founded a network to demonstrate their practical application—see, this is how you use golf to undermine a president. And they show a sustained effort across two White House administrations to undermine and control the press—an effort that, were it revealed to be taking place inside the Obama White House, would send Ailes and his televised outrage machine into epic fits of apoplexy.

Ailes did not respond to a request for comment.

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C.I.A. MEMO SAID TO QUOTE: HALDEMAN ON NIXON ‘WISH’TO HALT F.B.I. FUND STUDY

WASHINGTON, May 21—H. R. Haldeman, the former White House chief‐of staff, reportedly told an official of the Central Intelligence Agency that “it is the President's wish” that the C.I.A. attempt to halt an investigation into one aspect of the Watergate case.

This was reported today by Senator Stuart Symington, Democrat of Missouri, who said he was quoting from a d&ument written nearly a year ago by Gen. Vernon A. Walters, deputy director of the C.I.A.

Senator Symington said that Mr. Haldeman's statement regarding the President was contained in a “memorandum of conversation” that General Walters said he prepared after a White House meeting with Mr. Haldeman and John D. Ehrlichman, another Presidential aide, last June, six days after the break‐in of Democratic headquarters.

General Walters testified last week that he had been called to the White House and told he had been chosen to try to persuade L. Patrick Gray 3d, then acting director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to halt an inquiry into campaign funds “laundered” through a bank in Mexico City.

At that time, however, he made no mention that anyone had invoked the President's name in demanding his help.

The memorandum, according to Senator Symington, states that at one point during the meeting, Mr. Haldeman turned to General Walters and said: “It is the President's wish that you go to see Mr. Gray.”

Mr. Haldeman denied later today that the. President was in any way involved in the Watergate cover‐up.

“I can flatly say that the President was not involved in any cover‐up of anything at any time,” Mr. Haldeman said.

Still another of General Walters's “memorandums :of conversation” — written last year but disclosed today by another Congressional source—quotes Mt. Gray as saying ttiat the President, during a telephone conversation, had Inquired about “the case,” an apparent reference to the Watergate inquiry.

This memorandum quoteS Mr. Gray as telling the President that the Watergate case could not be covered up and at he thought that Mr. Nixon should get rid, of those involved.

Meanwhile, there were the following other developments !day in the Watergate affair:

¶Senator Symington disclosed id the Senate Armed Services committee had acquired two sets of documents purporting to deal with Administration Tans, in the ,summer of 1970 to permit burglary‐arid other vioitions of the law in the collecion of intelligence information bout United States citizens. He aid the plans were never carried out.

¶ Richard Helms, former director of the C.I.A., appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Conimittee to defend hat agency's role in granting White House requests for a peronality profile on Dr. Daniel F.Ilsberg, later a defendant in he Pentagon papers case, and n furnishing materials to a White House aide involved in !making into the office of Dr. 311sberg's former psychiatrist.

Mr. Helms said he had presumed that White House aides

were speaking for the.. President when they asked for C.I.A. assistance but he said he never heard the President's name used directly.

Asked why he had ney,er informed the President of. subsequent, and apparently unsuccessful, White House appeals for help in covering up the Watergate affair, Mr. Helms replied:

“My interest was to keep the C.I.A. out of this. Frankly, I wanted to stay as head of the agency and to keep it out of all this. I felt Iɽ be more successful than someone who might come afterward.”

Mr. Helms said that he had reluctantly given permission for the C.I.A. to prepare a profile on Dr. Ellsberg after being informed by David Young, a White House aide,’ that the re quest had the backing of‐both Mr. Ehrlichman and Henry A. Kissinger, the President's special assistant fore national security affairs.

He also said that the ‐Ellsberg profile was the second provided by the C.LA. on an American citizen, contrary to an earlier report that it was the first. He said the first profile had been done when the C.I.A. tried to assess how much pressure Comdr. Lloyd Bucher, commander of the captured U.S.S. Pueblo, might be able to,take from his North Korean captors.

In effect, the C.L.A aspects of the Watergate probe'’ have opened up another complete Congressional investigation into potential. White House involvement

General Walters was questioned for nearly two and half hours today at a closed hearing of the Intelligence Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee about points raised in the 11 memo. randums of conversations he wrote last summer, shortly after the Watergate break‐in.

Representative Lucien N. Nedzi, Democrat of Michigan said that the general's re. sponses to questions “were not totally satisfying” and that the questioning had become “heater at times.”

Mr. Nedzi said that his sub committee planned to questioi other witnesses, including Mr Gray, Mr. Haldeman and Wei former’ White House aides—Mr. Ehrlichman, John W. Deal 3d and Mr. Young.

Neither Senator Symingtoi nor Mr. Nedzi would release copy of the Walters memoran dum purporting to quote Mr. Gray as having told President Nixon that the Watergate cas could not be covered up.

However, key excerpts from the memorandum were’ obtained from other Congresdional sources.

The memorandum, prepare by July 13, is said to be Genera Walters's’ recollection of a conversation held lust a day earlic with Mr. Gray.

The document quotes Mr. Gray as sayinethat ,President Nixon had called him a wee earlier to congratulate him F.B.I. action frustrating an airplane hijacking In San Francisco.

“Toward the ‘end of the col versation,” according to ti Walters memorandum, “the President asked him [Gray] if he had talked to me. [Walters] about the case. Gray replied that he had. The President then asked him what his recommendation was in this case.”

The memorandum then continued:

“Gray had replied that the case could not be covered up and it Would lead quite high and he felt that the President should get rid of the people that were involved. Any attempt to involve the. F.B.I. or the C.I.A. in this case could only prove a mortal wound and would achieve nothing.

“The President then said, ‘Then. I should get rid of whoever is involved, no matter how high up?’ Gray replied that wae his recommendation.

“The President then’ asked what I thought and Gray said my views were the same as his. The President took’ it well and thanked him.”

The memorandum further states that Mr. Gray told General Walters that he had subsequently telephoned Mr.Dean, then the President's White House counsel, to tell him of the conversation with Mr. Nixon and of his recommendation that all involved be discharged.

General Walters said, according to the memorandum, that Mr. Dean's response to that was, “Okay.”

Senator Symington's disclosure of the existence of documents dealing with intelligencegathering plans came at the end of two hours of questioning of Tom Charles Huston, former White House aide, by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Senator Symington said that Mr. Huston had been called to verify the authenticity of documents “which bear his purported signature” and to testify about events described by the documents.

The Senator said’ both sets of documents “purportedly deal, with certain studies, recommendations and decisions” in the White House in the summer and fall of 1970, concerning “intelligence collection and evalua‐1 tion on both foreign and domestic subjects.”

Senator Symington said the documents appeared to call for “violations of the law in the domestic collection, of intelligence on United States citizens.”

Senator Symington quoted Mr. Huston as saying. that copies of the suggested intelligence gathering plans were supposed to go to the President and., to Mr. Haldeman but that all ef his relations were with Mr. Haldeman.

Senator Symington said that the documents ‘appeared to indicate “quite ‘a bit.of disagreement”. over intelligence‐collection operations. He said the late J. Edgar Hoover, ‘director of the F.B.I. had been anxious not to spread such domestic operations into the C.I.A. and military intelligence.

“I was glad to hear that the recommendations were not implemented,” Senator Symington said.

Earlier today, Mr. Helms was questioned closely as to whether he thought he had been relieved as director of the C.I.A., and later named Ambassador to Iran, because he refused to go along with White House requests for help in covering up the Watergate affair.

“I honestly don't know,” he replied. “I talked to the President, but at no time in the conversation was the Watergate affair or anything connected with it mentioned.”


Watch the video: Reputations: The Secret World of Richard Nixon, Part One BBC, 2000 (November 2021).